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Pod Lifecycle

This page describes the lifecycle of a Pod. Pods follow a defined lifecycle, starting in the Pending phase, moving through Running if at least one of its primary containers starts OK, and then through either the Succeeded or Failed phases depending on whether any container in the Pod terminated in failure.

Whilst a Pod is running, the kubelet is able to restart containers to handle some kind of faults. Within a Pod, Kubernetes tracks different container states and determines what action to take to make the Pod healthy again.

In the Kubernetes API, Pods have both a specification and an actual status. The status for a Pod object consists of a set of Pod conditions. You can also inject custom readiness information into the condition data for a Pod, if that is useful to your application.

Pods are only scheduled once in their lifetime. Once a Pod is scheduled (assigned) to a Node, the Pod runs on that Node until it stops or is terminated.

Pod lifetime

Like individual application containers, Pods are considered to be relatively ephemeral (rather than durable) entities. Pods are created, assigned a unique ID (UID), and scheduled to nodes where they remain until termination (according to restart policy) or deletion. If a Node dies, the Pods scheduled to that node are scheduled for deletion after a timeout period.

Pods do not, by themselves, self-heal. If a Pod is scheduled to a node that then fails, or if the scheduling operation itself fails, the Pod is deleted; likewise, a Pod won't survive an eviction due to a lack of resources or Node maintenance. Kubernetes uses a higher-level abstraction, called a controller, that handles the work of managing the relatively disposable Pod instances.

A given Pod (as defined by a UID) is never "rescheduled" to a different node; instead, that Pod can be replaced by a new, near-identical Pod, with even the same name if desired, but with a different UID.

When something is said to have the same lifetime as a Pod, such as a volume, that means that the thing exists as long as that specific Pod (with that exact UID) exists. If that Pod is deleted for any reason, and even if an identical replacement is created, the related thing (a volume, in this example) is also destroyed and created anew.

Pod diagram

A multi-container Pod that contains a file puller and a web server that uses a persistent volume for shared storage between the containers.

Pod phase

A Pod's status field is a PodStatus object, which has a phase field.

The phase of a Pod is a simple, high-level summary of where the Pod is in its lifecycle. The phase is not intended to be a comprehensive rollup of observations of container or Pod state, nor is it intended to be a comprehensive state machine.

The number and meanings of Pod phase values are tightly guarded. Other than what is documented here, nothing should be assumed about Pods that have a given phase value.

Here are the possible values for phase:

Value Description
Pending The Pod has been accepted by the Kubernetes cluster, but one or more of the containers has not been set up and made ready to run. This includes time a Pod spends waiting to be scheduled as well as the time spent downloading container images over the network.
Running The Pod has been bound to a node, and all of the containers have been created. At least one container is still running, or is in the process of starting or restarting.
Succeeded All containers in the Pod have terminated in success, and will not be restarted.
Failed All containers in the Pod have terminated, and at least one container has terminated in failure. That is, the container either exited with non-zero status or was terminated by the system.
Unknown For some reason the state of the Pod could not be obtained. This phase typically occurs due to an error in communicating with the node where the Pod should be running.

If a node dies or is disconnected from the rest of the cluster, Kubernetes applies a policy for setting the phase of all Pods on the lost node to Failed.

Container states

As well as the phase of the Pod overall, Kubernetes tracks the state of each container inside a Pod. You can use container lifecycle hooks to trigger events to run at certain points in a container's lifecycle.

Once the scheduler assigns a Pod to a Node, the kubelet starts creating containers for that Pod using a container runtime. There are three possible container states: Waiting, Running, and Terminated.

To check the state of a Pod's containers, you can use kubectl describe pod <name-of-pod>. The output shows the state for each container within that Pod.

Each state has a specific meaning:


If a container is not in either the Running or Terminated state, it is Waiting. A container in the Waiting state is still running the operations it requires in order to complete start up: for example, pulling the container image from a container image registry, or applying Secret data. When you use kubectl to query a Pod with a container that is Waiting, you also see a Reason field to summarize why the container is in that state.


The Running status indicates that a container is executing without issues. If there was a postStart hook configured, it has already executed and finished. When you use kubectl to query a Pod with a container that is Running, you also see information about when the container entered the Running state.


A container in the Terminated state began execution and then either ran to completion or failed for some reason. When you use kubectl to query a Pod with a container that is Terminated, you see a reason, an exit code, and the start and finish time for that container's period of execution.

If a container has a preStop hook configured, that runs before the container enters the Terminated state.

Container restart policy

The spec of a Pod has a restartPolicy field with possible values Always, OnFailure, and Never. The default value is Always.

The restartPolicy applies to all containers in the Pod. restartPolicy only refers to restarts of the containers by the kubelet on the same node. After containers in a Pod exit, the kubelet restarts them with an exponential back-off delay (10s, 20s, 40s, …), that is capped at five minutes. Once a container has executed for 10 minutes without any problems, the kubelet resets the restart backoff timer for that container.

