What is Helmfile and How Does it Work?
Helmfile adds additional functionality to Helm by wrapping it in a declarative spec that allows you to compose several charts together to create a comprehensive deployment artifact for anything from a single application to your entire infrastructure stack.
Note: If you’re not familiar with Helm, start with our Getting Started with Helm guide.
In addition to the Templating and Packaging Helm gives you for your Kubernetes manifests, Helmfile provides a way to apply GitOps style CI/CD methodologies over your Helm charts by:
- Separating out your Environment specific information from your Chart
- Performing a diff of your existing deployment and only applying the changes
Helmfile uses the same templating system as Helm and in a way lets you template your templates (
Why Is Helmfile Important?
Helm is a great tool for templating and sharing Kubernetes manifests for your applications. However it can become quite cumbersome to install larger multi-tier applications or groups of applications across multiple Kubernetes clusters.
Helmfile addresses this issue and more by providing a fairly simple but very powerful declarative specification for deploying Helm charts across many environments.
First and foremost Helm is a declarative specification. Like Kubernetes manifests you can store them in version control, and perform declarative style actions. Much like Kubernetes has
kubectl apply for Kubernetes manifests, Helmfile has
helmfile apply for Helm charts.
Helmfile is very modular, you can have one large
helmfile.yaml that does everything or you can break it down to suit your way of working. This modularity allows you to:
Give each Helm chart its own
helmfile.yamland include them recursively in a centralized
Separate out environment specific values from general values. Often you’ll find while a Helm chart can take 50 different values, only a few actually differ between your environments.
As well as providing a set of values, either Environment specific or otherwise, you can also read Environment Variables, Execute scripts and read their output.
Store remote state in git/s3/fileshare/etc in much the same way as Terraform does.
Helmfile is versatile enough to allow you to also include raw Kubernetes manifests, Kustomizations, or even execute scripts via hooks, turning all of these into Helm releases.
Need to modify the resources generated by a specific Helm chart? Helmfile allows you to JSON/Strategic-Merge patch resources before actually installing them.
Installing Helmfile and How it Works
Helmfile works by reading in your Helmfile manifest (usually
helmfile.yaml) which declares the Helm Charts you want to install and the values you wish to install them with, these are compared against the actual state of what is running in your cluster and any differences are then acted upon by calling out to Helm itself.
helmfile.yaml to install nginx would look something like this:
repositories: - name: stable url: https://kubernetes-charts.storage.googleapis.com releases: - name: my-nginx-server namespace: default labels: app: nginx chart: stable/nginx version: ~1.24.1 values: - ./nginx/vault.yaml.gotmpl - image: my.registry.com/nginx
Values are a list that can be passed in as a file or a list of key/values. These are the helm style values that will be rendered into your chart. Helmfile will treat any file with the
.gotmpl extension as a template and will render it before passing it onto Helm.
If you wanted to load the above into a parent
helmfile.yaml you could do the following:
helmfiles: - apps/*/helmfile.yaml
You can even make all of your included
helmfile.yaml files templates and render stuff right into the helmfiles. It really is templates all the way down.
helmfiles: - apps/*/helmfile.yaml.gotmpl
Thankfully the Helmfile GitHub repository has some really good documentation and best practices showing different ways to construct your
How Can I Use Helmfile?
It’s pretty easy to get started with Helmfile. The documentation in the repository is quite good.
For an interesting perspective showing how to completely decouple your Code and Environment data have a look at Paul Czarkowski’s Helmfile Starter Kit and the Platform Operations on Kubernetes project built on top of it. The latter of which is used to deploy a whole kitchen sink worth of platform tooling across dozens of Kubernetes clusters.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Helmfile?
Helmfile is a declarative specification wrapping for deploying distributions of Helm charts. They add additional functionality to Helm by allowing you to compose several charts together to create a comprehensive deployment artifact.
What is a Helm chart?
Helm charts are Kubernetes manifests or a collection of files that correspond to a directly related set of Kubernetes resources.
How do Helmfiles work?
Helmfiles work by reading your Helmfile manifests and comparing them against the actual state of what is running in your cluster. Any differences are then acted upon by calling out to Helm itself.
What is the difference between Helm and Helmfile?
Helm is a tool for templating and sharing Kubernetes manifests for your applications, while a Helmfile is a declarative specification for deploying Helm charts that adds functionality to Helm.
How do you modify the resources generated by a specific Helm chart?
Resources generated by a specific Helm chart can be modified before installation by allowing you to JSON/Strategic-Merge patch resources.
What are the benefits of Helmfiles?
Helmfiles are beneficial because they provide powerful declarative specification for deploying Helm charts across many environments.