Understanding Kubernetes charms - tutorial

The goal of this tutorial is to expose the innards of Kubernetes charms and to explain the mechanisms of how such charms are built. It does so by making reference to an existing charm. Further reading suggestions are included at the end.


The following prerequisites are assumed as a starting point for this tutorial:

  • You have an Ubuntu SSO account.
  • You’re using Ubuntu 18.04 LTS (Bionic).
  • Juju (v.2.5.1) is installed. See the Installing Juju page.
  • Charm Tools (v.2.5.2) are installed. See the Charm Tools page.
  • The system user is ‘ubuntu’.

The SSO account is needed to interact with the Charm Store. The example username used in this guide is ‘jlarin’.

Install supporting software

Besides Juju and Charm Tools, some supporting software will be necessary. There are kubectl and Docker. Install them in this way:

sudo snap install kubectl --classic
sudo snap install docker

Create system group ‘docker’ and add your user to it. We assume a user of ‘ubuntu’ here:

sudo addgroup --system docker
sudo adduser ubuntu docker
newgrp docker

Verify that Docker is working:

docker run hello-world

Charm contents

The contents of the charm we’ll build are based on an existing MariaDB Kubernetes charm.

Begin by creating a work directory; initialising your new charm (named ‘mariadb-k8s-test’ here); and entering the resulting charm directory:

mkdir ~/work
cd ~/work
charm create mariadb-k8s-test
cd mariadb-k8s-test

This provides us with the needed files and directories for building the charm:

|── README.ex
├── config.yaml
├── icon.svg
├── layer.yaml
├── metadata.yaml
├── reactive
│   ├── mariadb_k8s_test.py
│   └── spec_template.yaml
└── tests
    ├── 00-setup
    └── 10-deploy

Replace the sample contents of the following files with the contents from the MariaDB Kubernetes charm charm:

  • layer.yaml
  • config.yaml
  • metadata.yaml
  • reactive/spec_template.yaml
  • reactive/mariadb-k8s-test.py

File mariadb-k8s-test.py corresponds to the original mysql.py, which is the file that contains the charm’s logic.

Edit some fields in metadata.yaml. We have:

name: mariadb-k8s-test
summary: A learning k8s charm.
maintainer: Javier Larin <javierlarin72@gmail.com>
description: |
  This is a test k8s charm.
display-name: mariadb-k8s-test
  - database
  - kubernetes
subordinate: false
      interface: mysql
   - kubernetes
    type: oci-image
    description: "Image used for mariadb pod."
    type: filesystem
    location: /var/lib/mysql  mysql_image:
    type: oci-image
    description: Image used for mariadb pod.

File layer.yaml is where we import functionality via layers. Our file looks like this:

- "layer:caas-base"
- "layer:docker-resource"
- "interface:juju-relation-mysql"

All layers are listed and described in the Juju Charm Layers Index. For Kubernetes charms, the fundamental layers are ‘caas-base’ and ‘docker-resource’.

File config.yaml is where application configuration settings are placed.

File spec_template.yaml is vital for getting pods created for Juju units. This is explained in detail later on.

Edit information file README.ex to provide guidance to users of the charm.

File icon.svg will be displayed in the Charm Store once the charm is put there.


  • A Kubernetes charm can implement the same hooks that traditional charms can, and each hook, in turn, has at its disposal all traditional hook tools.
  • Charms, whether Kubernetes or traditional, are written using the Reactive Framework.

Deployment and service types

With v.2.6.0 charms can specify a deployment type and a service type.

deployment type default Kubernetes documentation
stateless X DeploymentController
stateful StatefulSet

A charm with storage requirements needs a deployment type of ‘stateful’. However, a charm can be ‘stateful’ without requiring storage.

service type default Kubernetes documentation
cluster X ClusterIP
loadbalancer LoadBalancer
external ExternalName

The service type can be overridden at deploy time with the kubernetes-service-type option.

Charm metadata syntax looks like this:

  type: stateless | stateful
  service: cluster | loadbalancer | external

Container images

A Kubernetes charm requires a Docker container image. It states this requirement by including a resource of type ‘oci-image’ in mariadb-k8s-test/metadata.yaml:

    type: oci-image
    description: Image used for mariadb pod.

The resource name of ‘mysql_image’ is referenced in file mariadb-k8s-test/reactive/mariadb-k8s-test.py.

The charm is published as a tuple of charm revision and resource version. This allows a charm and an image to be published with a known-working configuration.

OCI is an abbreviation for Open Container Initiative. It is not to be confused with Oracle’s public cloud (Oracle Cloud Infrastructure).

