Learn how to enable Istio for your OpenFaaS functions to take advantage of Mutual TLS and more


Service meshes have become popular add-ons for Kubernetes, so much so that they have their own ServiceMeshCon days at KubeCon, the official Kubernetes conference.

A service mesh can be used to apply policies to network communication, encrypt traffic between endpoints and for advanced routing.

Istio logo

Istio is one of the most popular service meshes available for use with Kubernetes and with help from the team at Google, we’ve recently updated the support and documentation for using Istio with OpenFaaS.

Istio architecture diagram

Istio’s mesh created by injecting Envoy proxies into each Pod to encapsulate networking

The value for users is:

  • Providing more advanced and flexible policy than Kubernetes’ NetworkPolicies
  • Encrypting traffic between all OpenFaaS components and functions for “zero trust”
  • Providing advanced networking like retries, and weighting for canaries and gradual rollouts of new functions

Thank you to John Howard from Google for helping us with this work and to Lucas Roesler for reviewing and testing the work.

In this blog post we’ll give you a quick introduction so that you can start integrating Istio with OpenFaaS. We’ll then go on to show you how to measure the resource consumption of the cluster, and how to create a TLS certificate for the Istio Gateway.

There are many service mesh products available. Other popular options include: Linkerd, Kuma and Consul.

You may also like the workshop we created to show how to do mutual TLS and traffic shifting with OpenFaaS and Linkerd.


We are using arkade, the open source marketplace to download CLIs and to install the apps we need. You can also do this the hard way if you prefer, just refer to the documentation or the helm chart for more.

You’ll need OpenFaaS Pro for Istio to work. Reach out to us if you want to talk about options.

Bootstrap the cluster

Create a local cluster for testing:

arkade get kind

kind create cluster \
  --name openfaas-istio

Install Istio first

Once the KinD cluster has started, install Istio:

arkade install istio

You can also install Istio using Helm or the istioctl tool, see other options.

Download the CLI for Istio so we can use it later:

arkade get istioctl

Install OpenFaaS Pro

Only OpenFaaS Pro works with Istio, the Community Edition (CE) is meant for hobbyists and experimentation.

Install OpenFaaS Pro using the following changes:

Setting openfaasPro=true enables the OpenFaaS Pro features.

The --license-file flag should be set to $HOME/.openfaas/LICENSE and will create the openfaas-license secret so that the components can start up.

The gateway.directFunctions=true flag prevents OpenFaaS from trying to do its own endpoint load-balancing between function replicas, and defers to Envoy instead. Envoy is configured for each pod by Istio and handles routing and retries.

The gateway.probeFunctions=true is required to remediate a race condition where during scaling, Kubernetes reports ready endpoints, but the Envoy proxy is not yet ready to route traffic to them. This setting causes the gateway to access the function’s HTTP readiness endpoint directly before sending traffic.

The operator.create option is not strictly necessary, but preferred as it enables the “Function” CRD.

The istio.mtls flag is optional, but when set encrypts the traffic between each of the pods in the openfaas and openfaas-fn namespace.

arkade install openfaas \
  --license-file $HOME/.openfaas/LICENSE \
  --set openfaasPro=true \
  --set operator.create=true \
  --set gateway.directFunctions=true \
  --set gateway.probeFunctions=true \
  --set istio.mtls=true

At this point everything is configured and you can use OpenFaaS.

Access OpenFaaS with an Istio Gateway

Create an Istio Gateway so that we can connect to the OpenFaaS Gateway and log in.

