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kapp rebase rules

by Joe Kimmel — Apr 26, 2022


This article could be helpful for anyone who runs kapp deploy -a …, but especially for people who wonder if kapp is capable of preserving some fields in a resource on the cluster during an update.


Here’s one example of a recent question in #carvel, our community channel in the Kubernetes Slack:

Is there a way to use an annotation for kapp to somehow ignore immutable fields? […] somehow get the immutable field current values and pull them into the patch we are applying with kapp?

You might expect we would solve this like kubectl apply or git with a 3 way merge, but that approach can be inflexible or require manual steps for some kinds of conflicts.

With the rebase rule approach, kapp takes user provided config as the only source of truth, but also allows users to explicitly specify that certain fields are cluster controlled. This method guarantees that clusters don’t drift, which is better than what basic 3 way merge provides. (You can read more about the rationale behind rebase rules here.)


A Rebase rule is applied when all of the below are true:

  • While updating a resource
  • A rebase rule was passed into kapp for this update
  • The resource being updated is matched by the “matchers” section of the rebase rule

Rebase rules come in two flavors: “copy/remove” and ytt.

The rebase rule is applied at a moment when kapp has an in-memory representation of both the resource that already exists and the resource as it would be changed by the current update.

The “copy/remove” flavor rebase rule allows you to set up logic such as “prefer to copy the existing values of this field if it already exists, but otherwise take the new ones that are generated as part of this update.” This style of rebase rule operates basically on a single field at a time, choosing to copy or remove it.

A ytt rebase rule goes even further, allowing you to run ytt templating steps across the whole resource and even apply any business logic that can be expressed in starlark. I think of ytt rebase rules in kapp as very similar to stored procedures in SQL databases: they live in a file that may or may not be versioned and deployed with the rest of your code and they can make arbitrary changes right in the middle of execution of a db query, or kapp deploy, respectively. So they’re a real power tool, with all the flexibility and dangers implied!


There are rebase-rules in kapp deploy-config that are applied by default every time you run kapp deploy … in order to make the experience sane and consistent with user expectations. For example, the first two rebase rules match all resources and act to preserve the existing metadata on the cluster and then to apply the user’s new metadata fields over that:

# Copy over all metadata (with resourceVersion, etc.)

- path: [metadata]

  type: copy

  sources: [existing]


  - allMatcher: {}

# Be specific about labels to be applied

- path: [metadata, labels]

  type: remove


  - allMatcher: {}

- path: [metadata, labels]

  type: copy

  sources: [new]


  - allMatcher: {}


“Where” is a funny question in the cloud, since the answer is always “someone else’s computer”, right? ;-)

Rebase rules aren’t persisted anywhere on the cluster, so they have to be supplied to kapp each time you want them to be applied.


Copy/remove flavor rebase rules have been in kapp nearly since the dawn of time, but were substantially updated in kapp 0.6.0 and evolved to their fully modern form sometime around kapp 0.27.0.

Ytt rebase rules were introduced in kapp v0.38.0 (August 2021).

How To Use

Here’s some links to rebase rules examples in our docs and tests

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