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CI/CD for Microservices on DigitalOcean Kubernetes

Continuous delivery with Semaphore and DigitalOcean Kubernetes

Semaphore gives you the power to easily create CI/CD pipelines that build, run and deploy Docker containers. DigitalOcean recently introduced a managed Kubernetes service which simplifies running cloud-native applications. Together, they’re a great match for productive software development. In this article, we’ll show you how to connect these two services together in a fast continuous delivery pipeline.

What we’re building

We’ll use a Ruby Sinatra microservice which exposes a few HTTP endpoints and includes a test suite. We’ll package it with Docker and deploy it to DigitalOcean Kubernetes. The CI/CD pipeline will fully automate the following tasks:

  • Install project dependencies, reusing them from cache most of the time;
  • Run unit tests;
  • Build and tag a Docker image;
  • Push the Docker image to Docker Hub container registry;
  • Provide a one-click deployment to DigitalOcean Kubernetes.
First CI/CD Pipeline

We’ll go step by step, but if you’d like to jump straight into the final version of source code, check out semaphore-demo-ruby-kubernetes repository on GitHub.

Let’s begin!

Launch a Kubernetes cluster in 5 minutes on DigitalOcean

Launching a Kubernetes cluster on DigitalOcean is straightforward. From your dashboard, use the Create button on top to create it. The cluster will become available in 4-5 minutes.

Creating a Kubernetes cluster on DigitalOcean
Creating a Kubernetes cluster on DigitalOcean

The cluster page includes a number of tips and resources that you can use. If you haven’t done that yet, now is the time to install kubectl, the Kubernetes command-line tool.

Connect to your DigitalOcean Kubernetes cluster

Scroll to the bottom of your cluster page to download the configuration file that you will use to authenticate and connect to the cluster.

Download your DigitalOcean Kubernetes configuration file
Download your DigitalOcean Kubernetes configuration file

On your local machine, create a directory to contain the Kubernetes configuration file:

$ mkdir ~/.kube

Move the downloaded file to ~/.kube and instruct kubectl to use it. You can run the following command in your terminal session, or add it to your shell profile like .bashrc or .zshrc:

$ export KUBECONFIG=$HOME/.kube/dok8s.yaml

Make sure to change dok8s.yaml to match the name of your file.

Verify that you can communicate with your DigitalOcean Kubernetes cluster by running kubectl get nodes. When the command is successful, it returns information similar to the following:

$ kubectl get nodes
NAME                        STATUS    ROLES     AGE       VERSION
nostalgic-heisenberg-8vi3   Ready     <none>    4d        v1.13.2
nostalgic-heisenberg-8vi8   Ready     <none>    4d        v1.13.2

The number of nodes will match the number you selected during the cluster creation process. Note that if you run get nodes while your cluster is still being provisioned, the number of nodes will be zero.

Connect Semaphore to your DigitalOcean Kubernetes cluster

At this point, you have a Kubernetes cluster that you can control from your local machine. Let’s configure a basic CI/CD project in which Semaphore can also successfully execute kubectl get nodes.

If you’re new to Semaphore, start by creating a free account. The free account provides you with $10 of credit every month, which is enough for up to 1,300 minutes of service.

Create a project on Semaphore

Once you’re in Semaphore, click on the + (plus sign) next to Projects and select your repository from the list:

Add the repository to Semaphore

When prompted, choose:

  • If you want to start with a minimal configuration and build it up while you follow this tutorial, select “I want to configure this project from scratch“.
  • If you want to jump forward to the end and view the final configuration, select the “I will use the existing configuration” option.

For both cases, Semaphore creates a deploy key and webhook on GitHub so that it can access your code as it changes. It also creates a pipeline definition file .semaphore/semaphore.yml.

Authenticating with Kubernetes using a Semaphore secret

Let’s edit the pipeline and instruct Semaphore on how to talk to Kubernetes.

Semaphore already provides kubectl preinstalled. So what’s left is to securely upload the Kubernetes configuration file inside the Semaphore environment. We generally solve this by creating a secret. A secret can be a collection of environment variables and files. Once created, it’s available to all projects within an organization.

In our case, we need a secret based on a single file:

  • Go to your Semaphore account.
  • On the left navigatio menu, click on Secrets under Configuration.
  • Press the Create New Secret button.
Create a new secret for the Kubernetes config.

