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Version: v2.0-v2.4

Kubernetes Install with External Load Balancer (HTTPS/Layer 7)

Important: RKE add-on install is only supported up to Rancher v2.0.8

Please use the Rancher Helm chart to install Rancher on a Kubernetes cluster. For details, see the Kubernetes Install .

If you are currently using the RKE add-on install method, see Migrating from a Kubernetes Install with an RKE Add-on for details on how to move to using the Helm chart.

This procedure walks you through setting up a 3-node cluster using the Rancher Kubernetes Engine (RKE). The cluster's sole purpose is running pods for Rancher. The setup is based on:

In an Kubernetes setup that uses a layer 7 load balancer, the load balancer accepts Rancher client connections over the HTTP protocol (i.e., the application level). This application-level access allows the load balancer to read client requests and then redirect to them to cluster nodes using logic that optimally distributes load.

Kubernetes Rancher install with layer 7 load balancer, depicting SSL termination at load balancer

Rancher HA

1. Provision Linux Hosts

Provision three Linux hosts according to our Requirements.

2. Configure Load Balancer

When using a load balancer in front of Rancher, there's no need for the container to redirect port communication from port 80 or port 443. By passing the header X-Forwarded-Proto: https, this redirect is disabled. This is the expected configuration when terminating SSL externally.

The load balancer has to be configured to support the following:

  • WebSocket connections
  • SPDY / HTTP/2 protocols
  • Passing / setting the following headers:
HostFQDN used to reach Rancher.To identify the server requested by the client.
X-Forwarded-ProtohttpsTo identify the protocol that a client used to connect to the load balancer.

Note: If this header is present, rancher/rancher does not redirect HTTP to HTTPS.
X-Forwarded-PortPort used to reach Rancher.To identify the protocol that client used to connect to the load balancer.
X-Forwarded-ForIP of the client connection.To identify the originating IP address of a client.

Health checks can be executed on the /healthz endpoint of the node, this will return HTTP 200.

We have example configurations for the following load balancers:

3. Configure DNS

Choose a fully qualified domain name (FQDN) that you want to use to access Rancher (e.g.,

  1. Log into your DNS server a create a DNS A record that points to the IP address of your load balancer.

  2. Validate that the DNS A is working correctly. Run the following command from any terminal, replacing HOSTNAME.DOMAIN.COM with your chosen FQDN:


    Step Result: Terminal displays output similar to the following:

    $ nslookup

    Non-authoritative answer:

4. Install RKE

RKE (Rancher Kubernetes Engine) is a fast, versatile Kubernetes installer that you can use to install Kubernetes on your Linux hosts. We will use RKE to setup our cluster and run Rancher.

  1. Follow the RKE Install instructions.

  2. Confirm that RKE is now executable by running the following command:

    rke --version

5. Download RKE Config File Template

RKE uses a YAML config file to install and configure your Kubernetes cluster. There are 2 templates to choose from, depending on the SSL certificate you want to use.

  1. Download one of following templates, depending on the SSL certificate you're using.

    Advanced Config Options:

  1. Rename the file to rancher-cluster.yml.

6. Configure Nodes

Once you have the rancher-cluster.yml config file template, edit the nodes section to point toward your Linux hosts.

  1. Open rancher-cluster.yml in your favorite text editor.

  2. Update the nodes section with the information of your Linux hosts.

    For each node in your cluster, update the following placeholders: IP_ADDRESS_X and USER. The specified user should be able to access the Docker socket, you can test this by logging in with the specified user and run docker ps.


    When using RHEL/CentOS, the SSH user can't be root due to See Operating System Requirements for RHEL/CentOS specific requirements.

    # The IP address or hostname of the node
    - address: IP_ADDRESS_1
    # User that can login to the node and has access to the Docker socket (i.e. can execute `docker ps` on the node)
    # When using RHEL/CentOS, this can't be root due to
    user: USER
    role: [controlplane,etcd,worker]
    # Path the SSH key that can be used to access to node with the specified user
    ssh_key_path: ~/.ssh/id_rsa
    - address: IP_ADDRESS_2
    user: USER
    role: [controlplane,etcd,worker]
    ssh_key_path: ~/.ssh/id_rsa
    - address: IP_ADDRESS_3
    user: USER
    role: [controlplane,etcd,worker]
    ssh_key_path: ~/.ssh/id_rsa
  3. Optional: By default, rancher-cluster.yml is configured to take backup snapshots of your data. To disable these snapshots, change the backup directive setting to false, as depicted below.

    backup: false

7. Configure Certificates

For security purposes, SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is required when using Rancher. SSL secures all Rancher network communication, like when you login or interact with a cluster.

Choose from the following options:

Option A—Bring Your Own Certificate: Self-Signed

Prerequisites: Create a self-signed certificate.

