Shipper is an extension for Kubernetes to add sophisticated rollout strategies and multi-cluster orchestration.

It lets you use kubectl to manipulate objects which represent any kind of rollout strategy, like blue/green or canary. These strategies can deploy to one cluster, or many clusters across the world.

Why does Shipper exist?

Kubernetes is a wonderful platform, but implementing mature rollout strategies on top of it requires subtle multi-step orchestration: Deployment objects are a building block, not a solution.

When implemented as a set of scripts in CI/CD systems like Jenkins, GitLab, or Brigade, these strategies can become hard to debug, or leave out important properties like safe rollbacks.

These problems become more severe when the rollout targets multiple Kubernetes clusters in multiple regions: the complex, multi-step orchestration has many opportunities to fail and leave clusters in inconsistent states.

Shipper helps by providing a higher level API for complex rollout strategies to one or many clusters. It simplifies CI/CD pipeline scripts by letting them focus on the parts that matter to that particular application.

What is Shipper from a technical point of view?

Shipper is a collection of Kubernetes controllers that work with custom Kubernetes objects to provide a declarative API for advanced rollouts. These controllers continuously monitor the clusters involved, and converge them on the declared state. They act as control loops for the different aspects of a rollout: capacity management, traffic shifting, and Kubernetes object installation.

For example, you might have a Shipper Application like this:

kind: Application
  name: reviews-api
    # helm chart for this application
      name: reviews-api
      version: "0.0.1"
    # how to select clusters to deploy to
      - name: us-east1
    # the rollout strategy
      - name: canary
          incumbent: 100
          contender: 10
          incumbent: 9
          contender: 1
      - name: all-in
          incumbent: 0
          contender: 100
          incumbent: 0
          contender: 10
    # the values for the helm chart
        tag: v0.1.0

In this example, we’re defining an Application named reviews-api. It uses a Helm Chart of the same name, and deploys to a cluster in the us-east1 region. It uses a two step rollout strategy: a basic canary step with a bit of traffic for the new version, then “all-in”. It populates the Helm Chart with values specifying the image tag.

In order to make this declared state a reality, Shipper will select a matching cluster, install the Chart objects into that cluster, and with your guidance, progress through the rollout strategy until the new release is fully live.

Multi-cluster, multi-region, multi-cloud

Shipper can deploy your application to multiple clusters in different regions.

It expects a Kubernetes API and requires no agent in the application clusters, so it should work with any compliant Kubernetes implementation like GKE or AKS. If you can use kubectl with it, chances are, you can use Shipper with it as well.

Release Management

Shipper doesn’t just copy-paste your code onto multiple clusters for you – it allows you to customize the rollout strategy fully. This allows you to craft a rollout strategy with the appropriate speed/risk balance for your particular situation.

After each step of the rollout strategy, Shipper pauses to wait for another update to the Release object. This checkpointing approach means that rollouts are fully declarative, scriptable, and resumable. Shipper can keep a rollout on a particular step in the strategy for ten seconds or ten hours. At any point the rollout can be safely aborted, or moved backwards through the strategy to return to an earlier state.

Roll Backs

Since Shipper keeps a record of all your successful releases, it allows you to roll back to an earlier release very easily.

Charts As Input

Shipper installs a complete set of Kubernetes objects for a given application.

It does this by relying on Helm, and using Helm Charts as the unit of configuration deployment. Shipper’s Application object provides an interface for specifying values to a Chart just like the helm command line tool.