Kubernetes PetSets

Kubernetes Networking 101


Kubernetes Networking 101

Kubernetes, an open-source container orchestration platform, has revolutionized how developers deploy and manage applications. As organizations increasingly adopt Kubernetes, understanding its networking capabilities becomes crucial for efficient container communication. This blog post will delve into Kubernetes networking, exploring its architecture, components, and critical concepts.

At its core, Kubernetes networking enables seamless communication between containers running on different nodes within a cluster. To achieve this, Kubernetes leverages a flexible and extensible networking model. The architecture comprises three main components: Pods, Services, and Ingress.


Highlights: Kubernetes Networking

  • The Kubernetes History

Kubernetes is an open-source cluster management tool released by Google in June 2014. Google has said it launches over 2 billion containers per week, and Kubernetes was designed to control and manage the orchestration of all these containers along with container networking. Initially, they built a Borg and Omega system, resulting in Kubernetes.

All lessons learned from Borg to Kubernetes are now passed to the open-source community. Kubernetes went 1.0 in July 2015 and is now at version 1.3.0. The Kubernetes deployment supports GCE, AWS, Azure, vSphere, and bare metal, and there are a variety of Kubernetes networking configuration parameters. Kubernetes forms the base for OpenShift networking

  • Kubernetes information check.

For additional information before you with Kubernetes networking 101, the post on Kubernetes chaos engineering discusses the need to stress and break a system, which is the only way to understand and optimize fully. Chaos Engineering starts with a baseline and introduces several controlled experiments. Then we have Kubernetes security best practice discuss the Kubernetes attack vectors and how to protect against them.


Before you proceed, you may find the following posts helpful:

  1. OpenShift SDN
  2. Docker Default Networking 101
  3. OVS Bridge
  4. Hands-On Kubernetes


Kubernetes Networking 101.

Key Kubernetes Networking 101 Discussion points:

  • Introduction to Kubernetes Networking.

  • Discussion of Microservices.

  • The challenges around network proximity.

  • Highlighting the Kubernetes Networking concepts.

  • Kubernetes Networking operation and traffic flow.


Introducing Kubernetes Networking

At a very high level, Kubernetes Networking 101 enables a group of hosts to be viewed as a single compute instance. The single compute instance, consisting of multiple physical hosts, is used to deploy containers. This offers an entirely different abstraction level to our single-container deployments.

Users start to think about high-level application services and the concept of service design only. They are no longer concerned with individual container deployment as the orchestrator looks after the deployment, scale, and management.

For example, if users specify to the orchestration system they want a specific type of application with defined requirements, now deploy it for me. The orchestrator manages the entire rollout, specifies the targeted hosts, and manages the container lifecycle. The user doesn’t get involved with host selection. This abstraction allows users to focus only on design and workload requirements – the orchestrator takes care of all the low-level deployment and management details.

Kubernetes Networking 101
Diagram: Kubernetes Networking 101


1. Pods:

Pods are the fundamental building blocks of Kubernetes, consisting of one or more containers that share a common network namespace. Each pod receives a unique IP address, allowing containers within the pod to communicate via localhost. However, communication between different pods requires additional networking components.

2. Services:

Services provide a stable and abstracted network endpoint to access a set of pods. By grouping pods based on a standard label, services ensure that applications can discover and communicate with each other seamlessly. Kubernetes offers four types of services: ClusterIP, NodePort, LoadBalancer, and ExternalName. Each service type caters to specific use cases, providing varying levels of accessibility.

3. Ingress:

Ingress is a Kubernetes resource that enables inbound connections to reach services within the cluster. It acts as a traffic controller, routing external requests to the appropriate service based on rules defined in the Ingress resource. Additionally, Ingress supports TLS termination, allowing secure communication with services.

Networking Concepts:

To comprehend Kubernetes networking fully, it is essential to grasp critical concepts that govern its behavior.

1. Cluster Networking:

Cluster networking refers to the communication between pods running on different nodes within a Kubernetes cluster. To establish node connectivity, Kubernetes leverages various networking solutions, such as overlay networks and software-defined networking (SDN). Popular SDN solutions include Calico, Flannel, and Weave.

