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Using Sysctls in a Kubernetes Cluster

This document describes how sysctls are used within a Kubernetes cluster.

Before you begin

You need to have a Kubernetes cluster, and the kubectl command-line tool must be configured to communicate with your cluster. If you do not already have a cluster, you can create one by using Minikube, or you can use one of these Kubernetes playgrounds:

To check the version, enter kubectl version.

Listing all Sysctl Parameters

In Linux, the sysctl interface allows an administrator to modify kernel parameters at runtime. Parameters are available via the /proc/sys/ virtual process file system. The parameters cover various subsystems such as:

To get a list of all parameters, you can run

$ sudo sysctl -a

Enabling Unsafe Sysctls

Sysctls are grouped into safe and unsafe sysctls. In addition to proper namespacing a safe sysctl must be properly isolated between pods on the same node. This means that setting a safe sysctl for one pod

By far, most of the namespaced sysctls are not necessarily considered safe. The following sysctls are supported in the safe set:

Note: The example net.ipv4.tcp_syncookies is not namespaced on Linux kernel version 4.4 or lower.

This list will be extended in future Kubernetes versions when the kubelet supports better isolation mechanisms.

All safe sysctls are enabled by default.

All unsafe sysctls are disabled by default and must be allowed manually by the cluster admin on a per-node basis. Pods with disabled unsafe sysctls will be scheduled, but will fail to launch.

With the warning above in mind, the cluster admin can allow certain unsafe sysctls for very special situations like e.g. high-performance or real-time application tuning. Unsafe sysctls are enabled on a node-by-node basis with a flag of the kubelet, e.g.:

$ kubelet --experimental-allowed-unsafe-sysctls \
  'kernel.msg*,net.ipv4.route.min_pmtu' ...

For minikube, this can be done via the extra-config flag:

$ minikube start --extra-config="kubelet.AllowedUnsafeSysctls=kernel.msg*,net.ipv4.route.min_pmtu"...

Only namespaced sysctls can be enabled this way.

Setting Sysctls for a Pod

A number of sysctls are namespaced in today’s Linux kernels. This means that they can be set independently for each pod on a node. Being namespaced is a requirement for sysctls to be accessible in a pod context within Kubernetes.

The following sysctls are known to be namespaced:

Sysctls which are not namespaced are called node-level and must be set manually by the cluster admin, either by means of the underlying Linux distribution of the nodes (e.g. via /etc/sysctls.conf) or using a DaemonSet with privileged containers.

The sysctl feature is an alpha API. Therefore, sysctls are set using annotations on pods. They apply to all containers in the same pod.

Here is an example, with different annotations for safe and unsafe sysctls:

apiVersion: v1
kind: Pod
metadata:
  name: sysctl-example
  annotations:
    security.alpha.kubernetes.io/sysctls: kernel.shm_rmid_forced=1
    security.alpha.kubernetes.io/unsafe-sysctls: net.ipv4.route.min_pmtu=1000,kernel.msgmax=1 2 3
spec:
  ...

Warning: Due to their nature of being unsafe, the use of unsafe sysctls is at-your-own-risk and can lead to severe problems like wrong behavior of containers, resource shortage or complete breakage of a node.

It is good practice to consider nodes with special sysctl settings as tainted within a cluster, and only schedule pods onto them which need those sysctl settings. It is suggested to use the Kubernetes taints and toleration feature to implement this.

A pod with the unsafe sysctls will fail to launch on any node which has not enabled those two unsafe sysctls explicitly. As with node-level sysctls it is recommended to use taints and toleration feature or taints on nodes to schedule those pods onto the right nodes.

PodSecurityPolicy Annotations

The use of sysctl in pods can be controlled via annotation on the PodSecurityPolicy.

Sysctl annotation represents a whitelist of allowed safe and unsafe sysctls in a pod spec. It’s a comma-separated list of plain sysctl names or sysctl patterns (which end in *). The string * matches all sysctls.

Here is an example, it authorizes binding user creating pod with corresponding sysctls.

apiVersion: policy/v1beta1
kind: PodSecurityPolicy
metadata:
  name: sysctl-psp
  annotations:
    security.alpha.kubernetes.io/sysctls: 'net.ipv4.route.*,kernel.msg*'
spec:
 ...

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