# gateway.yaml
cat > gateway.yaml <<EOF
apiVersion: networking.istio.io/v1alpha3
kind: Gateway
  name: openfaas-gateway
  namespace: openfaas
    istio: ingressgateway # use istio default controller
  - port:
      number: 80
      name: http
      protocol: HTTP
    - "*"
apiVersion: networking.istio.io/v1alpha3
kind: VirtualService
  name: openfaas-api
  namespace: openfaas
  - "*"
  - openfaas-gateway
  - match:
    - uri:
        prefix: /
    - destination:
        host: gateway
          number: 8080

kubectl apply -f gateway.yaml

Port-forward the Istio Ingress Gateway:

kubectl port-forward -n istio-system \
  svc/istio-ingressgateway \
  8080:80 \
  8443:443 &

Log in:

PASSWORD=$(kubectl get secret -n openfaas basic-auth -o jsonpath="{.data.basic-auth-password}" | base64 --decode; echo)
echo -n $PASSWORD | faas-cli login --username admin --password-stdin

Deploy a test function

# Find something you are interested in with:
faas-cli store list

# Deploy one of the functions
faas-cli store deploy nodeinfo

Invoke the function via the Istio Ingress gateway:

echo | faas-cli invoke nodeinfo

Describe the Function’s deployment, so you can see that the Istio proxy (Envoy) has been configured:

kubectl describe pod -n openfaas-fn

  Type    Reason     Age   From               Message
  ----    ------     ----  ----               -------
  Normal  Scheduled  48s   default-scheduler  Successfully assigned openfaas-fn/nodeinfo-857d9c469b-ww66k to openfaas-istio-control-plane
  Normal  Pulling    47s   kubelet            Pulling image "docker.io/istio/proxyv2:1.9.1"
  Normal  Pulled     46s   kubelet            Successfully pulled image "docker.io/istio/proxyv2:1.9.1" in 938.690323ms
  Normal  Created    46s   kubelet            Created container istio-init
  Normal  Started    46s   kubelet            Started container istio-init
  Normal  Pulling    46s   kubelet            Pulling image "ghcr.io/openfaas/nodeinfo:latest"
  Normal  Pulled     38s   kubelet            Successfully pulled image "ghcr.io/openfaas/nodeinfo:latest" in 8.160064746s
  Normal  Created    38s   kubelet            Created container nodeinfo
  Normal  Started    38s   kubelet            Started container nodeinfo
  Normal  Pulling    38s   kubelet            Pulling image "docker.io/istio/proxyv2:1.9.1"
  Normal  Pulled     37s   kubelet            Successfully pulled image "docker.io/istio/proxyv2:1.9.1" in 925.80937ms
  Normal  Created    37s   kubelet            Created container istio-proxy
  Normal  Started    37s   kubelet            Started container istio-proxy

You can also use istioctl to explore the status of the proxy:

istioctl proxy-status

NAME                                                   CDS        LDS        EDS        RDS        ISTIOD                      VERSION
alertmanager-7cb8f6487d-ch4fp.openfaas                 SYNCED     SYNCED     SYNCED     SYNCED     istiod-865fd47fcc-24vdp     1.9.1
basic-auth-plugin-565b7cbc48-h9t8d.openfaas            SYNCED     SYNCED     SYNCED     SYNCED     istiod-865fd47fcc-24vdp     1.9.1
gateway-5fb6bf58dd-74j8c.openfaas                      SYNCED     SYNCED     SYNCED     SYNCED     istiod-865fd47fcc-24vdp     1.9.1
istio-ingressgateway-5bcdc9b77f-knrpz.istio-system     SYNCED     SYNCED     SYNCED     SYNCED     istiod-865fd47fcc-24vdp     1.9.1
nats-76b689f8d8-mkwtl.openfaas                         SYNCED     SYNCED     SYNCED     SYNCED     istiod-865fd47fcc-24vdp     1.9.1
nodeinfo-857d9c469b-ww66k.openfaas-fn                  SYNCED     SYNCED     SYNCED     SYNCED     istiod-865fd47fcc-24vdp     1.9.1
prometheus-5664d7cbb9-kchff.openfaas                   SYNCED     SYNCED     SYNCED     SYNCED     istiod-865fd47fcc-24vdp     1.9.1
queue-worker-5b7c5b898d-fqkv5.openfaas                 SYNCED     SYNCED     SYNCED     SYNCED     istiod-865fd47fcc-24vdp     1.9.1

Running the following will open a dashboard, and you can run istioctl dashboard --help to see how to launch the Grafana or Envoy UI.