  • The certificate files must be in PEM format.
  • The certificate files must be encoded in base64.
  • In your certificate file, include all intermediate certificates in the chain. Order your certificates with your certificate first, followed by the intermediates. For an example, see Certificate Troubleshooting.

In kind: Secret with name: cattle-keys-ingress, replace <BASE64_CA> with the base64 encoded string of the CA Certificate file (usually called ca.pem or ca.crt)

Note: The base64 encoded string should be on the same line as cacerts.pem, without any newline at the beginning, in between or at the end.

After replacing the values, the file should look like the example below (the base64 encoded strings should be different):

apiVersion: v1
kind: Secret
name: cattle-keys-server
namespace: cattle-system
type: Opaque
Option B—Bring Your Own Certificate: Signed by Recognized CA

If you are using a Certificate Signed By A Recognized Certificate Authority, you don't need to perform any step in this part.

8. Configure FQDN

There is one reference to <FQDN> in the RKE config file. Replace this reference with the FQDN you chose in 3. Configure DNS.

  1. Open rancher-cluster.yml.

  2. In the kind: Ingress with name: cattle-ingress-http:

    Replace <FQDN> with the FQDN chosen in 3. Configure DNS.

    Step Result: After replacing the values, the file should look like the example below (the base64 encoded strings should be different):

    apiVersion: extensions/v1beta1
    kind: Ingress
    namespace: cattle-system
    name: cattle-ingress-http
    annotations: "30" "1800" # Max time in seconds for ws to remain shell window open "1800" # Max time in seconds for ws to remain shell window open
    - host:
    - backend:
    serviceName: cattle-service
    servicePort: 80
  1. Save the file and close it.

9. Configure Rancher version

The last reference that needs to be replaced is <RANCHER_VERSION>. This needs to be replaced with a Rancher version which is marked as stable. The latest stable release of Rancher can be found in the GitHub README. Make sure the version is an actual version number, and not a named tag like stable or latest. The example below shows the version configured to v2.0.6.

serviceAccountName: cattle-admin
- image: rancher/rancher:v2.0.6
imagePullPolicy: Always

10. Back Up Your RKE Config File

After you close your RKE config file, rancher-cluster.yml, back it up to a secure location. You can use this file again when it's time to upgrade Rancher.

11. Run RKE

With all configuration in place, use RKE to launch Rancher. You can complete this action by running the rke up command and using the --config parameter to point toward your config file.

  1. From your workstation, make sure rancher-cluster.yml and the downloaded rke binary are in the same directory.

  2. Open a Terminal instance. Change to the directory that contains your config file and rke.

  3. Enter one of the rke up commands listen below.

    rke up --config rancher-cluster.yml

    Step Result: The output should be similar to the snippet below:

    INFO[0000] Building Kubernetes cluster
    INFO[0000] [dialer] Setup tunnel for host []
    INFO[0000] [network] Deploying port listener containers
    INFO[0000] [network] Pulling image [alpine:latest] on host []
    INFO[0101] Finished building Kubernetes cluster successfully

12. Back Up Auto-Generated Config File

During installation, RKE automatically generates a config file named kube_config_rancher-cluster.yml in the same directory as the rancher-cluster.yml file. Copy this file and back it up to a safe location. You'll use this file later when upgrading Rancher Server.

What's Next?

FAQ and Troubleshooting

How Do I Know if My Certificates are in PEM Format?

You can recognize the PEM format by the following traits:

  • The file begins with the following header:
  • The header is followed by a long string of characters. Like, really long.
  • The file ends with a footer:
    -----END CERTIFICATE-----

PEM Certificate Example:


How Can I Encode My PEM Files in base64?

To encode your certificates in base64:

  1. Change directory to where the PEM file resides.
  2. Run one of the following commands. Replace FILENAME with the name of your certificate.
    # MacOS cat FILENAME | base64 # Linux cat FILENAME | base64 -w0 # Windows certutil -encode FILENAME FILENAME.base64

How Can I Verify My Generated base64 String For The Certificates?

To decode your certificates in base64:

  1. Copy the generated base64 string.
  2. Run one of the following commands. Replace YOUR_BASE64_STRING with the previously copied base64 string.
    # MacOS echo YOUR_BASE64_STRING | base64 -D # Linux echo YOUR_BASE64_STRING | base64 -d # Windows certutil -decode FILENAME.base64 FILENAME.verify

What is the Order of Certificates if I Want to Add My Intermediate(s)?

The order of adding certificates is as follows:


How Do I Validate My Certificate Chain?

You can validate the certificate chain by using the openssl binary. If the output of the command (see the command example below) ends with Verify return code: 0 (ok), your certificate chain is valid. Theca.pem file must be the same as you added to the rancher/rancher container. When using a certificate signed by a recognized Certificate Authority, you can omit the -CAfile parameter.


openssl s_client -CAfile ca.pem -connect -servername ... Verify return code: 0 (ok)