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A ReferencePolicy 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 Policy

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

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


Fundamentally a ReferencePolicy 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 ReferencePolicy can only be used to allow references to resources in the same namespace as the ReferencePolicy.


The following example shows how a HTTPRoute in namespace foo can reference a Service in namespace bar. In this example a ReferencePolicy 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: ReferencePolicy
  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 ReferencePolicy only supports a single From and To section. Additional trust relationships must be modeled with additional ReferencePolicy resources.
  2. Resource names are intentionally excluded from this policy for simplicity and 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 policy.
  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 ReferencePolicy fields are interpreted.


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 ReferencePolicy, this configuration is built directly into Gateway Listeners, and allows for fine-grained per Listener configuration that would not be possible with ReferencePolicy.

There are some situations where it MAY be acceptable to ignore ReferencePolicy 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 ReferencePolicy 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. ReferencePolicy 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

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

  • HTTPRoute
  • TLSRoute
  • TCPRoute
  • UDPRoute

That is, all implementations MUST use this flow for any cross namespace references in 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.

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