Authorization Policy

Linkerd’s authorization policy allows you to control which types of traffic are allowed to meshed pods. For example, you can restrict communication to a particular service (or HTTP route on a service) to only come from certain other services; you can enforce that mTLS must be used on a certain port; and so on.

Policy overview

By default Linkerd allows all traffic to transit the mesh, and uses a variety of mechanisms, including retries and load balancing, to ensure that requests are delivered successfully.

Sometimes, however, we want to restrict which types of traffic are allowed. Linkerd’s policy features allow you to deny access to resources unless certain conditions are met, including the TLS identity of the client.

Linkerd’s policy is configured using two mechanisms:

  1. A set of default policies, which can be set at the cluster, namespace, workload, and pod level through Kubernetes annotations.
  2. A set of CRDs that specify fine-grained policy for specific ports, routes, workloads, etc.

These mechanisms work in conjunction. For example, a default cluster-wide policy of deny would prohibit any traffic to any meshed pod; traffic would then need to be explicitly allowed through the use of CRDs.

Default policies

The annotation can be set at a namespace, workload, and pod level, and will determine the default traffic policy at that point in the hierarchy. Valid default policies include:

  • all-unauthenticated: allow all requests. This is the default.
  • all-authenticated: allow requests from meshed clients only.
  • cluster-authenticated: allow requests form meshed clients in the same cluster.
  • deny: deny all requests.

As well as several other default policies—see the Policy reference for more.

Every cluster has a cluster-wide default policy (by default, all-unauthenticated), set at install time. Annotations that are present at the workload or namespace level at pod creation time can override that value to determine the default policy for that pod. (Note that the default policy is fixed at proxy initialization time, and thus, after a pod is created, changing the annotation will not change the default policy for that pod.)

Fine-grained policies

For finer-grained policy that applies to specific ports, routes, or more, Linkerd uses a set of CRDs. In contrast to default policy annotations, these policy CRDs can be changed dynamically and policy behavior will be updated on the fly.

Two policy CRDs represent “targets” for policy: subsets of traffic over which policy can be applied.

  • Server: all traffic to a port, for a set of pods in a namespace
  • HTTPRoute: a subset of HTTP requests for a Server

Two policy CRDs represent authentication rules that must be satisfied as part of a policy rule:

  • MeshTLSAuthentication: authentication based on secure workload identities
  • NetworkAuthentication: authentication based on IP address

And finally, two policy CRDs represent policy itself: the mapping of authentication rules to targets.

  • AuthorizationPolicy: a policy that restricts access to one or more targets unless an authentication rule is met

  • ServerAuthorization: an earlier form of policy that restricts access to Servers only (i.e. not HTTPRoutes)

The general pattern for Linkerd’s dynamic, fine-grained policy is to define the traffic target that must be protected (via a combination of Server and HTTPRoute CRs); define the types of authentication that are required before access to that traffic is permitted (via MeshTLSAuthentication and NetworkAuthentication); and then define the policy that maps authentication to target (via an AuthorizationPolicy).

See the Policy reference for more details on how these resources work.

ServerAuthorization vs AuthorizationPolicy

Linkerd 2.12 introduced AuthorizationPolicy as a more flexible alternative to ServerAuthorization that can target HTTPRoutes as well as Servers. Use of AuthorizationPolicy is preferred, and ServerAuthorization will be deprecated in future releases.

Default authorizations

A blanket denial of all to a pod would also deny health and readiness probes from Kubernetes, meaning that the pod would not be able to start. Thus, any default-deny setup must, in practice, still authorize these probes.

In order to simplify default-deny setups, Linkerd automatically authorizes probes to pods. These default authorizations apply only when no Server is configured for a port, or when a Server is configured but no HTTPRoutes are configured for that Server. If any HTTPRoute matches the Server, these automatic authorizations are not created and you must explicitly create them for health and readiness probes.

Policy rejections

Any traffic that is known to be HTTP (including HTTP/2 and gRPC) that is denied by policy will result in the proxy returning an HTTP 403. All other traffic will be denied at the TCP level, i.e. by refusing the connection.

Note that dynamically changing the policy to deny existing connections may result in an abrupt termination of those connections.

Learning more