Sysctl settings are exposed via Kubernetes, allowing users to modify certain kernel parameters at runtime for namespaces within a container. Only sysctls that are namespaced can be set independently on pods; if a sysctl is not namespaced (called node-level), it cannot be set within OKD. Moreover, only those sysctls considered safe are whitelisted by default; other unsafe sysctls can be manually enabled on the node to be available to the user.

Understanding Sysctls

In Linux, the sysctl interface allows an administrator to modify kernel parameters at runtime. Parameters are available via the /proc/sys/ virtual process file system. The parameters cover various subsystems such as:

  • kernel (common prefix: kernel.)

  • networking (common prefix: net.)

  • virtual memory (common prefix: vm.)

  • MDADM (common prefix: dev.)

More subsystems are described in Kernel documentation. To get a list of all parameters, you can run:

$ sudo sysctl -a

Namespaced Versus Node-Level Sysctls

A number of sysctls are namespaced in today’s Linux kernels. This means that they can be set independently for each pod on a node. Being namespaced is a requirement for sysctls to be accessible in a pod context within Kubernetes.

The following sysctls are known to be namespaced:

  • kernel.shm*

  • kernel.msg*

  • kernel.sem

  • fs.mqueue.*

Additionally, most of the sysctls in the net.* group are known to be namespaced. Their namespace adoption differs based on the kernel version and distributor.

To check which net.* sysctls are namespaced on your system, run the following command:

$ podman run --rm -ti docker.io/fedora \
    /bin/sh -c "dnf install -y findutils && find /proc/sys/ \
    | grep -e /proc/sys/net"

Sysctls that are not namespaced are called node-level and must be set manually by the cluster administrator, either by means of the underlying Linux distribution of the nodes (e.g., via /etc/sysctls.conf) or using a DaemonSet with privileged containers.

Consider marking nodes with special sysctls as tainted. Only schedule pods onto them that need those sysctl settings. Use the Kubernetes taints and toleration feature to implement this.

Safe Versus Unsafe Sysctls

Sysctls are grouped into safe and unsafe sysctls. In addition to proper namespacing, a safe sysctl must be properly isolated between pods on the same node. This means that setting a safe sysctl for one pod:

  • must not have any influence on any other pod on the node,

  • must not allow to harm the node’s health, and

  • must not allow to gain CPU or memory resources outside of the resource limits of a pod.

By far, most of the namespaced sysctls are not necessarily considered safe.

Currently, OKD supports, or whitelists, the following sysctls in the safe set:

  • kernel.shm_rmid_forced

  • net.ipv4.ip_local_port_range

  • net.ipv4.tcp_syncookies

This list will be extended in future versions when the kubelet supports better isolation mechanisms.

All safe sysctls are enabled by default. All unsafe sysctls are disabled by default and must be allowed manually by the cluster administrator on a per-node basis. Pods with disabled unsafe sysctls will be scheduled, but will fail to launch.

Due to their nature of being unsafe, the use of unsafe sysctls is at-your-own-risk and can lead to severe problems like wrong behavior of containers, resource shortage, or complete breakage of a node.

Enabling Unsafe Sysctls

With the warning above in mind, the cluster administrator can allow certain unsafe sysctls for very special situations, e.g., high-performance or real-time application tuning.

If you want to use unsafe sysctls, cluster administrators must enable them individually on nodes. Only namespaced sysctls can be enabled this way.

  1. Use the kubeletArguments field in the /etc/origin/node/node-config.yaml file, as described in Configuring Node Resources, to set the desired unsafe sysctls:

        - "kernel.msg*,net.ipv4.route.min_pmtu"
  2. Restart the node service to apply the changes:

    # systemctl restart origin-node

Setting Sysctls for a Pod

Sysctls are set on pods using annotations. They apply to all containers in the same pod.

Here is an example, with different annotations for safe and unsafe sysctls:

apiVersion: v1
kind: Pod
  name: sysctl-example
    security.alpha.kubernetes.io/sysctls: kernel.shm_rmid_forced=1
    security.alpha.kubernetes.io/unsafe-sysctls: net.ipv4.route.min_pmtu=1000,kernel.msgmax=1 2 3

A pod with the unsafe sysctls specified above will fail to launch on any node that has not enabled those two unsafe sysctls explicitly. As with node-level sysctls, use the taints and toleration feature or labels on nodes to schedule those pods onto the right nodes.