istioctl dashboard controlz deployment/istiod.istio-system

Istio controlz dashboard

Istio controlz dashboard

I was also able to verify that the OpenFaaS gateway was receiving encrypted messages. To do this, I reinstalled Istio using the instructions in the docs in privileged mode. Then I restarted the gateway and observed encrypted messages with tcpdump:

Encrypted traffic to the OpenFaaS Gateway

Encrypted messages observed with tcpdump

You can detect the presence of Envoy within your function by looking at the HTTP headers passed on:

faas-cli deploy \
  --name env \
  --image ghcr.io/openfaas/alpine:latest \

Now invoke the function and view the headers injected by the Envoy sidecar:

echo | faas-cli invoke env


Going Further

Measuring the effects

There is a cost involved with installing a service mesh like Istio. There will be additional RAM required, additional control-plane components to configure and keep updated, along with additional latency and cold-start times for scaling functions from zero.

If you would like to understand the quiescent load on the cluster, you can install the Kubernetes metrics-server through arkade:

arkade install metrics-server

Wait a few minutes for data collection, then run:


kubectl top node
kubectl top pod -A

These are my results after having completed the whole tutorial including: KinD, cert-manager, openfaas, inlets-operator and the metrics-server itself.

kubectl top node
NAME                           CPU(cores)   CPU%   MEMORY(bytes)   MEMORY%   
openfaas-istio-control-plane   399m         4%     1693Mi          5% 

kubectl top pod -A
NAMESPACE            NAME                                                   CPU(cores)   MEMORY(bytes)   
cert-manager         cert-manager-7998c69865-ljf2h                          7m           22Mi            
cert-manager         cert-manager-cainjector-7b744d56fb-5blx4               3m           40Mi            
cert-manager         cert-manager-webhook-7d6d4c78bc-k58l8                  3m           14Mi            
default              inlets-operator-65d855b646-d7hrb                       1m           14Mi            
istio-system         istio-ingressgateway-5bcdc9b77f-knrpz                  12m          41Mi            
istio-system         istio-ingressgateway-tunnel-client-8676784869-wcbdc    1m           6Mi             
istio-system         istiod-865fd47fcc-24vdp                                4m           48Mi            
kube-system          coredns-f9fd979d6-8mr5v                                4m           11Mi            
kube-system          coredns-f9fd979d6-gbmjz                                5m           11Mi            
kube-system          etcd-openfaas-istio-control-plane                      32m          66Mi            
kube-system          kindnet-mjntd                                          1m           9Mi             
kube-system          kube-apiserver-openfaas-istio-control-plane            83m          412Mi           
kube-system          kube-controller-manager-openfaas-istio-control-plane   19m          52Mi            
kube-system          kube-proxy-jfgtc                                       1m           17Mi            
kube-system          kube-scheduler-openfaas-istio-control-plane            4m           18Mi            
kube-system          metrics-server-56c4ff648b-jzkrq                        2m           15Mi            
local-path-storage   local-path-provisioner-78776bfc44-tgr64                2m           8Mi             
openfaas             alertmanager-7cb8f6487d-ch4fp                          9m           53Mi            
openfaas             basic-auth-plugin-565b7cbc48-h9t8d                     10m          51Mi            
openfaas             gateway-5fb6bf58dd-74j8c                               15m          65Mi            
openfaas             nats-76b689f8d8-mkwtl                                  10m          51Mi            
openfaas             prometheus-5664d7cbb9-kchff                            20m          101Mi           
openfaas             queue-worker-5b7c5b898d-fqkv5                          7m           47Mi            
openfaas-fn          nodeinfo-857d9c469b-ww66k                              12m          63Mi 

If this seems like a lot of infrastructure for running a single function, then you may be interested in taking a look at a more minimal stack with faasd. faasd runs on a single host and makes different tradeoffs so that it requires very minimal resources to run functions.

Getting a TLS certificate

Let’s now get a TLS certificate so that we can serve traffic to clients securely.

