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Experimental Channel

The ReferenceGrant resource described below is currently only included in the "Experimental" channel of Gateway API. For more information on release channels, refer to the related documentation.


This resource was originally named "ReferencePolicy". It was renamed to "ReferenceGrant" to avoid any confusion with policy attachment.

A ReferenceGrant can be used to enable cross namespace references within Gateway API. In particular, Routes may forward traffic to backends in other namespaces, or Gateways may refer to Secrets in another namespace.

Reference Grant

In the past, we've seen that forwarding traffic across namespace boundaries is a desired feature, but without a safeguard like ReferenceGrant, vulnerabilities can emerge.

If an object is referred to from outside its namespace, the object's owner must create a ReferenceGrant resource to explicitly allow that reference. Without a ReferenceGrant, a cross namespace reference is invalid.


Fundamentally a ReferenceGrant is made up of two lists, a list of resources references may come from, and a list of resources that may be referenced.

The from list allows you to specify the group, kind, and namespace of resources that may reference items described in the to list.

The to list allows you to specify the group and kind of resources that may be referenced by items described in the from list. The namespace is not necessary in the to list because a ReferenceGrant can only be used to allow references to resources in the same namespace as the ReferenceGrant.


The following example shows how a HTTPRoute in namespace foo can reference a Service in namespace bar. In this example a ReferenceGrant in the bar namespace explicitly allows references to Services from HTTPRoutes in the foo namespace.

kind: HTTPRoute
  name: foo
  namespace: foo
  - matches:
    - path: /bar
      - name: bar
        namespace: bar
kind: ReferenceGrant
  name: bar
  namespace: bar
  - group:
    kind: HTTPRoute
    namespace: foo
  - group: ""
    kind: Service

API design decisions

While the API is simplistic in nature, it comes with a few notable decisions:

  1. Each ReferenceGrant only supports a single From and To section. Additional trust relationships must be modeled with additional ReferenceGrant resources.
  2. Resource names are intentionally excluded from the "From" section of ReferenceGrant because they rarely provide any meaningful protection. A user that is able to write to resources of a certain kind within a namespace can always rename resources or change the structure of the resources to match a given grant.
  3. A single Namespace is allowed per "From" struct. Although a selector would be more powerful, it encourages unnecessarily insecure configuration.
  4. The effect of these resources is purely additive, they stack on top of each other. This makes it impossible for them to conflict with each other.

Please see the API Specification for more details on how specific ReferenceGrant fields are interpreted.

Implementation Guidelines

This API relies on runtime verification. Implementations MUST watch for changes to these resources and recalculate the validity of cross-namespace references after each change or deletion.

When communicating the status of a cross-namespace reference, implementations MUST NOT expose information about the existence of a resource in another namespace unless a ReferenceGrant exists allowing the reference to occur. This means that if a cross-namespace reference is made without a ReferenceGrant to a resource that doesn't exist. Any status conditions or warning messages need to focus on the fact that a ReferenceGrant does not exist to allow this reference. No hints should be provided about whether or not the referenced resource exists.


Cross namespace Route -> Gateway binding follows a slightly different pattern where the handshake mechanism is built into the Gateway resource. For more information on that approach, refer to the relevant Security Model documentation. Although conceptually similar to ReferenceGrant, this configuration is built directly into Gateway Listeners, and allows for fine-grained per Listener configuration that would not be possible with ReferenceGrant.

There are some situations where it MAY be acceptable to ignore ReferenceGrant in favor of some other security mechanism. This MAY only be done if other mechanisms like NetworkPolicy can effectively limit cross-namespace references by the implementation.

An implementation choosing to make this exception MUST clearly document that ReferenceGrant is not honored by their implementations and detail which alternative safeguards are available. Note that this is unlikely to apply to ingress implementations of the API and will not apply to all mesh implementations.

For an example of the risks involved in cross-namespace references, refer to CVE-2021-25740. Implementations of this API need to be very careful to avoid confused deputy attacks. ReferenceGrant provides a safeguard for that. Exceptions MUST only be made by implementations that are absolutely certain that other equally effective safeguards are in place.

Conformance Level

ReferenceGrant support is a "CORE" conformance level requirement for cross-namespace references that originate from the following objects:

  • Gateway
  • GRPCRoute
  • HTTPRoute
  • TLSRoute
  • TCPRoute
  • UDPRoute

That is, all implementations MUST use this flow for any cross namespace references in the Gateway and any of the core xRoute types, except as noted in the Exceptions section above.

Other "ImplementationSpecific" objects and references MUST also use this flow for cross-namespace references, except as noted in the Exceptions section above.

Potential Future API Group Change

ReferenceGrant is starting to gain interest outside of Gateway API and SIG Network use cases. It is possible that this resource may move to a more neutral home. Users of the ReferenceGrant API may be required to transition to a different API Group (instead of at some point in the future.

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