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Jenkins X and Kubernetes-native OSS Integration and Extension

By April 24, 2020November 1st, 2023Blog, Project

CDF Newsletter – May 2020 Article
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By Kara de la Marck

Jenkins X is an automated CI/CD platform built on Kubernetes. Jenkins X enables users to harness the power of Kubernetes without needing to be Kubernetes experts. How does a CI/CD platform do this? Jenkins X forms an abstraction layer over Kubernetes, simplifying the developer experience of building, deploying, and running Kubernetes applications. Under the hood, Jenkins X combines best-of-breed open source tools, creating a Kubernetes-native CI/CD platform that facilitates developer and GitOps best practices. 

In this post, we’ll look at how Jenkins X uses Kubernetes Custom Resource Definitions (CRDs) and the Kubernetes API to bring together these best-of-breed open source projects, creating a cutting edge continuous delivery platform on Kubernetes. We’ll highlight two Kubernetes design principles that help us understand how Jenkins X natively extends Kubernetes:

  • Kubernetes API is declarative
  • Kubernetes has no hidden APIs

Kubernetes itself is decomposed into multiple components which interact through the Kubernetes API. Kubernetes’ declarative, API driven infrastructure enables it to be composable and extensible.

Kubernetes API is declarative

The Kubernetes API is declarative rather than imperative: as a user, you declare the desired state of your application and the Kubernetes system drives to make it so. One important benefit of this is automatic recovery. If something happens to your application, for example, a node crashes, then Kubernetes will restore the desired state.

Kubernetes has no hidden APIs

The Kubernetes API is exposed by the Kubernetes API server, which is a component of the Kubernetes control plane. The Kubernetes control plane is transparent in that there are no hidden internal APIs in Kubernetes: Kubernetes components interact through the same API that Kubernetes exposes to its users.

A declarative, API driven infrastructure

Kubernetes’ declarative, API driven infrastructure means that components, such as nodes, talk to the Kubernetes API server to figure out what their state ought to be. Instead of having the decision centralised and sent out, each node is responsible for its own health, and figuring out its desired behaviour. If a node fails and is brought back up, the newly created node can query the API server to figure out what it’s supposed to do.

The declarative way the Kubernetes API server communicates with remote nodes is in contrast to traditional client – server relationships, where the client tells the server what to do in an imperative manner and the server does it. Building the Kubernetes API server this way would have meant it grew as more functionality was added; the API server would have been brittle and difficult to extend.

Kubernetes is using a pattern called level triggered, which is generally opposed to edge triggered. In edge triggered systems the system responds to events, but if the system doesn’t receive an event, then the event needs to be replayed for the system to recover.

“If you are edge triggered you run risk of compromising your state and never being able to re-create the state. If you are level triggered the pattern is very forgiving, and allows room for components not behaving as they should to be rectified. This is what makes Kubernetes work so well.”

Joe Beda, as quoted in Cloud Native Infrastructure, by Justin Garrison and Kris Nova 

In Kubernetes, if any component goes down, when it comes back up, it requests the desired state from the Kubernetes API server and works to match that state. Components that can recover in this way tend to be more robust and the overall system is more reliable. This is especially true in distributed systems, where there are so many components in the system that the expectation is that there will always be components failing. Distributed systems need to be designed to tolerate the failure of components. If your system has one central manager component, which tells all the parts of the system what they should be doing, and that central manager component goes down, your system is down. Distributing that responsibility, so every component can figure out what it should be doing, makes the system more reliable. No longer is there a single point of failure. 

What happens when the Kubernetes API server, which acts as a central point, goes down? All the components will continue to operate on the last information they received. When the API server comes back up, the components will then operate on the new state if there were any changes. If any of the components go down, the other components can continue to function independently of that failure. When failed components come back up, they can read the state they should work towards from the API server.

These design choices make Kubernetes reliable. They also make Kubernetes very composable and extensible. Because all components use the same Kubernetes API as you do as an end user, you can replace any default component with your own. You can also add new components to enable new functionality. This extensibility has helped create a vibrant ecosystem of Kubernetes-native open source projects that like Jenkins X are built on Kubernetes using Kubernetes resources and the Kubernetes API machinery.

Custom Resource Definitions (CRDs)

Kubernetes is extended through Custom Resource Definitions (CRDs). A Kubernetes resource is an endpoint in the Kubernetes API that stores API objects of a certain type. Kubernetes uses API objects to represent the state of your cluster. 

To create your own custom Kubernetes API object type, define a new CRD of your type and define the schema. Then you can create your own objects against the Kubernetes API server. In this way, a custom resource extends the Kubernetes API: creating CRDs is like embedding your own APIs inside Kubernetes itself. To use the custom API objects you have created, you write your own custom controllers that act on the data contained in your custom object types. Kubernetes controllers are the mechanism by which Kubernetes reconciles the state state of your cluster to the state declared in the Kubernetes API.

How do CRDs relate to Kubernetes built-in types? Tim Hockin, co-founder of the Kubernetes project, has said, “If we had CRDs on day zero of Kubernetes there would be no built-in types.” If CRDs had existed from the start, pods and nodes and everything else would also be a CRD! 

If they weren’t part of the original design, why were CRDs created? CRDs were first created as a way to extend Kubernetes functionality to enable rapid prototyping. 

“That’s what fascinates me about CRD. It started as a prototyping tool. K8s API machinery was not intended to be a framework, but that is what shook out. If we did that intentionally we would have messed it up.”

– Tim Hockin, Twitter

It’s extremely interesting that CRDs, which started as a prototyping mechanism, are now the main resource definition mechanism in Kubernetes. This enables Kubernetes to be more modular, and many core Kubernetes functions are now built using custom resources. 

The Kubernetes API machinery is now distilled such that it can be used as API machinery for any project, not just Kubernetes. The extensible nature of the Kubernetes API enables higher level applications and platforms to be built on Kubernetes. Jenkins X  runs directly on Kubernetes, uses the Kubernetes API, and defines CRDs for its workflow. Moreover, the same Kubernetes API machinery that makes Kubernetes extensible also enables Kubernetes-native applications to integrate well with each other. Jenkins X both creates its own CRDs and integrates with other Kubernetes-native applications through the Kubernetes API to form a Kubernetes-native CI/CD platform.

Jenkins X High Level Architecture:

As seen in the diagram above, Jenkins X integrates with a number of open source projects such as TektonProw, and Vault, among others, to create an automated Kubernetes-native CI/CD platform. Jenkins X relies on CRDs to create new resources and extend the Kubernetes API. The Kubernetes API machinery enables Jenkins X to integrate with other open source projects through the Kubernetes API server.

Tekton, the pipeline execution engine for Jenkins X

Tekton is the pipeline execution engine for Jenkins X. Like Jenkins X, Tekton is Kubernetes-native and extends Kubernetes using CRDs. Jenkins X leverages Prow, or Jenkins X’s own Lighthouse, to signal to Tekton to run builds. Lighthouse is a lightweight webhook handler, which listens for Git webhook events and uses them to trigger Tekton PipelineRun CRDs for Tekton to use to perform builds. Tekton then generates a status update which Jenkins X communicates back to source code management providers, such as GitHub. 

The integration between Jenkins X as a CI/CD platform and Tekton as the execution engine for Jenkins X happens within Kubernetes using CRDs and the Kubernetes API. That both projects are Kubernetes-native enables them to seamlessly integrate using the Kubernetes API machinery.

“Tekton Pipelines lets us power Jenkins X’s execution and management of pipelines natively within Kubernetes.”

 – Andrew Bayer, Software Engineer, CloudBees, and creator of Jenkins X Pipeline Syntax