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What is the Gateway API?

Gateway API is an open source project managed by the SIG-NETWORK community. It is an API (collection of resources) that model service networking in Kubernetes. These resources - GatewayClass, Gateway, HTTPRoute, TCPRoute, etc., as well as the Kubernetes Service resource - aim to evolve Kubernetes service networking through expressive, extensible, and role-oriented interfaces that are implemented by many vendors and have broad industry support.

Gateway API Model

The Gateway API was originally designed to manage traffic from clients outside the cluster to services inside the cluster -- the ingress or north/south case. Over time, interest from service mesh users prompted the creation of the GAMMA initiative to define how the Gateway API could also be used for inter-service or east/west traffic within the same cluster.

If you're familiar with the older Ingress API, you can think of the Gateway API as analogous to a more-expressive next-generation version of that API.

Gateway API for Ingress

When using the Gateway API to manage ingress traffic, the Gateway resource defines a point of access at which traffic can be routed across multiple contexts -- for example, from outside the cluster to inside the cluster (north/south traffic).

Each Gateway is associated with a GatewayClass, which describes the actual kind of gateway controller that will handle traffic for the Gateway; individual routing resources (such as HTTPRoute) are then associated with the Gateway resources. Separating these different concerns into distinct resources is a critical part of the role-oriented nature of the Gateway API, as well as allowing for multiple kinds of gateway controllers (represented by GatewayClass resources), each with multiple instances (represented by Gateway resources), in the same cluster.

Gateway API for Service Mesh (the GAMMA initiative)

Experimental in v0.8.0

The GAMMA initiative work for supporting service mesh use cases is experimental in v0.8.0. It is possible that it will change; we do not recommend it in production at this point.

Things are a bit different when using the Gateway API to manage a service mesh. Since there will usually only be one mesh active in the cluster, the Gateway and GatewayClass resources are not used; instead, individual route resources (such as HTTPRoute) are associated directly with Service resources, permitting the mesh to manage traffic from any traffic directed to that Service while preserving the role-oriented nature of the Gateway API.

To date, GAMMA has been able to support mesh functionality with fairly minimal changes to the Gateway API. One particular area that has rapidly become critical for GAMMA, though, is the definition of the different facets of the Service resource.

In Gateway API v0.8.0, GAMMA support for service mesh is experimental. We encourage working with it and providing feedback, but you must be prepared for change in the GAMMA APIs.

Getting started

Whether you are a user interested in using the Gateway API or an implementer interested in conforming to the API, the following resources will help give you the necessary background:

Gateway API concepts

The following design goals drive the concepts of the Gateway API. These demonstrate how Gateway aims to improve upon current standards like Ingress.

  • Role-oriented - Gateway is composed of API resources which model organizational roles that use and configure Kubernetes service networking.
  • Portable - This isn't an improvement but rather something that should stay the same. Just as Ingress is a universal specification with numerous implementations, Gateway API is designed to be a portable specification supported by many implementations.
  • Expressive - Gateway API resources support core functionality for things like header-based matching, traffic weighting, and other capabilities that were only possible in Ingress through custom annotations.
  • Extensible - Gateway API allows for custom resources to be linked at various layers of the API. This makes granular customization possible at the appropriate places within the API structure.

Some other notable capabilities include:

  • GatewayClasses - GatewayClasses formalize types of load balancing implementations. These classes make it easy and explicit for users to understand what kind of capabilities are available via the Kubernetes resource model.
  • Shared Gateways and cross-Namespace support - They allow the sharing of load balancers and VIPs by permitting independent Route resources to attach to the same Gateway. This allows teams (even across Namespaces) to share infrastructure safely without direct coordination.
  • Typed Routes and typed backends - The Gateway API supports typed Route resources and also different types of backends. This allows the API to be flexible in supporting various protocols (like HTTP and gRPC) and various backend targets (like Kubernetes Services, storage buckets, or functions).
  • Experimental Service mesh support with the GAMMA initiative - The Gateway API supports associating routing resources with Service resources, to configure service meshes as well as ingress controllers.

Why does a role-oriented API matter?

Whether it’s roads, power, data centers, or Kubernetes clusters, infrastructure is built to be shared. However, shared infrastructure raises a common challenge - how to provide flexibility to users of the infrastructure while maintaining control by owners of the infrastructure?

The Gateway API accomplishes this through a role-oriented design for Kubernetes service networking that strikes a balance between distributed flexibility and centralized control. It allows shared network infrastructure (hardware load balancers, cloud networking, cluster-hosted proxies etc) to be used by many different and non-coordinating teams, all bound by the policies and constraints set by cluster operators.

The roles used for the Gateway API's design are defined by three personas:


  • Ian (he/him) is an infrastructure provider. His role is the care and feeding of a set of infrastructure that permits multiple isolated clusters to serve multiple tenants. He is not beholden to any single tenant; rather, he worries about all of them collectively.

  • Chihiro (they/them) is a cluster operator. Their role is to manage a single cluster, ensuring that it meets the needs of its several users. Again, Chihiro is beholden to no single user of their cluster; they need to make sure that the cluster serves all of them as needed.

  • Ana (she/her) is an application developer. Ana is in a unique position among the Gateway API roles: her focus is on the business needs her application is meant to serve, not Kubernetes or the Gateway API. In fact, Ana is likely to view the Gateway API and Kubernetes as pure friction getting in her way to get things done.

(These three are discussed in more detail in Roles and Personas.)

It should be clear that while Ana, Chihiro, and Ian do not necessarily see eye-to-eye about everything, they need to work together to keep things running smoothly. This is the core challenge of the Gateway API in a nutshell.

Use Cases

The example use cases show this role-oriented model at work. Its flexibility allows the API to adapt to vastly different organizational models and implementations while remaining a portable and standard API.

The use cases presented are deliberately cast in terms of the roles presented above. Ultimately the Gateway API is meant for use by humans, which means that it must fit the uses to which each of Ana, Chihiro, and Ian will put it.

What's the difference between Gateway API and an API Gateway?

An API Gateway is a general concept that describes anything that exposes capabilities of a backend service, while providing extra capabilities for traffic routing and manipulation, such as load balancing, request and response transformation, and sometimes more advanced features like authentication and authorization, rate limiting, and circuit breaking.

The Gateway API is an interface, or set of resources, that model service networking in Kubernetes. One of the main resources is a Gateway, which declares the Gateway type (or class) to instantiate and its configuration. As a Gateway Provider, you can implement the Gateway API to model Kubernetes service networking in an expressive, extensible, and role-oriented way.

Most Gateway API implementations are API Gateways to some extent, but not all API Gateways are Gateway API implementations.

Who is working on Gateway API?

The Gateway API is a SIG-Network project being built to improve and standardize service networking in Kubernetes. Current and in-progress implementations include Contour, Emissary-ingress (Ambassador API Gateway), Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE), Istio, Kong, Linkerd, and Traefik. Check out the implementations reference to see the latest projects & products that support Gateway. If you are interested in contributing to or building an implementation using the Gateway API then don’t hesitate to get involved!