Reference Documentation

Design docs, concept definitions, and references for APIs and CLIs.

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Authenticating with Bootstrap Tokens


Bootstrap tokens are a simple bearer token that is meant to be used when creating new clusters or joining new nodes to an existing cluster. It was built to support kubeadm, but can be used in other contexts for users that wish to start clusters without kubeadm. It is also built to work, via RBAC policy, with the Kubelet TLS Bootstrapping system.

Bootstrap Tokens are defined with a specific type ( of secrets that lives in the kube-system namespace. These Secrets are then read by the Bootstrap Authenticator in the API Server. Expired tokens are removed with the TokenCleaner controller in the Controller Manager. The tokens are also used to create a signature for a specific ConfigMap used in a “discovery” process through a BootstrapSigner controller.

Currently, Bootstrap Tokens are alpha but there are no large breaking changes expected.

Token Format

Bootstrap Tokens take the form of abcdef.0123456789abcdef. More formally, they must match the regular expression [a-z0-9]{6}\.[a-z0-9]{16}.

The first part of the token is the “Token ID” and is considered public information. It is used when referring to a token without leaking the secret part used for authentication. The second part is the “Token Secret” and should only be shared with trusted parties.

Enabling Bootstrap Tokens

All features for Bootstrap Tokens are disabled by default in Kubernetes v1.6.

You can enable the Bootstrap Token authenticator with the --experimental-bootstrap-token-auth flag on the API server. You can enable the Bootstrap controllers by specifying them with the --controllers flag on the controller manager with something like --controllers=*,tokencleaner,bootstrapsigner. This is done automatically when using kubeadm.

Tokens are used in an HTTPS call as follows:

Authorization: Bearer 07401b.f395accd246ae52d

Bootstrap Token Secret Format

Each valid token is backed by a secret in the kube-system namespace. You can find the full design doc here.

Here is what the secret looks like. Note that base64(string) indicates the value should be base64 encoded. The undecoded version is provided here for readability.

apiVersion: v1
kind: Secret
  name: bootstrap-token-07401b
  namespace: kube-system
  description: base64(The default bootstrap token generated by 'kubeadm init'.)
  token-id: base64(07401b)
  token-secret: base64(f395accd246ae52d)
  expiration: base64(2017-03-10T03:22:11Z)
  usage-bootstrap-authentication: base64(true)
  usage-bootstrap-signing: base64(true)

The type of the secret must be and the name must be bootstrap-token-<token id>. It must also exist in the kube-system namespace. description is a human readable description that should not be used for machine readable information. The Token ID and Secret are included in the data dictionary.

The usage-bootstrap-* members indicate what this secret is intended to be used for. A value must be set to true to be enabled.

usage-bootstrap-authentication indicates that the token can be used to authenticate to the API server. The authenticator authenticates as system:bootstrap:<Token ID>. It is included in the system:bootstrappers group. The naming and groups are intentionally limited to discourage users from using these tokens past bootstrapping.

usage-bootstrap-signing indicates that the token should be used to sign the cluster-info ConfigMap as described below.

The expiration data member lists a time after which the token is no longer valid. This is encoded as an absolute UTC time using RFC3339. The TokenCleaner controller will delete expired tokens.

Token Management with kubeadm

You can use the kubeadm tool to manage tokens on a running cluster. It will automatically grab the default admin credentials on a master from a kubeadm created cluster (/etc/kubernetes/admin.conf). You can specify an alternate kubeconfig file for credentials with the --kubeconfig to the following commands.

ConfigMap Signing

In addition to authentication, the tokens can be used to sign a ConfigMap. This is used early in a cluster bootstrap process before the client trusts the API server. The signed ConfigMap can be authenticated by the shared token.

The ConfigMap that is signed is cluster-info in the kube-public namespace. The typical flow is that a client reads this ConfigMap while unauthenticated and ignoring TLS errors. It then validates the payload of the ConfigMap by looking at a signature embedded in the ConfigMap.

The ConfigMap may look like this:

apiVersion: v1
kind: ConfigMap
  name: cluster-info
  namespace: kube-public
  jws-kubeconfig-07401b: eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsImtpZCI6IjA3NDAxYiJ9..tYEfbo6zDNo40MQE07aZcQX2m3EB2rO3NuXtxVMYm9U
  kubeconfig: |
    apiVersion: v1
    - cluster:
        certificate-authority-data: <really long certificate data>
      name: ""
    contexts: []
    current-context: ""
    kind: Config
    preferences: {}
    users: []

The kubeconfig member of the ConfigMap is a config file with just the cluster information filled out. The key thing being communicated here is the certificate-authority-data. This may be expanded in the future.

The signature is a JWS signature using the “detached” mode. To validate the signature, the user should encode the kubeconfig payload according to JWS rules (base64 encoded while discarding any trailing =). That encoded payload is then used to form a whole JWS by inserting it between the 2 dots. You can verify the JWS using the HS256 scheme (HMAC-SHA256) with the full token (e.g. 07401b.f395accd246ae52d) as the shared secret. Users must verify that HS256 is used.


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