Developing Cluster API with Tilt


This document describes how to use kind and Tilt for a simplified workflow that offers easy deployments and rapid iterative builds.


  1. Docker: v19.03 or newer
  2. kind: v0.23.0 or newer
  3. Tilt: v0.30.8 or newer
  4. kustomize: provided via make kustomize
  5. envsubst: provided via make envsubst
  6. helm: v3.7.1 or newer
  7. Clone the Cluster API repository locally
  8. Clone the provider(s) you want to deploy locally as well

Getting started

Create a kind cluster

A script to create a KIND cluster along with a local Docker registry and the correct mounts to run CAPD is included in the hack/ folder.

To create a pre-configured cluster run:


You can see the status of the cluster with:

kubectl cluster-info --context kind-capi-test

Create a tilt-settings file

Next, create a tilt-settings.yaml file and place it in your local copy of cluster-api. Here is an example that uses the components from the CAPI repo:

- docker
- kubeadm-bootstrap
- kubeadm-control-plane

To use tilt to launch a provider with its own repo, using Cluster API Provider AWS here, tilt-settings.yaml should look like:

- ../cluster-api-provider-aws
- aws
- kubeadm-bootstrap
- kubeadm-control-plane

tilt-settings fields

allowed_contexts (Array, default=[]): A list of kubeconfig contexts Tilt is allowed to use. See the Tilt documentation on allow_k8s_contexts for more details.

default_registry (String, default=[]): The image registry to use if you need to push images. See the Tilt documentation for more details. Please note that, in case you are not using a local registry, this value is required; additionally, the Cluster API Tiltfile protects you from accidental push on

build_engine (String, default=”docker”): The engine used to build images. Can either be docker or podman. NB: the default is dynamic and will be “podman” if the string “Podman Engine” is found in docker version (or in podman version if the command fails).

kind_cluster_name (String, default=”capi-test”): The name of the kind cluster to use when preloading images.

provider_repos (Array[]String, default=[]): A list of paths to all the providers you want to use. Each provider must have a tilt-provider.yaml or tilt-provider.json file describing how to build the provider.

enable_providers (Array[]String, default=[‘docker’]): A list of the providers to enable. See available providers for more details.

template_dirs (Map{String: Array[]String}, default={”docker”: [ “./test/infrastructure/docker/templates”]}): A map of providers to directories containing cluster templates. An example of the field is given below. See Deploying a workload cluster for how this is used.

  - ./test/infrastructure/docker/templates
  - <other-template-dir>
  - <azure-template-dir>
  - <aws-template-dir>
  - <gcp-template-dir>

kustomize_substitutions (Map{String: String}, default={}): An optional map of substitutions for ${}-style placeholders in the provider’s yaml. These substitutions are also used when deploying cluster templates. See Deploying a workload cluster.

Note: When running E2E tests locally using an existing cluster managed by Tilt, the following substitutions are required for successful tests:


For example, if the yaml contains ${AWS_B64ENCODED_CREDENTIALS}, you could do the following:

  AWS_B64ENCODED_CREDENTIALS: "your credentials here"

An Azure Service Principal is needed for populating the controller manifests. This utilizes environment-based authentication.

  1. Save your Subscription ID
AZURE_SUBSCRIPTION_ID=$(az account show --query id --output tsv)
az account set --subscription $AZURE_SUBSCRIPTION_ID
  1. Set the Service Principal name
  1. Save your Tenant ID, Client ID, Client Secret
AZURE_TENANT_ID=$(az account show --query tenantId --output tsv)
AZURE_CLIENT_SECRET=$(az ad sp create-for-rbac --name http://$AZURE_SERVICE_PRINCIPAL_NAME --query password --output tsv)
AZURE_CLIENT_ID=$(az ad sp show --id http://$AZURE_SERVICE_PRINCIPAL_NAME --query appId --output tsv)

Add the output of the following as a section in your tilt-settings.yaml:

  cat <<EOF
     AZURE_SUBSCRIPTION_ID_B64: "$(echo "${AZURE_SUBSCRIPTION_ID}" | tr -d '\n' | base64 | tr -d '\n')"
     AZURE_TENANT_ID_B64: "$(echo "${AZURE_TENANT_ID}" | tr -d '\n' | base64 | tr -d '\n')"
     AZURE_CLIENT_SECRET_B64: "$(echo "${AZURE_CLIENT_SECRET}" | tr -d '\n' | base64 | tr -d '\n')"
     AZURE_CLIENT_ID_B64: "$(echo "${AZURE_CLIENT_ID}" | tr -d '\n' | base64 | tr -d '\n')"
  DO_B64ENCODED_CREDENTIALS: "your credentials here"

