Kubernetes authentication and authorization


In this article we will explore how authentication and authorization works in kubernetes. But first what’s the difference?


When you validate your identity against a service or system you are authenticated meaning that the system recognizes you as a valid user. In kubernetes when you are creating the clusters you basically create a CA (Certificate Authority) that then you use to generate certificates for all components and users.


After you are authenticated the system needs to know if you have enough privileges to do whatever you might want to do. In kubernetes this is known as RBAC (Role based access control) and it translates to Roles as entities with permissions and are associated to service accounts via role bindings when things are scoped to a given namespace, otherwise you can have a cluster role and cluster role binding.

So we are going to create a namespace, a serviceaccount, a role and a role binding and then generate a kubeconfig for it and then test it.

The sources for this article can be found at: RBAC Example

Let’s get to it

Let’s start, I will use these generators but I’m saving these to a file and then applying.


The namespace resource is like a container for other resources and it’s often useful when deploying many apps to the same cluster or there are multiple users:

You can see more here

Service account:

The service account is your identity as part of the system, there are some important distinctions in user accounts vs service accounts, for example:

  • User accounts are for humans. Service accounts are for processes, which run in pods.
  • User accounts are intended to be global. Names must be unique across all namespaces of a cluster. Service accounts are namespaced. For this example we are generating a serviceaccount for a pod and a user account for us to use with kubectl (if we wanted a global user we should have used clusterrole and clusterrolebinding).

You can see more here


This role has admin-like privileges, the allowed verbs are, we are using * which means all:

  • list
  • get
  • watch
  • create
  • patch
  • update
  • delete

You can see more here and here

Role binding:

This is the glue that gives the permissions in the role to the service account that we created.

You can see more here

Example pod

Here we create a sample pod with curl and give it the service account with --serviceaccount=


Here we create all resources

Validating from the pod

Here we will export the token for our service account and query the kubernetes API. Notice that to be able to reach the kubernetes service since it’s in a different namespace we need to specify it with .default (because it’s in the default namespace) try: kubectl get svc -A to see all services.

Everything went well from our pod and we can communicate to the API from our pod, let’s see if it works for kubectl as well.

Generate kubectl config

Fetch the token (as you can see it’s saved as a kubernetes secret, so it’s mounted to pods as any other secret but automatically thanks to the service account) Notes: I used kubectl config view to discover the kind endpoint which is server: in my case, then replaced the values from the secret for the CA and the service account token/secret, also note that you need to decode from base64 when using kubectl get -o yaml, also note that we will get errors when trying to do things outside of our namespace because we simply don’t have permissions, this is a really powerful way to give permissions to users and this works because we created the role binding for our extra user and for the pod service account (be careful when wiring things up).

You can see more here and here

Clean up

Always remember to clean up your local machine / cluster / etc, in my case kind delete cluster will do it.


If you spot any error or have any suggestion, please send me a message so it gets fixed.

Also, you can check the source code and changes in the generated code and the sources here