User Namespaces

FEATURE STATE: Kubernetes v1.30 [beta]

This page explains how user namespaces are used in Kubernetes pods. A user namespace isolates the user running inside the container from the one in the host.

A process running as root in a container can run as a different (non-root) user in the host; in other words, the process has full privileges for operations inside the user namespace, but is unprivileged for operations outside the namespace.

You can use this feature to reduce the damage a compromised container can do to the host or other pods in the same node. There are several security vulnerabilities rated either HIGH or CRITICAL that were not exploitable when user namespaces is active. It is expected user namespace will mitigate some future vulnerabilities too.

Before you begin

This is a Linux-only feature and support is needed in Linux for idmap mounts on the filesystems used. This means:

  • On the node, the filesystem you use for /var/lib/kubelet/pods/, or the custom directory you configure for this, needs idmap mount support.
  • All the filesystems used in the pod's volumes must support idmap mounts.

In practice this means you need at least Linux 6.3, as tmpfs started supporting idmap mounts in that version. This is usually needed as several Kubernetes features use tmpfs (the service account token that is mounted by default uses a tmpfs, Secrets use a tmpfs, etc.)

Some popular filesystems that support idmap mounts in Linux 6.3 are: btrfs, ext4, xfs, fat, tmpfs, overlayfs.

In addition, the container runtime and its underlying OCI runtime must support user namespaces. The following OCI runtimes offer support:

  • crun version 1.9 or greater (it's recommend version 1.13+).

To use user namespaces with Kubernetes, you also need to use a CRI container runtime to use this feature with Kubernetes pods:

  • CRI-O: version 1.25 (and later) supports user namespaces for containers.

containerd v1.7 is not compatible with the userns support in Kubernetes v1.27 to v1.30. Kubernetes v1.25 and v1.26 used an earlier implementation that is compatible with containerd v1.7, in terms of userns support. If you are using a version of Kubernetes other than 1.30, check the documentation for that version of Kubernetes for the most relevant information. If there is a newer release of containerd than v1.7 available for use, also check the containerd documentation for compatibility information.

You can see the status of user namespaces support in cri-dockerd tracked in an issue on GitHub.


User namespaces is a Linux feature that allows to map users in the container to different users in the host. Furthermore, the capabilities granted to a pod in a user namespace are valid only in the namespace and void outside of it.

A pod can opt-in to use user namespaces by setting the pod.spec.hostUsers field to false.

The kubelet will pick host UIDs/GIDs a pod is mapped to, and will do so in a way to guarantee that no two pods on the same node use the same mapping.

The runAsUser, runAsGroup, fsGroup, etc. fields in the pod.spec always refer to the user inside the container.

The valid UIDs/GIDs when this feature is enabled is the range 0-65535. This applies to files and processes (runAsUser, runAsGroup, etc.).

Files using a UID/GID outside this range will be seen as belonging to the overflow ID, usually 65534 (configured in /proc/sys/kernel/overflowuid and /proc/sys/kernel/overflowgid). However, it is not possible to modify those files, even by running as the 65534 user/group.

Most applications that need to run as root but don't access other host namespaces or resources, should continue to run fine without any changes needed if user namespaces is activated.

Understanding user namespaces for pods

Several container runtimes with their default configuration (like Docker Engine, containerd, CRI-O) use Linux namespaces for isolation. Other technologies exist and can be used with those runtimes too (e.g. Kata Containers uses VMs instead of Linux namespaces). This page is applicable for container runtimes using Linux namespaces for isolation.

When creating a pod, by default, several new namespaces are used for isolation: a network namespace to isolate the network of the container, a PID namespace to isolate the view of processes, etc. If a user namespace is used, this will isolate the users in the container from the users in the node.

This means containers can run as root and be mapped to a non-root user on the host. Inside the container the process will think it is running as root (and therefore tools like apt, yum, etc. work fine), while in reality the process doesn't have privileges on the host. You can verify this, for example, if you check which user the container process is running by executing ps aux from the host. The user ps shows is not the same as the user you see if you execute inside the container the command id.

This abstraction limits what can happen, for example, if the container manages to escape to the host. Given that the container is running as a non-privileged user on the host, it is limited what it can do to the host.

Furthermore, as users on each pod will be mapped to different non-overlapping users in the host, it is limited what they can do to other pods too.