You can generate a base64 version of your GCP json credentials file using:

base64 -i ~/path/to/gcp/credentials.json
  GCP_B64ENCODED_CREDENTIALS: "your credentials here"
  VSPHERE_USERNAME: "administrator@vsphere.local"

deploy_observability ([string], default=[]): If set, installs on the dev cluster one of more observability tools. Important! This feature requires the helm command to be available in the user’s path.

Supported values are:

  • grafana*: To create dashboards and query loki, prometheus and tempo.
  • kube-state-metrics: For exposing metrics for Kubernetes and CAPI resources to prometheus.
  • loki: To receive and store logs.
  • metrics-server: To enable kubectl top node/pod.
  • prometheus*: For collecting metrics from Kubernetes.
  • promtail: For providing pod logs to loki.
  • parca*: For visualizing profiling data.
  • tempo: To store traces.
  • visualizer*: Visualize Cluster API resources for each cluster, provide quick access to the specs and status of any resource.

*: Note: the UI will be accessible via a link in the tilt console

additional_kustomizations (map[string]string, default={}): If set, install the additional resources built using kustomize to the cluster. Example:

  capv-metrics: ../cluster-api-provider-vsphere/config/metrics

debug (Map{string: Map} default{}): A map of named configurations for the provider. The key is the name of the provider.

Supported settings:

  • port (int, default=0 (disabled)): If set to anything other than 0, then Tilt will run the provider with delve and port forward the delve server to localhost on the specified debug port. This can then be used with IDEs such as Visual Studio Code, Goland and IntelliJ.

  • continue (bool, default=true): By default, Tilt will run delve with --continue, such that any provider with debugging turned on will run normally unless specifically having a breakpoint entered. Change to false if you do not want the controller to start at all by default.

  • profiler_port (int, default=0 (disabled)): If set to anything other than 0, then Tilt will enable the profiler with --profiler-address and set up a port forward. A “profiler” link will be visible in the Tilt Web UI for the controller.

  • metrics_port (int, default=0 (disabled)): If set to anything other than 0, then Tilt will port forward to the default metrics port. A “metrics” link will be visible in the Tilt Web UI for the controller.

  • race_detector (bool, default=false) (Linux amd64 only): If enabled, Tilt will compile the specified controller with cgo and statically compile in the system glibc and enable the race detector. Currently, this is only supported when building on Linux amd64 systems. You must install glibc-static or have libc.a available for this to work.

    Example: Using the configuration below:

          continue: false
          port: 30000
          profiler_port: 40000
          metrics_port: 40001
    Wiring up debuggers
    Visual Studio

    When using the example above, the core CAPI controller can be debugged in Visual Studio Code using the following launch configuration:

      "version": "0.2.0",
      "configurations": [
          "name": "Core CAPI Controller",
          "type": "go",
          "request": "attach",
          "mode": "remote",
          "remotePath": "",
          "port": 30000,
          "host": "",
          "showLog": true,
          "trace": "log",
          "logOutput": "rpc"
    Goland / IntelliJ

    With the above example, you can configure a Go Remote run/debug configuration pointing at port 30000.

deploy_cert_manager (Boolean, default=true): Deploys cert-manager into the cluster for use for webhook registration.

trigger_mode (String, default=auto): Optional setting to configure if tilt should automatically rebuild on changes. Set to manual to disable auto-rebuilding and require users to trigger rebuilds of individual changed components through the UI.

extra_args (Object, default={}): A mapping of provider to additional arguments to pass to the main binary configured for this provider. Each item in the array will be passed in to the manager for the given provider.


  - --logging-format=json

With this config, the respective managers will be invoked with:

manager --logging-format=json

Create a kind cluster and run Tilt!

To create a pre-configured kind cluster (if you have not already done so) and launch your development environment, run

make tilt-up

This will open the command-line HUD as well as a web browser interface. You can monitor Tilt’s status in either location. After a brief amount of time, you should have a running development environment, and you should now be able to create a cluster. There are example worker cluster configs available. These can be customized for your specific needs.