Pod conditions

A Pod has a PodStatus, which has an array of PodConditions through which the Pod has or has not passed:

  • PodScheduled: the Pod has been scheduled to a node.
  • ContainersReady: all containers in the Pod are ready.
  • Initialized: all init containers have started successfully.
  • Ready: the Pod is able to serve requests and should be added to the load balancing pools of all matching Services.
Field name Description
type Name of this Pod condition.
status Indicates whether that condition is applicable, with possible values "True", "False", or "Unknown".
lastProbeTime Timestamp of when the Pod condition was last probed.
lastTransitionTime Timestamp for when the Pod last transitioned from one status to another.
reason Machine-readable, UpperCamelCase text indicating the reason for the condition's last transition.
message Human-readable message indicating details about the last status transition.

Pod readiness

FEATURE STATE: Kubernetes v1.14 [stable]

Your application can inject extra feedback or signals into PodStatus: Pod readiness. To use this, set readinessGates in the Pod's spec to specify a list of additional conditions that the kubelet evaluates for Pod readiness.

Readiness gates are determined by the current state of status.condition fields for the Pod. If Kubernetes cannot find such a condition in the status.conditions field of a Pod, the status of the condition is defaulted to "False".

Here is an example:

kind: Pod
    - conditionType: ""
    - type: Ready                              # a built in PodCondition
      status: "False"
      lastProbeTime: null
      lastTransitionTime: 2018-01-01T00:00:00Z
    - type: ""        # an extra PodCondition
      status: "False"
      lastProbeTime: null
      lastTransitionTime: 2018-01-01T00:00:00Z
    - containerID: docker://abcd...
      ready: true

The Pod conditions you add must have names that meet the Kubernetes label key format.

Status for Pod readiness

The kubectl patch command does not support patching object status. To set these status.conditions for the pod, applications and operators should use the PATCH action. You can use a Kubernetes client library to write code that sets custom Pod conditions for Pod readiness.

For a Pod that uses custom conditions, that Pod is evaluated to be ready only when both the following statements apply:

  • All containers in the Pod are ready.
  • All conditions specified in readinessGates are True.

When a Pod's containers are Ready but at least one custom condition is missing or False, the kubelet sets the Pod's condition to ContainersReady.

Container probes

A Probe is a diagnostic performed periodically by the kubelet on a Container. To perform a diagnostic, the kubelet calls a Handler implemented by the container. There are three types of handlers:

  • ExecAction: Executes a specified command inside the container. The diagnostic is considered successful if the command exits with a status code of 0.

  • TCPSocketAction: Performs a TCP check against the Pod's IP address on a specified port. The diagnostic is considered successful if the port is open.

  • HTTPGetAction: Performs an HTTP GET request against the Pod's IP address on a specified port and path. The diagnostic is considered successful if the response has a status code greater than or equal to 200 and less than 400.

Each probe has one of three results:

  • Success: The container passed the diagnostic.
  • Failure: The container failed the diagnostic.
  • Unknown: The diagnostic failed, so no action should be taken.

The kubelet can optionally perform and react to three kinds of probes on running containers:

  • livenessProbe: Indicates whether the container is running. If the liveness probe fails, the kubelet kills the container, and the container is subjected to its restart policy. If a Container does not provide a liveness probe, the default state is Success.

  • readinessProbe: Indicates whether the container is ready to respond to requests. If the readiness probe fails, the endpoints controller removes the Pod's IP address from the endpoints of all Services that match the Pod. The default state of readiness before the initial delay is Failure. If a Container does not provide a readiness probe, the default state is Success.

  • startupProbe: Indicates whether the application within the container is started. All other probes are disabled if a startup probe is provided, until it succeeds. If the startup probe fails, the kubelet kills the container, and the container is subjected to its restart policy. If a Container does not provide a startup probe, the default state is Success.

For more information about how to set up a liveness, readiness, or startup probe, see Configure Liveness, Readiness and Startup Probes.

When should you use a liveness probe?

FEATURE STATE: Kubernetes v1.0 [stable]

If the process in your container is able to crash on its own whenever it encounters an issue or becomes unhealthy, you do not necessarily need a liveness probe; the kubelet will automatically perform the correct action in accordance with the Pod's restartPolicy.

If you'd like your container to be killed and restarted if a probe fails, then specify a liveness probe, and specify a restartPolicy of Always or OnFailure.

When should you use a readiness probe?

FEATURE STATE: Kubernetes v1.0 [stable]

If you'd like to start sending traffic to a Pod only when a probe succeeds, specify a readiness probe. In this case, the readiness probe might be the same as the liveness probe, but the existence of the readiness probe in the spec means that the Pod will start without receiving any traffic and only start receiving traffic after the probe starts succeeding. If your container needs to work on loading large data, configuration files, or migrations during startup, specify a readiness probe.

If you want your container to be able to take itself down for maintenance, you can specify a readiness probe that checks an endpoint specific to readiness that is different from the liveness probe.

