Certificate Management with kubeadm

FEATURE STATE: Kubernetes v1.15 [stable]

Client certificates generated by kubeadm expire after 1 year. This page explains how to manage certificate renewals with kubeadm. It also covers other tasks related to kubeadm certificate management.

Before you begin

You should be familiar with PKI certificates and requirements in Kubernetes.

Using custom certificates

By default, kubeadm generates all the certificates needed for a cluster to run. You can override this behavior by providing your own certificates.

To do so, you must place them in whatever directory is specified by the --cert-dir flag or the certificatesDir field of kubeadm's ClusterConfiguration. By default this is /etc/kubernetes/pki.

If a given certificate and private key pair exists before running kubeadm init, kubeadm does not overwrite them. This means you can, for example, copy an existing CA into /etc/kubernetes/pki/ca.crt and /etc/kubernetes/pki/ca.key, and kubeadm will use this CA for signing the rest of the certificates.

External CA mode

It is also possible to provide only the ca.crt file and not the ca.key file (this is only available for the root CA file, not other cert pairs). If all other certificates and kubeconfig files are in place, kubeadm recognizes this condition and activates the "External CA" mode. kubeadm will proceed without the CA key on disk.

Instead, run the controller-manager standalone with --controllers=csrsigner and point to the CA certificate and key.

PKI certificates and requirements includes guidance on setting up a cluster to use an external CA.

Check certificate expiration

You can use the check-expiration subcommand to check when certificates expire:

kubeadm certs check-expiration

The output is similar to this:

admin.conf                 Dec 30, 2020 23:36 UTC   364d                                    no
apiserver                  Dec 30, 2020 23:36 UTC   364d            ca                      no
apiserver-etcd-client      Dec 30, 2020 23:36 UTC   364d            etcd-ca                 no
apiserver-kubelet-client   Dec 30, 2020 23:36 UTC   364d            ca                      no
controller-manager.conf    Dec 30, 2020 23:36 UTC   364d                                    no
etcd-healthcheck-client    Dec 30, 2020 23:36 UTC   364d            etcd-ca                 no
etcd-peer                  Dec 30, 2020 23:36 UTC   364d            etcd-ca                 no
etcd-server                Dec 30, 2020 23:36 UTC   364d            etcd-ca                 no
front-proxy-client         Dec 30, 2020 23:36 UTC   364d            front-proxy-ca          no
scheduler.conf             Dec 30, 2020 23:36 UTC   364d                                    no

ca                      Dec 28, 2029 23:36 UTC   9y              no
etcd-ca                 Dec 28, 2029 23:36 UTC   9y              no
front-proxy-ca          Dec 28, 2029 23:36 UTC   9y              no

The command shows expiration/residual time for the client certificates in the /etc/kubernetes/pki folder and for the client certificate embedded in the KUBECONFIG files used by kubeadm (admin.conf, controller-manager.conf and scheduler.conf).

Additionally, kubeadm informs the user if the certificate is externally managed; in this case, the user should take care of managing certificate renewal manually/using other tools.

Automatic certificate renewal

kubeadm renews all the certificates during control plane upgrade.

This feature is designed for addressing the simplest use cases; if you don't have specific requirements on certificate renewal and perform Kubernetes version upgrades regularly (less than 1 year in between each upgrade), kubeadm will take care of keeping your cluster up to date and reasonably secure.

If you have more complex requirements for certificate renewal, you can opt out from the default behavior by passing --certificate-renewal=false to kubeadm upgrade apply or to kubeadm upgrade node.

Manual certificate renewal

You can renew your certificates manually at any time with the kubeadm certs renew command.

This command performs the renewal using CA (or front-proxy-CA) certificate and key stored in /etc/kubernetes/pki.

After running the command you should restart the control plane Pods. This is required since dynamic certificate reload is currently not supported for all components and certificates. Static Pods are managed by the local kubelet and not by the API Server, thus kubectl cannot be used to delete and restart them. To restart a static Pod you can temporarily remove its manifest file from /etc/kubernetes/manifests/ and wait for 20 seconds (see the fileCheckFrequency value in KubeletConfiguration struct. The kubelet will terminate the Pod if it's no longer in the manifest directory. You can then move the file back and after another fileCheckFrequency period, the kubelet will recreate the Pod and the certificate renewal for the component can complete.

kubeadm certs renew provides the following options:

The Kubernetes certificates normally reach their expiration date after one year.

  • --csr-only can be used to renew certificates with an external CA by generating certificate signing requests (without actually renewing certificates in place); see next paragraph for more information.

  • It's also possible to renew a single certificate instead of all.

Renew certificates with the Kubernetes certificates API

This section provides more details about how to execute manual certificate renewal using the Kubernetes certificates API.

Set up a signer

The Kubernetes Certificate Authority does not work out of the box. You can configure an external signer such as cert-manager, or you can use the built-in signer.

The built-in signer is part of kube-controller-manager.

To activate the built-in signer, you must pass the --cluster-signing-cert-file and --cluster-signing-key-file flags.

If you're creating a new cluster, you can use a kubeadm configuration file:

apiVersion: kubeadm.k8s.io/v1beta3
kind: ClusterConfiguration
    cluster-signing-cert-file: /etc/kubernetes/pki/ca.crt
    cluster-signing-key-file: /etc/kubernetes/pki/ca.key

Create certificate signing requests (CSR)

See Create CertificateSigningRequest for creating CSRs with the Kubernetes API.

