Authenticating to Cloud Platform with Service Accounts

This tutorial demonstrates how to create a Google Cloud service account, assign roles to authenticate to Cloud Platform services, and use service account credentials in applications running on Container Engine.

This example uses Cloud Pub/Sub, although the instructions can be applied to any Cloud Platform service. The example application in this tutorial authenticates to Cloud Pub/Sub using a service account and subscribes to messages published to a Pub/Sub topic from a Python-based application.


This tutorial demonstrates the following:

  • How to create a service account
  • How to assign necessary roles for your service account to work with Cloud Pub/Sub
  • How to save the account key as a Kubernetes Secret
  • How to use the service account to configure and deploy an application.

The sample application used in this tutorial subscribes to a Pub/Sub Topic and prints the messages published to the standard output. You must configure the application with correct permissions, use gcloud to publish messages and inspect the container’s output stream to observe the messages are received correctly.

Why use Service Accounts?

Each node in a container cluster is a Compute Engine instance. Therefore, applications running on a container cluster by default inherit the scopes of the Compute Engine instances they are running at.

Google Cloud Platform automatically creates a service account named “Compute Engine default service account” and associates it with any compute instances that are created. Depending on how your project is configured, the default service account may or may not have permissions to use other Cloud Platform APIs. Updating this account’s permissions is not the recommended way to authenticate to other Cloud Platform services from the Container Engine.

The recommended way to authenticate to Google Cloud Platform services from applications running on Container Engine is to create your own service accounts. Having service accounts that are distinct from the “Compute Engine default service account” provides the following benefits:

  • Better visibility into, and auditing of, the API requests your application makes.

  • The ability to revoke keys for particular applications, instead of sharing a service account and having to revoke API access of all applications at once.

  • Reduced exposure in case of a potential security incident where the credentials of the service account are compromised.

Before you begin

Take the following steps to enable the Google Container Engine API:
  1. Visit the Container Engine page in the Google Cloud Platform Console.
  2. Create or select a project.
  3. Wait for the API and related services to be enabled. This can take several minutes.
  4. Enable billing for your project.

    Enable billing

Install the following command-line tools used in this tutorial:

  • gcloud is used to create and delete Container Engine clusters gcloud is included in the Google Cloud SDK.
  • kubectl is used to manage Kubernetes, the cluster orchestration system used by Container Engine. You can install kubectl using gcloud:
    gcloud components install kubectl

Set defaults for the gcloud command-line tool

To save time typing your project ID and Compute Engine zone options in the gcloud command-line tool, you can set default configuration values by running the following commands:
$ gcloud config set project PROJECT_ID
$ gcloud config set compute/zone us-central1-b

Enable Pub/Sub API

For this tutorial, you need to enable the Cloud Pub/Sub API on your project as the sample application uses the Pub/Sub API to receive messages from the Pub/Sub topic:

Enable the API

Create a container cluster

Create a container cluster named pubsub-test to deploy the Pub/Sub subscriber application:

gcloud container clusters create pubsub-test

Step 1: Create a Pub/Sub topic

The Pub/Sub subscriber application you will deploy uses a subscription named echo-read on a Pub/Sub topic called echo. Create these resources before deploying the application:

gcloud beta pubsub topics create echo
gcloud beta pubsub subscriptions create echo-read --topic=echo

Step 2: Deploy Pub/Sub subscriber application

The next step is to deploy the application container to retrieve the messages published to the Pub/Sub topic. This application is written in Python using Google Cloud Pub/Sub client libraries and you can find the source code on GitHub.

The following manifest file describes a Deployment that runs a single instance of this application’s Docker image:

apiVersion: apps/v1beta1
kind: Deployment
  name: pubsub
        app: pubsub
      - name: subscriber

To deploy this manifest, download it to your machine as pubsub.yaml, and run:

kubectl apply -f pubsub.yaml

Once the application is deployed, query the pods by running:

$ kubectl get pods -l app=pubsub
NAME                      READY     STATUS             RESTARTS   AGE
pubsub-2009462906-1l6bh   0/1       CrashLoopBackOff   1          30s

You can see that the container is failing to start and went into a CrashLoopBackOff state. Inspect the logs from the Pod by running:

$ kubectl logs -l app=pubsub
google.gax.errors.RetryError: GaxError(Exception occurred in retry method
that was not classified as transient, caused by <_Rendezvous of RPC that
terminated with (StatusCode.PERMISSION_DENIED, Request had insufficient
authentication scopes.)>)

The stack trace and the error message indicates that the application does not have permissions to query the Cloud Pub/Sub service. This is because the “Compute Engine default service account” is not assigned any roles giving it permission to Cloud Pub/Sub.

