Deep dive into Kubernetes network model and communication

Addo Zhang
7 min readApr 10, 2023

This is the first note on Kubernetes network learning.

In this series, we will explore the Kubernetes network model and communication through the following articles:

Kubernetes defines a simple and consistent network model based on a flat network structure. This design allows for efficient communication without the need to map host ports to network ports or use other forwarding components. The model also makes it easy for applications to migrate from virtual machines or physical machines to pods managed by Kubernetes.

In this article, we will dive into the Kubernetes network model and understand how communication takes place between containers and pods. The implementation of the network model will be covered in later articles.

Kubernetes Network Model

The Kubernetes network model defines the following:

  • Each pod has its own IP address, which is reachable within the cluster.
  • All containers within a pod share the same IP address (including MAC address) and can communicate with each other using localhost.
  • Pods can communicate with any other pod in the cluster using the pod IP address without the need for NAT.
  • Kubernetes components can communicate with each other and with pods.
  • Network isolation can be achieved through network policies.

The definition above mentions several related components:

  • Pod: In Kubernetes, a pod is similar to a virtual machine with a unique IP address. Pods on the same node share network and storage.
  • Container: A pod is a collection of containers that share the same network namespace. Containers within a pod communicate with each other using localhost. Containers have their own independent file system, CPU, memory, and process space. Containers are created by creating a pod.
  • Node: Pods run on nodes, and a cluster can have one or more nodes. The network namespace of each pod is connected to the namespace of the node to establish connectivity.

After discussing the network namespace so many times, how does it actually work?

How Network Namespace Works

In the Kubernetes distribution k3s, a pod is created with two containers: a curl container for sending requests and an httpbin container for providing web services.

Although k3s is a distribution, it still uses the Kubernetes network model, which does not prevent us from understanding the network model.

apiVersion: v1
kind: Pod
metadata:
name: multi-container-pod
spec:
containers:
- image: curlimages/curl
name: curl
command: ["sleep", "365d"]
- image: kennethreitz/httpbin
name: httpbin

Log in to the node and use lsns -t net to list the network namespaces on the current host. However, we cannot find the process of httpbin. There is a command for the namespace called /pause. This pause process is actually an invisible sandbox container process in each pod. The role of the sandbox container will be introduced in the next article on container network and CNI.

lsns -t net
NS TYPE NPROCS PID USER NETNSID NSFS COMMAND
4026531992 net 126 1 root unassigned /lib/systemd/systemd --system --deserialize 31
4026532247 net 1 83224 uuidd unassigned /usr/sbin/uuidd --socket-activation
4026532317 net 4 129820 65535 0 /run/netns/cni-607c5530-b6d8-ba57-420e-a467d7b10c56 /pause

Since each container has its own process namespace, let’s switch to the process type namespace to see the process type space:

lsns -t pid
NS TYPE NPROCS PID USER COMMAND
4026531836 pid 127 1 root /lib/systemd/systemd --system --deserialize 31
4026532387 pid 1 129820 65535 /pause
4026532389 pid 1 129855 systemd-network sleep 365d
4026532391 pid 2 129889 root /usr/bin/python3 /usr/local/bin/gunicorn -b 0.0.0.0:80 httpbin:app -k gevent

With the process PID 129889, we can find the namespace it belongs to:

ip netns identify 129889
cni-607c5530-b6d8-ba57-420e-a467d7b10c56

Then we can use exec to run commands in that namespace:

ip netns exec cni-607c5530-b6d8-ba57-420e-a467d7b10c56 ip a
1: lo: <LOOPBACK,UP,LOWER_UP> mtu 65536 qdisc noqueue state UNKNOWN group default qlen 1000
link/loopback 00:00:00:00:00:00 brd 00:00:00:00:00:00
inet 127.0.0.1/8 scope host lo
valid_lft forever preferred_lft forever
inet6 ::1/128 scope host
valid_lft forever preferred_lft forever
2: eth0@if17: <BROADCAST,MULTICAST,UP,LOWER_UP> mtu 1450 qdisc noqueue state UP group default
link/ether f2:c8:17:b6:5f:e5 brd ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff link-netnsid 0
inet 10.42.1.14/24 brd 10.42.1.255 scope global eth0
valid_lft forever preferred_lft forever
inet6 fe80::f0c8:17ff:feb6:5fe5/64 scope link
valid_lft forever preferred_lft forever

From the result, we can see that the IP address of the pod 10.42.1.14 is bound to the interface eth0, and eth0 is connected to the interface 17.

