Upgrading Linkerd

Generally speaking, Linkerd is designed for safe, in-place upgrades with no application downtime, when upgraded between consecutive stable versions—for example, from 2.11.1 to 2.12.0. (Upgrades that skip stable versions are sometimes possible, but are not always guaranteed; see the version-specific release notes for details.)

Note that, due to constraints that Kubernetes imposes, true zero-downtime upgrades are only possible if application components can themselves be “rolled” with zero downtime, as upgrading the data plane involves rolling injected workloads.

Upgrading Linkerd is done in two stages: control plane first, then data plane. To accomplish this, Linkerd’s data plane proxies are compatible with a control plane that is one stable version ahead; e.g. 2.11.1 data plane proxies can safely function with a 2.12.0 control plane.

For Linkerd Enterprise customers, version upgrades can be performed automatically via the lifecycle automation component. This will handle both control plane and data plane components, and will ensure that upgrades are done safely by, among other things, keeping version skew between the two within acceptable bounds.

For open source Linkerd, upgrading the control plane can be done via the linkerd upgrade command or via Helm. In either case, this will trigger a rolling deploy of control plane components, which should allow critical components to be upgraded without downtime. (Note that, in the event something does go wrong, Linkerd’s data plane proxies will continue functioning even if the control plane is unreachable; however, they will not receive service discovery updates.)

Once the control plane has been updated, the proxy-injector component will start injecting data plane proxies from the corresponding (newer) version. Since Kubernetes treats pods as immutable, upgrading the data plane thus requires rolling application components Fortunately, because of the forward compatibility between data plane proxy and control plane described above, these data plane upgrades can be done “lazily”—it is not necessary to immediately roll data plane deployments after upgrading the control plane.

Thus, our recommended steps for upgrading open source Linkerd deployments are:

  • Thoroughly read through the version-specific upgrade notes for the new release.
  • Survey the data plane versions at play in the cluster (e.g. via linkerd check --proxy) and ensure that existing data plane versions are within parameters for the new control plane version. Typically, they should all be the same version corresponding to one stable release prior to the version to which you want to upgrade.
  • Upgrade the control plane by following the documentation, and monitoring for changes.
  • Upgrade the data plane by rolling application components when possible.

As with all modifications of critical system software, extreme care should be taken during the upgrade process. In our experience, human error is almost always the source of software failures.

Version-specific upgrade notes are published in the Linkerd Upgrade documentation.