Capabilities granted to a pod are also limited to the pod user namespace and mostly invalid out of it, some are even completely void. Here are two examples:

  • CAP_SYS_MODULE does not have any effect if granted to a pod using user namespaces, the pod isn't able to load kernel modules.
  • CAP_SYS_ADMIN is limited to the pod's user namespace and invalid outside of it.

Without using a user namespace a container running as root, in the case of a container breakout, has root privileges on the node. And if some capability were granted to the container, the capabilities are valid on the host too. None of this is true when we use user namespaces.

If you want to know more details about what changes when user namespaces are in use, see man 7 user_namespaces.

Set up a node to support user namespaces

By default, the kubelet assigns pods UIDs/GIDs above the range 0-65535, based on the assumption that the host's files and processes use UIDs/GIDs within this range, which is standard for most Linux distributions. This approach prevents any overlap between the UIDs/GIDs of the host and those of the pods.

Avoiding the overlap is important to mitigate the impact of vulnerabilities such as CVE-2021-25741, where a pod can potentially read arbitrary files in the host. If the UIDs/GIDs of the pod and the host don't overlap, it is limited what a pod would be able to do: the pod UID/GID won't match the host's file owner/group.

The kubelet can use a custom range for user IDs and group IDs for pods. To configure a custom range, the node needs to have:

  • A user kubelet in the system (you cannot use any other username here)
  • The binary getsubids installed (part of shadow-utils) and in the PATH for the kubelet binary.
  • A configuration of subordinate UIDs/GIDs for the kubelet user (see man 5 subuid and man 5 subgid).

This setting only gathers the UID/GID range configuration and does not change the user executing the kubelet.

You must follow some constraints for the subordinate ID range that you assign to the kubelet user:

  • The subordinate user ID, that starts the UID range for Pods, must be a multiple of 65536 and must also be greater than or equal to 65536. In other words, you cannot use any ID from the range 0-65535 for Pods; the kubelet imposes this restriction to make it difficult to create an accidentally insecure configuration.

  • The subordinate ID count must be a multiple of 65536

  • The subordinate ID count must be at least 65536 x <maxPods> where <maxPods> is the maximum number of pods that can run on the node.

  • You must assign the same range for both user IDs and for group IDs, It doesn't matter if other users have user ID ranges that don't align with the group ID ranges.

  • None of the assigned ranges should overlap with any other assignment.

  • The subordinate configuration must be only one line. In other words, you can't have multiple ranges.

For example, you could define /etc/subuid and /etc/subgid to both have these entries for the kubelet user:

# The format is
#   name:firstID:count of IDs
# where
# - firstID is 65536 (the minimum value possible)
# - count of IDs is 110 (default limit for number of) * 65536

Integration with Pod security admission checks

FEATURE STATE: Kubernetes v1.29 [alpha]

For Linux Pods that enable user namespaces, Kubernetes relaxes the application of Pod Security Standards in a controlled way. This behavior can be controlled by the feature gate UserNamespacesPodSecurityStandards, which allows an early opt-in for end users. Admins have to ensure that user namespaces are enabled by all nodes within the cluster if using the feature gate.

If you enable the associated feature gate and create a Pod that uses user namespaces, the following fields won't be constrained even in contexts that enforce the Baseline or Restricted pod security standard. This behavior does not present a security concern because root inside a Pod with user namespaces actually refers to the user inside the container, that is never mapped to a privileged user on the host. Here's the list of fields that are not checks for Pods in those circumstances:

  • spec.securityContext.runAsNonRoot
  • spec.containers[*].securityContext.runAsNonRoot
  • spec.initContainers[*].securityContext.runAsNonRoot
  • spec.ephemeralContainers[*].securityContext.runAsNonRoot
  • spec.securityContext.runAsUser
  • spec.containers[*].securityContext.runAsUser
  • spec.initContainers[*].securityContext.runAsUser
  • spec.ephemeralContainers[*].securityContext.runAsUser


When using a user namespace for the pod, it is disallowed to use other host namespaces. In particular, if you set hostUsers: false then you are not allowed to set any of:

  • hostNetwork: true
  • hostIPC: true
  • hostPID: true

What's next

Items on this page refer to third party products or projects that provide functionality required by Kubernetes. The Kubernetes project authors aren't responsible for those third-party products or projects. See the CNCF website guidelines for more details.

You should read the content guide before proposing a change that adds an extra third-party link.

Last modified March 07, 2024 at 12:46 PM PST: content: Add OCI runtime requirements for userns (89e0ec8a77)