Init Containers

This page provides an overview of init containers: specialized containers that run before app containers in a Pod. Init containers can contain utilities or setup scripts not present in an app image.

You can specify init containers in the Pod specification alongside the containers array (which describes app containers).

Understanding init containers

A Pod can have multiple containers running apps within it, but it can also have one or more init containers, which are run before the app containers are started.

Init containers are exactly like regular containers, except:

  • Init containers always run to completion.
  • Each init container must complete successfully before the next one starts.

If a Pod's init container fails, the kubelet repeatedly restarts that init container until it succeeds. However, if the Pod has a restartPolicy of Never, and an init container fails during startup of that Pod, Kubernetes treats the overall Pod as failed.

To specify an init container for a Pod, add the initContainers field into the Pod specification, as an array of objects of type Container, alongside the app containers array. The status of the init containers is returned in .status.initContainerStatuses field as an array of the container statuses (similar to the .status.containerStatuses field).

Differences from regular containers

Init containers support all the fields and features of app containers, including resource limits, volumes, and security settings. However, the resource requests and limits for an init container are handled differently, as documented in Resources.

Also, init containers do not support lifecycle, livenessProbe, readinessProbe, or startupProbe because they must run to completion before the Pod can be ready.

If you specify multiple init containers for a Pod, Kubelet runs each init container sequentially. Each init container must succeed before the next can run. When all of the init containers have run to completion, Kubelet initializes the application containers for the Pod and runs them as usual.

Using init containers

Because init containers have separate images from app containers, they have some advantages for start-up related code:

  • Init containers can contain utilities or custom code for setup that are not present in an app image. For example, there is no need to make an image FROM another image just to use a tool like sed, awk, python, or dig during setup.
  • The application image builder and deployer roles can work independently without the need to jointly build a single app image.
  • Init containers can run with a different view of the filesystem than app containers in the same Pod. Consequently, they can be given access to Secrets that app containers cannot access.
  • Because init containers run to completion before any app containers start, init containers offer a mechanism to block or delay app container startup until a set of preconditions are met. Once preconditions are met, all of the app containers in a Pod can start in parallel.
  • Init containers can securely run utilities or custom code that would otherwise make an app container image less secure. By keeping unnecessary tools separate you can limit the attack surface of your app container image.


Here are some ideas for how to use init containers:

  • Wait for a Service to be created, using a shell one-line command like:

    for i in {1..100}; do sleep 1; if dig myservice; then exit 0; fi; done; exit 1
  • Register this Pod with a remote server from the downward API with a command like:

    curl -X POST http://$MANAGEMENT_SERVICE_HOST:$MANAGEMENT_SERVICE_PORT/register -d 'instance=$(<POD_NAME>)&ip=$(<POD_IP>)'
  • Wait for some time before starting the app container with a command like

    sleep 60
  • Clone a Git repository into a Volume

  • Place values into a configuration file and run a template tool to dynamically generate a configuration file for the main app container. For example, place the POD_IP value in a configuration and generate the main app configuration file using Jinja.

Init containers in use

This example defines a simple Pod that has two init containers. The first waits for myservice, and the second waits for mydb. Once both init containers complete, the Pod runs the app container from its spec section.

apiVersion: v1
kind: Pod
  name: myapp-pod
    app: myapp
  - name: myapp-container
    image: busybox:1.28
    command: ['sh', '-c', 'echo The app is running! && sleep 3600']
  - name: init-myservice
    image: busybox:1.28
    command: ['sh', '-c', "until nslookup myservice.$(cat /var/run/secrets/; do echo waiting for myservice; sleep 2; done"]
  - name: init-mydb
    image: busybox:1.28
    command: ['sh', '-c', "until nslookup mydb.$(cat /var/run/secrets/; do echo waiting for mydb; sleep 2; done"]

