Adding a Name to the Kubernetes API Server Certificate

By | February 27, 2020

In this post, I’m going to walk you through how to add a name (specifically, a Subject Alternative Name) to the TLS certificate used by the Kubernetes API server. This process of updating the certificate to include a name that wasn’t included could find use for a few different scenarios. A couple of situations come to mind, such as adding a load balancer in front of the control plane, or using a new or different URL/hostname used to access the API server (both situations taking place after the cluster was bootstrapped).

This process does assume that the cluster was bootstrapped using kubeadm. This could’ve been a simple kubeadm init with no customization, or it could’ve been using a configuration file to modify the behavior of kubeadm when bootstrapping the cluster. This process also assumes your Kubernetes cluster is using the default certificate authority (CA) created by kubeadm when bootstrapping a cluster. Finally, this process assumes you are using a non-HA (single control plane node) configuration.

Before getting into the details of how to update the certificate, I’d like to first provide a bit of background on why this is important.


The Kubernetes API server uses digital certificates to both encrypt traffic to/from the API server as well as to authenticate connections to the API server. As such, if you try to connect to the API server using a command-line client like kubectl and you use a hostname or IP address that isn’t included in the certificate’s list of Subject Alternative Names (SANs), you’ll get an error indicating that the certificate isn’t valid for the specified IP address or hostname. To fix that, you need to update the certificate so that the list of SANs includes any and all IP addresses or hostnames that you will use to access the API server.

Updating the API Server’s Certificate

Because the cluster was bootstrapped using kubeadm, you can use kubeadm to update the API server’s certificate to include additional names in the list of SANs.

To do this, you’ll first need a kubeadm configuration file. If you used a configuration file to bootstrap the cluster, you can use that file as your starting point. If you didn’t use a configuration file—perhaps you just did a quick kubeadm init to quickly get a cluster—then you can pull the kubeadm configuration from the cluster to create a configuration file you can use. kubeadm writes its configuration into a ConfigMap named “kubeadm-config” found in the “kube-system” namespace.

To pull the kubeadm configuration from the cluster into an external file, run this command:

kubectl -n kube-system get configmap kubeadm-config -o jsonpath='{.data.ClusterConfiguration}' > kubeadm.yaml

This creates a file named kubeadm.yaml, the contents of which may look something like this (the file from your cluster may have different values):

    authorization-mode: Node,RBAC
  timeoutForControlPlane: 4m0s
certificatesDir: /etc/kubernetes/pki
clusterName: kubernetes
controlPlaneEndpoint: ""
controllerManager: {}
  type: CoreDNS
    dataDir: /var/lib/etcd
kind: ClusterConfiguration
kubernetesVersion: v1.14.4
  dnsDomain: cluster.local
  podSubnet: ""
scheduler: {}

In this particular example, no additional SANs are listed. To add at least one SAN, add a certSANs list under the apiServer section. If you already had a kubeadm configuration file that you used when you bootstrapped the cluster, you may already have a certSANs list. If not, you’ll need to add it; if so, you’ll just add another entry to that list.

Here’s an example (here I’m showing only the apiServer section):

  - ""
  - ""
  - ""
    authorization-mode: Node,RBAC
  timeoutForControlPlane: 4m0s

This change to the kubeadm configuration file adds SANs for the IP address, the hostname “”, and the hostname “”. This would be in addition to the standard list of SANs that are included (which would be the local hostname, some names for the default Kubernetes Service object, the default IP address for the Kubernetes Service object, and the primary IP address of the node).

Once you’ve updated the kubeadm configuration file—either the default one pulled from the ConfigMap or the custom one you used when you bootstrapped the cluster—then you’re ready to update the certificate.

First, move the existing API server certificate and key (if kubeadm sees that they already exist in the designated location, it won’t create new ones):

mv /etc/kubernetes/pki/apiserver.{crt,key} ~

Then, use kubeadm to just generate a new certificate:

kubeadm init phase certs apiserver --config kubeadm.yaml

This command will generate a new certificate and key for the API server, using the specified configuration file for guidance. Since the specified configuration file includes a certSANs list, then kubeadm will automatically add those SANs when creating the new certificate.

The final step is restarting the API server to pick up the new certificate. The easiest way to do this is to kill the API server container using docker:

  1. Run docker ps | grep kube-apiserver | grep -v pause to get the container ID for the container running the Kubernetes API server. (The container ID will be the very first field in the output.)
  2. Run docker kill <containerID> to kill the container.

If your nodes are running containerd as the container runtime, the commands are a bit different:

  1. Run crictl pods | grep kube-apiserver | cut -d' ' -f1 to get the Pod ID for the Kubernetes API server Pod.
  2. Run crictl stopp <pod-id> to stop the Pod.
  3. Run crictl rmp <pod-id> to remove the Pod.

The Kubelet will automatically restart the container, which will pick up the new certificate. As soon as the API server restarts, you will immediately be able to connect to it using one of the newly-added IP addresses or hostnames.

Verifying the Change

One way to verify the change is to edit the server line for that cluster in your Kubeconfig file to use one of the newly-added IP addresses or hostnames, and then run kubectl against the cluster. If kubectl doesn’t work, then you can start troubleshooting from there.

Another way to verify the change—and a handy troubleshooting step as well—is to use openssl on the Kubernetes control plane node to decode the certificate and show the list of SANs on the certificate:

openssl x509 -in /etc/kubernetes/pki/apiserver.crt -text

Look for the “X509v3 Subject Alternative Name” line, after which will be a list of all the DNS names and IP addresses that are included on the certificate as SANs. After following this procedure, you should see the newly-added names and IP addresses you specified in the modified kubeadm configuration file. If you don’t, then something went wrong along the way. Common mistakes in this process include forgetting to remove the previous certificate and key (kubeadm won’t create new ones if they already exist), or failing to include the --config kubeadm.yaml on the kubeadm init phase certs command.

Updating the In-Cluster Configuration

Assuming everything is working as expected, the final step is to update the kubeadm ConfigMap stored in the cluster. This is important so that when you use kubeadm to orchestrate a cluster upgrade later, the updated information will be present in the cluster. Thankfully, this is pretty straightforward:

kubeadm config upload from-file --config kubeadm.yaml

You can verify the changes to the configuration were applied successfully with this command:

kubectl -n kube-system get configmap kubeadm-config -o yaml

Final Thoughts

One other use case I wanted to mention briefly in addition to the ones mentioned earlier—adding a load balancer in front of the control plane node or adding a new DNS name or IP address used to reference the control plane endpoint—is enabling the use of SSH tunneling to access the control plane endpoint. In those cases, you’ll want to add “” as a SAN to the certificate. When using SSH tunneling, you’ll be taking port 6443 (or whatever port you’re using) on and sending it across to the control plane node via your SSH connection. By including “” as a SAN on the API server certificate, you’ll enable this usage pattern.

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