Deploying a workload cluster

After your kind management cluster is up and running with Tilt, you can deploy a workload clusters in the Tilt web UI based off of YAML templates from the directories specified in the template_dirs field from the tilt-settings.yaml file (default ./test/infrastructure/docker/templates).

Templates should be named according to clusterctl conventions:

  • template files must be named cluster-template-{name}.yaml; those files will be accessible in the Tilt web UI under the label grouping {provider-label}.templates, i.e. CAPD.templates.
  • cluster class files must be named clusterclass-{name}.yaml; those file will be accessible in the Tilt web UI under the label grouping {provider-label}.clusterclasses, i.e. CAPD.clusterclasses.

By selecting one of those items in the Tilt web UI set of buttons will appear, allowing to create - with a dropdown for customizing variable substitutions - or delete clusters. Custom values for variable substitutions can be set using kustomize_substitutions in tilt-settings.yaml, e.g.

  NAMESPACE: "default"
# Note: kustomize substitutions expects the values to be strings. This can be achieved by wrapping the values in quotation marks.

Cleaning up your kind cluster and development environment

After stopping Tilt, you can clean up your kind cluster and development environment by running

make clean-kind

To remove all generated files, run

make clean

Note that you must run make clean or make clean-charts to fetch new versions of charts deployed using deploy_observability in tilt-settings.yaml.

Use of clusterctl

When the worker cluster has been created using tilt, clusterctl should not be used for management operations; this is because tilt doesn’t initialize providers on the management cluster like clusterctl init does, so some of the clusterctl commands like clusterctl config won’t work.

This limitation is an acceptable trade-off while executing fast dev-test iterations on controllers logic. If instead you are interested in testing clusterctl workflows, you should refer to the clusterctl developer instructions.

Available providers

The following providers are currently defined in the Tiltfile:

  • core: cluster-api itself
  • kubeadm-bootstrap: kubeadm bootstrap provider
  • kubeadm-control-plane: kubeadm control-plane provider
  • docker: Docker infrastructure provider
  • in-memory: In-memory infrastructure provider
  • test-extension: Runtime extension used by CAPI E2E tests

Additional providers can be added by following the procedure described in following paragraphs:

tilt-provider configuration

A provider must supply a tilt-provider.yaml file describing how to build it. Here is an example:

name: aws
  image: ""
  live_reload_deps: ["main.go", "go.mod", "go.sum", "api", "cmd", "controllers", "pkg"]
  label: CAPA

config fields

image: the image for this provider, as referenced in the kustomize files. This must match; otherwise, Tilt won’t build it.

live_reload_deps: a list of files/directories to watch. If any of them changes, Tilt rebuilds the manager binary for the provider and performs a live update of the running container.

version: allows to define the version to be used for the Provider CR. If empty, a default version will be used.

additional_docker_helper_commands (String, default=””): Additional commands to be run in the helper image docker build. e.g.

RUN wget -qO- | tar xvz
RUN wget -qO- | sh

additional_docker_build_commands (String, default=””): Additional commands to be appended to the dockerfile. The manager image will use docker-slim, so to download files, use additional_helper_image_commands. e.g.

COPY --from=tilt-helper /usr/bin/docker /usr/bin/docker
COPY --from=tilt-helper /go/kubernetes/client/bin/kubectl /usr/bin/kubectl

kustomize_folder (String, default=config/default): The folder where the kustomize file for a provider is defined; the path is relative to the provider root folder.

kustomize_options ([]String, default=[]): Options to be applied when running kustomize for generating the yaml manifest for a provider. e.g. "kustomize_options": [ "--load-restrictor=LoadRestrictionsNone" ]

apply_provider_yaml (Bool, default=true): Whether to apply the provider yaml. Set to false if your provider does not have a ./config folder or you do not want it to be applied in the cluster.

go_main (String, default=”main.go”): The go main file if not located at the root of the folder

label (String, default=provider name): The label to be used to group provider components in the tilt UI in tilt version >= v0.22.2 (see; as a convention, provider abbreviation should be used (CAPD, KCP etc.).

additional_resources ([]string, default=[]): A list of paths to yaml file to be loaded into the tilt cluster; e.g. use this to deploy an ExtensionConfig object for a RuntimeExtension provider.

resource_deps ([]string, default=[]): A list of tilt resource names to be installed before the current provider; e.g. set this to [“capi_controller”] to ensure that this provider gets installed after Cluster API.

