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A useful OPA snippet for selecting user-created resources

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At work we’re continuing to use OPA Gatekeeper in our Kubernetes clusters to enforce policy on the resources that are deployed there.

As I documented in my previous post on broad Gatekeeper policies, one of the things we want to do is enforce wide-ranging policy across all resources of a particular Kind. For example, we might want to enforce that all resources created in the cluster have a label that indicates who the owner of the resource is.

When this becomes challenging is when you run in to situations where your users are not the only entities creating resources in the cluster. And this is a surprisingly common occurrence, as I wrote about in my previous blog post. Kubernetes contains many internal controllers that watch for resources that users typically create like Deployments, and in response create resources like ReplicaSets (and then in turn, the Pods you wanted). Suddenly, your nice policy that enforces that every resource must have a label is impossible to enforce on every resource, because there’s no way to tell the Kubernetes ReplicaSet controller to add this label to resources it creates.

In my my previous post I suggested a few options for solving this problem, but after some experimentation I’ve discovered a much better solution. This solution uses the managedFields property that was introduced to Kubernetes standard metadata in Kubernetes 1.18 to determine whether a resource has been created by a user.

This solution is specifically designed for GitOps environments, where there is a single entity that ultimately creates resources on behalf of users. I think you could use this in environments were developers create resources directly, but you’d need to adapt it to have a much longer list of managed field owners that trigger the enforcement.

Kubernetes managedFields

The trick to this post is that since Kubernetes 1.18, Kubernetes records which actor has changed a field on a resource. As an example, a simple ConfigMap with managed fields might look like this:

apiVersion: v1
kind: ConfigMap
  name: test-cm
  namespace: default
    test-label: test
    - manager: kubectl
      operation: Apply
      apiVersion: v1
      time: "2010-10-10T0:00:00Z"
      fieldsType: FieldsV1
            f:test-label: {}
          f:key: {}
  key: some value

Note that as of modern versions of kubectl, you’ll need to pass the --show-managed-fields flag, otherwise kubectl won’t show you the managedFields field of the resources you view. People got upset that they had a bunch more noise in their kubectl outputs when this feature was added, so they put it behind a flag.

What’s nice about managedFields is that we can now determine who is responsible for setting values on a particular Kubernetes object. And if an entity who is capable of complying with the policy constraints we would like to enforce has set some of those fields, then we can choose to enforce our policy constraint. If the resource consists entirely of fields that are set by an entity that can’t comply with these policy constraints, such as a Kubernetes internal controller, then we can ignore the resource.

Enforcing constraints on user-created resources using managedFields

The OPA required to make this work is fairly straightforward.

# Set this based on the user that creates resources on behalf of your users
user_manager := "some-user-manager"

has_user_managed_fields(managed_fields, user_manager_name) {
	some i
	managed_fields_entry := managed_fields[i]
	managed_fields_entry.manager == user_manager_name

violation[{"msg": msg, "details": {}}] {
	has_user_managed_fields(, user_manager)
	# Add any rules here that should only apply to user-created resources
	msg := sprintf("<some violation messae>")

The has_user_managed_fields rule will ensure that at least one of the managed fields entries has a manager that matches whatever you define to be a manager that indicates that the resource was created by a user. For example, if you’re using ArgoCD as your GitOps tool, any resource created by ArgoCD on behalf of users will have many of its fields managed by argocd-controller. Resources like the default ServiceAccount or ReplicaSets which are created on behalf of users by Kubernetes internal controllers will not match the has_user_managed_fields rule, and so will be exempt from the constraint.

This has worked quite well for us across a few different constraints. If you’re using something that lets you easily share policy between constraints as libraries like Konstraint, I’d suggest putting this functionality in a library that you share around to your policies, because you’ll likely end up writing it a lot for policies that are wide-ranging like enforcing metadata across all resources.

Hopefully this helps you when designing your Gatekeeper policies!