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Now that rickroller is deployed, how would you:

  • rename all resources to roller instead of rickroller?
  • add labels to all resources to have author=lucy?
  • delete the whole rickroller application?
  • give the app to a friend so that he can deploy it on his Kubernetes cluster, which potentially doesn't use the same version, ingress controller, etc.?

With YAML files, there is no magic: we should go through all, make modifications, and re-apply all of them one by one. To delete the app, we should go through many kubectl delete and ensure we do not forget one. Everything is tedious: there is no logical grouping, no customization, no code reuse, nothing.

Enter Helm!

What is Helm?

Helm is a package **manager for Kubernetes**. From Helm homepage:

Helm helps you manage Kubernetes applications — Helm Charts help you define, install, and upgrade even the most complex Kubernetes application. Charts are easy to create, version, share, and publish — so start using Helm and stop the copy-and-paste.

Helm Chart basics

To get started with Helm, create a new directory with the following structure:

├── Chart.yaml   # metadata
├── values.yaml  # parameters
└── templates    # templates
    └── ...

Let's add the following content:

apiVersion: v2 # Helm version
name: example
description: basic example chart 
version: 0.1.0

some: yaml

Now, the directory has become a helm chart. Let's see how it works by running the following at the root of the chart directory:

helm template .
# Source: example/templates/example.yaml
some: yaml

Okay, so a Helm chart outputs the content of the files inside the templates directory. So why all the fuss? Well, the power of Helm comes from its templating capabilities based on Go template. Helm has over 60 available functions. Some of them are defined by the Go template language itself, and most of the others are part of the Sprig template library.

Inside a go template, we have access to multiple contextual information coming from different sources. Let's see it in action.

Replace your template with the following content:

# "." is the root context, {{ }} denotes a go template expression
{{ . | toYaml }}

Let's template the chart again: helm template .. You should see:

# Source: example/templates/example.yaml
  - v1
    git_commit: 912ebc1cd10d38d340f048efaf0abda047c3468e
    git_tree_state: clean
    go_version: go1.20.2
    version: v3.11.2
    Major: "1"
    Minor: "26"
    Version: v1.26.0
  IsRoot: true
  apiVersion: v2
  description: basic example chart
  name: example
  version: 0.1.0
Files: {}
  IsInstall: true
  IsUpgrade: false
  Name: release-name
  Namespace: test
  Revision: 1
  Service: Helm
Subcharts: {}
  BasePath: example/templates
  Name: example/templates/example.yaml
Values: {}

To break it down, this is everything you can query from a go template:

  • .Capabilities: the API resources available in the cluster you are currently connected to. This let's you customize your output depending on the k8s cluster (using if/else etc.)
  • .Chart: information from your Chart.yaml file, including the current version of the chart, etc.
  • .Files: additional files in the helm chart directory, that you could read and use in your templates
  • .Release: the name, namespace etc. of the helm chart as it is being installed
  • .Subcharts: helm charts can include other charts (we will talk about this later)
  • .Template: template files information
  • .Values: content of values.yaml

The most useful are .Release and .Values. Whatever you put in your values.yaml will be available in the templates. They act as the parameters to the templates and let you customize the helm chart at install time.

To better understand the .Values, add this:

hello: world
Now, run the following two commands:
helm template . | tail -2
  hello: world
helm template . --set hello='Fribourg!' | tail -2
  hello: Fribourg!

Helm charts are thus a bunch of templates that should output valid Kubernetes Manifests files (as YAML) based on the parameters initially defined in values.yaml but overridable from the command line.

Valus are overridable from the command line using --set, or from a YAML file using --values <file>. The content of the provided file will be merged with the content of the values.yaml, with precedence to the former.

Be careful! YAML merge works great with dictionaries, but not with lists: list are completely replaced, the items are not merged.

A more accurate example

To have a valid helm chart, you could replace the content of templates/example.yaml with the following:

apiVersion: apps/v1
kind: Deployment
  name: {{ .Release.Name }}
  replicas: {{ .Values.replicas | default 1 }}
      app: {{ .Release.Name }}
        app: {{ .Release.Name }}
        - image: derlin/rickroller:{{ .Values.tag | default "latest" }}
          name: {{ .Release.Name }}
            - containerPort: 8080

You can now play with it, setting e.g. the values --set replicas=2 or --set tag=1.0.0.