First, create a DNS A record for the IP address of the Istio Ingress gateway using your preferred cloud dashboard and DNS service.

kubectl get svc -n istio-system istio-ingressgateway
NAME                   TYPE           CLUSTER-IP       EXTERNAL-IP
istio-ingressgateway   LoadBalancer   <pending>

inlets logo

Inlets can enable LoadBalancers and Controllers for local and private Kubernetes clusters

If you’re running within a private VPC, on-premises or on your laptop, then you will need to get a public IP for Istio through the inlets-operator. See a full guide to setting up the inlets-operator with Istio to provide an IP via a secure tunnel. That will then change <pending> to a fully accessible IP.

Otherwise, copy the IP or CNAME issued to you under EXTERNAL-IP and create your DNS entry. I’ll be using the domain faas.o6s.io.

cert-manager logo

cert-manager is a CNCF project for obtaining, renewing and managing TLS certificates

You can get a TLS certificate to serve traffic over HTTPS using cert-manager.

arkade install cert-manager

Now create an Issuer and register it with Let’s Encrypt:

export EMAIL="you@example.com"

cat > issuer.yaml <<EOF
apiVersion: cert-manager.io/v1
kind: Issuer
  name: letsencrypt-prod
  namespace: istio-system
    server: https://acme-v02.api.letsencrypt.org/directory
    email: $EMAIL
      name: letsencrypt-prod
    - selector: {}
          class: istio
kubectl apply -f issuer.yaml

Define a certificate:

export DOMAIN="faas.o6s.io"

cat > cert.yaml <<EOF
apiVersion: cert-manager.io/v1alpha2
kind: Certificate
  name: ingress-cert
  namespace: istio-system
  secretName: ingress-cert
  commonName: $DOMAIN
    name: letsencrypt-prod
    kind: Issuer
kubectl apply -f cert.yaml

You can then check the status of the issuer and certificate:

kubectl get issuer -n istio-system -o wide
NAME               READY   STATUS                                                 AGE
letsencrypt-prod   True    The ACME account was registered with the ACME server   2m22s

kubectl get certificate -n istio-system -o wide
NAME           READY   SECRET         ISSUER             STATUS                                          AGE
ingress-cert   True    ingress-cert   letsencrypt-prod   Certificate is up to date and has not expired   30s

Now finally update the IngressGateway we created earlier so that it uses the domain we have defined such as faas.o6s.io.

# gateway.yaml
cat > gateway.yaml <<EOF
apiVersion: networking.istio.io/v1alpha3
kind: Gateway
  name: openfaas-gateway
  namespace: openfaas
    istio: ingressgateway
  - port:
      number: 443
      name: https
      protocol: HTTPS
      mode: SIMPLE
      credentialName: ingress-cert
    - faas.o6s.io

kubectl apply -f gateway.yaml

At this point you can log into OpenFaaS via its public URL and access the nodeinfo function:

export OPENFAAS_URL="https://faas.o6s.io"
echo -n $PASSWORD | faas-cli login --username admin --password-stdin

Calling the OpenFaaS server to validate the credentials...

credentials saved for admin https://faas.o6s.io

Invoke the function:

curl -s -d "" $OPENFAAS_URL/function/nodeinfo

Valid TLS cert

You can also see the certificate if you open your browser

Wrapping up

In a short period of time we were able to deploy Istio and OpenFaaS Pro on a local KinD cluster and see Envoy’s sidecar providing mutual TLS encryption. We then went on to explore the additional resource consumption added by using Istio, and finally showed you how to create a TLS certificate for external traffic using a free certificate from Let’s Encrypt.

Istio is feature-rich, with extensive documentation and examples.

I found the FAQ answered many questions I had whilst preparing this tutorial and recommend taking a read: Istio FAQ.

A good place to start exploring what is possible, would be the Task-based section of the documentation. For instance, you could look into more advanced policies for routing and traffic shifting or partial weighting using VirtualServices for individual functions.

You may also like the workshop we created to show how to do mutual TLS and traffic shifting with OpenFaaS and Linkerd.

Do you have questions, comments or suggestions?

Do you have questions, comments or suggestions? Tweet to @openfaas.

If you’d like to use Istio with OpenFaaS, you can find out about options for OpenFaaS Pro here.

Alex Ellis

Founder of @openfaas.