Install Istio with the Istio CNI plugin
Follow this guide to install, configure, and use an Istio mesh using the Istio Container Network Interface (CNI) plugin.
By default Istio injects an init container,
istio-init, in pods deployed in
the mesh. The
istio-init container sets up the pod network traffic
redirection to/from the Istio sidecar proxy. This requires the user or
service-account deploying pods to the mesh to have sufficient Kubernetes RBAC
permissions to deploy containers with the
Requiring Istio users to have elevated Kubernetes RBAC permissions is
problematic for some organizations’ security compliance. The Istio CNI plugin
is a replacement for the
istio-init container that performs the same
networking functionality but without requiring Istio users to enable elevated
Kubernetes RBAC permissions.
The Istio CNI plugin identifies user application pods with sidecars requiring traffic redirection and
sets this up in the Kubernetes pod lifecycle’s network
setup phase, thereby removing the requirement for the
for users deploying pods into the Istio mesh. The Istio CNI plugin
replaces the functionality provided by the
Install Kubernetes with the container runtime supporting CNI and
kubeletconfigured with the main CNI plugin enabled via
- AWS EKS, Azure AKS, and IBM Cloud IKS clusters have this capability.
- Google Cloud GKE clusters have CNI enabled when any of the following features are enabled: network policy, intranode visibility, workload identity, pod security policy, or dataplane v2.
- OpenShift has CNI enabled by default.
Install Kubernetes with the ServiceAccount admission controller enabled.
- The Kubernetes documentation highly recommends this for all Kubernetes installations
- The Kubernetes documentation highly recommends this for all Kubernetes installations where
Install Istio with CNI plugin
In most environments, a basic Istio cluster with CNI enabled can be installed using the following configuration:
apiVersion: install.istio.io/v1alpha1 kind: IstioOperator spec: components: cni: enabled: true
This will deploy an
istio-cni-node DaemonSet into the cluster, which installs the Istio CNI plugin binary to each node and sets up the necessary configuration for the plugin.
The CNI DaemonSet runs with
There are several commonly used install options:
components.cni.namespace=kube-systemconfigures the namespace to install the CNI DaemonSet.
values.cni.cniConfDirconfigure the directory paths to install the plugin binary and create plugin configuration.
values.cni.cniConfFileNameconfigures the name of the plugin configuration file.
values.cni.chainedcontrols whether to configure the plugin as a chained CNI plugin.
Hosted Kubernetes settings
istio-cni plugin is expected to work with any hosted Kubernetes version using CNI plugins.
The default installation configuration works with most platforms.
Some platforms required special installation settings.
- Google Kubernetes Engine
apiVersion: install.istio.io/v1alpha1 kind: IstioOperator spec: components: cni: enabled: true namespace: kube-system values: cni: cniBinDir: /home/kubernetes/bin
- Red Hat OpenShift 4.2+
apiVersion: install.istio.io/v1alpha1 kind: IstioOperator spec: components: cni: enabled: true namespace: kube-system values: sidecarInjectorWebhook: injectedAnnotations: k8s.v1.cni.cncf.io/networks: istio-cni cni: cniBinDir: /var/lib/cni/bin cniConfDir: /etc/cni/multus/net.d cniConfFileName: istio-cni.conf chained: false
When upgrading Istio with in-place upgrade, the
CNI component can be upgraded together with the control plane using one
When upgrading Istio with canary upgrade, because the CNI component runs as a cluster singleton,
it is recommended to operate and upgrade the CNI component separately from the revisioned control plane.
IstioOperator can be used to operate the CNI component independently.
apiVersion: install.istio.io/v1alpha1 kind: IstioOperator spec: profile: empty # Do not include other components components: cni: enabled: true values: cni: excludeNamespaces: - istio-system - kube-system
When installing revisioned control planes with the CNI component enabled,
values.istio_cni.enabled needs to be set, so that sidecar injector does not inject the
istio-init init container.
apiVersion: install.istio.io/v1alpha1 kind: IstioOperator spec: revision: REVISION_NAME ... values: istio_cni: enabled: true ...
The CNI plugin at version
1.x is compatible with control plane at version
which means CNI and control plane can be upgraded in any order, as long as their version difference is within one minor version.
Race condition & mitigation
The Istio CNI DaemonSet installs the CNI network plugin on every node.
However, a time gap exists between when the DaemonSet pod gets scheduled onto a node, and the CNI plugin is installed and ready to be used.
There is a chance that an application pod starts up during that time gap, and the
kubelet has no knowledge of the Istio CNI plugin.
The result is that the application pod comes up without Istio traffic redirection and bypasses Istio sidecar.
To mitigate the race between an application pod and the Istio CNI DaemonSet,
istio-validation init container is added as part of the sidecar injection,
which detects if traffic redirection is set up correctly, and blocks the pod starting up if not.
The CNI DaemonSet will detect and evict any pod stuck in such state. When the new pod starts up, it should have traffic redirection set up properly.
This mitigation is enabled by default and can be turned off by setting
values.cni.repair.enabled to false.
Traffic redirection parameters
To redirect traffic in the application pod’s network namespace to/from the Istio proxy sidecar, the Istio CNI plugin configures the namespace’s iptables. You can adjust traffic redirection parameters using the same pod annotations as normal, such as ports and IP ranges to be included or excluded from redirection. See resource annotations for available parameters.
Compatibility with application init containers
The Istio CNI plugin may cause networking connectivity problems for any application init containers. When using Istio CNI,
starts an injected pod with the following steps:
- The Istio CNI plugin sets up traffic redirection to the Istio sidecar proxy within the pod.
- All init containers execute and complete successfully.
- The Istio sidecar proxy starts in the pod along with the pod’s other containers.
Init containers execute before the sidecar proxy starts, which can result in traffic loss during their execution. Avoid this traffic loss with one of the following settings:
- Set the
uidof the init container to
uidused by the sidecar proxy. Traffic sent by this
uidis not captured by the Istio’s
iptablesrule. Application container traffic will still be captured as usual.
- Set the
traffic.sidecar.istio.io/excludeOutboundIPRangesannotation to disable redirecting traffic to any CIDRs the init containers communicate with.
- Set the
traffic.sidecar.istio.io/excludeOutboundPortsannotation to disable redirecting traffic to the specific outbound ports the init containers use.
Compatibility with other CNI plugins
The Istio CNI plugin maintains compatibility with the same set of CNI plugins as the current
istio-init container which requires the
The Istio CNI plugin operates as a chained CNI plugin. This means its configuration is added to the existing
CNI plugins configuration as a new configuration list element. See the
CNI specification reference for further details.
When a pod is created or deleted, the container runtime invokes each plugin in the list in order. The Istio
CNI plugin only performs actions to setup the application pod’s traffic redirection to the injected Istio proxy
iptables in the pod’s network namespace).