• erictune title: Init Containers redirect_from:
  • "/docs/concepts/abstractions/init-containers/"
  • "/docs/concepts/abstractions/init-containers.html"

{% capture overview %} This page provides an overview of Init Containers, which are specialized Containers that run before app Containers and can contain utilities or setup scripts not present in an app image. {% endcapture %}


{% include 1-5-beta.md %}

Once the feature exits beta, Init Containers will be specified in the PodSpec alongside the app containers array.

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Understanding Init Containers

A Pod can have multiple Containers running apps within it, but it can also have one or more Init Containers, which are run before the app Containers are started.

Init Containers are exactly like regular Containers, except:

  • They always run to completion.
  • Each one must complete successfully before the next one is started.

If an Init Container fails for a Pod, Kubernetes restarts the Pod repeatedly until the Init Container succeeds. However, if the Pod has a restartPolicy of Never, it is not restarted.

To specify a Container as an Init Container, add the initContainers field on the PodSpec as a JSON array of objects of type v1.Container alongside the app containers array. The status of the init containers is returned in status.initContainerStatuses field as an array of the container statuses (similar to the status.containerStatuses field).

Differences from regular Containers

Init Containers support all the fields and features of app Containers, including resource limits, volumes, and security settings. However, the resource requests and limits for an Init Container are handled slightly differently, which are documented in Resources below. Also, Init Containers do not support readiness probes because they must run to completion before the Pod can be ready.

If multiple Init Containers are specified for a Pod, those Containers are run one at a time in sequential order. Each must succeed before the next can run. When all of the Init Containers have run to completion, Kubernetes initializes the Pod and runs the application Containers as usual.

What can Init Containers be used for?

Because Init Containers have separate images from app Containers, they have some advantages for start-up related code:

  • They can contain and run utilities that are not desirable to include in the app Container image for security reasons.
  • They can contain utilities or custom code for setup that is not present in an app image. For example, there is no need to make an image FROM another image just to use a tool like sed, awk, python, or dig during setup.
  • The application image builder and deployer roles can work independently without the need to jointly build a single app image.
  • They use Linux namespaces so that they have different filesystem views from app Containers. Consequently, they can be given access to Secrets that app Containers are not able to access.
  • They run to completion before any app Containers start, whereas app Containers run in parallel, so Init Containers provide an easy way to block or delay the startup of app Containers until some set of preconditions are met.


Here are some ideas for how to use Init Containers:

  • Wait for a service to be created with a shell command like:

    for i in {1..100}; do sleep 1; if dig myservice; then exit 0; fi; exit 1
  • Register this Pod with a remote server from the downward API with a command like:

    curl -X POST http://$MANAGEMENT_SERVICE_HOST:$MANAGEMENT_SERVICE_PORT/register -d 'instance=$(<POD_NAME>)&ip=$(<POD_IP>)'
  • Wait for some time before starting the app Container with a command like sleep 60.

  • Clone a git repository into a volume.
  • Place values into a configuration file and run a template tool to dynamically generate a configuration file for the the main app Container. For example, place the POD_IP value in a configuration and generate the main app configuration file using Jinja.

More detailed usage examples can be found in the StatefulSets documentation and the Production Pods guide.

Init Containers in use

The following yaml file outlines a simple Pod which has two Init Containers. The first waits for myservice and the second waits for mydb. Once both containers complete the Pod will begin.

apiVersion: v1
kind: Pod
  name: myapp-pod
    app: myapp
    pod.beta.kubernetes.io/init-containers: '[
            "name": "init-myservice",
            "image": "busybox",
            "command": ["sh", "-c", "until nslookup myservice; do echo waiting for myservice; sleep 2; done;"]
            "name": "init-mydb",
            "image": "busybox",
            "command": ["sh", "-c", "until nslookup mydb; do echo waiting for mydb; sleep 2; done;"]
  - name: myapp-container
    image: busybox
    command: ['sh', '-c', 'echo The app is running! && sleep 3600']

This Pod can be started and debugged with the following commands:

