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GEP-713: Policy Attachment

  • Issue: #713
  • Status: Experimental


This GEP aims to standardize policy attachment to resources associated with Gateway API by establishing a pattern which defines how Policy API types can have their relevant effects applied to network traffic. Individual policy APIs (e.g. TimeoutPolicy, RetryPolicy, etc) will include a common TargetRef field in their specification to identify how and where to apply that policy. This will be important for providing a consistent experience across implementations of the API, even for configuration details that may not be fully portable.


  • Establish a pattern for policy attachment which will be used for any policies included in the Gateway API spec
  • Establish a pattern for policy attachment which should be used for any implementation specific policies used with Gateway API resources
  • Provide a way to distinguish between required and default values for all policy API implementations
  • Enable policy attachment at all relevant scopes, including Gateways, Routes, Backends
  • Ensure the policy attachment specification is generic and forward thinking enough that it could be easily adapted to other grouping mechanisms like Namespaces in the future
  • Provide a means of attachment that works for both ingress and mesh implementations of this API
  • Provide a consistent specification that will ensure familiarity between both included and implementation-specific policies so they can both be interpreted the same way.

Out of scope

  • Define all potential policies that may be attached to resources
  • Design the full structure and configuration of policies


This approach is building on concepts from all of the alternatives discussed below. This is very similar to the existing BackendPolicy resource in the API, but also borrows some concepts from the ServicePolicy proposal.

Policy Attachment for Ingress

Attaching policy to Gateway resources for ingress use cases is relatively straightforward. A policy can reference the resource it wants to apply to. Access is granted with RBAC - anyone that has access to create a RetryPolicy in a given namespace can attach it to any resource within that namespace.

Simple Ingress Example

To build on that example, it’s possible to attach policies to more resources. Each policy applies to the referenced resource and everything below it in terms of hierarchy. Although this example is likely more complex than many real world use cases, it helps demonstrate how policy attachment can work across namespaces.

Complex Ingress Example

Policy Attachment for Mesh

Although there is a great deal of overlap between ingress and mesh use cases, mesh enables more complex policy attachment scenarios. For example, you may want to apply policy to requests from a specific namespace to a backend in another namespace.

Simple Mesh Example

Policy attachment can be quite simple with mesh. Policy can be applied to any resource in any namespace but it can only apply to requests from the same namespace if the target is in a different namespace.

At the other extreme, policy can be used to apply to requests from a specific workload to a backend in another namespace. A route can be used to intercept these requests and split them between different backends (foo-a and foo-b in this case).

Complex Mesh Example

Policy TargetRef API

Each Policy resource MUST include a single targetRef field. It must not target more than one resource at a time, but it can be used to target larger resources such as Gateways or Namespaces that may apply to multiple child resources.

As with most APIs, there are countless ways we could choose to expand this in the future. This includes supporting multiple targetRefs and/or label selectors. Although this would enable compelling functionality, it would increase the complexity of an already complex API and potentially result in more conflicts between policies. Although we may choose to expand the targeting capabilities in the future, at this point it is strongly preferred to start with a simpler pattern that still leaves room for future expansion.

The targetRef field MUST have the following structure:

// PolicyTargetReference identifies an API object to apply policy to.
type PolicyTargetReference struct {
    // Group is the group of the target resource.
    // +kubebuilder:validation:MinLength=1
    // +kubebuilder:validation:MaxLength=253
    Group string `json:"group"`

    // Kind is kind of the target resource.
    // +kubebuilder:validation:MinLength=1
    // +kubebuilder:validation:MaxLength=253
    Kind string `json:"kind"`

    // Name is the name of the target resource.
    // +kubebuilder:validation:MinLength=1
    // +kubebuilder:validation:MaxLength=253
    Name string `json:"name"`

    // Namespace is the namespace of the referent. When unspecified, the local
    // namespace is inferred. Even when policy targets a resource in a different
    // namespace, it may only apply to traffic originating from the same
    // namespace as the policy.
    // +kubebuilder:validation:MinLength=1
    // +kubebuilder:validation:MaxLength=253
    // +optional
    Namespace string `json:"namespace,omitempty"`

Sample Policy API

The following structure can be used as a starting point for any Policy resource using this API pattern. Note that the PolicyTargetReference struct defined above will be distributed as part of the Gateway API.

