Node Images

This page describes the node images available for Google Kubernetes Engine nodes. To learn how to choose a node image, refer to Specifying a Node Image.


When you create a GKE cluster or node pool, you can choose the operating system image that runs on each node. You can also upgrade an existing cluster to use a different node image type.

Available node images

GKE offers the following node image options for your cluster:

Container-Optimized OS

The Container-Optimized OS node image is based on a recent version of the Linux kernel and is optimized to enhance node security. It is backed by a team at Google that can quickly patch it for security and iterate on features. The Container-Optimized OS image provides better support, security, and stability than other images.

Container-Optimized OS with containerd (cos_containerd)

Containerd is an important building block, and the core runtime component of Docker. cos_containerd is a variant of the Container-Optimized OS image with containerd as the main container runtime directly integrated with Kubernetes.

For debugging or troubleshooting on the node, you can interact with containerd using the portable command-line tool built for Kubernetes container runtimes: crictl. crictl supports common functionalities to view containers and images, read logs, and execute commands in the containers. Please see the crictl user guide for the complete set of supported features and usage information.

cos_containerd requires Kubernetes version 1.11.0 or higher.

For more information, visit Using Container-Optimized OS with containerd.


The Ubuntu node image has been validated against GKE's node image requirements. You should use the Ubuntu node image if your nodes require support for XFS, CephFS, Sysdig, or Debian packages.

Node image comparison

The following sections compare the operational aspects of the Container-Optimized OS and Ubuntu node images, including:

  • Automatic upgrade and repair
  • Software package management
  • System initialization
  • Logs collection
  • File system layout
  • Sysdig support
  • Storage driver support

Automatic upgrade and repair

Container-Optimized OS supports GKE's node auto-upgrade and node auto-repair features.

The Ubuntu node image does not support node auto-upgrade or node auto-repair, but those features are currently under development.

Software package manager

The cos and cos_containerd node images use a minimal root file system with built-in support for the Docker (containerd) container runtime, which also serves as the software package manager for installing software on the host. The Ubuntu image uses the Aptitude package manager.

Managing software on Container-Optimized OS

You cannot install software packages on a host with the Container-Optimized OS image (that is, outside of containers) or upgrade software packages independently. However, the Container-Optimized OS node image includes some common debugging tools in the image and provides a toolbox wrapper to run debugging tools of your choice. Some examples include:

sudo toolbox ping
sudo toolbox apt-get install psmisc
sudo toolbox pstree -p

For additional examples of how to use the wrapper to install additional software on a host with the cos node image, see the Container-Optimized OS how-to guides.

Managing software on Ubuntu

The Ubuntu image has the Aptitude package manager pre-installed. You can use the apt-get command to install packages on these images. For example, to install ceph packages:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install ceph

System initialization

Both the Container-Optimized OS and Ubuntu node image use systemd to manage system resources and services during the system initialization process.

Both node images use systemd service files to define services on the node, and systemd.targets to group boot targets via dependencies.

Logs collection

The Container-Optimized OS and Ubuntu node images use systemd-journald for collecting system-wide logs.

Viewing logs on Container-Optimized OS and Ubuntu

To view logs on a node with the Container-Optimized OS or Ubuntu node image, you must use the journalctl command. For example, to view Docker daemon logs:

sudo journalctl -u docker

To view kubelet logs:

sudo journalctl -u kubelet

File system layout

The Ubuntu node image uses the standard Linux file system layout.

The Container-Optimized OS node image file system layout is optimized to enhance node security. The boot disk space is split into three types of partitions:

  • Root partition, which is mounted as read-only
  • Stateful partitions, which are writable and stateful
  • Stateless partitions, which are writable but the contents do not persist across reboots

When using Container-Optimized OS, be aware of the partitioning if you run your own services that have certain expectations about the filesystem layout outside of containers.

Working with the Container-Optimized OS file system

The following is a list of paths in the Container-Optimized OS node image file system, along with their properties and recommended usage:

Path Properties Purpose
  • read-only
  • executable
The root filesystem is mounted as read-only to maintain integrity. The kernel verifies integrity root filesystem during boot up, and refuses to boot in case of errors.
  • writable
  • non-executable
  • stateful
These paths are meant for storing data that persists for the lifetime of the boot disk. They are mounted from /mnt/stateful_partition.
  • writable
  • executable
  • stateful
These paths are working directories for Compute Engine packages (for example, the accounts manager service), cloud-init, Docker, Kubelet, and Toolbox respectively.
  • writable
  • non-executable
  • stateless
  • tmpfs
/etc typically holds your configuration (for example, systemd services defined via cloud-init). It's a good idea to capture the desired state of your instances in cloud-init, as cloud-init is applied when an instance is newly created as well as when an instance is restarted.
  • writable
  • non-executable
  • stateless
  • tmpfs
/tmp is typically used as a scratch space and should not be used to store persistent data.
  • writable
  • executable
  • stateless
  • tmpfs
You can mount Persistent Disks at directories under /mnt/disks.

Storage driver support

Each node image differs in the kinds of storage plugins it supports. The following terms apply when describing a node image's support for a particular storage driver:

  • Yes - Fully Tested/Supported: This storage plugin is fully supported and tested with the specified node image.
  • Yes - Limited Testing: This storage plugin works with the specified node image, but have been tested only in a limited fashion; you might encounter unexpected behavior. For Container-Optimized OS, these plugins will eventually be fully tested and supported.
  • Unsupported: This storage plugin has not been tested or used with the specified node image and GKE cannot provide any guarantee of functionality. There are no plans to test this storage plugin.
  • No: This storage plugin does not work with the specified node image due to a limitation inherent to the node OS or Google Cloud Platform.

The following matrix describes how each GKE node image supports some common storage plugins.

Volume Type Does it work on Container-Optimized OS (cos)? Does it work on Ubuntu?
Google Compute Engine
Persistent Disk (EXT4 or XFS)
Yes - Fully Tested/Supported
(XFS is not supported.)
Yes - Fully Tested/Supported
GlusterFS Yes - Fully Tested/Supported
(XFS is not supported.)
Yes - Fully Tested/Supported
NFSv3 Yes - Fully Tested/Supported Yes - Fully Tested/Supported
NFSv4 Yes - Fully Tested/Supported Yes - Fully Tested/Supported
CephFS No Yes - Limited Testing
(Driver is not installed by default. You must install the ceph client, preferably via DaemonSet.)
Cinder No No
Fibre Channel No No
Flocker Unsupported Unsupported

Node VM modifications

Modifications on the boot disks of node VMs do not persist across node re-creations. Nodes are re-created during manual-upgrade, auto-upgrade, auto-repair, and auto-scaling. To preserve modifications across node re-creation, use a DaemonSet.

Node images release notes

Container-Optimized OS

Google provides comprehensive documentation for Container-Optimized OS:


Periodically, Google updates the Ubuntu images that are available for use on your cluster's Nodes. Refer to the GKE release notes for information about these updates, including a link to a manifest listing the packages that are installed by default.

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