Note: If you just want to be able to drain requests when the Pod is deleted, you do not necessarily need a readiness probe; on deletion, the Pod automatically puts itself into an unready state regardless of whether the readiness probe exists. The Pod remains in the unready state while it waits for the containers in the Pod to stop.

When should you use a startup probe?

FEATURE STATE: Kubernetes v1.18 [beta]

Startup probes are useful for Pods that have containers that take a long time to come into service. Rather than set a long liveness interval, you can configure a separate configuration for probing the container as it starts up, allowing a time longer than the liveness interval would allow.

If your container usually starts in more than initialDelaySeconds + failureThreshold × periodSeconds, you should specify a startup probe that checks the same endpoint as the liveness probe. The default for periodSeconds is 30s. You should then set its failureThreshold high enough to allow the container to start, without changing the default values of the liveness probe. This helps to protect against deadlocks.

Termination of Pods

Because Pods represent processes running on nodes in the cluster, it is important to allow those processes to gracefully terminate when they are no longer needed (rather than being abruptly stopped with a KILL signal and having no chance to clean up).

The design aim is for you to be able to request deletion and know when processes terminate, but also be able to ensure that deletes eventually complete. When you request deletion of a Pod, the cluster records and tracks the intended grace period before the Pod is allowed to be forcefully killed. With that forceful shutdown tracking in place, the kubelet attempts graceful shutdown.

Typically, the container runtime sends a TERM signal to the main process in each container. Many container runtimes respect the STOPSIGNAL value defined in the container image and send this instead of TERM. Once the grace period has expired, the KILL signal is sent to any remaining processes, and the Pod is then deleted from the API Server. If the kubelet or the container runtime's management service is restarted while waiting for processes to terminate, the cluster retries from the start including the full original grace period.

An example flow:

  1. You use the kubectl tool to manually delete a specific Pod, with the default grace period (30 seconds).
  2. The Pod in the API server is updated with the time beyond which the Pod is considered "dead" along with the grace period. If you use kubectl describe to check on the Pod you're deleting, that Pod shows up as "Terminating". On the node where the Pod is running: as soon as the kubelet sees that a Pod has been marked as terminating (a graceful shutdown duration has been set), the kubelet begins the local Pod shutdown process.
    1. If one of the Pod's containers has defined a preStop hook, the kubelet runs that hook inside of the container. If the preStop hook is still running after the grace period expires, the kubelet requests a small, one-off grace period extension of 2 seconds.
      Note: If the preStop hook needs longer to complete than the default grace period allows, you must modify terminationGracePeriodSeconds to suit this.
    2. The kubelet triggers the container runtime to send a TERM signal to process 1 inside each container.
      Note: The containers in the Pod receive the TERM signal at different times and in an arbitrary order. If the order of shutdowns matters, consider using a preStop hook to synchronize.
  3. At the same time as the kubelet is starting graceful shutdown, the control plane removes that shutting-down Pod from Endpoints (and, if enabled, EndpointSlice) objects where these represent a Service with a configured selector. ReplicaSets and other workload resources no longer treat the shutting-down Pod as a valid, in-service replica. Pods that shut down slowly cannot continue to serve traffic as load balancers (like the service proxy) remove the Pod from the list of endpoints as soon as the termination grace period begins.
  4. When the grace period expires, the kubelet triggers forcible shutdown. The container runtime sends SIGKILL to any processes still running in any container in the Pod. The kubelet also cleans up a hidden pause container if that container runtime uses one.
  5. The kubelet triggers forcible removal of Pod object from the API server, by setting grace period to 0 (immediate deletion).
  6. The API server deletes the Pod's API object, which is then no longer visible from any client.

Forced Pod termination

Caution: Forced deletions can be potentially disruptive for some workloads and their Pods.

By default, all deletes are graceful within 30 seconds. The kubectl delete command supports the --grace-period=<seconds> option which allows you to override the default and specify your own value.

Setting the grace period to 0 forcibly and immediately deletes the Pod from the API server. If the pod was still running on a node, that forcible deletion triggers the kubelet to begin immediate cleanup.

Note: You must specify an additional flag --force along with --grace-period=0 in order to perform force deletions.

When a force deletion is performed, the API server does not wait for confirmation from the kubelet that the Pod has been terminated on the node it was running on. It removes the Pod in the API immediately so a new Pod can be created with the same name. On the node, Pods that are set to terminate immediately will still be given a small grace period before being force killed.

If you need to force-delete Pods that are part of a StatefulSet, refer to the task documentation for deleting Pods from a StatefulSet.

Garbage collection of failed Pods

For failed Pods, the API objects remain in the cluster's API until a human or controller process explicitly removes them.

The control plane cleans up terminated Pods (with a phase of Succeeded or Failed), when the number of Pods exceeds the configured threshold (determined by terminated-pod-gc-threshold in the kube-controller-manager). This avoids a resource leak as Pods are created and terminated over time.

What's next

Last modified November 17, 2020 at 8:11 PM PST: Fix typo in container restart policy #25041 (983df6134)