Using a Kubernetes ServiceAccount for Service Discovery with F5 Distributed Cloud Services


Kubernetes (K8s) service discovery is a feature within F5 Distributed Cloud Services (F5 XC) that allows you to discovery and publish applications in your K8s cluster via HTTP Load Balancers to sites or the Internet via F5 XC.

When configuring K8s service discovery in F5 XC, you can create a ServiceAccount (SA) with narrowly-scoped permissions and generate your own kubeconfig file to authenticate via token. This will achieve two things:

  1. Provide least privilege access for your service discovery function, and
  2. Remove dependence on 3rd party software that might be required for Kubernetes authentication.


Accessing the K8s cluster API requires authentication, which can be configured following multiple authentication schemes. Commonly, at least two methods are used at once:

  • service account tokens for service accounts
  • at least one other method for user authentication

Hosted K8s providers, such as AKS, EKS, or GKE, commonly use an authentication plugin. Users will authenticate to the cluster via AzureAD, AWS IAM, or GKE IAM, respectively. For this to happen, the client (ie, kubectl) may need to provide an authentication token for this 3rd party auth service.

It is common for a third party library to be required on the kubectl client for this token generation. I've covered this in more depth in a previous article, but an admin of an EKS or GKE cluster may see that their kubeconfig file requires the kubectl client to execute the aws cli, the aws-iam-authenticator library, the gcloud cli, or the gke-gcloud-auth-plugin library.

Problem? Solution! ServiceAccounts and custom roles

There are two main problems here:

  1. Those libraries are not present on F5 XC Customer Edge (CE) nodes, which is where service discovery is run in F5 XC, and
  2. Even if those libraries were present, you would need to store your AWS IAM or GKE IAM credentials along with your kubeconfig file in order to authenticate to K8s. 

I'll quote the official documentation when suggesting an alternative:

"Service account bearer tokens are perfectly valid to use outside the cluster and can be used to create identities for long standing jobs that wish to talk to the Kubernetes API."

For the reasons above, I suggest creating a Kubernetes ServiceAccount (SA) with a custom ClusterRole, extracting the default bearer token for authenticating as this SA, and creating a kubeconfig file to allow F5 XC to use this SA and ClusterRole in service discovery.

How to configure Service Discovery using a custom ServiceAccount and ClusterRole

Let's configure service discovery in F5 XC to use a ServiceAccount by creating the K8s resources required and generating a new kubeconfig file.

Create a ServiceAccount and Secret, get auth token and cluster details

A few minor points to consider if you copy/paste the commands below:

  • I've used the tool jq to extract some values from JSON results. If you don't have jq installed, install it or do this manually.
  • To create the variables SERVER and CLUSTER_NAME below, I've assumed that your kubeconfig file has the server we are targeting listed first, if you have multiple servers in your kubeconfig. You may want to change these lines if required.
kubectl create sa $SA_NAME -n $NAMESPACE
kubectl apply -f - <<EOF
apiVersion: v1
kind: Secret
  name: $SECRET_NAME
  namespace: $NAMESPACE
  annotations: $SA_NAME
##Now that we've created a ServiceAccount with a token to authenticate, let's collect the details of this auth token, along with our existing cluster details.
CA_CRT=$(kubectl --namespace $NAMESPACE get secret/$SECRET_NAME -o json | jq -r '.data["ca.crt"]')
TOKEN=$(kubectl get secret/$SECRET_NAME -n $NAMESPACE -o json | jq -r .data.token | base64 --decode )
SERVER=$(kubectl config view -o json | jq -r .clusters[0].cluster.server)
CLUSTER_NAME=$(kubectl config view -o json | jq -r .clusters[0].name)

Create a ClusterRole and ClusterRoleBinding in Kubernetes

We'll create YAML files first, and then apply them. To get fancy, you can run cat and direct output to kubectl in a single command if you like. First, create the ClusterRole.


cat << EOF > cluster-role.yaml
kind: ClusterRole
- apiGroups: [""]
  - services
  - endpoints
  - pods
  - nodes
  - nodes/proxy
  - namespaces
  verbs: ["get", "list", "watch"]
kubectl apply -f cluster-role.yaml

Now create the ClusterRoleBinding to bind the SA and ClusterRole.

cat <<EOF > cluster-role-binding.yaml
kind: ClusterRoleBinding
  kind: ClusterRole
- kind: ServiceAccount
  name: $SA_NAME
  namespace: $NAMESPACE
kubectl apply -f cluster-role-binding.yaml

Generate a kubeconfig file to authenticate as this ServiceAccount

cat <<EOF > sa.kubeconfig
apiVersion: v1
kind: Config
    certificate-authority-data: $CA_CRT  
    server: $SERVER
    cluster: $CLUSTER_NAME
    user: $SA_NAME
- name: $SA_NAME
    token: $TOKEN
current-context: $SA_NAME-$CLUSTER_NAME

Upload this kubeconfig file to F5 XC to configure K8s Service Discovery

Optionally, test this kubeconfig file by setting your $KUBECONFIG variable appropriately. Validate that authentication to the cluster using this SA is successful.

Follow the F5 XC documentation to configure K8s service discovery. This will configure discovery from a Customer Edge (CE) site, so your CE node must have network connectivity to the cluster's API server. After your services are discovered, you can create an HTTP Load Balancer with an origin pool, where the pool member type is a K8s service. Now, your pods in K8s are exposed via F5 XC, and this service discovery is using a ServiceAccount with least privilege access!


This article demonstrates that Service Discovery can be configured from F5 XC to Kubernetes based on a kubeconfig file that has been created to use a custom ServiceAccount and ClusterRole. This achieves our goals of least privilege for our Service Discovery function, and no dependency on third party libraries required by the client to access the K8s API. 

Updated Oct 04, 2023
Version 4.0

Was this article helpful?