Create the secret for your Kubernetes configuration:

  • Set the name of the secret to do-k8s.
  • Under files, type the path /home/semaphore/.kube/dok8s.yaml. /home/semaphore/ is the default directory from which all CI/CD jobs run.
  • Upload the DigitalOcean Kubernetes Config file.
  • Click on Save Changes.
Upload Kubernetes Config file to Semaphore

To modify the pipeline configuration, click on the Edit Workflow button on the top right corner:

Click on Edit Workflow to modify the pipeline.

Let’s try connecting to Kubernetes. Modify the initial block so it looks like this:

Connecting to Kubernetes

If this is the first time you see a Semaphore pipeline, a quick tour of concepts will help you understand it. Here’s the gist of how they apply in this example:

  • Jobs have a name and a list of commands to execute.
  • Jobs are grouped in blocks.
  • We initialize environment variables for the jobs. In this case, we are setting KUBECONFIG = /home/semaphore/.kube/dok8s.yml
  • We mount the Kubernetes config file with the do-k8s secret we’ve just created.
  • Our pipeline has one block and one job, in which we download our code from GitHub and run kubectl get nodes

The Run Workflow button on the top right corner to push the changes to GitHub:

Start the pipeline

This will start the pipeline immediately:

Semaphore talking to the Kubernetes cluster

Clicking on the job will bring up its logs:

Job log of communicating with Kubernetes from Semaphore

OK, we’re in business! Let’s proceed by setting up an actual project.

Set up continuous integration for a Sinatra microservice

Our Sinatra app is a microservice with minimal configuration and an RSpec test suite:

β”œβ”€β”€ Gemfile
β”œβ”€β”€ Gemfile.lock
β”œβ”€β”€ README.md
β”œβ”€β”€ app.rb
β”œβ”€β”€ config.ru
└── spec
    β”œβ”€β”€ app_spec.rb
    └── spec_helper.rb

Let’s go back to setting up the Continuous Integration pipeline:

  • Edit the workflow
  • Delete the block we created above. We’ll set up a pipeline that looks like this:
The Continuous Integration Pipeline

On Semaphore, blocks run sequentially, while jobs within a block run in parallel. The CI pipeline contains two blocks, one for installing dependencies and another for running tests. This is an example if it makes sense you could, of course, merge the blocks in one.

Click on the first block to edit the job. We’ll store our Ruby gems in Semaphore cache to avoid running bundle install from scratch on every commit:

  • Block name: Install dependencies
  • Job name: bundle install
  • Job commands:
cache restore
bundle install --deployment --path vendor/bundle
cache store
Create the “Install dependencies” block

It’s necessary to run bundle install in the second block, even though cache restore will at that point always restore the gem bundle. It’s a limitation on Bundler’s side, but the good part is that the command will exit very quickly.

Create the “Tests” block

When you click on Run the Workflow > Start, you’ll see a real CI pipeline shaping up on Semaphore:

Continuous integration pipeline for our microservice

Dockerize Sinatra app

The next step is to package our Sinatra app in a Docker container. The following Dockerfile will do:

# Dockerfile
FROM ruby:2.5

RUN apt-get update -qq && apt-get install -y build-essential


ADD Gemfile* $APP_HOME/
RUN bundle install --without development test



CMD ["bundle", "exec", "rackup", "--host", "", "-p", "4567"]

To verify, you can build and run the container locally:

$ docker build -t demo .
$ docker run-p 80:4567 demo
$ curl localhost
> hello world

Add the Dockerfile to GitHub:

$ git add Dockerfile
$ git commit -m "add Dockerfile"
$ git push origin master

Push Docker image to Docker Hub container registry

Deploying to Kubernetes requires us to push a Docker image to a container registry. In this example, we’ll use Docker Hub. The procedure is very similar to other registry providers.

Pushing to a container registry, public or private, requires authentication. For example, when you’re using Docker Desktop on Mac, you’re automatically authenticated and communication with Docker Hub just works. In the CI/CD environment, we need to make credentials available and authenticate before doing docker push.

Authenticating with Docker Hub using a Semaphore secret

Following the Docker Hub instructions available in Semaphore documentation, we need to create a secret.

On the left menu, go to Configuration > Secrets and click on Create New Secret:

  • Name of the Secret: “dockerhub”
  • Variables:
    • DOCKER_USERNAME: type your DockerHub username
    • DOCKER_PASSWORD: type your DockerHub password.
  • Click on Save Changes.
Create dockerhub secret

We now have what it takes to push to Docker Hub from a Semaphore job.

Configure a promotion to run docker build

With Docker build and push operations we are entering the delivery phase of our project. We’ll extend our Semaphore pipeline with a promotion and use it to trigger the next stage.

