Define Dependent Environment Variables

This page shows how to define dependent environment variables for a container in a Kubernetes Pod.

Before you begin

You need to have a Kubernetes cluster, and the kubectl command-line tool must be configured to communicate with your cluster. It is recommended to run this tutorial on a cluster with at least two nodes that are not acting as control plane hosts. If you do not already have a cluster, you can create one by using minikube or you can use one of these Kubernetes playgrounds:

Define an environment dependent variable for a container

When you create a Pod, you can set dependent environment variables for the containers that run in the Pod. To set dependent environment variables, you can use $(VAR_NAME) in the value of env in the configuration file.

In this exercise, you create a Pod that runs one container. The configuration file for the Pod defines a dependent environment variable with common usage defined. Here is the configuration manifest for the Pod:

apiVersion: v1
kind: Pod
  name: dependent-envars-demo
    - name: dependent-envars-demo
        - while true; do echo -en '\n'; printf UNCHANGED_REFERENCE=$UNCHANGED_REFERENCE'\n'; printf SERVICE_ADDRESS=$SERVICE_ADDRESS'\n';printf ESCAPED_REFERENCE=$ESCAPED_REFERENCE'\n'; sleep 30; done;
        - sh
        - -c
      image: busybox:1.28
        - name: SERVICE_PORT
          value: "80"
        - name: SERVICE_IP
          value: ""
          value: "$(PROTOCOL)://$(SERVICE_IP):$(SERVICE_PORT)"
        - name: PROTOCOL
          value: "https"
        - name: SERVICE_ADDRESS
          value: "$(PROTOCOL)://$(SERVICE_IP):$(SERVICE_PORT)"
        - name: ESCAPED_REFERENCE
          value: "$$(PROTOCOL)://$(SERVICE_IP):$(SERVICE_PORT)"
  1. Create a Pod based on that manifest:

    kubectl apply -f
    pod/dependent-envars-demo created
  2. List the running Pods:

    kubectl get pods dependent-envars-demo
    NAME                      READY     STATUS    RESTARTS   AGE
    dependent-envars-demo     1/1       Running   0          9s
  3. Check the logs for the container running in your Pod:

    kubectl logs pod/dependent-envars-demo

As shown above, you have defined the correct dependency reference of SERVICE_ADDRESS, bad dependency reference of UNCHANGED_REFERENCE and skip dependent references of ESCAPED_REFERENCE.

When an environment variable is already defined when being referenced, the reference can be correctly resolved, such as in the SERVICE_ADDRESS case.

Note that order matters in the env list. An environment variable is not considered "defined" if it is specified further down the list. That is why UNCHANGED_REFERENCE fails to resolve $(PROTOCOL) in the example above.

When the environment variable is undefined or only includes some variables, the undefined environment variable is treated as a normal string, such as UNCHANGED_REFERENCE. Note that incorrectly parsed environment variables, in general, will not block the container from starting.

The $(VAR_NAME) syntax can be escaped with a double $, ie: $$(VAR_NAME). Escaped references are never expanded, regardless of whether the referenced variable is defined or not. This can be seen from the ESCAPED_REFERENCE case above.

What's next

Last modified August 24, 2023 at 6:38 PM PST: Use code_sample shortcode instead of code shortcode (e8b136c3b3)