Local Kubernetes stack with k3d in seconds

Published on May 07, 2024

Kubernetes helps with the running of containerized applications at scale, however you don't need a complex infrastructure to test many of the aspects of a Kubernetes cluster. You can spin up a cluster with k3d on your local machine in seconds and start experimenting with Kubernetes.

k3s is a lightweight Kubernetes distribution, less than 100MB, that spins up with ease on low spec machines. Beyond providing foundations for a local cluster, k3s is also useful for deployments onto a small devices, for example onto a Raspberry Pi. (edit: Which I explored in a later blog on deploying k3s cluster on a Pi.)

k3d is a lightweight wrapper that runs k3s in docker. It helps with creating and starting up a Kubernetes cluster quickly. If you're familiar with docker and already have it installed, this is a good choice. Kind is a similarly impressive tool with many of the same goals if you wish to take a look at an alternative.

Using k3d can help demystify some aspects of Kubernetes, allowing you to learn and experiment in a safe local environment. It can also help with the validation of changes locally before deploying to a shared environment, giving an efficient and quicker feedback loop on your changes.

Installing k3d

Before starting, make sure you have docker installed to provide the runtime environment for k3d. You will also need the Kubernetes command line tool kubectl.

With those foundations in place, you can install k3d and start experimenting with a local cluster. On MacOS you can install with brew.

brew install k3d

Or you can use chocolatey on Windows.

choco install k3d

Starting up cluster

With docker running on your local machine, create a new Kubernetes cluster with the k3d command.

k3d cluster create my-cluster

You can now interact with your locally running cluster. For example, list the running pods.

$ kubectl get pods -A
NAMESPACE     NAME                                      READY   STATUS      RESTARTS   AGE
kube-system   local-path-provisioner-6c86858495-sj6gh   1/1     Running     0          2m27s
kube-system   coredns-6799fbcd5-4tzq4                   1/1     Running     0          2m27s
kube-system   helm-install-traefik-crd-z25w2            0/1     Completed   0          2m27s
kube-system   svclb-traefik-76abe76e-2f2d2              2/2     Running     0          2m18s
kube-system   helm-install-traefik-hjph9                0/1     Completed   1          2m27s
kube-system   traefik-f4564c4f4-78vn8                   1/1     Running     0          2m18s
kube-system   metrics-server-54fd9b65b-p744s            1/1     Running     0          2m27s

This is a great place to start if you are new to Kubernetes and you are learning more about the kubectl commands. Have a look at the kubectl command reference for more info.

k3d has updated your kube config file, ~/.kube/config, and the Kubernetes current context should be referencing that cluster configuration. It is this configuration that defines which cluster you are working with. You can check this with the kubectl config current-context command.

kubectl config current-context

If all's well, this should return k3d-my-cluster which is the name of the newly created cluster with k3d. If you already have other cluster contexts configured locally, you can view the get-contexts and change context with use-context.

kubectl config get-contexts
kubectl config use-context <CONTEXT_NAME>

Create a lightweight image we can test with

Let's create a docker image that we can deploy. This is just lightweight nginx service serving some static HTML, and is enough for us to create a deployment and test the Kubernetes routing.

docker build --tag my/hello-world - <<EOF
FROM nginx:alpine
RUN echo "<html><body><p>Hello, World!</p></body></html>" > /usr/share/nginx/html/index.html

You can see this docker image that you have built in the local docker image registry.

$ docker image ls
REPOSITORY                 TAG            IMAGE ID       CREATED          SIZE
my/hello-world             latest         3c86fe6a3708   10 seconds ago   49.7MB

We can run this image directly with docker:

docker run -p 8080:80 my/hello-world

And see the web page at http://localhost:8080/, however for the purpose of this exercise we will want to instead deploy this into our Kubernetes cluster.

We'll need to make this image available to the cluster. We can do this by creating a k3d private registry

k3d registry create my-registry --port 5111

And then pushing our image to this registry

docker tag my/hello-world localhost:5111/my/hello-world:latest
docker push localhost:5111/my/hello-world:latest

In the next step a deployment will pull this image from this registry before running it.

Deploying our test service

To allow the cluster to pull from this local registry we need to reference this registry in the cluster. This can be done at creation time in k3d. First we need a k3s registries configuration file. Let's call it my-registries.yaml and set up the registry as bellow.

cat <<EOF > my-registries.yaml
      - http://k3d-my-registry:5111

Then delete the current cluster, to allow us to recrete.

k3d cluster delete my-cluster

Recreate the cluster anew with the registry configuration referenced. We'll also start up this cluster with the local port 8080 mapped onto the internal port 80 of the load balancer in the cluster so that we can route onto the service we will deploy.

k3d cluster create my-cluster --registry-use k3d-my-registry:5111 \
  -p "8080:80@loadbalancer"                                       \
  --registry-config my-registries.yaml

This has created a service with type LoadBalancer in the cluster which allows services in the cluster to be exposed externally.

Create a deployment from our published image.

kubectl create deployment my-hello-world \
  --image k3d-my-registry:5111/my/hello-world

Create a service with type ClusterIP so that the app my-hello-world is available, internally in the cluster, with the host name my-hello-world.

kubectl create service clusterip my-hello-world --tcp=80:80

Apply the ingress route onto our my-hello-world service.

kubectl create ingress my-hello-world --rule="/=my-hello-world:80"

And then, access the deployed "Hello, World!" service at http://localhost:8080/.


We've created a local Kubernetes cluster with k3d and deployed a lightweight docker image into the cluster. We then exposed the service so we can access it from outside the cluster. From this foundation, we can experiment with Kubernetes and learn more about the Kubernetes stack.

Kubernetes, to start with, can be hard to get into. I the early days I found spinning up a local k8s environment genuinely quite hard. This made learning and experimentation slower, and could detract other members of the team gaining skills with Kubernetes.

With k3d, and also other similar tools like kind, these skills became much more accessible, helping break down some knowledge divides. It also opens up to the potential for helping with quality control, embedding in CI/CD processes, troubleshooting, and validating approaches before you try them in the wild.

In subsequent blogs I'll be using this locally deployed k3d cluster to explore other core concepts and tooling of the Kubernetes ecosystem.

Clean up

Once you are done, you can remove the local cluster and local registry that you created.

k3d cluster delete my-cluster
k3d registry delete k3d-my-registry