Installing YAML with Helm

Tilt supports Helm out-of-the-box.

There are two major ways we see teams use Helm charts with Tilt.

  • Install a Helm chart from the rich library of existing charts.

  • Iterate on a Helm chart that you’re building.

Let’s dig into each one.

Installing existing charts

Many off-the-shelf tools have Helm charts. The chart is an easy way to install a collection of objects into your Kubernetes cluster.

The helm_resource extension makes this easy.

Here’s an example that deploys the Bitnami mysql chart:

# Tiltfile

load('ext://helm_resource', 'helm_resource', 'helm_repo')
helm_repo('bitnami', 'https://charts.bitnami.com/bitnami')
helm_resource('mysql', 'bitnami/mysql')

Visit Artifact Hub to find Helm charts for many off-the-shelf tools. They each list the repo URL and chart name to use with helm_resource.

Pros and Cons of helm_resource()

The helm_resource function has additional options for adding flags to helm install, redeploying on file changes, and injecting images built locally.

Under the hood, here’s how it works:

  • On tilt up, helm_resource will install your chart with helm install.

  • When the install is finished, helm_resource will tell about the objects it installed.

  • Tilt will display any logs, events, or health checks in the Tilt UI.

This is perfect if you’re installing a new operator or server into your dev environment, but don’t need to debug the installation process.

If you’re using Helm to organize your own servers, this can be a bit opaque. So Tilt also offers a second approach.

Iterate on chart YAML

The helm built-in function lets you load from a chart on your filesystem.

Calling helm() runs helm template on a chart directory and returns a blob of the Kubernetes YAML, which you can then deploy with k8s_yaml.

k8s_yaml(helm('./charts/my-chart'))

When you make edits to the files in the chart directory, Tilt will automatically re-deploy the chart.

helm() Options

The helm function has a few options for common arguments:

yaml = helm(
  'path/to/chart/dir',
  # The release name, equivalent to helm --name
  name='release-name',
  # The namespace to install in, equivalent to helm --namespace
  namespace='my-namespace',
  # The values file to substitute into the chart.
  values=['./path/to/chart/dir/values-dev.yaml'],
  # Values to set from the command-line
  set=['service.port=1234', 'ingress.enabled=true']
  )
k8s_yaml(yaml)

Pros and Cons of helm()

The helm() function treats Helm as a YAML templating tool. You then register the YAML so that Tilt can deploy it.

Tilt can validate your YAML, split it into individual resources for each server, and auto-inject images that you built locally. This makes it a good fit when you’re developing your own chart.

But modern Helm charts are more than just YAML. Helm supports chart hooks for modifying the install process. Helm can also read settings from your cluster, and make installation decisions based on what cluster you’re using.

The helm() function uses Tilt’s deployment engine, so skips the chart hooks. It’s offline-only. If you want to install a remote chart, you need to use the helm_remote extension to download the chart locally.

Remote charts

The helm_remote extension downloads remote charts and loads their YAML with helm().

Here’s an example that deploys the bitnami/mysql chart:

# Tiltfile

load('ext://helm_remote', 'helm_remote')
helm_remote('mysql',
            repo_name='bitnami',
            repo_url='https://charts.bitnami.com/bitnami')

To customize the chart with your own values.yaml settings, see the helm_remote README for additional options to configure the chart.

Sub-charts and requirements.txt

If you have chart dependencies, you need to run:

helm dep update

outside of Tilt to download the dependencies to your repo. Then create a .tiltignore with the contents:

**/charts
**/tmpcharts

Or, if you want be more cautious:

path/to/your/chart/charts
path/to/your/chart/tmpcharts

When Helm runs, it touches these chart directories. Adding these lines ensures that Tilt doesn’t reload the Tiltfile every time Helm touches them.

Advanced Helm

Helm can also do more advanced templating – like downloading remote charts and injecting run-time variables.

Fortunately, Tilt has a plugin API. You can tell it how to shell out to other build and deploy tools.

The plugin API has two important functions:

  • local() for running local shell commands

  • watch_file() for telling Tilt to reload its configuration when a file changes

Let’s take a look at some common recipes for using the plugin API with Helm.

Example Repo

If you prefer to play with a code sample, see

tilt-dev/tilt-helm-demo

Re-implementing the helm() built-in

To start, let’s try implementing the helm() built-in ourselves.

k8s_yaml(local('helm template path/to/chart/dir'))
watch_file('path/to/chart/dir')

The real helm() built-in handles some extra optimizations and edge cases, but that’s basically all it does!

Passing a single variable

Now that we know how to shell out to helm, we can pass arbitrary flags. Let’s try using --set to set a variable.

k8s_yaml(local('helm template --set key1=val1,key2=val2 path/to/chart/dir'))
watch_file('path/to/chart/dir')

Passing a values file

If you’re passing a lot of variables, it’s usually better to put those in a values.yaml file.

k8s_yaml(local('helm template -f ./values.yaml path/to/chart/dir'))
watch_file('path/to/chart/dir')
watch_file('values.yaml')

Other Helm tools

There are other helm tools like helmfile for working with Helm charts.

We can use the same plugin commands to implement those as well. In this example, we factor out helmfile into a helper function.

# Helper function to read K8s config YAML from helmfile.
def helmfile(file):
  watch_file(file)
  return local("helmfile -f %s template" % file)

# Tell Tilt to apply to k8s config generated by helmfile.
k8s_yaml(helmfile("k8s/staging/helmfile.yaml"))

You can try out this example yourself in this example repo.