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Version: 2.14 (deprecated)


Helm deployment support is in alpha stage

Pants has experimental support for managing deployments via the experimental-deploy goal. Helm deployments provides with a basic implementation of this goal.

Please share feedback for what you need to use Pants with your Helm deployments by either opening a GitHub issue or joining our Slack!


Helm's ultimate purpose is to simplify the deployment of Kubernetes resources and help in making these reproducible. However it is quite common to deploy the same software application into different kind of environments using slightly different configuration overrides.

This hinders reproducibility since operators end up having a set of configuration files and additional shell scripts that ensure that the Helm command line usued to deploy a piece of software into a given environment is always the same.

Pants solves this problem by providing with the ability to manage the configuration files and the different parameters of a deployment as single unit such that a simple command line as ./pants experimental-deploy :: will always have the same effect on each of the deployments previously defined.

Defining Helm deployments

Helm deployments are defined using the helm_deployment target which has a series of fields that can be used to guarantee the reproducibility of the given deployment. helm_deployment targets need to be added by hand as there is no deterministic way of instrospecting your repository to find sources that are specific to Helm:


There are quite a few things to notice in the previous example:

  • The helm_deployment target requires you to explicitly define as a dependency which chart to use.
  • We have three different deployments that using configuration files with the specified chart.
  • One of those value files (common-values.yaml) provides with default values that are common to all deployments.
  • Each deployment uses an additional xxx-override.yaml file with values that are specific to the given deployment.

The helm_deployment target has many additional fields including the target kubernetes namespace, adding inline override values (similar to using helm's --set arg) and many others. Please run ./pants help helm_deployment to see all the posibilities.

Dependencies with docker_image targets

A Helm deployment will in most cases deploy one or more Docker images into Kubernetes. Furthermore, it's quite likely there is going to be at least a few first party Docker images among those. Pants is capable of analysing the Helm chart being used in a deployment to detect those required first-party Docker images using Pants' target addresses to those Docker images.

To illustrate this, let's imagine the following scenario: Let's say we have a first-party Docker image that we want to deploy into Kubernetes as a Pod resource kind. For achieving this we define the following workspace:

Docker image references VS Pants' target addresses

You should use typical Docker registry addresses in your Helm charts. Because Helm charts are distributable artifacts and may be used with tools other than Pants, you should create your charts such that when that chart is being used, all Docker image addresses are valid references to images in accessible Docker registries. As shown in the example, we recommend that you make the image address value configurable, especially for charts that deploy first-party Docker images. Your chart resources can still use off-the-shelf images published with other means, and in those cases you will also be referencing the Docker image address. Usage of Pants' target addresses is intended for your own first-party images because the image reference of those is not known at the time we create the sources (they are computed later).

With this setup we should be able to run ./pants dependencies src/deployment and Pants should give the following output:


This should work with any kind of Kubernetes resource that leads to Docker image being deployed into Kubernetes, such as Deployment, StatefulSet, ReplicaSet, CronJob, etc. Please get in touch with us in case you find Pants was not capable to infer dependencies in any of your helm_deployment targets by either opening a GitHub issue or joining our Slack.

How the Docker image reference is calculated during deployment?

Pants' will rely on the behaviour of the docker_image target when it comes down to generate the final image reference. Since a given image may have more than one valid image reference, Pants will try to use the first one that is not tagged as latest, falling back to latest if none could be found. It's good practice to publish your Docker images using tags other than latest and Pants preferred behaviour is to choose those as this guarantees that the version of the Docker image being deployed is the expected one.

Value files

It's very common that Helm deployments use a series of files providing with values that customise the given chart. When using deployments that may have more than one YAML file as the source of configuration values, the Helm backend needs to sort the file names in a way that is consistent across different machines, as the order in which those files are passed to the Helm command is relevant. The final order depends on the same order in which those files are specified in the sources field of the helm_deployment target. For example, given the following BUILD file:

helm_deployment(name="dev", dependencies=["//src/chart"], sources=["first.yaml", "second.yaml", "last.yaml"])

This will result in the Helm command receiving the value files as in that exact order.

