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How To Manage Secrets in Kubernetes - Best Practices ?

In this post, we will explore How To Manage Secrets in Kubernetes and see some of the Best Practices. Secrets are objects in Kubernetes that are used to store sensitive data, such as passwords, tokens, keys, OAuth tokens ssh keys etc. in a secure and scalable manner within a Kubernetes cluster. This data can be used by pods or accessed through the Kubernetes API.

Secrets allows you to keep sensitive information out of your application code and reduces the risk of exposing it during the process of creating, viewing, and editing pods. Secrets are similar to ConfigMaps, but they are specifically designed to hold confidential data. Kubernetes and the applications running in your cluster can also take additional precautions with secrets, such as avoiding storing secret data on non-volatile storage.  


  • Make sure you have a Kubernetes cluster and that the kubectl command-line tool is configured to communicate with it.
  • It is recommended to have a cluster with at least two nodes that are not acting as control plane hosts.
  • If you do not have a cluster, you can create one using minikube or you can use a Kubernetes playground like Killercoda or Play with Kubernetes.
  You can manage Secrets in Kubernetes different ways. Let's explore each of them one by one.  

1. Using kubectl :


Create a secret :

To Create a new secret in the cluster, you can specify the type of secret (e.g., "generic" or "tls") and the data to be included in the secret. You can also create a secret from a file or from a key-value pair.

  • Create a secret from a file

kubectl create secret generic your-secret --from-file=path/to/file

kubectl create secret generic your-secret \\
--from-file=path/to/file/username.txt \\

  # Create an opaque secret with a key-value pair

 kubectl create secret generic your-secret --from-literal=key=value

# Create a TLS secret from a certificate and private key file

 kubectl create secret tls my-tls-secret --cert=cert.pem --key=key.pem


List All Secrets :

  • List all secrets in the cluster, or a specific secret

kubectl get secrets


Get Detailed Info of Secret:

  • Display detailed information about a specific secret.
Get some info about a specific secret, including its type, data, and associated metadata. But this avoid showing the contents of a Secret by default.

kubectl describe secret


Show Contents of Secret:

  • Show contents of a Secret
The password will be in undecoded format.

kubectl get secret your-secret -o jsonpath='{.data}'


Modify the Secret :

  • Update an existing secret in the cluster.
Use it to add or modify the data in a secret, or to update its metadata. Note that you cannot edit an immutable Secret object.

kubectl edit secrets <secret-name>

This will open the default text editor and allow you to update the Secret values. For example, you might update the Secret as follows:

apiVersion: v1
  username: YWRtaW4=
  password: UyFCKmQkekRzYj0=
kind: Secret
  creationTimestamp: "2022-01-01T00:00:00Z"
  name: my-secret
  namespace: default
  resourceVersion: "12345"
  selfLink: /api/v1/namespaces/default/secrets/my-secret
  uid: abcdef01-2345-6789-abcd-ef0123456789
type: Opaque


Delete the Secret :

  • Delete a secret.
Use below command to delete a secret from the cluster. Specify the name of the secret to be deleted. Use the --all flag to delete all secrets.

kubectl delete secret

kubectl delete secret your-secret


2. Using Kustomize :

kubectl command-line tool supports using the Kustomize object management tool to manage Secrets and ConfigMaps in a Kubernetes cluster. To use Kustomize with kubectl, you need to have a Kubernetes cluster and the kubectl tool configured to communicate with it. To manage Secrets and ConfigMaps with Kustomize, you need to create a resource generator using Kustomize, which generates the desired Secret or ConfigMap object. To generate a Secret object in Kubernetes using Kustomize, you need to define a secretGenerator in a kustomization.yaml or kustomization.yml file. This secretGenerator can reference other existing files, such as .env files, or literal values to create the Secret.  

Create kustomization.yaml or kustomization.yml file :

  • Create the kustomization.yaml or kustomization.yml file.
kustomization.yaml with username & password hard-coded in it.

- name: your-secret
- username=admin
- password=aweqqfq12

kustomization.yaml with username & password from external files.

- name: your-secret
- username.txt
- password.txt

kustomization.yaml with username & password from .env.secret file.

- name: your-secret
- .env.secret

Create the Secret :

  • Create the Secret with the kustomization file

kubectl apply -k <kustomization\_file\_path>

  • Check if the Secret was created from above step by listing all the secrets

kubectl get secrets

Modify the Secret :

  • Modify Secret
To modify Secret, modify the kustomization.yaml or kustomization.yml file. And then apply the changes. Update references to the Secret in Pods.

kubectl apply -k <kustomization\_file\_path>


3. Using the Config File :

  • To create a Secret object in Kubernetes using Config file, define the Secret in a manifest file in JSON or YAML format.
  • Then use the kubectl apply command to create the object.
  • The Secret resource contains two maps: data and stringData.
    • The data field is used to store arbitrary data, encoded using base64.
    • The stringData field is provided for convenience, and it allows you to provide the same data as unencoded strings.
  • The keys of data and stringData must consist of alphanumeric characters, -, _, or ..

Create Manifest File :

  • Convert the username & password format to base64:

echo -n '<username>' | base64
echo -n '<password>' | base64

  • Create the Secret manifest file in YAML format e.g. sample_manifest.yaml

apiVersion: v1
kind: Secret
 name: my-secret
type: Opaque
 username: <base64\_output>
 password: <base64\_output>


Create The Secret :

  • Create the Secret

kubectl apply -f <path\_to\_sample\_manifest.yaml>

  • Check if the Secret was created from above step by listing all the secrets

    kubectl get secrets

Modify the Secret :

  • Convert the new or updated username & password format to base64.

echo -n '<username>' | base64
echo -n '<password>' | base64


  • Modify the Secret manifest file sample_manifest.yaml according to above changes.

  • Apply the updated manifest file - sample_manifest.yaml.

kubectl apply -f <path\_to\_sample\_manifest.yaml>

  That's it. Hope this helps.  

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