Last modified September 29, 2021

Authentication for the Management API

Here we explain how you’ll authenticate against the Management API as a user. Also on this page, we provide some information for customer admins regarding the requirements for the initial single sign-on setup and some technical details you might be interested in.

Authenticating as a user

As a user of the Management API for any given installation, you need

  • A user account in the identity provider used by the installation (single sign-on).
  • The Management API endpoint URL of the installation. Alternatively, the web user interface URL.

Using kubectl gs login

Assuming that you want to work with the API using kubectl, we recommend you install the Giant Swarm plug-in named gs. It can be installed and updated using krew.

To set up your kubectl configuration with a context for your Giant Swarm installation’s Management API, execute the following command:

kubectl gs login <URL>

As a URL, use the Management API endpoint URL (normally starting with https://g8s.) or the web user interface URL (normally starting with https://happa.g8s.) of the installation.

More information can be found in the kubectl gs login manual page.

Authentication flow

In order to complete the authentication flow, kubectl gs will open your default web browser. If in that browser you are authenticated with your identity provider (determined e.g. via a cookie), you will see a confirmation page and can close the browser window again. However, if you weren’t authenticated with your identity provider yet, you’ll have to go through the authentication process you are used to. When this is done, a confirmation page will be shown.

As a result of running the command, your kubectl configuration has a new context, user, and cluster entry. The context is named according to the pattern


This context is selected automatically as the current context, so you are ready to use kubectl with the Management API.

When switching back to this context, it should not be necessary to go through the web-based authentication flow again. kubectl will automatically refresh the authentication token when needed, without your interaction.

Alternative method

You can alternatively initiate the single sign-on authentication directly in a browser, without the need of installing the kubectl gs plug-in.

We provide a web-based login helper utility, available under a URL specific for each installation. If you have your installation’s Management API endpoint URL, you can construct the utility’s URL by prepending login. to the host name.

If, for example, your Management API URL is


then the login utility can be accessed via


The tool will immediately redirect you to your identity provider’s authentication flow where you proceed providing your credentials as usual. After that, or if you are already authenticated in the current browser, you will be redirected to a resulting page.

The screenshot shows an example of that result page.

Login helper screenshot

Here you can inspect the details that will be passed to the Management API as part of the ID token. You can use this to verify the details coming from your identity provider, especially the email (which is used as your user identifier) and groups claim.

This page will also present your Management API endpoint’s certificate authority (CA) certificate. In order to connect to your Management API endpoint, you should add this CA certificate to your client’s trusted (root) certificates.

The rest of the page helps you set up kubectl manually, adaptable for various operating systems.

Authenticating for programmatic access

For programmatic access, for example from CI/CD pipelines, you should not rely on the above authentication mechanism. Instead, please use service accounts.

Each Giant Swarm installation provides a service account named automation in the default namespace.

Note: This service account comes with a quite powerful set permissions. We strongly recommend to create a specific service account for each application, binding it to specific roles granting only the required permissions in the required namespaces.

Single sign-on requirements

Giant Swarm assists all customers with setting up single sign-on (SSO) for the Management API. During that process, we make sure that these requirements are met:

  • As a customer, you need to decide on an identity provider to use. Most enterprise-grade organizations have a solution already in place. Since we use Dex as a connector between the Management API and your identity provider, we can support a variety of common standards like OpenID Connect (OIDC) and LDAP.

    For cases where no suitable identity provider is available, or not yet available, we recommend to use GitHub, where an organization and teams can be set up and managed easily.

  • Your identity provider must define a group to be considered as admins for the Giant Swarm installation. All members of this group automatically get administrative permissions when authenticating with the Management API.

Technical details

ID-token lifetime

By default, ID tokens for the Management API are issued with a lifetime of 30 minutes.

After that period, clients like kubectl will automatically attempt to get a fresh token from the identity provider. This does not require any additional user interaction. However, when this happens, the round-trip time for a kubectl command can be increased by a few seconds.

It is possible to configure a shorter token lifetime at the cost of more frequent delays due to token refreshing. Please contact your account engineer for assistance.