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Christian Kotzbauer
Christian Kotzbauer

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Managing K8s Authorization like charm

Managing K8s Authorization like charm

Administrating complex authorization scenarios with fine-grained permissions is often difficult. In the Kubernetes ecosystem, the "Role-based-Access-Control" (RBAC) pattern is often used to do authorization for different users and groups in your cluster. RBAC is very powerful, but gets complex if you want to grant permissions on a namespace-basis.

At work I faced this challange and wanted to simplify the definiton, creation and removal of those rules. The result of this simplification is the "access-manager", a Kubernetes-Operator I built to manage RoleBinding and ClusterRoleBindings. These two objects are used to assign permissions defined in Roles and ClusterRoles to accounts (Users, Groups, ServiceAccounts). And this assignment is often the complex part.


Let's start with an example, to make it more descriptive:

Given you have the following namespaces in Kubernetes:

  • ci-service
  • product-a
  • product-b
  • monitoring

And you have the following individuals or groups in your cluster:

  • Jane
  • John
  • Support (a group of user)
  • The ci-service solution

Jane is an administrator and needs access to all namespaces. John needs write-access to product-a and product-b. The support-group has to view (read-only) the two products and the monitoring namespace. As last requirement, the ServiceAccount of ci-service should be able to deploy new versions of the two products. For simplicity the Roles and ClusterRoles are already defined and the John and the CI should use the same role.

This scenario would end up in

  • one ClusterRoleBinding, where Jane is assigned to the cluster-admin role,
  • one RoleBinding in the two product namespaces, which assignes the User John and the ci-service ServiceAccount to manage the products,
  • one RoleBinding in the two product namespaces and the monitoring namespace for the support-group.

So six (Cluster-)RoleBindings are needed to achieve this. And the setup has to grow, if there would be a product-c namespace some day.

Let's get the operator into play and define the above:

kind: RbacDefinition
  name: my-definition
    - namespaceSelector:
          management: 'true'
        - roleName: product-write-permission
          kind: ClusterRole
            - name: ci-service
              kind: ServiceAccount
            - name: john
              kind: User
    - namespaceSelector:
          support: 'true'
        - roleName: support-permission
          kind: ClusterRole
            - name: support
              kind: Group
    - name: jane-admin
      clusterRoleName: cluster-admin
        - name: jane
          kind: User

I introduced two different labels on namespaces: All namespaces labeled with management: true are eligible to be managed from John and through the ci-service. All namespaced which should be viewed from the support-group are labeled with support: true. If there would be a namespace-c some day, all you have to do is, to add the needed labels. The operator will do the rest for you. Changes to namespaces or these RbacDefinitions are automatically detected and the desired state is applied.

For more detailed informations for the definition and other features, please read the api-docs.


Role-based authorization in Kubernetes becomes more complex as the cluster grows and more different accounts getting access. With the "access-manager" it is possible to just define the Roles needed and the the assignment-rules to accounts. The creation, modification and removal of the concrete Bindings is fully managed and nothing you have to care about.

Found a typo?

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