Distributed systems often have a need for leases, which provide a mechanism to lock shared resources and coordinate activity between members of a set. In Kubernetes, the lease concept is represented by Lease objects in the API Group, which are used for system-critical capabilities such as node heartbeats and component-level leader election.

Node heartbeats

Kubernetes uses the Lease API to communicate kubelet node heartbeats to the Kubernetes API server. For every Node , there is a Lease object with a matching name in the kube-node-lease namespace. Under the hood, every kubelet heartbeat is an update request to this Lease object, updating the spec.renewTime field for the Lease. The Kubernetes control plane uses the time stamp of this field to determine the availability of this Node.

See Node Lease objects for more details.

Leader election

Kubernetes also uses Leases to ensure only one instance of a component is running at any given time. This is used by control plane components like kube-controller-manager and kube-scheduler in HA configurations, where only one instance of the component should be actively running while the other instances are on stand-by.

API server identity

FEATURE STATE: Kubernetes v1.26 [beta]

Starting in Kubernetes v1.26, each kube-apiserver uses the Lease API to publish its identity to the rest of the system. While not particularly useful on its own, this provides a mechanism for clients to discover how many instances of kube-apiserver are operating the Kubernetes control plane. Existence of kube-apiserver leases enables future capabilities that may require coordination between each kube-apiserver.

You can inspect Leases owned by each kube-apiserver by checking for lease objects in the kube-system namespace with the name kube-apiserver-<sha256-hash>. Alternatively you can use the label selector

kubectl -n kube-system get lease -l
NAME                                        HOLDER                                                                           AGE
apiserver-07a5ea9b9b072c4a5f3d1c3702        apiserver-07a5ea9b9b072c4a5f3d1c3702_0c8914f7-0f35-440e-8676-7844977d3a05        5m33s
apiserver-7be9e061c59d368b3ddaf1376e        apiserver-7be9e061c59d368b3ddaf1376e_84f2a85d-37c1-4b14-b6b9-603e62e4896f        4m23s
apiserver-1dfef752bcb36637d2763d1868        apiserver-1dfef752bcb36637d2763d1868_c5ffa286-8a9a-45d4-91e7-61118ed58d2e        4m43s

The SHA256 hash used in the lease name is based on the OS hostname as seen by that API server. Each kube-apiserver should be configured to use a hostname that is unique within the cluster. New instances of kube-apiserver that use the same hostname will take over existing Leases using a new holder identity, as opposed to instantiating new Lease objects. You can check the hostname used by kube-apisever by checking the value of the label:

kubectl -n kube-system get lease apiserver-07a5ea9b9b072c4a5f3d1c3702 -o yaml
kind: Lease
  creationTimestamp: "2023-07-02T13:16:48Z"
  labels: kube-apiserver master-1
  name: apiserver-07a5ea9b9b072c4a5f3d1c3702
  namespace: kube-system
  resourceVersion: "334899"
  uid: 90870ab5-1ba9-4523-b215-e4d4e662acb1
  holderIdentity: apiserver-07a5ea9b9b072c4a5f3d1c3702_0c8914f7-0f35-440e-8676-7844977d3a05
  leaseDurationSeconds: 3600
  renewTime: "2023-07-04T21:58:48.065888Z"

Expired leases from kube-apiservers that no longer exist are garbage collected by new kube-apiservers after 1 hour.

You can disable API server identity leases by disabling the APIServerIdentity feature gate.


Your own workload can define its own use of Leases. For example, you might run a custom controller where a primary or leader member performs operations that its peers do not. You define a Lease so that the controller replicas can select or elect a leader, using the Kubernetes API for coordination. If you do use a Lease, it's a good practice to define a name for the Lease that is obviously linked to the product or component. For example, if you have a component named Example Foo, use a Lease named example-foo.

If a cluster operator or another end user could deploy multiple instances of a component, select a name prefix and pick a mechanism (such as hash of the name of the Deployment) to avoid name collisions for the Leases.

You can use another approach so long as it achieves the same outcome: different software products do not conflict with one another.

Last modified July 19, 2023 at 4:00 PM PST: Update (b2aa1c71d4)