Simple, Reproducible Kubernetes Deployments

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Kubernetes is a powerful container orchestrator for cloud native applications that can run on any cloud – AWS, Azure, GCP – in addition to hybrid and on-premises environments. Its CLI, kubectl, offers basic built-in support for performing deployments, but intentionally stops short here. In particular, it doesn’t offer diffs and previews, the ability to know when a deployment has succeeded or failed, and why, and/or sophisticated deployment orchestration.

In this post, we’ll see how Pulumi, an open source cloud native development platform, can not only let you express Kubernetes programs in familiar programming languages, like TypeScript, instead of endless YAML templates, but also how Pulumi delivers simple and reproducible, yet powerful, Kubernetes deployment workflows.

Less YAML, More Robustness

Pulumi 0.15 introduced Kubernetes support to Pulumi. When we started working on this, we already loved being able to write in our favorite languages – with the benefits of IDEs, classes and functions, and reuse through packages – instead of YAML. But we felt just having great programming language alone wasn’t enough.

As we looked to how teams wanted to operationalize our Kubernetes support, we set our sights on one major area: delivering simple, reproducible application deployment workflows. When an app attempts to roll out, it should be obvious if it succeeded. If the rollout failed, on the other hand, errors should be clear and useful enough that most problems are simple to fix – and resuming where you left off after fixing should be similarly just as easy. Finally, all of this should be repeatable so that CI/CD is robust in production team environments.

Like many others, we’ve used kubectl apply to dump a pile of YAML into the API server. The command returns instantly, but what happens next? Is the app up? How does this tie back into CI/CD, so others on the team know what’s up with a deployment? Did something fail, or get stuck?

The vision in our heads, which we set out to build, was something more like this:

Oh no, an error!

In this example, we can clearly see the entire set of resource objects being created, their ongoing status, and when and why something might have failed (in this case, a missing Docker image). This is a real screengrab of our CLI.

The service works in tandem with the CLI, so we always have a history and record of successful or failed deployments:


Let’s Deploy Some Code!

In this post, we’ll get a taste of this and several other aspects of the Pulumi workflow by deploying a very simple app – an nginx web server – to a Kubernetes cluster.

We’ll show how to use the Pulumi update command to get real-time information about a deployment’s progress. We’ll see how to use Pulumi’s notion of “stack outputs” to present information about successful deployments to the user – e.g. the public IP address allocated to an application after the load balancer spins up. Finally, we’ll see how to use Pulumi’s diff command to reason about the blast radius of an update to the application, before even attempting it.

If you’d like to follow along, you can find the code here. In the README, you’ll find instructions for the prerequisites – installing Pulumi, setting up a local or remote Kubernetes cluster, etc.

Application Config-as-Code

Our first task in our journey is to write a Kubernetes application that deploys nginx to the cluster and exposes it publicly to the Internet. Kubernetes ships out of the box with useful APIs for deploying applications, managing incremental rollouts of changes, and specifying how traffic is directed, all of which we will use in this example.

The code below as a slightly modified version of the “Hello World” Deployment example from the Kubernetes docs. We have chosen to write this Pulumi program in TypeScript, an excellent choice for a mix of dynamic productivity, static typing (meaning we will find errors sooner, often at compile time!), and provides instant access to the NPM ecosystem.

Note: It is also possible to directly deploy existing Kubernetes YAML objects, as a stepping stone. See the example here. This lets you reap all of the benefits of the deployment workflow called out in this post without needing to rewrite all of your Kubernetes YAML. It’s easy to then rewrite it piecemeal, one step at a time, after getting up and running.

This application has two major pieces:

  • The Deployment, which takes a template for an application, and then instantiates some user-specified number of copies (or replicas) of that template in the cluster.
  • The Service, which we will use to allocate a publicly-reachable IP address, and to direct traffic.

The code below from index.ts defines our application using these two APIs:

// nginx container, replicated 3 time.
const appName = "nginx";
const appLabels = { app: appName };
const nginx = new k8s.apps.v1beta1.Deployment(appName, {
    spec: {
        selector: { matchLabels: appLabels },
        replicas: 3,
        // The application template to replicate -- just the nginx container.
        template: {
            metadata: { labels: appLabels },
            spec: { containers: [{ name: appName, image: "nginx:1.15-alpine" }] }

// Allocate an IP to the nginx Deployment.
const frontend = new k8s.core.v1.Service(appName, {
    metadata: { labels: nginx.spec.apply(spec => spec.template.metadata.labels) },
    spec: {
        // Type `LoadBalancer` causes us to allocate a public IP address.
        type: "LoadBalancer",
        ports: [{ port: 80, targetPort: 80, protocol: "TCP" }],
        selector: appLabels

This code creates 3 replicas of the nginx container, puts them behind a load balancer listening on port 80, and exposes it publicly to the Internet.

Right away, we notice:

  • Pulumi does not define a new API for Kubernetes; it simply uses the same schema as the upstream Deployment and Service APIs. In fact, it is generated from the Kubernetes OpenAPI specification, so it is always up-to-date and complete.
  • By using TypeScript, we have the ability to eliminate repetition and boilerplate with familiar programming language constructs, like we did with our appLabels variable that is reused multiple times. Another example is the use of a function to capture common patterns, as can be seen in our port of the ever-familiar guestbook application.