On the node host, we can check the information of interface 17. veth7912056b is a virtual Ethernet interface (vitual ethernet device) in the host root namespace, which is a tunnel connecting the pod network and the node network, with the other end being the interface eth0 in the pod namespace.

ip link | grep -A1 ^17
17: veth7912056b@if2: <BROADCAST,MULTICAST,UP,LOWER_UP> mtu 1450 qdisc noqueue master cni0 state UP mode DEFAULT group default
link/ether d6:5e:54:7f:df:af brd ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff link-netns cni-607c5530-b6d8-ba57-420e-a467d7b10c56

From the previous result, we can see that this veth is connected to a network bridge cni0.

A network bridge works at the data link layer (Layer 2 of the OSI model), connecting multiple networks (or network segments). When a request arrives at the bridge, the bridge asks all connected interfaces (here, the pod is connected to the bridge through the veth interface) if they have the IP address in the original request. If an interface responds, the bridge records the matching information (IP -> veth) and forwards the data.

But what happens if there is no interface response? The specific process depends on the implementation of various network plugins. I plan to introduce commonly used network plugins, such as Calico, Flannel, Cilium, etc., in later articles.

What happens if there is no interface response depends on the implementation of various network plugins. I plan to introduce commonly used network plugins, such as Calico, Flannel, Cilium, etc., in later articles.

Next, let’s take a look at how network communication is completed in Kubernetes. There are several types:

  • Communication between containers within the same pod
  • Communication between pods on the same node
  • Communication between pods on different nodes

How Kubernetes Networking Works

Communication Between Containers in the Same Pod

Communication between containers in the same pod is simple. These containers share a network namespace, and each namespace has a lo loopback interface, which can be used to communicate via localhost.

Communication Between Pods on the Same Node

When we run the curl container and the httpbin container in two separate pods, they may be scheduled to the same node. The request sent by curl reaches the eth0 interface of the pod according to the container's routing table. Then, it reaches the node's root network namespace through the veth1 tunnel connected to eth0.

veth1 is connected to other pods through the virtual Ethernet interface vethX connected to the bridge cni0. The bridge will ask all connected interfaces if they have the IP address in the original request (such as 10.42.1.9 here). After receiving a response, the bridge records the mapping information (10.42.1.9 => veth0) and forwards the data. Eventually, the data enters the httpbin pod through the veth0 tunnel.

Communication Between Pods on Different Nodes

Communication between pods across nodes is more complex, and different network plugins handle it differently. Here, we choose an easy-to-understand way to briefly explain it.

The first part of the process is similar to communication between pods on the same node. When the request reaches the bridge, the bridge asks which pod has the IP address but does not receive a response. The process enters the host’s routing addressing process and moves to a higher level in the cluster.

There is a routing table at the cluster level that stores the Pod IP subnet of each node. When a node joins the cluster, it is assigned a Pod subnet (Pod CIDR). For example, the default Pod CIDR in k3s is 10.42.0.0/16, and the node obtains the subnet of 10.42.0.0/24, 10.42.1.0/24, 10.42.2.0/24, and so on, in turn. The node that should receive the request can be determined by its Pod IP subnet, and the request is sent to that node.

Summary

Now, you should have a basic understanding of Kubernetes networking.

The entire communication process requires the coordination of various components, such as the pod network namespace, the pod Ethernet interface eth0, virtual Ethernet interfaces vethX, network bridge cni0, and so on. Some of these components correspond to pods one-to-one and have the same lifecycle as the pods. Although they can be created, associated, and deleted manually, it is not realistic for non-permanent resources like pods, which are frequently created and destroyed, to rely on too much manual work.

In fact, these tasks are delegated to network plugins by the container, which follow the CNI (Container Network Interface) specification.

What do network plugins do?

  • Create the network namespace for the pod (container)
  • Create interfaces
  • Create veth pairs
  • Set namespace networking
  • Set static routes
  • Configure Ethernet bridge
  • Assign IP addresses
  • Create NAT rules

References

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Addo Zhang

CNCF Ambassador | LF APAC OpenSource Evangelist | Microsoft MVP | SA and Evangelist at https://flomesh.io | Programmer | Blogger | Mazda Lover | Ex-BBer