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.

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.

Warning: kubeadm cannot manage certificates signed by an external CA.
Note: kubelet.conf is not included in the list above because kubeadm configures kubelet for automatic certificate renewal.

On nodes created with kubeadm init, prior to kubeadm version 1.17, there is a bug where you manually have to modify the contents of kubelet.conf. After kubeadm init finishes, you should update kubelet.conf to point to the rotated kubelet client certificates, by replacing client-certificate-data and client-key-data with:

client-certificate: /var/lib/kubelet/pki/kubelet-client-current.pem
client-key: /var/lib/kubelet/pki/kubelet-client-current.pem

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.

Note: It is a best practice to upgrade your cluster frequently in order to stay 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.

Warning: Prior to kubeadm version 1.17 there is a bug where the default value for --certificate-renewal is false for the kubeadm upgrade node command. In that case, you should explicitly set --certificate-renewal=true.

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.

Warning: If you are running an HA cluster, this command needs to be executed on all the control-plane nodes.
Note: certs renew uses the existing certificates as the authoritative source for attributes (Common Name, Organization, SAN, etc.) instead of the kubeadm-config ConfigMap. It is strongly recommended to keep them both in sync.

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 provide more details about how to execute manual certificate renewal using the Kubernetes certificates API.

Caution: These are advanced topics for users who need to integrate their organization's certificate infrastructure into a kubeadm-built cluster. If the default kubeadm configuration satisfies your needs, you should let kubeadm manage certificates instead.

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/v1beta2
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.

Last modified March 23, 2021 at 11:13 AM PST: Fix errors of linkchecker.py in tasks folder (d7c2dd670)