// ACMEServicePolicy provides a way to apply Service policy configuration with
// the ACME implementation of the Gateway API.
type ACMEServicePolicy struct {
    metav1.TypeMeta   `json:",inline"`
    metav1.ObjectMeta `json:"metadata,omitempty"`

    // Spec defines the desired state of ACMEServicePolicy.
    Spec ACMEServicePolicySpec `json:"spec"`

    // Status defines the current state of ACMEServicePolicy.
    Status ACMEServicePolicyStatus `json:"status,omitempty"`

// ACMEServicePolicySpec defines the desired state of ACMEServicePolicy.
type ACMEServicePolicySpec struct {
    // TargetRef identifies an API object to apply policy to.
    TargetRef gatewayv1a2.PolicyTargetReference `json:"targetRef"`

    // Override defines policy configuration that should override policy
    // configuration attached below the targeted resource in the hierarchy.
    // +optional
    Override *ACMEPolicyConfig `json:"override,omitempty"`

    // Default defines default policy configuration for the targeted resource.
    // +optional
    Default *ACMEPolicyConfig `json:"default,omitempty"`

// ACMEPolicyConfig contains ACME policy configuration.
type ACMEPolicyConfig struct {
    // Add configurable policy here

// ACMEServicePolicyStatus defines the observed state of ACMEServicePolicy.
type ACMEServicePolicyStatus struct {
    // Conditions describe the current conditions of the ACMEServicePolicy.
    // +optional
    // +listType=map
    // +listMapKey=type
    // +kubebuilder:validation:MaxItems=8
    Conditions []metav1.Condition `json:"conditions,omitempty"`


Each policy MAY include default or override values. Default values are given precedence from the bottom up, while override values are top down. That means that a default attached to a Backend will have the highest precedence among default values while an override value attached to a GatewayClass will have the highest precedence overall.

Ingress and Sidecar Hierarchy

To illustrate this, consider 3 resources with the following hierarchy: A > B > C. When attaching the concept of defaults and overrides to that, the hierarchy would be expanded to this:

A override > B override > C override > C default > B default > A default.

Note that the hierarchy is reversed for defaults. The rationale here is that overrides usually need to be enforced top down while defaults should apply to the lowest resource first. For example, if an admin needs to attach required policy, they can attach it as an override to a Gateway. That would have precedence over Routes and Services below it. On the other hand, an app owner may want to set a default timeout for their Service. That would have precedence over defaults attached at higher levels such as Route or Gateway.

If using defaults and overrides, each policy resource MUST include 2 structs within the spec. One with override values and the other with default values.

In the following example, the policy attached to the Gateway requires cdn to be enabled and provides some default configuration for that. The policy attached to the Route changes the value for one of those fields (includeQueryString).

kind: GKEServicePolicy # Example of implementation specific policy name
      enabled: true
        includeHost: true
        includeProtocol: true
        includeQueryString: true
    kind: Gateway
    name: example
kind: GKEServicePolicy
        includeQueryString: false
    kind: HTTPRoute
    name: example

In this final example, we can see how the override attached to the Gateway has precedence over the default drainTimeout value attached to the Route. At the same time, we can see that the default connectionTimeout attached to the Route has precedence over the default attached to the Gateway.

Hierarchical Policy Example

Supported Resources

It is important to note that not every implementation will be able to support policy attachment to each resource described in the hierarchy above. When that is the case, implementations MUST clearly document which resources a policy may be attached to.

