This document provides a technical overview of the Cilium Operator and describes the cluster-wide operations it is responsible for.
Highly Available Cilium Operator
The Cilium Operator uses Kubernetes leader election library in conjunction with lease locks to provide HA functionality. The capability is supported on Kubernetes versions 1.14 and above. It is Cilium’s default behavior since the 1.9 release.
The number of replicas for the HA deployment can be configured using
helm install cilium cilium/cilium --version 1.14.2 \ --namespace kube-system \ --set operator.replicas=3
$ kubectl get deployment cilium-operator -n kube-system NAME READY UP-TO-DATE AVAILABLE AGE cilium-operator 3/3 3 3 46s
The operator is an integral part of Cilium installations in Kubernetes environments and is tasked to perform the following operations:
The default behavior of the Cilium Operator is to register the CRDs used by Cilium. The following custom resources are registered by the Cilium Operator:
Cilium Operator is responsible for IP address management when running in the following modes:
When running in IPAM mode Kubernetes Host Scope, the allocation CIDRs used by
cilium-agent is derived from the fields
populated by Kubernetes in the Kubernetes
For CRD-Backed IPAM allocation mode, it is the job of Cloud-specific
operator to populate the required information about CIDRs in the
Cilium currently has native support for the following Cloud providers in CRD IPAM mode:
For more information on IPAM visit IP Address Management (IPAM).
Load Balancer IP Address Management
When LoadBalancer IP Address Management (LB IPAM) is used, Cilium Operator manages IP address
type: LoadBalancer services.
These operations are performed only when KVStore is enabled for the
Cilium Operator. In addition, KVStore operations are only required when
cilium-operator is running with any of the below options:
K8s Services synchronization
Cilium Operator performs the job of synchronizing Kubernetes services to
external KVStore configured for the Cilium Operator if running with
The Cilium Operator performs this operation only for shared services (services
service.cilium.io/shared annotation set to true). This is
meaningful when running Cilium to setup a ClusterMesh.
K8s Nodes synchronization
Similar to K8s services, Cilium Operator also synchronizes Kubernetes nodes information to the shared KVStore.
Node object is deleted it is not possible to reliably cleanup
CiliumNode object from the Agent itself. The Cilium Operator
holds the responsibility to garbage collect orphaned
CNP/CCNP node status garbage collection
For the same reasons that the Agent cannot reliably delete
the Agent also cannot remove the status corresponding to a node in a
CiliumNetworkPolicy (CNP) or CiliumClusterwideNetworkPolicy (CCNP) object.
This operation of node status garbage collection from CNP/CCNP objects is
also performed by the Cilium Operator instead of the Agent.
This behavior can be disabled passing
helm install when installing or updating Cilium:
helm install cilium cilium/cilium --version 1.14.2 \ --namespace kube-system \ --set enableCnpStatusUpdates=false
The Cilium Operator periodically updates the Cilium’s heartbeat path key
with the current time. The default key for this heartbeat is
cilium/.heartbeat in the KVStore. It is used by Cilium Agents to validate
that KVStore updates can be received.
Policy status update
Cilium Operator performs the operation of CNP/CCNP node status updates
k8s-events-handover is enabled. This optimizes Kubernetes events
handling in large clusters. For the node status updates to be handled by
the Cilium Operator, all the K8s events are mirrored to the KVStore, which
is then used to perform operations via the Cilium Operator. This operation
is performed for both
For each CNP/CCNP object in the cluster, the Cilium Operator start a status handler. This handler periodically updates the node statuses for the CNP/CCNP objects with the status of the policy for the corresponding node.
Identity garbage collection
Each workload in Kubernetes is assigned a security identity that is used for policy decision making. This identity is based on common workload markers like labels. Cilium supports two identity allocation mechanisms:
CRD Identity allocation
KVStore Identity allocation
Both the mechanisms of identity allocation require the Cilium Operator to perform the garbage collection of stale identities. This garbage collection is necessary because a 16-bit unsigned integer represents the security identity, and thus we can only have a maximum of 65536 identities in the cluster.
CRD Identity garbage collection
CRD identity allocation uses Kubernetes custom resource
CiliumIdentity to represent a security identity. This is the default
behavior of Cilium and works out of the box in any K8s environment
without any external dependency.
The Cilium Operator maintains a local cache for CiliumIdentities with
the last time they were seen active. A controller runs in the background
periodically which scans this local cache and deletes identities that
have not had their heartbeat life sign updated since
One thing to note here is that an Identity is always assumed to be live if it has an endpoint associated with it.
KVStore Identity garbage collection
While the CRD allocation mode for identities is more common, it is limited in terms of scale. When running in a very large environment, a saner choice is to use the KVStore allocation mode. This mode stores the identities in an external store like etcd.
For more information on Cilium’s scalability visit Scalability report.
The garbage collection mechanism involves scanning the KVStore of all the identities. For each identity, the Cilium Operator search in the KVStore if there are any active users of that identity. The entry is deleted from the KVStore if there are no active users.
CiliumEndpoint garbage collection
CiliumEndpoint object is created by the
cilium-agent for each
in the cluster. The Cilium Operator manages a controller to handle the
garbage collection of orphaned
CiliumEndpoint objects. An orphaned
CiliumEndpoint object means that the owner of the endpoint object is
not active anymore in the cluster. CiliumEndpoints are also considered
orphaned if the owner is an existing Pod in
This controller is run periodically if the
is specified and only once during startup if the option is unspecified.
Derivative network policy creation
When using Cloud-provider-specific constructs like
toGroups in the
network policy spec, the Cilium Operator performs the job of converting these
constructs to derivative CNP/CCNP objects without these fields.
For more information, see how Cilium network policies incorporate the
toGroups to lock down external access using AWS security groups.
Ingress and Gateway API Support
When Ingress or Gateway API support is enabled, the Cilium Operator performs the
task of parsing Ingress or Gateway API objects and converting them into
CiliumEnvoyConfig objects used for configuring the per-node Envoy proxy.
Additionally, Secrets used by Ingress or Gateway API objects will be synced to a Cilium-managed namespace that the Cilium Agent is then granted access to. This reduces the permissions required of the Cilium Agent.
Mutual Authentication Support
When Cilium’s Mutual Authentication Support is enabled, the Cilium Operator is responsible for ensuring that each Cilium Identity has an associated identity in the certificate management system. It will create and delete identity registrations in the configured certificate management section as required. The Cilium Operator does not, however have any to the key material in the identities.
That information is only shared with the Cilium Agent via other channels.