Working with a Helm Chart

Of course, real helm charts are quite complex and necessitate getting acquainted with the go template syntax. To get started, you can try using the helm create function. For the next examples, I already created a Helm chart (using helm create as a base) for rickroller that you can find in the helm/rickroller directory. Assume all the next commands are run from there.


I suggest you create a new namespace for your tests with Helm.

Now that rickroller is packaged with helm, we can install it in our cluster using:

helm install roller .
Release "roller" does not exist. Installing it now.
NAME: roller
LAST DEPLOYED: Mon Apr 17 15:43:16 2023
NAMESPACE: example
STATUS: deployed
1. Get the application URL by running these commands:

Now, you can run the following:

  • helm list → roller is installed
  • helm upgrade roller . --set replicas=2 → scale to 2
  • helm rollback roller → we are back to the first revision with one replica
  • helm history roller → we have 3 revisions: one install, one upgrade, and a rollback
  • helm uninstall roller → completely uninstalls everything.

You want to not use an ingress, but a service of type LoadBalancer (as we did previously) instead? Easy:

helm upgrade --install roller . --set ingress.enabled=false --set service.type=LoadBalancer

Using charts from a repository

So far, we used a local chart. Let's use helm now to deploy MongDB from bitnami. First, add the repo so your machine knows how to fetch bitnami charts:

helm repo add bitnami

Now, install mongodb with an initial database, username and password:

helm upgrade --install mongodb bitnami/mongodb --version 13.9.1 \
    --set architecture=standalone \
    --set 'auth.usernames[0]=myuser' --set 'auth.passwords[0]=mypass' --set 'auth.databases[0]=mydb' \
    --set persistence.enabled=false

Using persistence

Since we installed longhorn, we can turn on persistence if we want to:

helm upgrade --install mongodb bitnami/mongodb --version 13.9.1 \
--set architecture=standalone --set 'auth.usernames[0]=myuser' --set 'auth.passwords[0]=mypass' --set 'auth.databases[0]=mydb' \
--set persistence.enabled=true --set persistence.storageClass=longhorn --set persistence.size=1Gi

We can now deploy/upgrade rickroller and ask it to use mongodb:

helm upgrade --install rickroller . --set env.DATABASE_URL='mongodb://myuser:mypass@mongodb/mydb'

Using subcharts

It is also possible to make mongodb part of the rickroller Helm chart. The advantage is that we only need one helm command to get both. The disadvantage? They are treated as a whole: we cannot update or uninstall one without the other.

Adding mongodb as a subchart

First, add the following to Chart.yaml:

  - name: mongodb
    version: 13.9.1
    repository: "@bitnami"

Next, add the following to values.yaml:

  rootPassword: root
  usernames: [myuser]
  passwords: [mypass]
  databases: [mydb]
  enabled: false
  storageClass: longhorn
  size: 1Gi

# ...

  # ...
  DATABASE_URL: mongodb://myuser:mypass@{{ .Release.Name }}-mongodb/mydb

Done! Run the following command once and you are good to go:

# update the dependencies
# this will create a folder charts/ with a tar of the mongodb chart
helm dependency update

A chart can have any number of subcharts, making it possible to treat a large and complex project as a whole. In this case, we call the root helm chart an umbrella chart.

The umbrella chart is responsible for creating the namespace and the global components such as the network policies, and each microservice is included as a dependency.

It is even possible to reuse the same generic helm chart for multiple dependencies/microservice. For this, we only have one subchart directory (only one chart under charts), but reference it multiple times in the dependencies. This generic subchart is then configured with different values depending on the microservice.

Here is an example:

apiVersion: v2
name: my-umbrella-chart
description: A Helm umbrella chart for deploying my application.
type: umbrella
version: 1.0.0

# the name reference the chart (templates),
# the alias is the name we give for this instance of the templates
  - alias: service-1
    name: generic-chart
    version: 1.0.0
    condition: service-1.enabled # we can even use conditions!

  - alias: service-N
    name: generic-chart
    version: 1.0.0
    condition: service-N.enabled
    enabled: true
    port: 8080
      SERVICE_1_CONTEXT: bar
    # ...

    enabled: true
    port: 80
        enabled: true
    # ...