Attaching Policy to GatewayClass

GatewayClass may be the trickiest resource to attach policy to. Policy attachment relies on the policy being defined within the same scope as the target. This ensures that only users with write access to a policy resource in a given scope will be able to modify policy at that level. Since GatewayClass is a cluster scoped resource, this means that any policy attached to it must also be cluster scoped.

GatewayClass parameters provide an alternative to policy attachment that may be easier for some implementations to support. These parameters can similarly be used to set defaults and requirements for an entire GatewayClass.

Targeting External Services

In some cases (likely limited to mesh) we may want to apply policies to requests to external services. To accomplish this, implementations can choose to support a refernce to a virtual resource type:

kind: RetryPolicy
  name: foo
    maxRetries: 5
    kind: ExternalService

Conflict Resolution

It is possible for multiple policies to target the same resource. When this happens, merging is the preferred outcome. If multiple policy resources target the same resource and have an identical field specified with different values, precedence MUST be determined in order of the following criteria, continuing on ties:

  • The oldest Policy based on creation timestamp. For example, a Policy with a creation timestamp of "2021-07-15 01:02:03" is given precedence over a Policy with a creation timestamp of "2021-07-15 01:02:04".
  • The Policy appearing first in alphabetical order by {namespace}/{name}. For example, foo/bar is given precedence over foo/baz.

For a better user experience, a validating webhook can be implemented to prevent these kinds of conflicts all together.

Kubectl Plugin

To help improve UX and standardization, a kubectl plugin will be developed that will be capable of describing the computed sum of policy that applies to a given resource, including policies applied to parent resources.

Each Policy CRD that wants to be supported by this plugin will need to follow the API structure defined above and add a true label to the CRD.


In the future, we may consider adding a new Policies field to status on Gateways and Routes. This would be a list of PolicyTargetReference structs with the fields instead used to refer to the Policy resource that has been applied.

Unfortunately, this may create more confusion than it is worth, here are some of the key concerns:

  • When multiple controllers are implementing the same Route and recognize a policy, it would be difficult to determine which controller should be responsible for adding that policy reference to status.
  • For this to be somewhat scalable, we'd need to limit the status entries to policies that had been directly applied to the resource. This could get confusing as it would not provide any insight into policies attached above or below.
  • Since we only control some of the resources a policy might be attached to, adding policies to status would only be possible on Gateway API resources, not Services or other kinds of backends.

Although these concerns are not unsolvable, they lead to the conclusion that a Kubectl plugin should be our primary approach to providing visibility here, with a possibility of adding policies to status at a later point.


Controllers using the Gateway API policy attachment model SHOULD populate the following condition and reasons on policy resources to provide a consistent experience across implementations.

// PolicyConditionType is a type of condition for a policy.
type PolicyConditionType string

// PolicyConditionReason is a reason for a policy condition.
type PolicyConditionReason string

const (
  // PolicyConditionAccepted indicates whether the policy has been accepted or rejected
  // by a targeted resource, and why.
  // Possible reasons for this condition to be True are:
  // * "Accepted"
  // Possible reasons for this condition to be False are:
  // * "Conflicted"
  // * "Invalid"
  // * "TargetNotFound"
  PolicyConditionAccepted PolicyConditionType = "Accepted"

  // PolicyReasonAccepted is used with the "Accepted" condition when the policy has been
  // accepted by the targeted resource.
  PolicyReasonAccepted PolicyConditionReason = "Accepted"

  // PolicyReasonConflicted is used with the "Accepted" condition when the policy has not
  // been accepted by a targeted resource because there is another policy that targets the same
  // resource and a merge is not possible.
  PolicyReasonConflicted PolicyConditionReason = "Conflicted"

  // PolicyReasonInvalid is used with the "Accepted" condition when the policy is syntactically
  // or semantically invalid.
  PolicyReasonInvalid PolicyConditionReason = "Invalid"

  // PolicyReasonTargetNotFound is used with the "Accepted" condition when the policy is attached to
  // an invalid target resource
  PolicyReasonTargetNotFound PolicyConditionReason = "TargetNotFound"