Customizing Tilt

If you need to customize Tilt’s behavior, you can create files in cluster-api’s tilt.d directory. This file is ignored by git so you can be assured that any files you place here will never be checked in to source control.

These files are included after the providers map has been defined and after all the helper function definitions. This is immediately before the “real work” happens.

Under the covers, a.k.a “the real work”

At a high level, the Tiltfile performs the following actions:

  1. Read tilt-settings.yaml
  2. Configure the allowed Kubernetes contexts
  3. Set the default registry
  4. Define the providers map
  5. Include user-defined Tilt files
  6. Deploy cert-manager
  7. Enable providers (core + what is listed in tilt-settings.yaml)
    1. Build the manager binary locally as a local_resource
    2. Invoke docker_build for the provider
    3. Invoke kustomize for the provider’s config/ directory

Live updates

Each provider in the providers map has a live_reload_deps list. This defines the files and/or directories that Tilt should monitor for changes. When a dependency is modified, Tilt rebuilds the provider’s manager binary on your local machine, copies the binary to the running container, and executes a restart script. This is significantly faster than rebuilding the container image for each change. It also helps keep the size of each development image as small as possible (the container images do not need the entire go toolchain, source code, module dependencies, etc.).

IDE support for Tiltfile

For IntelliJ, Syntax highlighting for the Tiltfile can be configured with a TextMate Bundle. For instructions, please see: Tiltfile TextMate Bundle.

For VSCode the Bazel plugin can be used, it provides syntax highlighting and auto-formatting. To enable it for Tiltfile a file association has to be configured via user settings:

"files.associations": {
  "Tiltfile": "starlark",

Using Podman

Podman can be used instead of Docker by following these actions:

  1. Enable the podman unix socket:
    • on Linux/systemd: systemctl --user enable --now podman.socket
    • on macOS: create a podman machine with podman machine init
  2. Set build_engine to podman in tilt-settings.yaml (optional, only if both Docker & podman are installed)
  3. Define the env variable DOCKER_HOST to the right socket:
    • on Linux/systemd: export DOCKER_HOST=unix:///run/user/$(id -u)/podman/podman.sock
    • on macOS: export DOCKER_HOST=$(podman machine inspect <machine> | jq -r '.[0].ConnectionInfo.PodmanSocket.Path') where <machine> is the podman machine name
  4. Run tilt up

NB: The socket defined by DOCKER_HOST is used only for the hack/tools/internal/tilt-prepare command, the image build is running the podman build/podman push commands.

Troubleshooting Tilt

Tilt is stuck

Sometimes tilt looks stuck when it’s waiting on connections.

Ensure that docker/podman is up and running and your kubernetes cluster is reachable.

Errors running tilt-prepare

failed to get current context from the KubeConfig file

  • Ensure the cluster in the default context is reachable by running kubectl cluster-info
  • Switch to the right context with kubectl config use-context
  • Ensure the context is allowed, see allowed_contexts field

Cannot connect to the Docker daemon

  • Ensure the docker daemon is running ;) or for podman see Using Podman
  • If a DOCKER_HOST is specified:
    • check that the DOCKER_HOST has the correct prefix (usually unix://)
    • ensure docker/podman is listening on $DOCKER_HOST using fuser / lsof / netstat -u

Errors pulling/pushing to the registry

connection refused / denied / not found

Ensure the default_registry field is a valid registry where you can pull and push images.

server gave HTTP response to HTTPS client

By default all registries except localhost:5000 are accessed via HTTPS.

If you run a HTTP registry you may have to configure the registry in docker/podman.

For example, in podman a localhost:5001 registry configuration should be declared in /etc/containers/registries.conf.d with this content:

location = "localhost:5001"
insecure = true

NB: on macOS this configuration should be done in the podman machine by running podman machine ssh <machine>.

Errors loading images in kind

You may try manually to load images in kind by running:

kind load docker-image --name=<kind_cluster> <image>

image: "..." not present locally

If you are running podman, you may have hit this bug:

The workaround is to create a docker symlink to your podman executable and try to load the images again.