Replacing the NRP controller in SLATE

The SLATE platform provides a powerful, simple way to deploy a large variety of applications. In this blog post, we will talk about the new federation controller that we’ve created in order to allow Kubernetes clusters to be federated as well as discussion on how the new federation controller operates.


In order to function SLATE needs to be able to programmatically create namespaces and service accounts on Kubernetes clusters for itself and for organizations that will be running applications on federated clusters.

When a group is given access to a federated cluster, SLATE needs to create a new namespace and service account on the federated cluster and restrict the group’s access to that namespace. Prior to 2022, SLATE used the NRP Controller to handle creation of namespaces and service accounts. However, the NRP controller does not support Kubernetes 1.20 or later.

Due to this, SLATE needed to update the NRP controller to support modern Kubernetes (K8S) versions. However, while updating the NRP controller, other issues with the controller were discovered that required a rewrite of the controller.

NRP Controller Issues

There were several issues discovered with the NRP controller while investigating it. The first was that the current version of the NRP controller was effectively unmaintained. In addition, the controller did not work with recent versions of Kubernetes. Finally, the controller used fairly version old version of Go which did not support the current go modules packaging. Due to these issues, the decision was made to rewrite the NRP controller using modern Go and using the current Kubernetes API and client libraries.

Federation Controller basics

The SLATE federation controller does two things. First, it registers two cluster resource descriptors (CRDs) with the Kubernetes cluster. The first CRD ( creates the necessary namespace, service account, and role bindings to allow SLATE to use the cluster. The second CRD ( will generate a namespace, service account, and role bindings that SLATE groups will use when working with applications on the system.

The federation controller is in actuality two different controllers. Each controller monitors a single type of CRD. When CRDs are updated, created, or deleted the controller will take the corresponding actions.

The NRP controller was written using an older Go packaging system (golang/dep). The first task when updating the controller required updating the project to use go mod instead. This was fairly straightforward. Running go mod init created a basic go.mod file that was then modified to reference the needed modules.

A bigger change was updating the code to adhere to modern Go conventions. The old NRP code was written without using any Contexts. Although it required some work, updating the code to use Contexts throghout and to handle them was straightforward. Although a few places required using a TODO Context, the changes were made and the updated code did work. However, the code still did not support Kubernetes clusters using K8S 1.22 or later.

However after reviewing the updated controller code and the changes needed to support current versions of Kubernetes, the decision was made to rewrite the controller to work within the current Kubernetes controller model.

The K8S controller model is based on several components that work together to monitor CRDs on a K8S cluster and to update the cluster as CRDs are created, updated, or deleted. In essance, a controller uses a component called an Informer to query the cluster for the existance of the CRDs that it is interested in. The SLATE federation controller uses a variant called a SharedInformer to do this. A SharedInformer functions just like an Informer but uses a shared cache so that other controllers can also work with the CRD being monitored without having to worry about having outdated or invalid objects in their caches.

When CRDs are changed (created, updated, etc), the SharedInformer will dispatch updates to the resource handler for that CRD. Due to technical reasons, the updates get placed in a workqueue that then gets processed to make the corresponding updates to the cluster.

The federation controller implementation is primarily consists of code that monitors the workqueues and then updates namespaces, service accounts, and role-bindings appropriately. I.e. creating them when a CRD is created, and deleting them when the corresponding CRD is removed.

Controller Code Generation

The final changes needed to the code were a few technical ones due to the way the K8S client api works in Go. Since the new controller targetted Go 1.17, Go generics are not available. Due to this, the K8S client api requires using the codegen tool to generate code that will take json from the K8S api server and automatically convert it to a native Go type that matches the custom CRDs that are being used. This is done by defining the Go structures for the custom CRD types that the controller is interested in (cluster/clusternss). Then using the tooling from kubernetes/code-generator generates the appropriate code that will automatically convert json from the K8S api server into the appropriate Go types for the CRD.

Wrapping it up

Although rewriting software is not something that should be done on a whim, after initial efforts to update the NRP controller and review of the remaining work, a rewrite was warranted. The new federation controller used fairly modern Go code and K8S apis. It should operate on K8S for quite a while in the future thanks to the rewrite.

Suchandra Thapa