Interaction with Custom Filters and other extension points

There are multiple methods of custom extension in the Gateway API. Policy attachment and custom Route filters are two of these. Policy attachment is designed to provide arbitrary configuration fields that decorate Gateway API resources. Route filters provide custom request/response filters embedded inside Route resources. Both are extension methods for fields that cannot easily be standardized as core or extended fields of the Gateway API. The following guidance should be considered when introducing a custom field into any Gateway controller implementation:

  1. For any given field that a Gateway controller implementation needs, the possibility of using core or extended should always be considered before using custom policy resources. This is encouraged to promote standardization and, over time, to absorb capabilities into the API as first class fields, which offer a more streamlined UX than custom policy attachment.

  2. Although it's possible that arbitrary fields could be supported by custom policy, custom route filters, and core/extended fields concurrently, it is strongly recommended that implementations not use multiple mechanisms for representing the same fields. A given field should only be supported through a single extension method. An example of potential conflict is policy precedence and structured hierarchy, which only applies to custom policies. Allowing a field to exist in custom policies and also other areas of the API, which are not part of the structured hierarchy, breaks the precedence model. Note that this guidance may change in the future as we gain a better understanding for extension mechanisms of the Gateway API can interoperate.

Conformance Level

This policy attachment pattern is associated with an "EXTENDED" conformance level. The implementations that support this policy attachment model will have the same behavior and semantics, although they may not be able to support attachment of all types of policy at all potential attachment points.

Apply Policies to Sections of a Resource (Future Extension)

Although initially out of scope, it would be helpful to be able to target specific matches within nested objects. For example, it may be useful to attach policies to a specific Gateway listener or Route rule. This section explores what that could look like.

Each Route rule or Gateway listener should be expanded with an optional name field. The target ref would be expanded with an optional sectionName field that could be used to refer to that specific section of the resource. It would refer to the following concepts on these resources:

  • Gateway.Listeners.Name
  • xRoute.Rules.Name
  • Service.Ports.Name
kind: HTTPRoute
  name: http-app-1
    app: foo
  - ""
  - name: bar
    - path:
        type: Prefix
        value: /bar
    - serviceName: my-service1
      port: 8080
kind: RetryPolicy
  name: foo
  maxRetries: 5
    name: foo
    kind: HTTPRoute
    sectionName: bar

This would require adding a SectionName field to the PolicyTargetReference:

type PolicyTargetReference struct {
    // SectionName is the name of a section within the target resource. When
    // unspecified, this targets the entire resource. In the following
    // resources, SectionName is interpreted as the following:
    // * Gateway: Listener Name
    // * Route: Rule Name
    // * Service: Port Name
    // +kubebuilder:validation:MinLength=1
    // +kubebuilder:validation:MaxLength=253
    // +optional
    SectionName string `json:"sectionName,omitempty"`
    // ...

This would also require adding a Name field to Gateway listeners and Route rules:

type Listener struct {
    // Name is the name of the Listener. If more than one Listener is present
    // each Listener MUST specify a name. The names of Listeners MUST be unique
    // within a Gateway.
    // Support: Core
    // +kubebuilder:validation:MinLength=1
    // +kubebuilder:validation:MaxLength=253
    // +optional
    Name string `json:"name,omitempty"`
    // ...
type RouteRule struct {
    // Name is the name of the Route rule. If more than one Route Rule is
    // present, each Rule MUST specify a name. The names of Rules MUST be unique
    // within a Route.
    // Support: Core
    // +kubebuilder:validation:MinLength=1
    // +kubebuilder:validation:MaxLength=253
    // +optional
    Name string `json:"name,omitempty"`
    // ...


