What Are Kubernetes Health Checks and Why They Make Users Happier


As you navigate the world of Kubernetes, an open-source platform designed to automate deploying, scaling, and managing containerized applications, it's essential to understand one of its key features: health checks. These are the heartbeats of a Kubernetes system, continuously monitoring the state of applications running in the pods. But what exactly are these health checks, and why should you care about them?

In this article, we explore the fundamental concepts of Kubernetes health checks, particularly Liveness, Readiness, and Startup probes. These are integral tools that ensure your application is running smoothly, ready to serve user requests, and successfully initiated, respectively.

We will explain how these health checks enhance user satisfaction by ensuring uninterrupted operation, facilitating smoother updates and rollouts, and optimizing resource allocation. Downtime, a critical issue for any online service or application, is significantly reduced through these mechanisms, which can automatically detect and rectify issues.

Furthermore, we will delve into each type of probe in detail, explaining their specific roles, importance, and configuration examples. By the end of this article, you'll have a clear understanding of how these health checks contribute to the reliability and efficiency of applications managed by Kubernetes.

What Are Kubernetes Health Checks?

Kubernetes health checks are integral components of Kubernetes that monitor the state of applications running in the pods. The primary purpose of these checks is to identify and troubleshoot any issues that may arise. In the Kubernetes environment, health checks are performed using probes. These probes are diagnostic tools run by the kubelet to periodically check the status of a container.

These health checks come in three forms: Liveness, Readiness, and Startup probes. Liveness probes ascertain if a container is running or not. If it's not, Kubernetes will restart it. Readiness probes, on the other hand, determine if the applications in a container are ready to serve requests. Lastly, Startup probes check whether the application within the container has started. All these checks ensure that the application is running and ready to serve user requests.

How Health Checks Improve User Satisfaction

The primary goal of any application is to serve its users efficiently, and Kubernetes health checks play a crucial role in achieving this goal. They ensure continuous operation, minimize downtime, and provide smoother updates and rollouts.

Role of Health Checks in Minimizing Downtime

Downtime is a critical issue for any online service or application. It not only affects user satisfaction but can also lead to significant financial losses. Kubernetes health checks help in minimizing downtime by continuously monitoring the health of the application and taking appropriate actions when an issue is detected.

For instance, if a Liveness probe detects that an application is not responding, Kubernetes promptly restarts the container, ensuring the application becomes available for users as quickly as possible. This automatic recovery significantly cuts down downtime and ensures a seamless user experience.

Contribution of Health Checks to Smoother Updates and Rollouts

Updates and rollouts are an integral part of maintaining and improving an application. However, they can also lead to complications, like application failures or errors. Kubernetes health checks aid in smoother updates and rollouts by monitoring the system during these processes.

Readiness probes are especially useful during updates. When an update is initiated, the Readiness probe checks whether the updated application is ready to serve requests. If it isn't, the probe prevents the application from receiving any user requests until it's ready, ensuring users don't encounter errors or failures during the update process.

Ensuring Optimal Resource Allocation and Performance with Health Checks

Resource allocation and performance are two significant aspects of any application. Mismanaged resources can lead to poor performance, affecting user satisfaction. By continuously monitoring the health and performance of the containers, Kubernetes health checks ensure optimal resource allocation.

Startup probes play a crucial role in this aspect by checking whether the application has started and is ready to utilize resources. If the application takes too long to start, the Startup probe allows Kubernetes to intervene and rectify the problem, ensuring optimal resource utilization and performance.

Understanding Liveness Probes

A Liveness probe checks whether a container is still running. If the probe detects that the container or its application is not alive, it instructs Kubernetes to restart it. This functionality is crucial to keeping applications running, even in the event of unexpected issues.

The configuration of a Liveness probe depends on the nature of the application. For instance, it can be set to perform a check based on an HTTP GET request on a specific endpoint, a TCP socket check, or even an arbitrary shell command executed in the container.

Importance of Liveness Probes in Maintaining Application Availability

The primary purpose of a Liveness probe is to maintain the availability of an application by ensuring its continuous operation. By constantly monitoring the state of the container, Liveness probes help detect issues that could potentially disrupt the application.

When a Liveness probe detects a non-responsive application, it instructs Kubernetes to restart the container, thus ensuring the continuation of the service. This automatic recovery mechanism is a boon to maintaining high availability, which is essential for user satisfaction.

