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Gardener Node Agent

The goal of the gardener-node-agent is to bootstrap a machine into a worker node and maintain node-specific components, which run on the node and are unmanaged by Kubernetes (e.g. the kubelet service, systemd units, …).

It effectively is a Kubernetes controller deployed onto the worker node.

Architecture and Basic Design


This figure visualizes the overall architecture of the gardener-node-agent. On the left side, it starts with an OperatingSystemConfig resource (OSC) with a corresponding worker pool specific cloud-config-<worker-pool> secret being passed by reference through the userdata to a machine by the machine-controller-manager (MCM).

On the right side, the cloud-config secret will be extracted and used by the gardener-node-agent after being installed. Details on this can be found in the next section.

Finally, the gardener-node-agent runs a systemd service watching on secret resources located in the kube-system namespace like our cloud-config secret that contains the OperatingSystemConfig. When gardener-node-agent applies the OSC, it installs the kubelet + configuration on the worker node.

Installation and Bootstrapping

This section describes how the gardener-node-agent is initially installed onto the worker node.

In the beginning, there is a very small bash script called gardener-node-init.sh, which will be copied to /var/lib/gardener-node-agent/init.sh on the node with cloud-init data. This script’s sole purpose is downloading and starting the gardener-node-agent. The binary artifact is extracted from an OCI artifact and lives at /opt/bin/gardener-node-agent.

Along with the init script, a configuration for the gardener-node-agent is carried over to the worker node at /var/lib/gardener-node-agent/config.yaml. This configuration contains things like the shoot’s kube-apiserver endpoint, the according certificates to communicate with it, and controller configuration.

In a bootstrapping phase, the gardener-node-agent sets itself up as a systemd service. It also executes tasks that need to be executed before any other components are installed, e.g. formatting the data device for the kubelet.


This section describes the controllers in more details.

Lease Controller

This controller creates a Lease for gardener-node-agent in kube-system namespace of the shoot cluster. Each instance of gardener-node-agent creates its own Lease when its corresponding Node was created. It renews the Lease resource every 10 seconds. This indicates a heartbeat to the external world.

Node Controller

This controller watches the Node object for the machine it runs on. The correct Node is identified based on the hostname of the machine (Nodes have the kubernetes.io/hostname label). Whenever the worker.gardener.cloud/restart-systemd-services annotation changes, the controller performs the desired changes by restarting the specified systemd unit files. See also this document for more information. After restarting all units, the annotation is removed.

ℹ️ When the gardener-node-agent systemd service itself is requested to be restarted, the annotation is removed first to ensure it does not restart itself indefinitely.

Operating System Config Controller

This controller contains the main logic of gardener-node-agent. It watches Secrets whose data map contains the OperatingSystemConfig which consists of all systemd units and files that are relevant for the node configuration. Amongst others, a prominent example is the configuration file for kubelet and its unit file for the kubelet.service.

The controller decodes the configuration and computes the files and units that have changed since its last reconciliation. It writes or update the files and units to the file system, removes no longer needed files and units, reloads the systemd daemon, and starts or stops the units accordingly.

After successful reconciliation, it persists the just applied OperatingSystemConfig into a file on the host. This file will be used for future reconciliations to compute file/unit changes.

The controller also maintains two annotations on the Node:

  • worker.gardener.cloud/kubernetes-version, describing the version of the installed kubelet.
  • checksum/cloud-config-data, describing the checksum of the applied OperatingSystemConfig (used in future reconciliations to determine whether it needs to reconcile, and to report that this node is up-to-date).

Token Controller

This controller watches the access token Secrets in the kube-system namespace configured via the gardener-node-agent’s component configuration (.controllers.token.syncConfigs[] field). Whenever the .data.token field changes, it writes the new content to a file on the configured path on the host file system. This mechanism is used to download its own access token for the shoot cluster, but also the access tokens of other systemd components (e.g., valitail). Since the underlying client is based on k8s.io/client-go and the kubeconfig points to this token file, it is dynamically reloaded without the necessity of explicit configuration or code changes. This procedure ensures that the most up-to-date tokens are always present on the host and used by the gardener-node-agent and the other systemd components.


The gardener-node-agent is a replacement for what was called the cloud-config-downloader and the cloud-config-executor, both written in bash. The gardener-node-agent implements this functionality as a regular controller and feels more uniform in terms of maintenance.

With the new architecture we gain a lot, let’s describe the most important gains here.

Developer Productivity

Since the Gardener community develops in Go day by day, writing business logic in bash is difficult, hard to maintain, almost impossible to test. Getting rid of almost all bash scripts which are currently in use for this very important part of the cluster creation process will enhance the speed of adding new features and removing bugs.


Until now, the cloud-config-downloader runs in a loop every 60s to check if something changed on the shoot which requires modifications on the worker node. This produces a lot of unneeded traffic on the API server and wastes time, it will sometimes take up to 60s until a desired modification is started on the worker node. By writing a “real” Kubernetes controller, we can watch for the Node, the OSC in the Secret, and the shoot-access token in the secret. If any of these object changed, and only then, the required action will take effect immediately. This will speed up operations and will reduce the load on the API server of the shoot especially for large clusters.


The cloud-config-downloader adds a random wait time before restarting the kubelet in case the kubelet was updated or a configuration change was made to it. This is required to reduce the load on the API server and the traffic on the internet uplink. It also reduces the overall downtime of the services in the cluster because every kubelet restart transforms a node for several seconds into NotReady state which potentionally interrupts service availability.

Decision was made to keep the existing jitter mechanism which calculates the kubelet-download-and-restart-delay-seconds on the controller itself.


The configuration of the cloud-config-downloader is actually done by placing a file for every configuration item on the disk on the worker node. This was done because parsing the content of a single file and using this as a value in bash reduces to something like VALUE=$(cat /the/path/to/the/file). Simple, but it lacks validation, type safety and whatnot. With the gardener-node-agent we introduce a new API which is then stored in the gardener-node-agent secret and stored on disk in a single YAML file for comparison with the previous known state. This brings all benefits of type safe configuration. Because actual and previous configuration are compared, removed files and units are also removed and stopped on the worker if removed from the OSC.


Previously, the cloud-config-downloader simply restarted the systemd units on every change to the OSC, regardless which of the services changed. The gardener-node-agent first checks which systemd unit was changed, and will only restart these. This will prevent unneeded kubelet restarts.

Future Development

The gardener-node-agent opens up the possibilty for further improvements.

Necessary restarts of the kubelet could be deterministic instead of the aforementioned random jittering. In that case, the gardenlet could add annotations across all nodes. As the gardener-node-agent watches the Node object, it could wait with kubelet restarts, OSC changes or react immediately. Critical changes could be performed in chunks of nodes in serial order, but an equal time spread is possible, too.