$ kubectl create -f myapp.yaml
pod "myapp-pod" created
$ kubectl get -f myapp.yaml
myapp-pod   0/1       Init:0/2   0          6m
$ kubectl describe -f myapp.yaml
i11:32 $ kubectl describe -f examples/init-container.yaml 
Name:          myapp-pod
Namespace:     default
Labels:        app=myapp
Status:        Pending
Init Containers:
    State:         Running
    State:         Running
    State:         Waiting
      Reason:      PodInitializing
    Ready:         False
  FirstSeen    LastSeen    Count    From                     SubObjectPath                Type        Reason        Message
  ---------    --------    -----    ----                     -------------                --------    ------        -------
  16s          16s         1        {default-scheduler }                                              Normal        Scheduled     Successfully assigned myapp-pod to
  16s          16s         1        {kubelet}    spec.initContainers{init-myservice}     Normal        Pulling        pulling image "busybox"
  13s          13s         1        {kubelet}    spec.initContainers{init-myservice}     Normal        Pulled        Successfully pulled image "busybox"
  13s          13s         1        {kubelet}    spec.initContainers{init-myservice}     Normal        Created        Created container with docker id 5ced34a04634; Security:[seccomp=unconfined]
  13s          13s         1        {kubelet}    spec.initContainers{init-myservice}     Normal        Started        Started container with docker id 5ced34a04634
$ kubectl logs myapp-pod -c init-myservice # Inspect the first init container
$ kubectl logs myapp-pod -c init-mydd      # Inspect the second init container

Once we start the mydb and myservice Services we can see the Init Containers complete and the myapp-pod is created:

$ kubectl create -f services.yaml
service "myservice" created
service "mydb" created
$ kubectl get -f myapp.yaml
myapp-pod   1/1       Running   0          9m

This example is very simple but should provide some inspiration for you to create your own Init Containers.

Detailed behavior

During the startup of a Pod, the Init Containers are started in order, after the network and volumes are initialized. Each Container must exit successfully before the next is started. If a Container fails to start due to the runtime or exits with failure, it is retried according to the Pod restartPolicy. However, if the Pod restartPolicy is set to Always, the Init Containers use RestartPolicy OnFailure.

A Pod cannot be Ready until all Init Containers have succeeded. The ports on an Init Container are not aggregated under a service. A Pod that is initializing is in the Pending state but should have a condition Initializing set to true.

If the Pod is restarted, all Init Containers must execute again.

Changes to the Init Container spec are limited to the container image field. Altering an Init Container image field is equivalent to restarting the Pod.

Because Init Containers can be restarted, retried, or re-executed, Init Container code should be idempotent. In particular, code that writes to files on EmptyDirs should be prepared for the possibility that an output file already exists.

Init Containers have all of the fields of an app Container. However, Kubernetes prohibits readinessProbe from being used because Init Containers cannot define readiness distinct from completion. This is enforced during validation.

Use activeDeadlineSeconds on the Pod and livenessProbe on the Container to prevent Init Containers from failing forever. The active deadline includes Init Containers.

The name of each app and Init Container in a Pod must be unique; a validation error is thrown for any Container sharing a name with another.


Given the ordering and execution for Init Containers, the following rules for resource usage apply:

  • The highest of any particular resource request or limit defined on all Init Containers is the effective init request/limit
  • The Pod's effective request/limit for a resource is the higher of:
  • the sum of all app Containers request/limit for a resource
  • the effective init request/limit for a resource
  • Scheduling is done based on effective requests/limits, which means Init Containers can reserve resources for initialization that are not used during the life of the Pod.
  • QoS tier of the Pod's effective QoS tier is the QoS tier for Init Containers and app containers alike.

Quota and limits are applied based on the effective Pod request and limit.

Pod level cgroups are based on the effective Pod request and limit, the same as the scheduler.

Pod restart reasons

A Pod can restart, causing re-execution of Init Containers, for the following reasons:

  • A user updates the PodSpec causing the Init Container image to change. App Container image changes only restart the app Container.
  • The Pod infrastructure container is restarted. This is uncommon and would have to be done by someone with root access to nodes.
  • All containers in a Pod are terminated while restartPolicy is set to Always, forcing a restart, and the Init Container completion record has been lost due to garbage collection.

Support and compatibility

A cluster with Apiserver version 1.6.0 or greater supports Init Containers using the spec.initContainers field. Previous versions support Init Containers using the alpha or beta annotations. The spec.initContainers field is also mirrored into alpha and beta annotations so that Kubelets version 1.3.0 or greater can execute Init Containers, and so that a version 1.6 apiserver can safely be rolled back to version 1.5.x without losing Init Container functionality for existing created pods.

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