Be smart. Think open source.

What is Helm?

Helm is a tool for managing Kubernetes charts.

Charts are packages of pre-configured resources.

Think of it like apt/yum/homebrew for Kubernetes.

Why Helm?

  • De-facto standard for templating k8s configs
  • Official Kubernetes project maintained by CNCF
  • Repeatable application installations
  • Painless updates
  • Ships with ready to use charts made by the community
  • best practices are baked into offical charts

What's wrong with kubectl?

  • Resources need to be mutated after a deploy
  • You can kubectl edit <resource>
  • But, need to implement your own updating and rollback or depend on vendor specific tooling for lifecycle management

Helm helps with lifecycle managment while allowing you to define your infrastructure as code

Helm Basics


  • helm client
  • tiller server-side component

Demo: Quickstart

# deploy tiller to kube-system namespace
helm init
# use the `-c` flag if your cluster admin has already deployed
# and configured tiller for you, this prepares ~/.helm
helm init -c
# Deploy a postgresql instance
helm install stable/postgresql

Inspecting helm managed resources

# Show deploys
helm list
# Get information on a release
helm status my-release

Helm releases

Differentiate multiple deploys of a chart with releases.

Possible values could be.

  • production, stage, integration
  • <customer>-production
  • <app>-postgresql

This depends on your organizations structure and what you use the cluster for.

What did we just deploy?

  • Deployment based on postgres image ✔
  • NetworkPolicy allowing access. ✔
  • PersistentVolumeClaim for storing data ✔
  • Secret containing autogenerated postgres-password ✔
  • Service to expose database in cluster ✔

Adding metrics

helm upgrade my-release stable/postgresql \
    --set 'metrics.enabled=true'

We just deployed a postgres_exporter sidecar container exposing metrics for Prometheus!


# simulate rollback
helm rollback --dry-run my-release old-version
# actual rollback
helm rollback my-release old-version

Writing helm charts

Intialize empty Chart

helm create my-app
├── charts
├── Chart.yaml
├── templates
│   ├── deployment.yaml
│   ├── _helpers.tpl
│   ├── ingress.yaml
│   ├── NOTES.txt
│   └── service.yaml
└── values.yaml


The Helm template language is implemented in the strongly typed Go language.

Each Helm chart contains a templates directory that contains relevant templates.

Naming Templates

  • Use .yaml or .tpl suffix for files
  • Dasherize file names
  • Reflect resource kind in names

Naming Examples

Good Bad
foo-pod.yaml foo-pod.yml
my-example-podtemplates.yaml MyExamplePodTemplates.yaml
my-example-svc.yaml my-example.yaml

Built-in Objects

  • Everything below Release
  • Chart variable with infos from Chart.yaml
  • Values with data from values.yaml, the cli and other sources

A complete list is in the Helm docs

Release and Chart Variables

# Current release
{{ .Release.Revision }}
# Chart infos
{{ .Chart.version }}


The built-in object Values is empty by default. Charts and users can add to it through values.yaml, user-supplied files and on the CLI.

Let's see how values get populated with a simple template.

echo  '{{ }}' > templates/hello.tpl

Default values are in the charts values.yaml

# values.yaml
  world: Hello!
helm template . -x templates/hello.yaml
# Source: my-chart/templates/hello.yaml

Overriding values on the CLI

helm template . --execute templates/hello.yaml \
    --set '!'
# Source: my-chart/templates/hello.yaml

Locally overriding values with a specific YAML file

# local.yaml
  world: Здравствуй!
helm template . --execute templates/hello.yaml \
    --values local.yaml 
# Source: my-chart/templates/hello.yaml

Functions and Pipelines

Helm has over 60 available functions. Some of them are from Go template, some from Sprig template library.

echo  'var: {{ quote .Values.myvar }}' > templates/quote.yaml
helm template . --execute templates/quote.yaml \
    --set 'myvar=This is a string'
# Source: my-chart/templates/quote.yaml
var: "This is a a string"

Flow Control

  • if/else for creating conditional blocks
  • with to specify a scope
  • range, which provides a "for each"-style loop


{{- if .Values.ingress.enabled -}}
apiVersion: extensions/v1beta1
kind: Ingress
# ...
{{- end -}}


# ...
  {{- range .Values.server.ingress.hosts }}
    - host: {{ . }}
  {{- end -}}
# ...

Debugging Templates

# verify that chart follows best practices
helm lint
# let server render templates and return resulting manifest
helm install --dry-run --debug .
# See what templates are installed on the server
helm get manifest my-release