You can start this Pod by running:

kubectl apply -f myapp.yaml
pod/myapp-pod created

And check on its status with:

kubectl get -f myapp.yaml
myapp-pod   0/1       Init:0/2   0          6m

or for more details:

kubectl describe -f myapp.yaml
Name:          myapp-pod
Namespace:     default
Labels:        app=myapp
Status:        Pending
Init Containers:
    State:         Running
    State:         Waiting
      Reason:      PodInitializing
    Ready:         False
    State:         Waiting
      Reason:      PodInitializing
    Ready:         False
  FirstSeen    LastSeen    Count    From                      SubObjectPath                           Type          Reason        Message
  ---------    --------    -----    ----                      -------------                           --------      ------        -------
  16s          16s         1        {default-scheduler }                                              Normal        Scheduled     Successfully assigned myapp-pod to
  16s          16s         1        {kubelet}    spec.initContainers{init-myservice}     Normal        Pulling       pulling image "busybox"
  13s          13s         1        {kubelet}    spec.initContainers{init-myservice}     Normal        Pulled        Successfully pulled image "busybox"
  13s          13s         1        {kubelet}    spec.initContainers{init-myservice}     Normal        Created       Created container with docker id 5ced34a04634; Security:[seccomp=unconfined]
  13s          13s         1        {kubelet}    spec.initContainers{init-myservice}     Normal        Started       Started container with docker id 5ced34a04634

To see logs for the init containers in this Pod, run:

kubectl logs myapp-pod -c init-myservice # Inspect the first init container
kubectl logs myapp-pod -c init-mydb      # Inspect the second init container

At this point, those init containers will be waiting to discover Services named mydb and myservice.

Here's a configuration you can use to make those Services appear:

apiVersion: v1
kind: Service
  name: myservice
  - protocol: TCP
    port: 80
    targetPort: 9376
apiVersion: v1
kind: Service
  name: mydb
  - protocol: TCP
    port: 80
    targetPort: 9377

To create the mydb and myservice services:

kubectl apply -f services.yaml
service/myservice created
service/mydb created

You'll then see that those init containers complete, and that the myapp-pod Pod moves into the Running state:

kubectl get -f myapp.yaml
myapp-pod   1/1       Running   0          9m

This simple example should provide some inspiration for you to create your own init containers. What's next contains a link to a more detailed example.

Detailed behavior

During Pod startup, the kubelet delays running init containers until the networking and storage are ready. Then the kubelet runs the Pod's init containers in the order they appear in the Pod's spec.

Each init container must exit successfully before the next container starts. If a container fails to start due to the runtime or exits with failure, it is retried according to the Pod restartPolicy. However, if the Pod restartPolicy is set to Always, the init containers use restartPolicy OnFailure.

A Pod cannot be Ready until all init containers have succeeded. The ports on an init container are not aggregated under a Service. A Pod that is initializing is in the Pending state but should have a condition Initialized set to true.

If the Pod restarts, or is restarted, all init containers must execute again.

Changes to the init container spec are limited to the container image field. Altering an init container image field is equivalent to restarting the Pod.

Because init containers can be restarted, retried, or re-executed, init container code should be idempotent. In particular, code that writes to files on EmptyDirs should be prepared for the possibility that an output file already exists.

Init containers have all of the fields of an app container. However, Kubernetes prohibits readinessProbe from being used because init containers cannot define readiness distinct from completion. This is enforced during validation.

Use activeDeadlineSeconds on the Pod and livenessProbe on the container to prevent init containers from failing forever. The active deadline includes init containers.

The name of each app and init container in a Pod must be unique; a validation error is thrown for any container sharing a name with another.


Given the ordering and execution for init containers, the following rules for resource usage apply:

  • The highest of any particular resource request or limit defined on all init containers is the effective init request/limit
  • The Pod's effective request/limit for a resource is the higher of:
    • the sum of all app containers request/limit for a resource
    • the effective init request/limit for a resource
  • Scheduling is done based on effective requests/limits, which means init containers can reserve resources for initialization that are not used during the life of the Pod.
  • The QoS (quality of service) tier of the Pod's effective QoS tier is the QoS tier for init containers and app containers alike.

Quota and limits are applied based on the effective Pod request and limit.

Pod level control groups (cgroups) are based on the effective Pod request and limit, the same as the scheduler.

Pod restart reasons

A Pod can restart, causing re-execution of init containers, for the following reasons:

  • A user updates the Pod specification, causing the init container image to change. Any changes to the init container image restarts the Pod. App container image changes only restart the app container.
  • The Pod infrastructure container is restarted. This is uncommon and would have to be done by someone with root access to nodes.
  • All containers in a Pod are terminated while restartPolicy is set to Always, forcing a restart, and the init container completion record has been lost due to garbage collection.

What's next

Last modified October 01, 2020 at 11:51 PM PST: Modify Understanding init containers section (481c02393)