Kubernetes 1.26: Windows HostProcess Containers Are Generally Available
Authors: Brandon Smith (Microsoft) and Mark Rossetti (Microsoft)
The long-awaited day has arrived: HostProcess containers, the Windows equivalent to Linux privileged containers, has finally made it to GA in Kubernetes 1.26!
What are HostProcess containers and why are they useful?
Cluster operators are often faced with the need to configure their nodes upon provisioning such as installing Windows services, configuring registry keys, managing TLS certificates, making network configuration changes, or even deploying monitoring tools such as a Prometheus's node-exporter. Previously, performing these actions on Windows nodes was usually done by running PowerShell scripts over SSH or WinRM sessions and/or working with your cloud provider's virtual machine management tooling. HostProcess containers now enable you to do all of this and more with minimal effort using Kubernetes native APIs.
With HostProcess containers you can now package any payload into the container image, map volumes into containers at runtime, and manage them like any other Kubernetes workload. You get all the benefits of containerized packaging and deployment methods combined with a reduction in both administrative and development cost. Gone are the days where cluster operators would need to manually log onto Windows nodes to perform administrative duties.
HostProcess containers differ quite significantly from regular Windows Server containers. They are run directly as processes on the host with the access policies of a user you specify. HostProcess containers run as either the built-in Windows system accounts or ephemeral users within a user group defined by you. HostProcess containers also share the host's network namespace and access/configure storage mounts visible to the host. On the other hand, Windows Server containers are highly isolated and exist in a separate execution namespace. Direct access to the host from a Windows Server container is explicitly disallowed by default.
How does it work?
Windows HostProcess containers are implemented with Windows Job Objects, a break from the previous container model which use server silos. Job Objects are components of the Windows OS which offer the ability to manage a group of processes as a group (also known as a job) and assign resource constraints to the group as a whole. Job objects are specific to the Windows OS and are not associated with the Kubernetes Job API. They have no process or file system isolation, enabling the privileged payload to view and edit the host file system with the desired permissions, among other host resources. The init process, and any processes it launches (including processes explicitly launched by the user) are all assigned to the job object of that container. When the init process exits or is signaled to exit, all the processes in the job will be signaled to exit, the job handle will be closed and the storage will be unmounted.
HostProcess and Linux privileged containers enable similar scenarios but differ greatly in their implementation (hence the naming difference). HostProcess containers have their own PodSecurityContext fields. Those used to configure Linux privileged containers do not apply. Enabling privileged access to a Windows host is a fundamentally different process than with Linux so the configuration and capabilities of each differ significantly. Below is a diagram detailing the overall architecture of Windows HostProcess containers:
Two major features were added prior to moving to stable: the ability to run as local user accounts, and a simplified method of accessing volume mounts. To learn more, read Create a Windows HostProcess Pod.
HostProcess containers in action
Kubernetes SIG Windows has been busy putting HostProcess containers to use - even before GA! They've been very excited to use HostProcess containers for a number of important activities that were a pain to perform in the past.
Here are just a few of the many use use cases with example deployments:
How do I use it?
A HostProcess container can be built using any base image of your choosing, however, for convenience we have created a HostProcess container base image. This image is only a few KB in size and does not inherit any of the same compatibility requirements as regular Windows server containers which allows it to run on any Windows server version.
To use that Microsoft image, put this in your
You can run HostProcess containers from within a HostProcess Pod.
To get started with running Windows containers, see the general guidance for deploying Windows nodes. If you have a compatible node (for example: Windows as the operating system with containerd v1.7 or later as the container runtime), you can deploy a Pod with one or more HostProcess containers. See the Create a Windows HostProcess Pod - Prerequisites for more information.
Please note that within a Pod, you can't mix HostProcess containers with normal Windows containers.
How can I learn more?
Work through Create a Windows HostProcess Pod
Read about Kubernetes Pod Security Standards and Pod Security Admission
Read the enhancement proposal Windows Privileged Containers and Host Networking Mode (KEP-1981)
Watch the Windows HostProcess for Configuration and Beyond KubeCon NA 2022 talk
How do I get involved?
Get involved with SIG Windows to contribute!