May 18, 2023

What Is the Kubernetes Ingress Controller?

By Gilad David Maayan

Kubernetes Ingress Controller is a component within a Kubernetes cluster that manages the routing of external traffic to the appropriate services running inside the cluster. Ingress is an API object that defines how to route external HTTP and HTTPS traffic to services based on rules specified in the Ingress resource.

An Ingress Controller is responsible for fulfilling the rules specified in one or more Ingress resources. It watches the Kubernetes API for new or updated Ingress objects and updates the underlying load balancer or proxy accordingly. The controller ensures that incoming traffic is routed to the appropriate backend services based on the host and path specified in the Ingress rules.

How Do Kubernetes Ingress and Ingress Controllers Work?

Kubernetes ingress and ingress controllers work together to manage and route external traffic to the appropriate services within a Kubernetes cluster. Here’s an overview of their interaction and how they work together:

  1. Ingress definition: First, a user creates an Ingress resource that defines the routing rules for external traffic. These rules typically include information about the host, path, and the backend service to which the traffic should be forwarded. Ingress resources can also define TLS configurations for secure communication.
  2. Ingress Controller monitoring: An Ingress Controller is deployed within the cluster and continuously watches the Kubernetes API for new or updated Ingress resources.
  3. Ingress rules processing: When the Ingress Controller detects a new or updated Ingress resource, it processes the rules specified in the resource and updates its internal configuration accordingly.
  4. Load balancer or proxy configuration: The Ingress Controller is responsible for configuring the underlying load balancer or reverse proxy to route the external traffic according to the Ingress rules. This may involve creating or updating routing rules, setting up SSL certificates, and configuring backend services for load balancing and health checks.
  5. Routing external traffic: As external traffic arrives at the cluster, the Ingress Controller ensures that it is routed to the appropriate backend service according to the Ingress rules. The traffic is typically directed through a load balancer or reverse proxy, which then forwards the traffic to the corresponding Kubernetes service and eventually to the appropriate pods.
  6. Handling updates: If an Ingress resource is updated or a new one is created, the Ingress Controller detects the changes and updates the load balancer or proxy configuration as needed. Similarly, if a backend service or pod changes, the Ingress Controller may need to adjust its configuration to maintain proper routing.

Kubernetes Ingress Controller Benefits and Limitations

Benefits of Kubernetes ingress controllers:

  • Simplified traffic management: Ingress controllers centralize the management of external traffic to services within a Kubernetes cluster, making it easier to define and maintain routing rules.
  • Cost-effective load balancing: By using an ingress controller, you can eliminate the need for multiple external load balancers, reducing Kubernetes costs and simplifying your infrastructure.
  • Scalability: Ingress controllers can handle a high volume of traffic and can scale up or down to accommodate changes in demand. They can also distribute traffic to multiple backend services to improve load balancing and ensure high availability.
  • Extensibility: Many ingress controllers support custom plugins or middleware, allowing you to extend their functionality and tailor them to your specific requirements.

Limitations of Kubernetes Ingress Controllers:

  • Limited to HTTP/HTTPS traffic: Ingress controllers are designed primarily for managing HTTP and HTTPS traffic. For other types of network traffic, such as TCP or UDP, you may need to use alternative solutions like service objects with LoadBalancer or NodePort types or custom resources like Istio’s Gateway.
  • Implementation-specific features: Different ingress controllers may have their own set of features and capabilities, which can lead to inconsistencies when switching between them. This may require you to rewrite or reconfigure your Ingress resources when migrating to a different ingress controller.
  • Complexity: Ingress controllers can introduce additional complexity to your Kubernetes cluster, particularly when dealing with advanced features or custom configurations. This can increase the learning curve and operational overhead for your team, making kubernetes troubleshooting an essential skill.
  • Security considerations: Exposing services to external traffic through an ingress controller can introduce security risks if not configured correctly. You need to ensure that proper access controls, SSL/TLS configurations, and Kubernetes security policies are in place to protect your cluster and services.

Kubernetes Ingress Controller Solutions

NGINX Ingress Controller

NGINX Ingress Controller is a widely used solution that utilizes the flexible NGINX reverse proxy and load balancer to route traffic. It supports a range of features, such as URL rewriting, SSL termination, rate limiting, and custom annotations for advanced configurations.


  • Mature and widely adopted, with a large community and extensive documentation.
  • Highly customizable and extensible through custom annotations and ConfigMaps.
  • Improves Kubernetes performance and stability.


  • Configuration can be complex, particularly for advanced features or custom use cases.
  • Limited integration with service meshes, such as Istio.

Istio Ingress Gateway

Istio Ingress Gateway is part of the Istio service mesh, which provides advanced traffic management, security, and observability features for microservices deployed in a Kubernetes cluster. It extends the capabilities of traditional ingress controllers with additional routing and security features, making it a suitable choice for complex microservices architectures.


  • Integrated with Istio service mesh, providing advanced traffic management, security, and observability features.
  • Supports advanced routing rules, such as traffic splitting and fault injection.
  • Can be used alongside other Istio components for a unified approach to managing microservices.


  • Adds complexity to the cluster, as it requires installing and managing the Istio service mesh.
  • Steeper learning curve due to the additional concepts and components introduced by Istio.


Emissary is a Kubernetes-native, API Gateway built on the Envoy proxy. It focuses on providing a simple and developer-friendly experience for managing ingress traffic, with support for gRPC, WebSockets, and other protocols.


  • Developer-friendly, with an emphasis on simplicity and ease of use.
  • Supports advanced features, such as authentication, rate limiting, and circuit breaking.
  • Integrates with the Consul service mesh.


  • Smaller community and ecosystem compared to other ingress controllers.
  • May require additional configuration and setup for some advanced features.

Traefik Ingress Controller

Traefik is a modern, dynamic, and feature-rich ingress controller that emphasizes simplicity and ease of configuration. It supports dynamic configuration updates, canary deployments, and has built-in support for Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates.


  • Easy to configure, with an intuitive approach to defining Ingress resources.
  • Supports dynamic configuration updates without the need for manual intervention.
  • Built-in support for Let’s Encrypt, simplifying SSL certificate management.


  • While it has a growing community, it is still smaller than some other ingress controller solutions.
  • Advanced configurations may be less flexible compared to other solutions like NGINX.


In conclusion, Kubernetes Ingress Controllers are essential for managing and routing external traffic in a Kubernetes cluster. With various solutions like NGINX, Istio, Emissary, and Traefik available, organizations can choose based on their specific needs and expertise. Factors such as scalability, ease of configuration, extensibility, and integration should be considered for a robust and secure routing infrastructure in your Kubernetes deployments.

By Gilad David Maayan

Gilad David Maayan

Gilad David Maayan is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 technology companies including SAP, Imperva, Samsung NEXT, NetApp and Check Point, producing technical and thought leadership content that elucidates technical solutions for developers and IT leadership. Today he heads Agile SEO, the leading marketing agency in the technology industry.
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