Examples of How to Configure Liveness Probes

Configuring a Liveness probe depends on the specific requirements of the application. However, to provide a general idea, let's consider an example where the probe performs an HTTP GET request on the application's endpoint.

In the Kubernetes configuration file, you could specify a Liveness probe like this:



    path: /health

    port: 8080

  initialDelaySeconds: 15

  periodSeconds: 20

In this example, the Liveness probe performs an HTTP GET request on the /health endpoint of the application. The initialDelaySeconds field specifies that the probe should wait for 15 seconds before the first probe. periodSeconds specifies that the probe should perform a check every 20 seconds.

Understanding Readiness Probes

A Readiness probe is a diagnostic performed periodically by the kubelet on a Container. The purpose of this diagnostic is to test if the application in the Container is ready to serve requests. When the Readiness probe fails, the kubelet does not send traffic to the pod until it passes.

Readiness probes run on the container during its whole lifecycle. If a Readiness probe fails, the Pod is marked as Unready. But unlike Liveness probes, if a Pod fails the Readiness check, it won't be terminated or restarted. This feature is critical because a temporary issue (like a short network outage) won't cause a pod restart.

Importance of Readiness Probes in Load Balancing and Ensuring a Smooth User Experience

Readiness probes play a pivotal role in load balancing and ensuring a smooth user experience. Load balancers use the results of Readiness probes to decide where to send client traffic. If a Pod is deemed Unready, it's removed from the load balancer's rotation, helping to ensure users are not directed to a malfunctioning service.

Moreover, because Readiness probes can detect when a Pod is not ready to accept traffic (such as during initialization or due to a heavy processing load), they help to prevent overloading or crashing of the Pod. In this way, they significantly contribute to maintaining a smooth and uninterrupted user experience.

Examples of How to Configure Readiness Probes

Configuring a Readiness probe is a simple process, and can be done in the Pod specification. Here's an example of a Readiness probe using a GET request to the /health endpoint of an app:

apiVersion: v1

kind: Pod


  name: my-app



  - name: my-app

    image: my-app



        path: /health

        port: 8080

      initialDelaySeconds: 5

      periodSeconds: 5

In this example, the kubelet will send a GET request to the /health path of the app on port 8080 every 5 seconds, starting 5 seconds after the Container has started.

Understanding Startup Probes

Startup probes are another type of Kubernetes Health Check specifically designed for applications that have a slow start-up time. They are used to detect when an application within a Container is actually started. If the Startup probe does not pass, the kubelet will never consider the Pod as started, and it will not send any traffic to it.

The kubelet uses a Startup probe to know when a Container application has started. If such a probe is configured, it disables all other probes until it succeeds. Kubernetes assumes that if a Pod has passed the Startup probe, it's also ready for requests and it's alive, so it won't execute the Readiness and Liveness probes until a restart of the Container is required.

Importance of Startup Probes in Managing Applications That Have a Slow Start-up

Startup probes are particularly important for managing applications that have a long initialization time. Such applications might require substantial time to start, during which they would not pass a Readiness or Liveness probe, leading Kubernetes to kill the Pod prematurely.

By using a Startup probe, we can give slow-starting containers a grace period to get up and running before other probes start checking for readiness or liveness. This can be particularly beneficial in cases where applications need to load large data sets or configuration files during startup, for example.

Examples of How to Configure Startup Probes

Configuring a Startup probe is similar to configuring a Readiness or Liveness probe, and you can do it in the Pod specification. Here's an example of a Startup probe using an exec command:

apiVersion: v1

kind: Pod


  name: my-app



  - name: my-app

    image: my-app




        - /app/check-startup.sh

      failureThreshold: 30

      periodSeconds: 10

In this example, the kubelet will execute the check-startup.sh script every 10 seconds, up to 30 times, until the script returns a success code. If the script doesn't return a success code after 30 attempts, the Pod is marked as Failed.

In conclusion, Kubernetes Health Checks, especially Readiness and Startup probes, are a powerful tool to ensure the high availability and reliability of your applications. By understanding and using these probes, you can significantly improve the resilience of your applications and offer a better user experience.

Author Bio: Gilad David Maayan

Gilad David Maayan is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 technology companies including SAP, Imperva, Samsung NEXT, NetApp and Check Point, producing technical and thought leadership content that elucidates technical solutions for developers and IT leadership. Today he heads Agile SEO, the leading marketing agency in the technology industry.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/giladdavidmaayan/

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