To avoid using the node instance default service account or sharing a service account in multiple services, you must create a service account specifically for this application.

Step 3: Create service account credentials

To give the applications running on Container Engine access to Google Cloud Platform services, you need to use service accounts.

To create service account, go to Service Accounts on Cloud Platform Console and click Create Service Account:

  1. Specify a Service Account Name (for example, pubsub-app).
  2. In the Role dropdown, select “Pub/Sub → Subscriber”.
  3. Check Furnish a new private key and choose key type as JSON.
  4. Click Create.

Once the service account is created, a JSON key file containing the credentials of the service account is downloaded to your computer. You will use this key file to configure the application to authenticate to the Cloud Pub/Sub API.

Step 4: Import credentials as a Secret

Kubernetes offers the Secret resource type to store credentials inside the container cluster and use them in the applications deployed on Container Engine directly.

To save the JSON key file a Secret named pubsub-key, run the following command with the path to the downloaded service account credentials file:

kubectl create secret generic pubsub-key --from-file=key.json=<PATH-TO-KEY-FILE>.json

This command creates a Secret named pubsub-key that has a key.json file with the contents of the private key you downloaded from Cloud Platform Console. Once you create the Secret, you should remove the key file from your computer.

Step 5: Configure the application with the Secret

To use the pubsub-key Secret in your application, you need to modify the Deployment specification to:

  1. Define a volume with the secret.
  2. Mount the secret volume to the application container.
  3. Set the GOOGLE_APPLICATION_CREDENTIALS environment variable to point to the key file in the secret volume mount.

The updated manifest file looks like the following:

apiVersion: apps/v1beta1
kind: Deployment
  name: pubsub
        app: pubsub
      - name: google-cloud-key
          secretName: pubsub-key
      - name: subscriber
        - name: google-cloud-key
          mountPath: /var/secrets/google
          value: /var/secrets/google/key.json

This manifest file defines the following to make the credentials available to the application:

  • a volume named google-cloud-key which uses the Secret named pubsub-key.

  • a volume-mount, making the google-cloud-key available at /var/secrets/google directory inside the container

  • GOOGLE_APPLICATION_CREDENTIALS environment variable set as /var/secrets/google/key.json, which will contain the credentials file when the secret is mounted to the container as a volume

Note that the GOOGLE_APPLICATION_CREDENTIALS environment variable is automatically recognized by Google Cloud client libraries, in this case Cloud Pub/Sub client for Python.

To deploy this manifest, download it to your machine as pubsub-with-secret.yaml, and run:

kubectl apply -f pubsub-with-secret.yaml

Once it is deployed correctly, the Pod status should be listed as Running:

$ kubectl get pods -l app=pubsub
NAME                     READY     STATUS    RESTARTS   AGE
pubsub-652482369-2d6h2   1/1       Running   10         29m

Step 6: Test receiving Pub/Sub messages

Now that you configured the application, publish a message to the Pub/Sub Topic named echo:

gcloud beta pubsub topics publish echo "Hello, world!"

Within a few seconds, the message should be picked up by the application and printed to the output stream. To inspect the logs from the deployed Pod, run:

$ kubectl logs -l app=pubsub
Pulling messages from Pub/Sub subscription...
[2017-06-19 12:31:42.501123] ID=130941112144812 Data=Hello, world!

You have successfully configured an application on Container Engine to authenticate to Pub/Sub API using service account credentials!

Step 7: Clean up

  1. Clean up the Pub/Sub subscription and topic:

    gcloud beta pubsub subscriptions delete echo-read
    gcloud beta pubsub topics delete echo
  2. Delete the container cluster:

    gcloud container clusters delete pubsub-test

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