Deploying the Application

If we were deploying normal Kubernetes YAML, we’d run kubectl apply. This would return instantly, and it would be up to us to use ancillary commands (e.g. kubectl get service) to figure out if the application succeeded.

The Pulumi equivalent is to run pulumi up. This evaluates our program, figures out the diff and incremental update plan, shows us a preview of what it will do, and ultimately carries it out. Under the hood, this is using the Kubernetes Go client library, and – although we will still use kubectl to inspect and interact with cluster state, the entire deployment process is subsumed by pulumi.

Indeed, if we take our project and simply run pulumi up we’ll see something like the following:


Compared to kubectl apply, many things are happening:

  • We see that pulumi up blocks until all Kubernetes resources have completed initialization. In this case, that includes a Deployment and a Service.

  • We see intermediate status messages as Kubernetes resources make progress towards initialization. For example the Service called nginx alerts us when (1) it successfully found application containers to direct traffic to, and (2) that an IP address has been allocated to it. If things fail, we will see that too.

  • All deployment is coordinated with a state manager so that concurrent updates are handled correctly in a team setting, rather than potentially clobbering one another.

  • If you look closely, at the end of the gif loop, you’ll notice some green text that looks like this:

      frontendIp: ""
  • This is the IP that was allocated to the Service, which in turn directs traffic to our nginx containers. If you run pulumi up yourself and open that IP address in your browser, easily available with the pulumi stack output frontendIp command, you will actually see the nginx landing page.

Using Stack Outputs

As a brief aside, you might have wondered: how did this IP address get here?

When kubectl apply completes, it is difficult to automatically obtain values like the IP address allocated to a Service. It can take many minutes for the IP address to be allocated, and most users simply resort to running kubectl get service repeatedly, until it appears. This is cumbersome and makes it hard to use reliably.

In Pulumi, such values are first-class citizens – called stack outputs. Because Pulumi has a notion of “done-ness”, and because pulumi up will block until all resources are finished initializing, it is trivial to “export” values from a fully-initialized resource. In this case, frontendIp simply contains the IP address obtained from the fully-initialized Service that directs traffic to the nginx containers – the IP address allocated to it.

We could take any value from any Kubernetes resource and put it in any variable – in this case, we just happen to have exported the IP address using a variable frontendIp. The code to do this export looks like this (at the bottom of index.ts):

export let frontendIp = frontend.status.apply(
    status => status.loadBalancer.ingress[0].ip);

Obtaining this value from the CLI is trivial using the pulumi stack output command. Here we use curl to get find the title of the nginx landing page that frontendIp points at.

$ curl -sL $(pulumi stack output frontendIp) | grep "<title>"
<title>Welcome to nginx!</title>

Updating our Application

Pulumi makes it easy to incrementally update our application too, after the initial creation. pulumi up just handles this automatically for us, by comparing its notion of a goal state to the cluster’s current state, and using that to devise a plan. Because of this, we get reliable preview diffs.

When running kubectl apply, it is often difficult to reason about what changes will be made to a running application, before actually carrying out the changes. This makes it difficult to predict the impact an update will have, including whether there would be potential downtime. Put simply, this can lead to accidents.

In contrast, in Pulumi the idea of a diff is a first-class concept, and is front and center in the workflow. To see this in action, try changing the container image from nginx:1.15-alpine to nginx:alpine-1.16-alpine in index.ts, and then run pulumi preview --diff. You will see something like this:


You can see several things happening here:

  • The diff captures the change in the nginx image.
  • It reports that the nginx Deployment resource will be updated in-place. Replaces may also be replaced or deleted, which would be evident from the diff also.

The intention here is to give users an intuition for the blast radius of the changes to a Kubernetes application.

Running diffs manually by hand isn’t necessary, despite being useful. Unless you explicitly bypass it, running pulumi up will always show you a preview first and confirm that you’d like to proceed before actually making any changes. And because Pulumi is always tracking old states, rollback afterwards is easy also.

This CLI workflow is great for the dev inner loop, however the Pulumi GitHub App also integrates these previews and diffs with your CI/CD system, by enlightening your GitHub Pull Requests with potential update impacts, while your team still has a chance to discuss changes inside the usual PR workflow, enabling powerful GitOps scenarios.


In this article, you’ve seen that you can express Kubernetes apps in real code, instead of YAML, and you’ve gotten a taste of the pulumi up deployment workflow, especially compared to kubectl.

Try it out now by heading over to our Getting Started page.

We are just getting started. In the coming weeks we will be sharing more around other deployment scenarios, including A/B traffic splitting, canaries guarded by Prometheus metrics, Kubernetes application code living alongside AWS infrastructure, triggering of cascading rollouts based on ConfigMap changes… And much, much, more.

If you have specific use cases you’d like to see us tackle, don’t hesitate to reach out, either on GitHub or in our Pulumi Community Slack. We’d love to hear from you!