Learn How to Use TLS Bootstrapping in Kubernetes

Setting up a master and worker node for TLS bootstrapping can be tricky because many configuration steps are involved, so we decided to walk you through the process of enabling this useful feature in Kubernetes. Let’s get started!

What Is TLS Bootstrapping?

Kubernetes recommends making communication between node components such as kubelet and kube-proxy and master components private and secure. To achieve this, we need to distribute TLS certificates for node components and sign them with the master CA. Prior to  Kubernetes v1.4, users had to do most of the TLS bootstrapping work such as issuing and distributing certificates manually. In particular, the following steps were involved:

  1. Creating a Certificate Authority (CA) key and a certificate
  2. Distributing the CA certificate to the master(s)
  3. Creating a certificate and a key for each kubelet.
  4. Signing the kubelet certificate using the CA key on the master
  5. Distributing the kubelet key and the signed certificate to the node where the kubelet will be running

A certificate request and signing API was introduced in Kubernetes v1.4 to simplify this process. More specifically, it automates steps 3 forward. Thus, TLS bootstrapping may be described as a mechanism for the automatic retrieval of certificates from the API to allow newly created nodes(s) to communicate with master(s) securely. This feature became Generally Available in Kubernetes v. 1.12.


For the purpose of this article, we will use kubeadm to provision a master node, create a worker node, set up it manually, and connect to the master. Instructions on creating a single-master K8s cluster can be found here.

Assuming that a node has been created, we need the following information:

  1. master host:port
  2. a bootstrap token
  3. a CA certificate

First two can be obtained from the kubeadm init  output down below:

A CA cert can be found on a master node in /etc/kubernetes/pki/ca.crt , which is its default location.

To bootstrap a new node, we need only two binaries: kubectl  and kubelet .
Download those binaries from here and unpack them:

A container runtime is also a required node component, so don’t forget to install Docker or any other container runtime you prefer (e.g., rkt):

Next, create a folder for storing Kubernetes-related files:

Copy the ca.crt  from the master to /etc/kubernetes/pki

Now, we are almost prepared for the TLS bootstrapping of a new node. We do need two additional things, though:

  1. A path to kubeconfig  that does not exist yet and will be stored there
    after successful bootstrap: --kubeconfig
  2. A path to bootstrap config: --bootstrap-kubeconfig

We can either create a bootstrap config manually using kubectl config command
or just copy the kubeconfig  from a master node:

The last step we need to do is to create a systemd
file in /etc/systemd/system/kubelet.service  to run kubelet as a daemon.

We use the RotateKubeletClientCertificate  feature gate that enables certificate rotation. This Beta feature enables kubelet to update a certificate each time it’s going to expire.

Reload systemd  daemon and enable kubelet  service to run on startup.

Finally, check that node is up and running in Ready state:


That’s it! We have successfully enabled TLS bootstrapping of a new node. This automatic feature makes connecting nodes to the cluster and securing their communication with the kube-apiserver much easier. In particular, we do not need to manually create kubelet certificates and sign them with the master certificates because this process is automatically handled by the Kubernetes TLS API.

Below is the list of references that will help you install a single-master K8s cluster with kubeadm and learn more about TLS bootstrapping:

If you enjoyed this article you might also be interested in watching the following webinar:

TLS Webinar Registration

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