  • Incredibly flexible approach that should work well for both ingress and mesh
  • Conceptually similar to existing ServicePolicy proposal and BackendPolicy pattern
  • Easy to attach policy to resources we don’t control (Service, ServiceImport, etc)
  • Minimal API changes required
  • Simplifies packaging an application for deployment as policy references do not need to be part of the templating


  • May be difficult to understand which policies apply to a request

Removing BackendPolicy

BackendPolicy represents the initial attempt to cover policy attachment for Gateway API. Although this proposal ended up with a similar structure to BackendPolicy, it is not clear that we ever found sufficient value or use cases for BackendPolicy. Given that this proposal provides more powerful ways to attach policy, it makes sense to remove BackendPolicy until we have a better alternative.


1. ServiceBinding for attaching Policies and Routes for Mesh

A new ServiceBinding resource has been proposed for mesh use cases. This would provide a way to attach policies, including Routes to a Service.

Most notably, these provide a way to attach different policies to requests coming from namespaces or specific Gateways. In the example below, a ServiceBinding in the consumer namespace would be applied to the selected Gateway and affect all requests from that Gateway to the foo Service. Beyond policy attachment, this would also support attaching Routes as policies, in this case the attached HTTPRoute would split requests between the foo-a and foo-b Service instead of the foo Service.

Simple Service Binding Example

This approach can be used to attach a default set of policies to all requests coming from a namespace. The example below shows a ServiceBinding defined in the producer namespace that would apply to all requests from within the same namespace or from other namespaces that did not have their own ServiceBindings defined.

Complex Service Binding Example


  • Works well for mesh and any use cases where requests don’t always transit through Gateways and Routes.
  • Allows policies to apply to an entire namespace.
  • Provides very clear attachment of polices, routes, and more to a specific Service.
  • Works well for ‘shrink-wrap application developers’ - the packaged app does not need to know about hostnames or policies or have extensive templates.
  • Works well for ‘dynamic’ / programmatic creation of workloads ( Pods,etc - see CertManager)
  • It is easy to understand what policy applies to a workload - by listing the bindings in the namespace.


  • Unclear how this would work with an ingress model. If Gateways, Routes, and Backends are all in different namespaces, and each of those namespaces has different ServiceBindings applying different sets of policies, it’s difficult to understand which policy would be applied.
  • Unclear if/how this would interact with existing the ingress focused policy proposal described below. If both coexisted, would it be possible for a user to understand which policies were being applied to their requests?
  • Route status could get confusing when Routes were referenced as a policy by ServiceBinding
  • Introduces a new mesh specific resource.

2. Attaching Policies for Ingress

An earlier proposal for policy attachment in the Gateway API suggested adding policy references to each Resource. This works very naturally for Ingress use cases where all requests follow a path through Gateways, Routes, and Backends. Adding policy attachment at each level enables different roles to define defaults and allow overrides at different levels.

Simple Ingress Attachment Example


  • Consistent policy attachment at each level
  • Clear which policies apply to each component
  • Naturally translates to hierarchical Ingress model with ability to delegate policy decisions to different roles


  • Policy overrides could become complicated
  • At least initially, policy attachment on Service would have to rely on Service annotations or references from policy to Service(s)
  • No way to attach policy to other resources such as namespace or ServiceImport
  • May be difficult to modify Routes and Services if other components/roles are managing them (eg Knative)

3. Shared Policy Resource

This is really just a slight variation or extension of the main proposal in this GEP. We would introduce a shared policy resource. This resource would follow the guidelines described above, including the targetRef as defined as well as default and override fields. Instead of carefully crafted CRD schemas for each of the default and override fields, we would use more generic map[string]string values. This would allow similar flexibility to annotations while still enabling the default and override concepts that are key to this proposal.

Unfortunately this would be difficult to validate and would come with many of the downsides of annotations. A validating webhook would be required for any validation which could result in just as much or more work to maintain than CRDs. At this point we believe that the best experience will be from implementations providing their own policy CRDs that follow the patterns described in this GEP. We may want to explore tooling or guidance to simplify the creation of these policy CRDs to help simplify implementation and extension of this API.


Issues * Extensible Service Policy and Configuration

Docs * Policy Attachment and Binding