2. DNS Resolution:

Kubernetes provides a built-in DNS service that enables easy discovery of services within the cluster. Each service is assigned a DNS name, which can be resolved to its corresponding IP address. This allows applications to communicate with services using their DNS names, enhancing flexibility and decoupling.

3. Network Policies:

Network policies define rules that dictate how pods communicate with each other. Administrators can enforce fine-grained access control and secure application traffic using network policies. Policies can be based on various criteria, such as IP addresses, ports, and protocols.



Distributed systems are more fine-grained now, with Kubernetes driving microservices. Microservices is a fast-moving topic involving the breaking down applications into many specific services. All services have their lifecycles, collaborating. Splitting the Monolith with microservices is not a new idea ( the term is ), but the emergence of new technologies has a profound effect.

The specific domains/containers require constant communication and access to each other’s services. Therefore, a strategy needs to be maintained to manage container interaction. For example, how do we scale containers? What’s the process for container failure? How do we react to container resource limits? 

Although Docker does help with container management, Kubernetes orchestration works on a different scale and looks at the entire application stack allowing management at a service/application level.

We need a management and orchestration system to take full advantage of the portability of containers and microservices. Containers can’t just be thrown into a sea of computing and expect to tie themselves together and work efficiently.

A management tool is required to govern and manage the life of containers, where they are placed, and to whom they can talk. Containers have a complicated existence, and many pieces are used to patch up their communication flow and management. We have updates, high availability, service discovery, patching, security, and networking. 

The most important aspect to remember with Kubernetes or any content management system is that they are not concerned with individual container placement. Instead, the focus is on workload placement. Users enter high-level requirements, and the scheduler does the rest – where, when, and how many?


Kubernetes networking 101 and network proximity.

Looking at workloads to analyze placement optimizes application deployment. For example, some processes that are part of the same service will benefit from network proximity. Front-end tiers sending large chunks of data to a backend database tier should be close to each other, not trombone across the network Kubernetes host for processing.

Likewise, when common data needs to be accessed and processed, it makes sense to put containers “close” to each other in a cluster. The following diagram displays the core Kubernetes architecture.


Kubernetes Networking 101: The Constructs

Kubernetes uses four primary constructs to build the application stack – Pods, Services, Labels, and Replication Controllers. All constructs are configured and combined, resulting in a complete application stack with all management components—pods group similar containers on the same hosts.

Labels tag objects; replication controllers manage the desired state at a POD level, not container level and services enable Pod-to-Pod communication. These constructs enable the management of your entire application lifecycle instead of individual application components. Construct definition is through configuration files either in YAML or JSON format.


The Kubernetes Pod

Pods are the smallest scheduling unit in Kubernetes and hold a set of closely related containers, all sharing fate and resources. Containers in a Pod share the same Kubernetes network namespace and must be installed on the same host. The main idea of keeping similar or related containers together is that processing is performed locally and does not incur any latency traversing from one physical host to another. As a result, local processing is always faster than remote processing. 

Pods essentially hold containers with related pieces of the application stack. The critical point is that they are ephemeral and follow a specific lifecycle. They should come and go without service interruption as any service-destined traffic directed should be towards the “service” endpoint IP address, not the Pod IP address.

Even Though Pods have a pod-wide-IP address, service reachability is carried out with service endpoints. Services are not as ephemeral ( although they can be deleted ) and don’t go away as much as Pods. They act as the front-end VIP to back-end Pods ( more on later ). This type of architecture hammers home the level of abstraction Kubernetes seeks.


Pod definition file

The following example displays a Pod definition file. We have basic configuration parameters, such as the Pod’s name and ID. Also, notice that the object type is set to “Pod.” This will be set according to the object we are defining. Later we will see this set as “service” for defining a service endpoint.

In this example, we define two containers – “testpod80” and “testpod8080”. We also have the option to specify the container image and Label. As Kubernetes assigns the same IP to the Pod where both containers live, we should be able to browse to the same IP but different port numbers, 80 or 8080. Traffic gets redirected to the respective container.


