Upgrading management and workload clusters


Supported versions of Kubernetes

If you are upgrading the version of Kubernetes for a cluster managed by Cluster API, check that the running version of Cluster API on the Management Cluster supports the target Kubernetes version.

You may need to upgrade the version of Cluster API in order to support the target Kubernetes version.

In addition, you must always upgrade between Kubernetes minor versions in sequence, e.g. if you need to upgrade from Kubernetes v1.17 to v1.19, you must first upgrade to v1.18.


For kubeadm based clusters, infrastructure providers require a “machine image” containing pre-installed, matching versions of kubeadm and kubelet, ensure that relevant infrastructure machine templates reference the appropriate image for the Kubernetes version.

Upgrading using Cluster API

The high level steps to fully upgrading a cluster are to first upgrade the control plane and then upgrade the worker machines.

Upgrading the control plane machines

How to upgrade the underlying machine image

To upgrade the control plane machines underlying machine images, the MachineTemplate resource referenced by the KubeadmControlPlane must be changed. Since MachineTemplate resources are immutable, the recommended approach is to

  1. Copy the existing MachineTemplate.
  2. Modify the values that need changing, such as instance type or image ID.
  3. Create the new MachineTemplate on the management cluster.
  4. Modify the existing KubeadmControlPlane resource to reference the new MachineTemplate resource in the infrastructureRef field.

The next step will trigger a rolling update of the control plane using the new values found in the new MachineTemplate.

How to upgrade the Kubernetes control plane version

To upgrade the Kubernetes control plane version make a modification to the KubeadmControlPlane resource’s Spec.Version field. This will trigger a rolling upgrade of the control plane and, depending on the provider, also upgrade the underlying machine image.

Some infrastructure providers, such as AWS, require that if a specific machine image is specified, it has to match the Kubernetes version specified in the KubeadmControlPlane spec. In order to only trigger a single upgrade, the new MachineTemplate should be created first and then both the Version and InfrastructureTemplate should be modified in a single transaction.

How to schedule a machine rollout

The KubeadmControlPlane and MachineDepoyment resources have a field RolloutAfter that can be set to a timestamp (RFC-3339) after which a rollout should be triggered regardless of whether there were any changes to KubeadmControlPlane.Spec/MachineDeployment.Spec.Template or not. This would roll out replacement nodes which can be useful e.g. to perform certificate rotation, reflect changes to machine templates, move to new machines, etc.

Note that this field can only be used for triggering a rollout, not for delaying one. Specifically, a rollout can also happen before the time specified in RolloutAfter if any changes are made to the spec before that time.

The rollout can be triggered by running the following command:

# Trigger a KubeadmControlPlane rollout.
clusterctl alpha rollout restart kubeadmcontrolplane/my-kcp

# Trigger a MachineDeployment rollout.
clusterctl alpha rollout restart machinedeployment/my-md-0

Upgrading machines managed by a MachineDeployment

Upgrades are not limited to just the control plane. This section is not related to Kubeadm control plane specifically, but is the final step in fully upgrading a Cluster API managed cluster.

It is recommended to manage machines with one or more MachineDeployments. MachineDeployments will transparently manage MachineSets and Machines to allow for a seamless scaling experience. A modification to the MachineDeployments spec will begin a rolling update of the machines. Follow these instructions for changing the template for an existing MachineDeployment.

MachineDeployments support different strategies for rolling out changes to Machines:

  • RollingUpdate

Changes are rolled out by honouring MaxUnavailable and MaxSurge values. Only values allowed are of type Int or Strings with an integer and percentage symbol e.g “5%”.

  • OnDelete

Changes are rolled out driven by the user or any entity deleting the old Machines. Only when a Machine is fully deleted a new one will come up.

For a more in-depth look at how MachineDeployments manage scaling events, take a look at the MachineDeployment controller documentation and the MachineSet controller documentation.