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Version: 1.7


Kubewarden is a Kubernetes policy engine. It uses policies written in a programming language of your choosing. This language must generate a WebAssembly binary for Kubewarden to use.

The Kubewarden stack consists of these components:

  • Kubewarden Custom Resources: These are Kubernetes Custom Resources that simplify the process of managing policies.

  • kubewarden-controller: This is a Kubernetes controller that reconciles Kubewarden's Custom Resources. This controller creates parts of the Kubewarden stack. It also translates Kubewarden configuration into Kubernetes directives.

  • Kubewarden policies: These are WebAssembly modules holding the validation or mutation logic. WebAssembly modules have detailed documentation in the writing policies sections.

  • policy-server: The policy-server receives requests for validation. It validates the requests by executing Kubewarden policies.

  • audit-scanner: The audit scanner inspects the resources already in the cluster. It identifies those violating Kubewarden policies.

Kubewarden integrates with Kubernetes using Dynamic Admission Control. In particular, Kubewarden operates as a Kubernetes Admission Webhook. The policy-server is the Webhook endpoint called by the Kubernetes API server to validate requests.

The kubewarden-controller registers the needed MutatingWebhookConfiguration or ValidatingWebhookConfiguration objects with the Kubernetes API server.

Audit scanner constantly checks the resources declared in the cluster, flagging the ones that no longer adhere with the deployed Kubewarden policies.

The diagram shows the architecture of a cluster running the Kubewarden stack:

Full architecture

The journey of a Kubewarden policy

The architecture diagram appears complex at first. This section covers it step by step.

Default policy server

On a new cluster, the Kubewarden components defined are:

  • the Custom Resource Definitions (CRD)
  • the kubewarden-controller Deployment
  • a PolicyServer Custom Resource named default.

Defining the first ClusterAdmissionPolicy resource

When the kubewarden-controller notices the default PolicyServer resource, it creates a Deployment of the policy-server component.

Kubewarden works as a Kubernetes Admission Webhook. Kubernetes specifies using TLS to secure all Webhook endpoints. The kubewarden-controller sets up this secure communication by:

  1. Generating a self-signed Certificate Authority
  2. Use this CA to generate a TLS certificate key for the policy-server Service.

These objects are all stored as Secret resources in Kubernetes.

Finally, kubewarden-controller creates the policy-server Deployment and a Kubernetes ClusterIP Service to expose it inside the cluster network.

Defining the first policy

This diagram shows what happens when defining the first policy bound to the default policy-server in the cluster:

Defining the first ClusterAdmissionPolicy resource


A policy must define which Policy Server it must run on. Or, we say it binds to a Policy Server. You can have different policies with the same Wasm module and settings running in many Policy Servers. However, you can't have a single policy definition that runs in many policy servers.

The kubewarden-controller notices the new ClusterAdmissionPolicy resource and so finds the bound PolicyServer and reconciles it.

Reconciliation of policy-server

When creating, modifying or deleting a ClusterAdmissionPolicy, a reconciliation loop activates in kubewarden-controller, for the PolicyServer owning the policy. This reconciliation loop creates a ConfigMap with all the polices bound to the PolicyServer. Then the Deployment rollout of the policy-server starts. It results in starting the new policy-server instance with the updated configuration.

At start time, the policy-server reads its configuration from the ConfigMap and downloads all the Kubewarden policies specified. You can download Kubewarden policies from remote HTTP servers and container registries.

You use policy settings parameters to tune a policies' behavior. After startup and policy download the policy-server checks the policy settings provided by the user are valid.

The policy-server validates policy settings by invoking the validate_setting function exposed by each policy. There is further documentation in the writing policies section of the documentation.

The policy-server exits with an error if one or more policies received wrong configuration parameters from the policy specification provided by the user.

If all policies are correctly configured, policy-server spawns a pool of worker threads to evaluate incoming requests using the Kubewarden policies specified by the user.

Finally, the policy-server starts a HTTPS server, the Kubewarden Policy Server, listening to incoming validation requests. Kubewarden uses the TLS key and certificate created by kubewarden-controller to secure the web server.

The web server exposes each policy by a dedicated path following the naming convention: /validate/<policy ID>.

This diagram shows the cluster when initialization of policy-server is complete:

policy-server initialized

Making Kubernetes aware of the policy

The policy-server Pods have a Readiness Probe, that kubewarden-controller uses to check when the policy-server Deployment is ready to evaluate AdmissionReviews.

Once the policy-server Deployment is marked as Ready, the kubewarden-controller makes the Kubernetes API server aware of the new policy by creating either a MutatingWebhookConfiguration or a ValidatingWebhookConfiguration object.

Each policy has a dedicated MutatingWebhookConfiguration or ValidatingWebhookConfiguration which points to the Webhook endpoint served by policy-server. The endpoint is reachable by the /validate/<policy ID> URL.

Kubernetes Webhook endpoint configuration

Policy in action

Now that all the necessary plumbing is complete, Kubernetes starts sending Admission Review requests to the right policy-server endpoints.

Policy in action

A policy-server receives the Admission Request object and, based on the endpoint that received the request, uses the correct policy to evaluate it.

Each policy is evaluated inside its own dedicated WebAssembly sandbox. The communication between policy-server (the "host") and the WebAssembly policy (the "guest") uses the waPC communication protocol. The protocol description is part of the writing policies documentation.

How Kubewarden handles many policy servers and policies

A cluster can have many policy servers and Kubewarden policies defined. There are benefits of having many policy servers:

  • You can isolate noisy namespaces or tenants, those generating many policy evaluations, from the rest of the cluster so as not to adversely affect other cluster operations.

  • You can run mission-critical policies in a dedicated Policy Server pool, making your infrastructure more resilient.

A PolicyServer resource defines each policy-server and a ClusterAdmissionPolicy or AdmissionPolicy resource defines each policy.

This leads back to the initial diagram:

Full architecture

A ClusterAdmissionPolicy is bound to a PolicyServer. Any ClusterAdmissionPolicies not specifying a PolicyServer are bound to the default PolicyServer. If a ClusterAdmissionPolicy references a PolicyServer that doesn't exist, its state is unschedulable.

Each policy-server defines many validation endpoints, one for each policy defined in its configuration file. You can load the same policy many times, with different configuration parameters.

The ValidatingWebhookConfiguration and MutatingWebhookConfiguration resources make the Kubernetes API server aware of these policies. Then kubewarden-controller keeps the API server and configuration resources in synchronization.

The Kubernetes API server dispatches incoming admission requests to the correct validation endpoint exposed by policy-server.