HTTPS ingress with nginx + kube-lego#

Kubernetes Ingress Objects are used to manage HTTP(S) access from the internet to inside the Kubernetes cluster. Among other things, it lets us do the following:

  1. Provide a HTTPS end point so users can connect to us securely

  2. Direct traffic to various Services based on hostnames or URL paths

  3. Allow using one public IP address for multiple domain names

We use the nginx-ingress provider to handle our Ingress needs.

Nginx Ingress#

We run on Google Cloud’s Kubernetes Engine. Even though GKE comes pre-installed with the Google Cloud Load Balancer Ingress provider, we decided to use nginx instead for the following reasons:

  1. GCLB has a 30s default timeout on all HTTP connections. This is counted not just when connection is idle, but from connection start time. This is particularly bad for websockets, since those connections usually last for a lot longer than 30s! There is no easy way to configure this timeout from inside Kubernetes.

  2. GCLB does not guarantee you can use the same IP for multiple domains. We want the various subdomains of to point to the same IP so we can easily add / remove new services without waiting for DNS propagation delay.


nginx-ingress is installed using the nginx-ingress helm chart. This installs the following components:

  1. nginx-ingress-controller - keeps the HTTPS rules in sync with Ingress objects and serves the HTTPS requests. This also exports metrics that are captured in prometheus.

  2. nginx-ingress-default-backend - simply returns a 404 error & is used by nginx-ingress-controller to serve any requests that don’t match any rules.

The specific ways these have been configured can be seen in the mybinder/values.yaml file in this repo, under nginx-ingress.

Configuration with Ingress objects#

Ingress objects are used to tell the ingress controllers which requests should be routed to which Service objects. Usually, the rules either check for a hostname (like or and/or a URL prefix (like /metrics or /docs). You can see all the ingress objects present with kubectl --namespace=prod get ingress.

The following ingress objects currently exist:

  • jupyterhub - Directs traffic to The zero-to-jupyterhub guide has more documentation.

  • binderhub - Directs traffic to You can find more details about this in the binderhub helm chart.

  • redirector - Directs traffic to the HTTP redirector we run for This helps do redirects such as or The list of redirects is configured in mybinder/values.yaml. The code for this is in mybinder/templates/redirector in this repo.

  • static - Directs traffic into We serve the badges from a different domain for privacy reasons. This ingress lets us direct traffic only from to the binder pod.

  • prometheus-server - Directs traffic to Configured under prometheus in both mybinder/values.yaml and config/prod.yaml.

  • grafana - Directs traffic to Configured under grafana in both mybinder/values.yaml and config/prod.yaml.

  • kube-lego-nginx - Used by kube-lego for doing automatic HTTPS certificate renewals.

HTTPS certificates with kube-lego#

We use Let’s Encrypt for all our HTTPS certificates. Kube Lego is used to automatically provision and maintain HTTPS certificates for us.


Kube-lego is deprecated, and we should move to cert-manager <>_ soon.


kube-lego is installed using the kube-lego.


kube-lego requires Ingress objects to have specific annotations and tls values, as documented here. We specify this for all our ingress objects, mostly by customizing various helm charts in mybinder/values.yaml.

Let’s Encrypt account#

Let’s Encrypt uses accounts to keep track of HTTPS certificates & expiry dates. Currently, the account is registered to, mostly as a historical accident. Changing it requires some amount of care to make sure we do not suffer intermittent HTTPS failure, and should be done whenever we switch to cert-manager.