Named Templates

  • define declares a new named template inside of your template
  • include uses a named template
  • block declares a special kind of fillable template area

Templates are usually defined in templates/_helpers.tpl

The name Template

Expand the name of the chart.
{{- define "" -}}
{{- default .Chart.Name .Values.nameOverride | trunc 63 | trimSuffix "-" -}}
{{- end -}}

The fullname Template

Create a default fully qualified app name.
We truncate at 63 chars because some Kubernetes name fields are limited to this (by the DNS naming spec).
{{- define "my-chart.fullname" -}}
{{- $name := default .Chart.Name .Values.nameOverride -}}
{{- printf "%s-%s" .Release.Name $name | trunc 63 | trimSuffix "-" -}}
{{- end -}}

The fullname template is usually used as part of the in-cluster DNS name.

Using Named Templates

  name: {{ include "my-chart.fullname" . }}
    app: {{ include "" . }}
  name: my-release-my-chart
    app: mychart

Helm Hooks

  • Hook can be used to hook into the install, update and delete lifecycle
  • Hooks are regular templates
  • They are created using annotations
  • You should opt to put them into the templates/hooks subdir
  • Availability depends on helm version

Hook annotations

    "": "<hook-type>"

Install Hooks

  • pre-install
  • post-install

Upgrade Hooks

  • pre-upgrade
  • post-upgrade

Rollback Hooks

  • pre-rollback
  • post-rollback

Delete Hooks

  • pre-delete
  • post-delete

CRD Hooks

  • crd-install

Used on Custom Resource Definitions to ensure that they are defined before they are used by other manifests in the chart.

Test Hooks

  • test-success

Additional Annotations

    "": "<num>"
    "": "before-hook-creation,hook-succeeded"

Demo: Let's write some infra

In this example we will create a chart for glances.

Glances can be scheduled on plain docker as follows:

docker run \
    --rm \
    --detach \
    --publish 61208-61209:61208-61209 \
    --env GLANCES_OPT="-w" \
    --volume /var/run/docker.sock:/var/run/docker.sock:ro \
    --pid host \

Let's look at it on localhost to see what is does.

helm create glances
cd glances

For this example we make some changes to the default chart generated by helm.


  # path to docker hub container
  repository: nicolargo/glances
  # match port to EXPOSE from image
  port: 61208


        - name: {{ .Chart.Name }}
          # add environment to container
            - name: GLANCES_OPT
              value: -w


  # change source port for port-forward example
  echo "Visit{{ .Values.service.internalPort }} to use your application"
  kubectl port-forward $POD_NAME {{ .Values.service.internalPort }}:{{ .Values.service.internalPort }}

deploy to k8s

helm install . --name glances-test

Best Practices

  • Use SemVer 2 to represent version number.
  • Indent yaml with 2 spaces (and never tabs).
  • Specify a tillerVersion SemVer contraint in you chart.
tillerVersion: ">=2.4.0"
  • use labels so k8s can identify ressources and to expose operators for the purpose of querying

The offical best practices guide has more pointers you should follow

Advanced Helming

Composing systems with subcharts

  • Charts can depend on other charts.
  • Dependencies are described in requirements.yaml.
  • helm dep build creates requirements.lock.
# download dependencies
helm dep build stable/redmine

# install redmine with postgresql
helm install stable/redmine \
    --set databaseType.mariadb=false,databaseType.postgresql=true

Subcharts and Values

  • subcharts cannot depend on their parent charts values.
  • parent charts can override values for subcharts.
  • global values can be accessed from any chart.
# override postgresql values
  postgresPassword: muchsecretverysecure

# define some global variables
  myVariable: myValue

Please plan ahead when using globals or don't use them at all. Official charts rarely use them.

Using your own Starter

You can supply you own starter for helm create.

mkdir -p ~/.helm/starters/my-starter/templates
cd ~/.helm/starters/my-starter
vim templates/deployment.yaml
cd ~/git.repos/
helm create -p my-starter my-chart

Managing vendor specific resources

Helm can be used to manage any resources that are available through a k8s style API endpoint.

kind: DeploymentConfig
  name: {{ | quote }}
    description: Defines how to deploy the application server 'true'
# ...

More infos are on the OpenShift blog.



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