Kubernetes Pod

Kubernetes labels

Containers within a Pod share their network namespaces. All containers within can reach each other’s ports on localhost. This reduces the isolation between containers, but any more isolation would go against why we have Pods in the first place. They are meant to group “similar” containers sharing the same resource volumes, RAM, and CPU. For Pod segmentation, we have labels – a Kubernetes tagging system.

Labels offer another level of abstraction by tagging items as a group. They are essentially key-value pairs categorizing constructs. When we create Kubernetes constructs, we can set a label, which acts as a tag for that construct.

This means you can access a group of objects by specifying the label assigned to those objects. For example, labels distinguish containers as part of a web or database tier. The “selector” field tells Kubernetes which labels to use in finding Pods to forward traffic to.


Replication Controller

Container Scheduler

The replication controller ( RC ) manages the lifecycle and state of Pods. It ensures the desired state always matches the actual state. When you create an RC, you define how many copies ( aka replicas) of the Pod you want in the cluster.

The RC maintains that the correct numbers are running by creating or removing Pods at any time. Kubernetes doesn’t care about the number of containers running in a Pod; its only concern is the number of Pods. Therefore, it works at a Pod level.

The following is an example of an RC service definition file. Here you can see that the desired state of replicas is “2”. The replica of 2 means that the number of pods each controller should maintain is 2. Changing the number up or down will either increase or decrease the number of Pods the replication controller manages.

For example, if the RC notices too many, it will stop some from returning the replication controller to the desired state. The RC keeps track of the desired state and returns it to the state specified in the service definition file. We may also assign a label for grouping replication controllers.


Kubernetes replication controller


Kubernetes Services

Service endpoints enable the abstraction of services and the ability to scale horizontally. Essentially, it is an abstraction defining a logical set of Pods. Services represent groups of Pods acting as one, allowing Pods to access services in other Pods without directing service-destined traffic to the Pod IP. Remember, Pods are short-lived!

The service endpoint’s IP address is from the “Portal Net” range defined on the API service. The address is local to the host, so make sure it doesn’t clash with the docker0 bridge IP address.

Pods are targeted by accessing a service that represents a group of Pods. A service can be viewed with a similar analogy to a load balancer, sitting in front of Pods accepting front-end service-destined traffic. Services act as the main hooking point for service / Pod interactions. They offer high-level abstraction to Pods and the containers within.

All traffic gets redirected to the service IP endpoint, which performs the redirection to the correct backend. Traffic hits the service IP address ( Portal Net ), and a Netfilter IPtable rules forward to a local host high port number.

The -proxy service creates the high port number forming the basis for load balancing. The load balancing object then listens to that port. The Kub proxy acts as a full proxy, maintaining two different TCP connections.

One separates the connection from the container to the proxy and another from the proxy to the load-balanced destination. The following is an example of a service definition file. The service listens on port 80 and sends traffic to the backend container port on 8080. Notice how the object kind is set to “service” and not “Pods” like in the previous definition file.


Kubernetes Services

Kubernetes Networking 101 Model

The Kubernetes networking model details that each Pod should have a routable IP address. This makes communication between Pods easier by not requiring any NAT or port mappings we had with earlier versions of Docker networking.

With Kubernetes, for example, we can have a web server and database server placed in the same Pod and use the local interface for cross-communication. Furthermore, as there is no additional translation, performance is better than a NAT’d approach.


Kubernetes network proxy

Kubernetes fulfills service -> Pods integration by enabling a network proxy called the Kube-proxy on every node in a cluster. The network proxy is always there even if Pods are not running. Its main task is to route traffic to the correct Pod and can do TCP, UDP stream forwarding or round robin TCP, UDP forwarding.

The Kube-proxy captures service-destination traffic and proxies requests from the service endpoint back to the application’s Pod. The traffic is forwarded to the Pods on the target port defined in the definition file. The target port is a random port assigned during service creation.

To make all this work, Kubernetes uses IPtables and Virtual IP addresses.

