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Good practices

This document describes the different properties a NAIS application should have.

In general, NAIS applications should be inspired by the Twelve Factor App manifesto.

Use environment variables for configuration

Configuration is all the things that is likely to change when you deploy the application in a different environment.

Putting these things in the application itself makes it harder to adjust for a new environment. Instead, the application should read these from the environment variables available and behave accordingly.

By putting configuration in environment variables, it is easier to reason about the configuration for a running application.

One could be tempted to put configuration in files, with separate files for each environment, but the risk is that these files now needs to be managed for each environment. Another common pitfall is to define the environments in your application and provide a single configuration to select environment. This has the downfall of increasing the maintenance burden if you ever decide to add additional environments.

Note that in this definition, secrets (database credentials, certificates, API tokens etc.) are configuration, and should be read from environment variables.

Both ConfigMap and Secret are Kubernetes resources that can be exposed to an application as environment variables. See envFrom ConfigMap, and envFrom Secret for more details.

Use enviroment variables exposed by the platform

Some environment variables are made available to the pods by default when deployed on the NAIS platform, depending on which features are enabled. Examples of such features are tokenx, azurerator and aivenator. Avoid setting your own environment variables for these values and use pre-defined variables instead.

This will ease or eliminate the need for configuration when the platform changes. Such changes in the platform will not necessarily be announced or communicated, as we expect the applications to use these variables and not create their own.

Set reasonable resource requests and limits

Setting reasonable resource requests and limits helps keep the clusters healthy, while not wasting resources.

A rule of thumb is to set the requested CPU and memory to what your applications uses under "normal" circumstances, and set limits to what it is reasonable to allow the application to use at most.

Most of the time, the important aspect is requests, because this says how much Kubernetes should reserve for your application. If you request too much, we are wasting resources. If you request too little, you run the risk of your application being starved in a low-resource situation.

limits is mostly a mechanism to protect the cluster when something goes wrong. A memory leak that results in your application using all available memory on the node is inconvenient.

limits.cpu is usually not needed, because your application will never be allowed to impact other processes running on the same CPU. If you need to do performance testing or similar activities, then setting limits.cpu might be useful to test how your application behaves when CPU constrained.

nais.yaml example
    memory: "64Mi"
    cpu: "100m"
    memory: "128Mi"
    # cpu limits are usually not needed

Handles termination gracefully

The application should make sure it listens to the SIGTERM signal, and prepare for shutdown (closing connections etc.) upon receival.

When running on NAIS (or Kubernetes, actually) your application must be able to handle being shut down at any given time. This is because the platform might have to reboot the node your application is running on (e.g. because of a OS patch requiring restart), and in that case will reschedule your application on a different node.

To best be able to handle this in your application, it helps to be aware of the relevant parts of the termination lifecycle.

  1. Application (pod) gets status TERMINATING, and grace period starts (default 30s)
  2. (simultaneous with 1) If the pod has a preStop hook defined, this is invoked
  3. (simultaneous with 1) The pod is removed from the list of endpoints i.e. taken out of load balancing
  4. (simultaneous with 1, but after preStop if defined) Container receives SIGTERM, and should prepare for shutdown
  5. Grace period ends, and container receives SIGKILL
  6. Pod disappears from the API, and is no longer visible for the client.

If your application does proper graceful shutdown when receiving a SIGTERM signal, you shouldn't need to do anything differently. If you need some other way to trigger graceful shutdown, you can define your own preStop-hook. Be aware that even after your preStop-hook has been triggered, your application might still receive new connections for a few seconds. This is because step 3 above can take a few seconds to complete. Your application should handle those connections before exiting.

If not set, the platform will automatically add a preStop-hook that pauses the termination sufficiently that e.g. the ingress controller has time to update it's list of endpoints (thus avoid sending traffic to a application while terminating).

The default preStop-hook is implemented by calling sleep 5. The sleep binary needs to be on PATH in your container for this to work. If this is not the case (for example if you use distroless baseimages), you will see warnings in the log when your container is stopping.

Exposes relevant application metrics

The application should be instrumented using Prometheus, exposing the relevant application metrics. See the metrics documentation for more info.

Writes structured logs to stdout

The application should emit json-formatted logs by writing directly to standard output. This will make it easier to index, view and search the logs later. See more details in the logs documentation

Crashes on fatal errors

If the application reaches an unrecoverable error, you should let it crash. Instead, you should immediately exit the process and let the kubelet restart the container.

By restarting the container, you allow for the eventual readiness of other dependencies.

Implements readiness and liveness endpoints

The readiness-probe is used by Kubernetes to determine if the application should receive traffic, while the liveness-probe lets Kubernetes know if your application is alive. If it's dead, Kubernetes will remove the pod and bring up a new one. They should be implemented as separate services as they usually have different characteristics.

  • liveness-probe should simply return HTTP 200 OK if main loop is running, and HTTP 5xx if not.
  • readiness-probe returns HTTP 200 OK is able to process requests, and HTTP 5xx if not. If the application has dependencies to e.g. a database to serve traffic, it's a good idea to check if the database is available in the readiness-probe.

Useful resources on the topic:

Run multiple replicas

The way Kubernetes operates relies on the fact that a system should be self-correcting over time. In order to facilitate this, the system responds to changes in various ways which will affect applications running on the platform. One of those ways is to restart pods, or move pods to other nodes if needed. This can also happen when you deploy a new version, if your use the Recreate rollout strategy.

If your application only has a single replica, then your users will experience downtime whenever your pod is restarted or moved.

If you wish to avoid unnecessary downtime, your application should run at least 2 replicas.

If your application functions in a way that requires that only a single pod is active, you can employ leader election to select a leader that does the work,

while keeping a running backup replica ready to step in should the leader be killed.