To create a new promotion:

  • Edit the Workflow
  • Scroll right to the last block in the pipeline and press the Add First Promotion button.
Add a new promotion

Configure the new promotion:

  • Check the Enable automatic promotion option
  • Call the promotion: “Dockerize”
Configure the promotion

Set up the new pipeline to build a Docker image:

  • Click on the new pipeline. Set its name to “Docker build”. Here we can change the machine type that runs this pipeline, there is no need to change the default e1-standard-2.
  • Edit the first block on the new pipeline. Let’s name it “Build”.
  • Open the Secrets section and check the dockerhub entry.
  • Type the following commands in the Job command box:
echo "${DOCKER_PASSWORD}" | docker login -u "${DOCKER_USERNAME}" --password-stdin
docker pull "${DOCKER_USERNAME}"/semaphore-demo-ruby-kubernetes:latest || true
docker build --cache-from "${DOCKER_USERNAME}"/semaphore-demo-ruby-kubernetes:latest -t "${DOCKER_USERNAME}"/semaphore-demo-ruby-kubernetes:$SEMAPHORE_WORKFLOW_ID .
docker images
docker push "${DOCKER_USERNAME}"/semaphore-demo-ruby-kubernetes:$SEMAPHORE_WORKFLOW_ID
Setting up the build job

In the first command in the job we authenticate with Docker Hub using the environment variables defined in the dockerhub secret.

We’re using Docker layer caching to speed up the container build process. First, the docker pull command retrieves a previously built image from the registry. If this is the first time we run this operation, this step will be skipped and not fail.

By using the --cache-from flag with docker build, we’re reusing the layers from the pulled image to build the new one faster.

For the docker build and docker push commands we are using the SEMAPHORE_WORKFLOW_ID environment variable to produce a unique artifact after every build. It’s one of the environment variables available in every Semaphore job; see documentation for a complete list.

Note that we’re not creating a new version of the latest tag. We’re going to do that only after a successful deploy.

Once you finished setting up the job, click on Run workflow > Start. You should have a pipeline in a state similar to this:

Docker Build pipeline

Depending on what branch you started the pipeline, the build pipeline may not start automatically. Automatic promotion is only triggered, by default, on the master branch. You may need to click Promote to start it.

The job log shows that the container image has been created and pushed:

Docker build job log

And your Docker registry should contain the latest images:

Pushed container image on Docker Hub
Pushed container image on Docker Hub

Deploy to DigitalOcean Kubernetes

Back on the DigitalOcean’s Kubernetes cluster page, the “Getting Started” section includes examples to “Deploy a workload”. We can use the example provided for Nginx and modify it for our app.

In the example configuration, you’ll notice a reference to a source container image:

# ...
        - name: nginx
          image: library/nginx

If your Docker image is private, you’ll need to enable the Kubernetes cluster to authenticate with the Docker registry. The way to do that is, once again, by creating a secret, only this time on the Kubernetes cluster’s end. For demonstration purposes, I will show you how to do this, even though the image that we’re using in this tutorial is public.

Create a Kubernetes secret to pull a private Docker image from the registry

Run the following command on your local machine to create a docker-registry-type secret on your Kubernetes cluster:

$ kubectl create secret docker-registry dockerhub-user \
     --docker-server=https://index.docker.io/v1/ \
     --docker-username=YOUR_DOCKER_HUB_USERNAME \
     --docker-password=YOUR_DOCKER_HUB_PASSWORD \

You can verify the secret by running:

$ kubectl get secret dockerhub-user --output=yaml

Kubernetes secrets are base64-encoded and the output will look similar to:

apiVersion: v1
  .dockerconfigjson: eyJhdXRocyI6eyJodHR...
kind: Secret
  creationTimestamp: 2019-02-08T10:18:52Z
  name: dockerhub-user
  namespace: default
  resourceVersion: "7431"
  selfLink: /api/v1/namespaces/default/secrets/dockerhub-user
  uid: eec7c39e-2b8a-11e9-a804-1a46bc991881
type: kubernetes.io/dockerconfigjson

Write a deployment manifest

Create a new file in your repository, for example, called deployment.yml:

# deployment.yml
apiVersion: apps/v1
kind: Deployment
  name: semaphore-demo-ruby-kubernetes
  replicas: 1
      app: semaphore-demo-ruby-kubernetes
        app: semaphore-demo-ruby-kubernetes
        - name: semaphore-demo-ruby-kubernetes
          image: semaphoredemos/semaphore-demo-ruby-kubernetes:$SEMAPHORE_WORKFLOW_ID
      imagePullSecrets: # if using a private image
        - name: dockerhub-user

Comparing to the Nginx example provided by DigitalOcean, we’ve pretty much only substituted the application and image name. Since Semaphore is tagging images using SEMAPHORE_WORKFLOW_ID environment variable, we’re using it here in line 18 as well.