When using Kubernetes alongside, for example, Opencontrail, the Kube-proxy is disabled on all hosts, and the OpenContrail router module implements connectivity via overlays ( MPLS over UDP encapsulation ). Another vendor on the forefront is Midokura, the co-founder behind OpenStack Project Kuryr. This project aims to bring any SDN plugin (MidoNet, Dragon flow, OVS, etc.) to Containers—more on these another time.


Kubernetes Pod-IP approach

The Pods IP address is reachable by all other Pods and hosts in the Kubernetes cluster. The address is not usually routable outside of the cluster. This should not be too much of a concern as most traffic stays within application tiers inside the cluster. Mapping external load-balancers achieve any inbound external traffic to services in the cluster.

The Pod-IP approach assumes that all Pods can reach each other without creating specific links. They can access each other by IP rather than through a port mapping on the physical host. Port mappings hide the original address by performing a masquerade – Source NAT.

Similar to how your home residential router hides local PC and laptop IP addresses from the public Internet. Cross-node communication is much simpler as every Pod has an IP address. There isn’t any port mapping or NAT like there is with default docker networking. If the Kube-proxy receives traffic for a Pod, not on its host, it simply forwards the traffic to the correct Pod-IP for that service.

The IP per POD offers a simplified approach to K8 networking. A unique IP per host would potentially need port mappings on the host IP as the number of containers increases. Managing port assignment would become an operational and management burden, similar to earlier versions of Docker. Conversely, a unique IP per container would surely hit scalability limits.


Kubernetes PAUSE container

Kubernetes has what’s known as a PAUSE container, also referred to as a Pod infrastructure container. It handles the networking by holding the networking namespace and IP address for the containers on that Pod. Some refer to the PAUSE container as an implementation detail you can safely ignore.

Each container uses a Pod’s “mapped container” mode to connect to the pause container. The mapped container mode is implemented with a source and target container grouping. The source container is the user-created container, and the target container is the infrastructure pause container.

Destination Pod IP traffic first lands on the pause container and gets translated to the backend containers. The pause container and the user-built containers all share the same network stack. Remember we created a service destination file with two containers – port 80 and port 8080? It is the pause container that listens on these port numbers.

In summary, the Kubernetes model introduces three methods of communication.

  • a) Pod-to-Pod communication directly by IP address. Kubernetes has a Pod-IP-wide metric simplifying communication.
  • b) Pod-to-Service Communication – Clients’ traffic is directed to the virtual service IP, which is then intercepted by the kub-proxy process ( running on all hosts) and directed to the correct Pod.
  • c) External-to-Internal Communication – external access is captured by an external load balancer that targets nodes in a cluster. The Kub proxy determines the correct Pod to send traffic to—more on this in a separate post.


Docker & Kubernetes networking comparison

Docker uses host-private networking. The Docker engine creates a default bridge, and every container gets a virtual ethernet to that bridge. The veth acts like a pipe – one end is mapped to the docker0 bridge namespace and the other to the container’s Linux namespace. This provides connectivity between containers on the same Docker bridge.

All containers are assigned an address from the range and to the default bridge acting as the container gateway. Any off-host traffic requires port mappings and NAT for communication. Therefore, the container’s IP address is hidden, and the network would see the container traffic coming from the docker nodes’ physical IP address. 

The effect is that containers can only talk to each other by IP address on the same virtual bridge. Any off-host container communication requires messy port allocations. Recently, there have been enhancements to docker networking and multi-host native connectivity without translations. Although there are enhancements to the Docker network, the NAT / Port mapping design is not a clean solution.

The K8 model offers a different approach, and the docker0 bridge gets a routable IP address. Any outside host can access that Pod by IP address rather than through a port mapping on the physical host. Kubernetes has no NAT for container-to-container or container-to-node traffic.



Understanding Kubernetes networking is crucial for building scalable and resilient applications within a containerized environment. By leveraging its flexible architecture and components like Pods, Services, and Ingress, developers can enable seamless container communication and ensure efficient network management. Moreover, comprehending network concepts like cluster networking, DNS resolution, and network policies empowers administrators to establish robust and secure communication channels within the Kubernetes ecosystem. Embracing Kubernetes networking capabilities unlocks the full potential of this powerful container orchestration platform.


Matt Conran
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