Renew certificates with external CA

This section provide more details about how to execute manual certificate renewal using an external CA.

To better integrate with external CAs, kubeadm can also produce certificate signing requests (CSRs). A CSR represents a request to a CA for a signed certificate for a client. In kubeadm terms, any certificate that would normally be signed by an on-disk CA can be produced as a CSR instead. A CA, however, cannot be produced as a CSR.

Create certificate signing requests (CSR)

You can create certificate signing requests with kubeadm certs renew --csr-only.

Both the CSR and the accompanying private key are given in the output. You can pass in a directory with --csr-dir to output the CSRs to the specified location. If --csr-dir is not specified, the default certificate directory (/etc/kubernetes/pki) is used.

Certificates can be renewed with kubeadm certs renew --csr-only. As with kubeadm init, an output directory can be specified with the --csr-dir flag.

A CSR contains a certificate's name, domains, and IPs, but it does not specify usages. It is the responsibility of the CA to specify the correct cert usages when issuing a certificate.

After a certificate is signed using your preferred method, the certificate and the private key must be copied to the PKI directory (by default /etc/kubernetes/pki).

Certificate authority (CA) rotation

Kubeadm does not support rotation or replacement of CA certificates out of the box.

For more information about manual rotation or replacement of CA, see manual rotation of CA certificates.

Enabling signed kubelet serving certificates

By default the kubelet serving certificate deployed by kubeadm is self-signed. This means a connection from external services like the metrics-server to a kubelet cannot be secured with TLS.

To configure the kubelets in a new kubeadm cluster to obtain properly signed serving certificates you must pass the following minimal configuration to kubeadm init:

apiVersion: kubeadm.k8s.io/v1beta3
kind: ClusterConfiguration
apiVersion: kubelet.config.k8s.io/v1beta1
kind: KubeletConfiguration
serverTLSBootstrap: true

If you have already created the cluster you must adapt it by doing the following:

  • Find and edit the kubelet-config-1.24 ConfigMap in the kube-system namespace. In that ConfigMap, the kubelet key has a KubeletConfiguration document as its value. Edit the KubeletConfiguration document to set serverTLSBootstrap: true.
  • On each node, add the serverTLSBootstrap: true field in /var/lib/kubelet/config.yaml and restart the kubelet with systemctl restart kubelet

The field serverTLSBootstrap: true will enable the bootstrap of kubelet serving certificates by requesting them from the certificates.k8s.io API. One known limitation is that the CSRs (Certificate Signing Requests) for these certificates cannot be automatically approved by the default signer in the kube-controller-manager - kubernetes.io/kubelet-serving. This will require action from the user or a third party controller.

These CSRs can be viewed using:

kubectl get csr
NAME        AGE     SIGNERNAME                        REQUESTOR                      CONDITION
csr-9wvgt   112s    kubernetes.io/kubelet-serving     system:node:worker-1           Pending
csr-lz97v   1m58s   kubernetes.io/kubelet-serving     system:node:control-plane-1    Pending

To approve them you can do the following:

kubectl certificate approve <CSR-name>

By default, these serving certificate will expire after one year. Kubeadm sets the KubeletConfiguration field rotateCertificates to true, which means that close to expiration a new set of CSRs for the serving certificates will be created and must be approved to complete the rotation. To understand more see Certificate Rotation.

If you are looking for a solution for automatic approval of these CSRs it is recommended that you contact your cloud provider and ask if they have a CSR signer that verifies the node identity with an out of band mechanism.

Third party custom controllers can be used:

Such a controller is not a secure mechanism unless it not only verifies the CommonName in the CSR but also verifies the requested IPs and domain names. This would prevent a malicious actor that has access to a kubelet client certificate to create CSRs requesting serving certificates for any IP or domain name.

Generating kubeconfig files for additional users

During cluster creation, kubeadm signs the certificate in the admin.conf to have Subject: O = system:masters, CN = kubernetes-admin. system:masters is a break-glass, super user group that bypasses the authorization layer (e.g. RBAC). Sharing the admin.conf with additional users is not recommended!

Instead, you can use the kubeadm kubeconfig user command to generate kubeconfig files for additional users. The command accepts a mixture of command line flags and kubeadm configuration options. The generated kubeconfig will be written to stdout and can be piped to a file using kubeadm kubeconfig user ... > somefile.conf.

Example configuration file that can be used with --config:

# example.yaml
apiVersion: kubeadm.k8s.io/v1beta3
kind: ClusterConfiguration
# Will be used as the target "cluster" in the kubeconfig
clusterName: "kubernetes"
# Will be used as the "server" (IP or DNS name) of this cluster in the kubeconfig
controlPlaneEndpoint: "some-dns-address:6443"
# The cluster CA key and certificate will be loaded from this local directory
certificatesDir: "/etc/kubernetes/pki"

Make sure that these settings match the desired target cluster settings. To see the settings of an existing cluster use:

kubectl get cm kubeadm-config -n kube-system -o=jsonpath="{.data.ClusterConfiguration}"

The following example will generate a kubeconfig file with credentials valid for 24 hours for a new user johndoe that is part of the appdevs group:

kubeadm kubeconfig user --config example.yaml --org appdevs --client-name johndoe --validity-period 24h

The following example will generate a kubeconfig file with administrator credentials valid for 1 week:

kubeadm kubeconfig user --config example.yaml --client-name admin --validity-period 168h

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Last modified June 17, 2022 at 4:17 PM PST: Replace skew shortcode parameters (e7caadc564)