The deployment configuration file as it appears now is not valid YML. The plan is to use a Linux utility called β€Œenvsubst (also available on Mac via Homebrew) to replace $SEMAPHORE_WORKFLOW_ID with its value within a Semaphore CI/CD job.

Our deployment manifest, however, is not yet complete without a Kubernetes load balancer which will expose the deployed service on a public IP address. Append the following content to the same file:

# deployment.yml
# ...

apiVersion: v1
kind: Service
  name: semaphore-demo-lb
    app: semaphore-demo-ruby-kubernetes
  type: LoadBalancer
    - port: 80
      targetPort: 4567

You can verify that the Kubernetes configuration works as intended from your local machine by replacing $SEMAPHORE_WORKFLOW_ID with latest and running:

$ kubectl apply -f deployment.yml
$ kubectl get services
NAME         TYPE           CLUSTER-IP       EXTERNAL-IP      PORT(S)        AGE
semaphore-demo-ruby-kubernetes     LoadBalancer   80:30569/TCP   5d

Add the deployment manifest to GitHub:

$ git add deployment.yml
$ git commit -m "add Kubernetes manifest"
$ git push origin master

Define a Semaphore deployment pipeline

We’re entering the last stage of CI/CD configuration. At this point, we have a CI pipeline and a Docker build pipeline. We’re going to define a third pipeline to trigger manually from Docker build which will deploy to Kubernetes.

  • Edit the Workflow
  • Scroll right to the last block in the workflow and click on the Add First Promotion button.
  • Call the promotion “Deploy to Kubernetes”
  • Click on the new pipeline. Set its name to “Deploy to Kubernetes”.
  • Click on the first block on the new pipeline. Let’s call it “Deploy”.
  • Under the Secrets section: check the dockerhub and do-k8s entries.
  • Open the Environment Variables section. Use the Add env_vars link to create a new variable:
    • KUBECONFIG = /home/semaphore/.kube/dok8s.yaml
  • Set the job name to “Deploy” and type the following commands:
kubectl get nodes
kubectl get pods
envsubst < deployment.yml | tee deployment.yml
kubectl apply -f deployment.yml
Setting up the Deploy to Kubernetes block.

Add a second block to push the latest Docker image to the Docker Hub:

  • Click on Add Block. Set its name to “Tag latest release”.
  • Set the job name to “docker tag latest”.
  • Under Secrets, check the dockerhub and do-k8s entries.
  • Type the following commands in the job box:
echo "${DOCKER_PASSWORD}" | docker login -u "${DOCKER_USERNAME}" --password-stdin
docker pull "${DOCKER_USERNAME}"/semaphore-demo-ruby-kubernetes:$SEMAPHORE_WORKFLOW_ID
docker tag "${DOCKER_USERNAME}"/semaphore-demo-ruby-kubernetes:$SEMAPHORE_WORKFLOW_ID "${DOCKER_USERNAME}"/semaphore-demo-ruby-kubernetes:latest
docker push "${DOCKER_USERNAME}"/semaphore-demo-ruby-kubernetes:latest
Setting up the Tag latest release block

The deployment pipeline has two blocks: to apply a new Kubernetes configuration and to create a new version of our latest container image, which we’re treating like the master branch in Git (your practice may vary).

Once you click on Run workflow > Start, Semaphore runs the pipeline. Once the Docker build pipeline is completed successfully, click on the “Promote” button to trigger the deployment:

Launched deployment to Kubernetes

You can now run kubectl get services or open the Load Balancers list on DigitalOcean > Networking tab section to find the public IP address of your microservice:

IP address from load balancer
Public IP address from the load balancer

And test it out:

$ curl
hello world :))

Congratulations! You now have a fully automated continuous delivery pipeline to Kubernetes.

Deploy a demo app yourself

Feel free to fork the semaphore-demo-ruby-kubernetes repository and create a Semaphore project to deploy it on your Kubernetes instance.

Here are some ideas for potential changes you can make:

  • Introduce a staging environment
  • Build a Docker image first, and run tests inside it (requires a development version of Dockerfile since it’s best to avoid installing development and test dependencies when producing an image for production).
  • Extend the project with more microservices.

This article is based on an episode of Semaphore Uncut, a YouTube video series on CI/CD:

Semaphore Uncut episodes stream live with a Q&A and are available for watching later on Semaphore YouTube channel.

Have a comment? Join the discussion on the forum