Get a Docker container image for mariadb. We’re going to use it as the OCI resource:

docker pull mariadb

View your list of Docker images:

docker image list

Sample output:

REPOSITORY          TAG                 IMAGE ID            CREATED             SIZE                                                          
mariadb             latest              230ef4d856a3        6 days ago          368MB
Hello-world         latest              fce289e99eb9        8 weeks ago         1.84kB

Build the charm

Set up a build directory, ensure you’re in the work directory, and then build the charm using the Charm Tools build sub-command:

export CHARM_BUILD_DIR=$HOME/build
cd ~/work/mariadb-k8s-test
charm build .

Sample output:

build: Destination charm directory: /home/ubuntu/build/mariadb-k8s-test
build: Processing layer: layer:options                                     
build: Processing layer: layer:caas-base            
build: Processing layer: layer:status   
build: Processing layer: layer:docker-resource                          
build: Processing layer: mariadb-k8s-test (from .)                       
build: Processing interface: mysql                                                                                    
proof: W: Includes template README.ex file
proof: W: README.ex includes boilerplate: Step by step instructions on using the charm:
proof: W: README.ex includes boilerplate: You can then browse to http://ip-address to configure the service.
proof: W: README.ex includes boilerplate: - Upstream mailing list or contact information
proof: W: README.ex includes boilerplate: - Feel free to add things if it's useful for users

Set variable CHARM_BUILD_DIR permanently by editing your shell’s initialisation file (e.g. ~/.bashrc for Bash).

You can perform static analysis on the built charm by entering the charm’s build directory and using the Charm Tools proof sub-command:

cd $CHARM_BUILD_DIR/mariadb-k8s-test
charm proof .

Sample output:

I: Includes template README.ex file                                                                                                           
W: README.ex includes boilerplate: Step by step instructions on using the charm:
W: README.ex includes boilerplate: You can then browse to http://ip-address to configure the service.
W: README.ex includes boilerplate: - Upstream mailing list or contact information
W: README.ex includes boilerplate: - Feel free to add things if it's useful for users

How pod configuration works

Juju sets up a single Kubernetes (operator) pod for the application as a whole and a pod per application unit.

For the operator pod, Juju uses a static Docker image that includes all the necessary reactive and charm helper libraries.

For the unit pods, Juju must determine what configuration to send to the cluster. This configuration varies; it depends on the charm being deployed. Here is a summary of how this works:

  1. The charm retrieves the application’s configuration settings from Juju.

  2. The charm ships with a pod configuration template and populates it with the above settings.

  3. The charm sends to Juju the finalised pod configuration.

  4. Juju sends the final configuration to the cluster.

  5. The cluster creates the required number of pods.

This is explained in more detail in the next section.

Unit pod configuration details

The filenames mentioned in this section are for demonstrative purposes only. They are based on the ‘mariadb-k8s-test’ test charm built earlier.

The config-get hook tool retrieve the application’s configuration settings from Juju. This is found within mariadb-k8s-test/lib/charmhelpers/core/hookenv.py:

def config(scope=None):
    global _cache_config
    config_cmd_line = ['config-get', '--all', '--format=json']

These local settings get put into a pod configuration template found at mariadb-k8s-test/reactive/spec_template.yaml:

  - name: %(name)s
      imagePath: %(docker_image_path)s
      username: %(docker_image_username)s
      password: %(docker_image_password)s
    - containerPort: %(port)s
      protocol: TCP
      MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD: %(root_password)s
      MYSQL_USER: %(user)s
      MYSQL_PASSWORD: %(password)s
      MYSQL_DATABASE: %(database)s
      - name: configurations
        mountPath: /etc/mysql/conf.d
          custom_mysql.cnf: |

            query_cache_limit = 1M
            query_cache_size = %(query-cache-size)s
            query_cache_type = %(query-cache-type)s

The pod_spec_set() function sends the pod configuration to Juju. This is located within mariadb-k8s-test/reactive/mariadb-k8s-test.py:

def config_mariadb():
    status_set('maintenance', 'Configuring mysql container')

    spec = make_pod_spec()
    log('set pod spec:\n{}'.format(spec))


Using this final configuration, Juju creates a Kubernetes pod for each application unit.

Unit pod configuration settings

Charms can specify many pod attributes. The following example (updated to Juju v.2.6.0) of a charm pod spec is representative but not complete (e.g. not all security context attributes are shown).

