k8s Dev Quick Start

k8s Dev Quick Start

Kubernetes is a incredibly exciting and fast moving project. Contributing to these types of projects, while quite rewarding, can have a bit of a startup cost. I experienced the start up cost a bit myself, after returning to contributing to the Kubernetes after a couple of months of focusing on running my own Kubernetes cluster, as opposed to contributing source code. So this post is partially for y’all and partially for future me :)

After reading this post, you’ll be set up with everything you need to start contributing to Kubernetes, with a particular focus on getting your hands dirty with the source code as soon as possible.


We’re assuming that you already have Go and Docker installed on your machine. If you do not, many tutorials exist which should provide all the guidance you’ll need. See k8s’ development documentation for a mapping of k8s versions to the Go versions they support.

Initial Setup


Our first step is creating a fork of the kubernetes repo via the Github UI. If this is your first time creating a fork, Github has documentation.

After, creating your fork, we will want to clone your forked repo onto your local machine, taking care to ensure its in the proper location relative to our $GOPATH. We can ensure this with the following commands:

$ mkdir $GOPATH/src/k8s.io
$ cd $GOPATH/src/k8s.io
$ git clone git@github.com:YOUR_USERNAME/kubernetes

Additionally, we want to ensure we stay synced with upstream changes, by adding the main kubernetes repo as a remote.

$ git remote add upstream https://github.com/kubernetes/kubernetes

Running git remote -v should now show both your git@github.com:YOUR_USERNAME/kubernetes repo, labelled as master and the https://github.com/kubernetes/kubernetes repo, labelled as upstream.

We can then use the following commands to ensure our local master branch mirrors upstream master.

$ git checkout master
$ git fetch upstream
$ git rebase upstream/master

Kubernetes development occurs exceptionally rapidly, so we want to continuously be rebasing our local master on the latest upstream/master. Kubernetes Github documentation has a helpful diagram of this entire flow.

Getting our hands dirty with the k8s source


Now that we have the Kubernetes source code, we have multiple options for getting started. One option is building this project’s final output binaries, like kubectl. Another option is executing the project’s unit tests. We’ll explore how to do both.

Kubernetes makes heavy use of Make as a developer tool for executing tests, building binaries, etc. While you certainly don’t need to be an expert in Make, a familiarity with how it works can be helpful.

Building binaries

We’ll start our exploration of building binaries from our fork of the Kubernetes source by building and using the kubectl, which almost every Kubernetes user has used. Running make WHAT=cmd/kubectl will build just the kubectl binary. If the command succeeds, the binary will be placed in ./_output/local/go/bin/kubectl. If we execute ./_output/local/go/bin/kubectl version, we should see the GitCommit for the Client version is equal to the output of git rev-parse HEAD, showing this kubectl binary was built from the Kubernetes source code on our local machine.

We can further experiment by making modifications to the source code and seeing them reflected in our binary. For example, let us apply the following patch to ./pkg/kubectl/cmd/cmd.go:

                Use:   "kubectl",
                Short: i18n.T("kubectl controls the Kubernetes cluster manager"),
                Long: templates.LongDesc(`
+      It's fun to mod Kubernetes.
       kubectl controls the Kubernetes cluster manager.

If we then rerun make WHAT=cmd/kubectl and execute ./_output/local/go/bin/kubectl, we should see the line It's fun to mod Kubernetes. Obviously this change is exceptionally small scale, but it reflects how we can create binaries from our local copy of the Kubernetes source code.

Running unit tests

Another great way to gain familiarity with a project is executing the unit tests. Running make test WHAT="./pkg/controller/podautoscaler/...", for example, will execute all of the unit tests for the podautoscaler controller.

It can be interesting to try and force the test suite to fail. If we open pkg/controller/podautoscaler/horizontal_test.go, and add the test shown below, then rerun make test WHAT="./pkg/controller/podautoscaler/...", we should see test failures.

func TestScaleUpFail(t *testing.T) {
        tc := testCase{
                minReplicas:             2,
                maxReplicas:             2, // ensures actualReplicas will be 2
                initialReplicas:         3,
                expectedDesiredReplicas: 5,
                CPUTarget:               30,
                verifyCPUCurrent:        true,
                reportedLevels:          []uint64{300, 500, 700},
                reportedCPURequests:     []resource.Quantity{resource.MustParse("1.0"), resource.MustParse("1.0"), resource.MustParse("1.0")},
                useMetricsAPI:           true,

See the testing docs to better understand the options when executing tests.

Next steps

With these initial successes under our belt, there are a variety of next steps we can take. We can try and build all the binaries (make quick-release) or execute all the unit tests (make test). Alternatively, we can try executing the integration tests, as outlined in the integration testing documentation. Or, we can start looking for a good first issue to tackle. When the time comes, Kubernetes has helpful documentation on crafting a successful pull request.

The best of luck on the journey of contributing to Kubernetes! I’ve found it to be quite a lot of fun and hope you do too :)


comments powered by Disqus