If using any glob pattern in the sources field, the plugin will first group the files according to the order in which those glob patterns are listed. In this grouping, files that are resolved by more than one pattern will be part of the most specific group. Then we use alphanumeric ordering for the files that correspond to each of the previous groups. To illustrate this scenario, consider the following list of files:


And also the following helm_deployment target definition:

helm_deployment(name="dev", dependencies=["//src/chart"], sources=["first.yaml", "*.yaml", "dev/*-override.yaml", "dev/*.yaml", "last.yaml"])

In this case, the final ordering of the files would be as follows:


We believe that this approach gives a very consistent and predictable ordering while at the same time total flexibility to the end user to organise their files as they best fit each particular case of a deployment.

Inline values

In addition to value files, you can also use inline values in your helm_deployment targets by means of the values field. All inlines values that are set this way will override any entry that may come from value files.

Inline values are defined as a key-value dictionary, like in the following example:

"nameOverride": "my_custom_name",
"image.pullPolicy": "Always",

Using dynamic values

Inline values also support interpolation of environment variables. Since Pants runs all processes in a hermetic sandbox, to be able to use environment variables you must first tell Pants what variables to make available to the Helm process using the [helm].extra_env_vars option. Consider the following example:

"configmap.deployedAt": "{env.DEPLOY_TIME}",

Now you can launch a deployment using the following command:

DEPLOY_TIME=$(date) ./pants experimental-deploy src/deployment:dev
Ensuring repeatable deployments

You should always favor using static values (or value files) VS dynamic values in your deployments. Using interpolated environment variables in your deployments can render your deployments non-repetable anymore if those values can affect the behaviour of the system deployed, or what gets deployed (i.e. Docker image addresses). Dynamic values are supported to give the option of passing some info or metadata to the software being deployed (i.e. deploy time, commit hash, etc) or some less harmful settings of a deployment (i.e. replica count. etc). Be careful when chossing the values that are going to be calculated dynamically.

Third party chart artifacts

Previous examples on the usage of the helm_deployment target are all based on the fact that the deployment declares a dependency on a Helm chart that is also part of the same repository. Since charts support having dependencies with other charts in the same repository or with external 3rd party Helm artifacts (declared as helm_artifact), all that dependency resolution is handled for us.

However, helm_deployments are not limited to only first party charts, as it is also possible to declare a deployment having a dependency on a 3rd party Helm artifact instead. As an example, consider the following workspace layout:


In this example, the deployment at src/deploy:main declares a dependency on a 3rd party Helm artifact instead of a chart in the same repository. The only difference in this case when compared to first party charts is that Pants will resolve and fetch the third party artifact automatically. Once the artifact has been resolved, there is no difference to Pants.


Continuing with the example in the previous section, we can deploy it into Kubernetes using the command ./pants experimental-deploy src/deployment. This will trigger the following steps:

  1. Analyse the dependencies of the given deployment.
  2. Build and publish any first-party Docker image and Helm charts that are part of those dependencies.
  3. Post-process the Kubernetes manifests generated by Helm by replacing all references to first-party Docker images by their real final registry destination.
  4. Initiate the deployment of the final Kubernetes resources resulting from the post-processing.

The experimental-deploy goal also supports default Helm pass-through arguments that allow to change the deployment behaviour to be either atomic or a dry-run or even what is the Kubernetes config file (the kubeconfig file) and target context to be used in the deployment.

Please note that the list of valid pass-through arguments has been limited to those that do not alter the reproducibility of the deployment (i.e. --create-namespace is not a valid pass-through argument). Those arguments will have equivalent fields in the helm_deployment target.

For example, to make an atomic deployment into a non-default Kubernetes context you can use a command like the following one:

./pants experimental-deploy src/deployments:prod -- --kube-context my-custom-kube-context --atomic
How does Pants authenticate with the Kubernetes cluster?

Short answer is: it doesn't. Pants will invoke Helm under the hood with the appropriate arguments to only perform the deployment. Any authentication steps that may be needed to perform the given deployment have to be done before invoking the experimental-deploy goal. If you are planning to run the deployment procedure from your CI/CD pipelines, ensure that all necessary preliminary steps (including authentication with the cluster) are done before the one that triggers the deployment.