Kubernetes ImagePullPolicy: A How-To Guide


Best practices are crucial in all aspects of running optimized Kubernetes deployments, and one of they key areas to make sure you use them is in managing images. All containers need an image in order to stay alive. These images are stored in non-volatile file formats and need to be referred to or “pulled” whenever needed. This is done via the Kubernetes imagepullpolicy. Here we’ll take a look at the essential aspects of this policy and its various options and best practices for effective pod management, efficiency and security.

kubernetes imagepullpolicy

Understanding Kubernetes ImagePullPolicy

Kubernetes, an open-source platform, facilitates a runtime environment that robustly manages container lifecycles within a Kubernetes pod. One of the various features integral to its operation is the Kubernetes imagePullPolicy field, embedded in every pod spec of a deployment YAML file. This policy determines the conditions under which Kubernetes pulls images from container registries—be it Docker Hub or an enterprise-level container image registry like Red Hat’s Openshift Container Platform. There are 3 options for the policy:

  • Always: This policy is indispensable in high-availability Kubernetes clusters, where the latest image is crucial. It assures that any new pod spun up will resolve the image name to its updated image digest and pull the newest version available.

    apiVersion: v1
    kind: Pod
    name: always-pull-policy-example
    - name: latest-image-container
    image: myregistry.com/myapp:latest
    imagePullPolicy: Always

  • IfNotPresent: Ideal for Kubernetes environments where the network’s bandwidth or runtime constraints necessitate the use of a cached version of an image, unless there is a new image version tagged or the cache is empty.

    apiVersion: v1
    kind: Pod
    name: ifnotpresent-policy-example
    - name: cached-image-container
    image: myregistry.com/myapp:1.2.3
    imagePullPolicy: IfNotPresent
  • Never: Suited for specific use cases such as a development environment with a local image or when using user-provisioned infrastructure where external pulls are restricted.

    apiVersion: v1
    kind: Pod
    name: never-pull-policy-example
    - name: local-image-container
    image: myapp:dev
    imagePullPolicy: Never

Best Practices for Managing Docker Images in Kubernetes

Navigating the Kubernetes ecosystem requires adherence to a set of best practices for managing docker images, critical to maintaining both the stability and security of your applications.

  1. Use Precise Image Tags or Digests: Avoid using the latest tag for production deployments. Instead, specify exact image tags or digests in your deployment YAML file, which reference the exact digest of the image to be pulled, ensuring deterministic behavior.

    apiVersion: v1
    kind: Pod
    name: exact-tag-policy-example
    - name: exact-image-container
    image: myregistry.com/myapp:v1.2.3
    # or using the digest
    image: myregistry.com/myapp@sha256:25b5...
  2. Maintain a Docker Registry Secret: Kubernetes deployments often need to pull images from private registries. A Docker registry secret stores credentials securely and allows Kubernetes to authenticate to the registry to pull a private image.

    kubectl create secret docker-registry myregistrysecret --docker-server=myregistry.com --docker-username=myusername --docker-password=mypassword --docker-email=myemail@example.com
  3. Handle Persistent Storage Considerations: With policies like Always, you may encounter persistent storage issues due to excess image pulls. Implement storage solutions like OpenShift Container Storage or integrate persistent storage like AWS EBS or Azure Disk for persistent storage needs.

Implementing The Kubernetes ImagePullPolicy in Your Deployments

Common Issues and Solutions

A comprehensive understanding of Kubernetes imagepullpolicy is not complete without addressing common issues such as unexpected image updates or storage bloat from unused images. Strategies to overcome these include implementing image pull requests correctly, cleaning up unused images regularly, and using an egress router pod in OpenShift for controlled external access.

Optimizing Kubernetes ImagePullPolicy

Understanding optimization in ImagePullPolicy

Optimizing your ImagePullPolicy involves adapting it to suit your specific use cases. The option you choose will rely heavily on your bandwidth availability, frequency of image updates, and the importance of always deploying the latest image.

Tips and tricks for ImagePullPolicy optimization

You can optimize your ImagePullPolicy in various ways. For instance, if bandwidth is a concern, you might opt to use ‘IfNotPresent’ or ‘Never’ policies. On the other hand, if keeping deployments updated with the latest image versions is critical, the ‘Always’ policy could be more suitable.

How to evaluate the efficiency of your ImagePullPolicy

Evaluating the efficiency of your ImagePullPolicy can be achieved by monitoring factors like the speed of your deployments and network usage. If you notice slow deployment times, frequent image versioning errors, or high network usage, it may mean that you need to reconsider your current ImagePullPolicy.

Best practices for Kubernetes ImagePullPolicy

Maintaining good hygiene for ImagePullPolicy

Good hygiene for ImagePullPolicy involves using the appropriate policies given your unique requirements, keeping track of available image versions, and periodically reviewing and adjusting policies to align with evolving needs.

Adapting Kubernetes community standards for ImagePullPolicy

The Kubernetes community encourages the use of the ‘IfNotPresent’ policy as a default choice due to its efficiency and versatility. When using images tagged with a version number other than “latest”, ‘IfNotPresent’ tends to offer the most balanced approach for most applications.

Staying updated with ImagePullPolicy improvements and updates

Keeping abreast of developments around Kubernetes and ImagePullPolicy can help you leverage improvements and updates effectively. Regularly visit Kubernetes documentation, and engage in forums and communities for real-time information.


By mastering the intricacies of Kubernetes ImagePullPolicy and related practices, DevOps professionals can enhance the Kubernetes application’s efficiency, ensuring that each new pod in a deployment reflects the most up-to-date, secure, and efficient container images. With persistent vigilance and a commitment to best practices, Kubernetes can serve as the foundation for container orchestration in any enterprise.

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