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Security Model


Gateway API has been designed to enable granular authorization for each role in a typical organization.


Gateway API has 3 primary API resources:

  • GatewayClass defines a set of gateways with a common configuration and behavior.
  • Gateway requests a point where traffic can be translated to Services within the cluster.
  • Routes describe how traffic coming via the Gateway maps to the Services.

Roles and personas

In the original design of Kubernetes, Ingress and Service resources were based on a self-service model of usage; developers who create Services and Ingresses control all aspects of defining and exposing their applications to their users.

We have found that the self-service model does not fully capture some of the more complex deployment and team structures that our users are seeing. Gateway API is designed to target the following personas:

  • Infrastructure provider: The infrastructure provider (infra) is responsible for the overall environment that the cluster(s) are operating in. Examples include: the cloud provider (AWS, Azure, GCP, ...) or the PaaS provider in a company.
  • Cluster operator: The cluster operator (ops) is responsible for administration of entire clusters. They manage policies, network access, application permissions.
  • Application developer: The application developer (dev) is responsible for defining their application configuration (e.g. timeouts, request matching/filter) and Service composition (e.g. path routing to backends).

Although these roles can cover a wide variety of use cases, some organizations may be structured slightly differently. Many organizations may also have a fourth role that sits between "cluster operator" and "application developer":

  • Application admin: The application admin has administrative access to some namespaces within a cluster, but not the cluster as a whole.

We expect that each persona will map approximately to a Role in the Kubernetes Role-Based Authentication (RBAC) system and will define resource model responsibility and separation.

Depending on the environment, multiple roles can map to the same user. For example, giving the user all the above roles replicates the self-service model.


RBAC (role-based access control) is the standard used for Kubernetes authorization. This allows users to configure who can perform actions on resources in specific scopes. RBAC can be used to enable each of the roles defined above. In most cases, it will be desirable to have all resources be readable by most roles, so instead we'll focus on write access for this model.

Write Permissions for Simple 3 Tier Model

GatewayClass Gateway Route
Infrastructure Provider Yes Yes Yes
Cluster Operators No Yes Yes
Application Developers No No Yes

Write Permissions for Advanced 4 Tier Model

GatewayClass Gateway Route
Infrastructure Provider Yes Yes Yes
Cluster Operators Sometimes Yes Yes
Application Admins No In Specified Namespaces In Specified Namespaces
Application Developers No No In Specified Namespaces

Crossing Namespace Boundaries

Gateway API provides new ways to cross namespace boundaries. These cross-namespace capabilities are quire powerful but need to be used carefully to avoid accidental exposure. As a rule, every time we allow a namespace boundary to be crossed, we require a handshake between namespaces. There are 2 different ways that can occur:

1. Route Binding

Routes can be connected to Gateways in different namespaces. To accomplish this, The Gateway owner must explicitly allow Routes to bind from additional namespaces. This is accomplished by configuring allowedRoutes within a Gateway listener to look something like this:

  from: Selector
    - key:
      operator: In
      - foo
      - bar

This will allow routes from the "foo" and "bar" namespaces to attach to this Gateway listener.

Risks of Other Labels

Although it's possible to use other labels with this selector, it is not quite as safe. While the label is consistently set on namespaces to the name of the namespace, other labels do not have the same guarantee. If you used a custom label such as env, anyone that is able to label namespaces within your cluster would effectively be able to change the set of namespaces your Gateway supported.

2. ReferenceGrant

There are some cases where we allow other object references to cross namespace boundaries. This includes Gateways referencing Secrets and Routes referencing Backends (usually Services). In these cases, the required handshake is accomplished with a ReferenceGrant resource. This resource exists within a target namespace and can be used to allow references from other namespaces.

For example, the following ReferenceGrant allows references from Gateways in the "prod" namespace to HTTPRoutes that are deployed in the same namespace as the ReferenceGrant.

kind: ReferenceGrant
  name: allow-prod-traffic
  - group:
    kind: HTTPRoute
    namespace: prod
  - group: ""
    kind: Service

For more information on ReferenceGrant, refer to our detailed documentation for this resource.

Advanced Concept: Limiting Namespaces Where a GatewayClass Can Be Used

Some infrastructure providers or cluster operators may wish to limit the namespaces where a GatewayClass can be used. At this point, we do not have a solution for this built into the API. In lieu of that, we recommend using a policy agent such as Open Policy Agent and Gatekeeper to enforce these kinds of policies. For reference, we've created an example of configuration that could be used for this.

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