activeDeadlineSeconds: 10
serviceAccountName: serviceAccount
restartPolicy: OnFailure
terminationGracePeriodSeconds: 20
automountServiceAccountToken: true
  runAsNonRoot: true
  supplementalGroups: [1,2]
hostname: host
subdomain: sub
priorityClassName: top
priority: 30
dnsPolicy: ClusterFirstWithHostNet
  nameservers: [ns1, ns2]
  - conditionType: PodScheduled
  - name: gitlab
    image: gitlab/latest
    imagePullPolicy: Always
    command: ["sh", "-c"]
    args: ["doIt", "--debug"]
    workingDir: "/path/to/here"
    - containerPort: 80
      name: fred
      protocol: TCP
    - containerPort: 443
      name: mary
      runAsNonRoot: true
      privileged: true
      initialDelaySeconds: 10
        path: /ping
        port: 8080
      initialDelaySeconds: 10
        path: /pingReady
        port: www
      attr: foo=bar; name['fred']='blogs';
      foo: bar
      restricted: 'yes'
      switch: on
      - name: configuration
        mountPath: /var/lib/foo
          file1: |
            foo: bar
  - name: gitlab-helper
    image: gitlab-helper/latest
    - containerPort: 8080
      protocol: TCP
  - name: secret-image-user
        imagePath: staging.registry.org/testing/testing-image@sha256:deed-beef
        username: docker-registry
        password: hunter2
  - name: just-image-details
        imagePath: testing/no-secrets-needed@sha256:deed-beef
  - name: gitlab-init
    image: gitlab-init/latest
    imagePullPolicy: Always
    command: ["sh", "-c"]
    args: ["doIt", "--debug"]
    workingDir: "/path/to/here"
    - containerPort: 80
      name: fred
      protocol: TCP
    - containerPort: 443
      name: mary
      foo: bar
      restricted: 'yes'
      switch: on
    foo: bar
    group: kubeflow.org
    version: v1alpha2
    scope: Namespaced
      plural: "tfjobs"
      singular: "tfjob"
      kind: TFJob
                    type: integer
                    minimum: 1
                    type: integer
                    minimum: 1
                    type: integer
                    minimum: 1
                    maximum: 1

Unit pod ConfigMaps

A Kubernetes ConfigMap “allows you to decouple configuration artifacts from image content to keep containerized applications portable”.

A ConfigMap is set up within the final pod configuration file by specifying a file set that is mounted within the Docker image. Juju internally creates a “config-map” volume source to do that. Its name is based on the charm name, the fileset name, and the string ‘-config’: <appname>-<filesetname>-config

For instance, the ‘myapp’ charm may produce a pod configuration file containing:

      - name: foocfg
        mountPath: /var/lib/foo
          file1: |
            foo: bar

This would yield a config map called myapp-foocfg-config created to back the volume mounted into the pod.

Charm Store

Push the built charm to the Charm Store:

cd $CHARM_BUILD_DIR/mariadb-k8s-test
charm push .

You will be prompted to authenticate with the store by following a URL.

Relevant output:

url: cs:~jlarin/mariadb-k8s-test-1
channel: unpublished

Now attach the previously downloaded Docker image ‘mariadb’ to the charm by referring to the resource name ‘mysql_image’, as specified in metadata.yaml:

charm attach cs:~jlarin/mariadb-k8s-test-1 mysql_image=mariadb

The push and attach steps can also be done in a single step:

charm push . --resource mysql_image=mariadb

Sample output:

url: cs:~jlarin/mariadb-k8s-test-1
channel: unpublished
The push refers to repository [registry.jujucharms.com/jlarin/mariadb-k8s-test/mysql_image]
f7a047af7156: Pushed 
c695619416f6: Pushed 
40d3e1b3d6b8: Pushed 
b9241d7750f0: Pushed 
485b98d9f143: Pushed 
c4ffbd4d9738: Pushed 
1daa8b28cc39: Pushed 
3e11ee88dc26: Pushed 
da56250be694: Pushed 
c891a91d9209: Pushed 
4b7d93055d87: Pushed 
663e8522d78b: Pushed 
283fb404ea94: Pushed 
bebe7ce6215a: Pushed 
latest: digest: sha256:91a8dadf82129b2f3f7ff63bc40554b91ac44981afea66ea6669c5dd1c658862 size: 3240
Uploaded "mariadb" as mysql_image-0

Publish the new charm:image configuration:

charm release cs:~jlarin/mariadb-k8s-test-1 --resource mysql_image-0                      

Sample output:

url: cs:~jlarin/mariadb-k8s-test-1
channel: stable
warning: bugs-url and homepage are not set.  See set command.

Above, the resource received a numbered version by appending ‘0’ to the resource name of ‘mysql_image’.

The syntax for deploying this particular charm is:

juju deploy cs:~jlarin/mariadb-k8s-test-1 --storage database=k8s-pool,10M

This assumes that operator and charm storage are available and that the Juju storage pool is called ‘k8s-pool’.

Local charms

To deploy a local charm with a public image use a Docker repository path URL as resource value:

juju deploy /path/to/mariadb-k8s-local --resource mysql_image=mariadb:latest

For private images, a definition YAML file will first need to be set up:

registrypath: image-path
username: me
password: secret

The resource value then becomes the path to that file:

juju deploy /path/to/mariadb-k8s-local --resource mysql_image=/path/to/imagedef.yaml

Next steps

Based on the material covered in this tutorial, we suggest the following for further reading:

Also consider the following tutorials:

Last updated 13 days ago. Help improve this document in the forum.