Rancher 2: Getting Started

Rancher 2: Getting Started

You may be in the situation like me: you have already extensively used Rancher v1.6.x but would like to migrate to Rancher v2.0.x. For those who don’t know, Rancher is a Docker Orchestration tool.

While trying to setup a development machine with Rancher 2 installed, I came accross numerous different issues. I’ve spent hours figuring out how to fix them.

This tutorial is all about sharing the tips and tricks to avoid you waste time:

  • The requirements to run Rancher 2 (based on Kubernetes)
  • How to configure Rancher 2 to run on different ports (other than the default 80 and 443),
  • How to run Rancher 2 with an Ingress Controller on the same machine,
  • How to link your Ingress to an external service (like Jenkins),
  • Migrating existing services from Rancher v1.6.x to Rancher v2.0.x,
  • And many other tips along the way!

Let’s see how to setup and run Rancher 2.


As it’s our development and CI machine, we need to run the following services:

  • Jenkins: Our Continuous Integration server. It must be accessible through https://jenkins.octoperf.com from the internet, and runs on my local area network machine on port 8082 (but I don’t want to expose this port to the internet),
  • Sonarqube: Our code analysis tool. It must be accessible through https://sonarqube.octoperf.com from the internet, and runs inside a Docker container,
  • Elasticsearch: the database must be running locally for testing purpose. I use it when running our platform from our sources.

As we can see, I need to be able to root traffic from DNS hostnames (likle jenkins.octoperf.com) to a very specific application on my machine.

As a first step, I have created a NAT Rule to root all traffic on port 443 to my local machine (with IP 192.168.0.xx on my local area network).

    | Static Public IP
[ ADSL Router ]
    | NAT on port 443
[ 192.168.0.xx ]
    | Listening on port 443
[ Ingress ]
[ ? ]

The schema above shows how it will operate. And here we have the following problematics:

  • Both sub-domains jenkins.octoperf.com and sonarqube.octoperf.com point to the same public IP (my Broadband Router’s one). How to direct traffic arriving on the same IP to different applications?
  • How to run Rancher and Ingress on the same computer? After all, both need to listen on port 443 by default.
jenkins.octoperf.com   --|                 |-> 192.168.0.xx:8082
                         | xxx.xxx.xxx.xx  |
sonarqube.octoperf.com --|                 |-> sonarqube:9000

I’m going to answer to those questions below. Let’s go!

Machine Setup


I think it’s worth to talk about the differences between Rancher v1.6.x vs v2.0.x.

Rancher v1.6.x was mostly written in Java. It’s based on a proprietary system called Cattle to handle much of the fluff including networking (via IPSec Tunneling), DNS, health checks, clustering on multiple hosts and more. At that time, there was no clear winner between several clustering systems:

  • Apache Mesos: Apache Mesos abstracts CPU, memory, storage, and other compute resources away from machines,
  • Kubernetes: an open-source system for automating deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications,
  • And Cattle: Rancher’s own system.

After a while, Kubernetes took the lead. It emerged as the standard for clustering apps with Docker on clusters of nodes. So naturally, instead of reinventing the wheel, Rancher was rewritten from the ground in GoLang to become an installation and management tool for Kubernetes clusters.

I must admit, I was quite dubitative we would ever need Kubernetes. It looked like a huge Steam Powered machine from the outside. We like when things are simple and maintainable. And we were happy with Rancher v1.6.x too.

But, as we decoupled our product from Rancher v1.6.x just a few weeks ago, we now have the possibility to upgrade our Rancher server with much less pain.


I’m going to setup Rancher 2 on my development machine with the following configuration:

  • CPU: 2x Intel Xeon E5 2670,
  • RAM: 128GB,
  • Disk: 480GB SSD Disk,
  • Operating System: Ubuntu 16.04LTS.

The setup is based on Ubuntu Linux. As I haven’t any machine running on Windows, I can’t really help you in that case. And yes, I know the machine is pretty insane with 16 cpu cores and 128GB RAM. But I got it for about 1000€ several years ago, and I really think it’s the perfect setup for a development machine.

Docker Setup

As specified in Provisioning a Linux Host, in Rancher’s documentation, only a few Docker versions are compatible with Rancher 2:

  • 1.12.6,
  • 1.13.1,
  • and 17.03.2.

Why? To make things simple: because Rancher 2 is a tool to setup and administer a Kubernetes Cluster.

I naïvely tried to install it on my machine with Docker 18.05-ce: needless to say it failed with an obscur error like:

Found state.json: 931882e24ff0ef67b0e8744dbf1f7e04fd68afe714a29a2522293312824f3c51
time="2018-05-06T06:09:15Z" level=info msg="Execing [/usr/bin/nsenter --mount=/proc/21787/ns/mnt -F -- /var/snap/docker/common/var-lib-docker/aufs/mnt/5d00bd40adec6662aaec8ea2a5f5ce6a332e9dbfad087a008c5c89b7cac4c22f/usr/bin/share-mnt --stage2 /var/lib/kubelet /var/lib/rancher -- norun]"
Error response from daemon: {"message":"No such container: kubelet"}
Error: failed to start containers: kubelet

I would recommend downgrading to Docker 17.03.2-ce:

  • First remove any existing docker-ce package: sudo apt remove docker-ce --purge,
  • Then, download Rancher’s 17.03.2.sh installation script,
  • Open a terminal and run chmod +x 17.03.2.sh && ./17.03.2.sh.

If you try to install this version today without this script on Ubuntu 16.04LTS, It will fail! The reason is the oldest available version on Docker’s APT repository is 17.04-ce.

Now that we have the right Docker version, let’s see how to run Rancher 2.

Rancher Container

As it’s a development machine, i’m going to follow the Single Node Installation guide. As explained in this documentation, Rancher 2 requires both HTTP port 80 and HTTPS port 443 to be mapped.

Protocol Port Source Description
TCP 80 Load balancer/proxy that does external SSL termination Rancher UI/API when external SSL termination is used
TCP 443 etcd nodes, controlplane nodes, worker nodes Hosted/Imported Kubernetes, any that needs to be able to use UI/API rancher agent, Rancher UI/API, kubectl

Also worth to mention: directly map /var/lib/rancher volume to your local disk. That way, you won’t loose any configuration if you need to destroy and start Rancher’s container again.

You’re supposed to run the following command to run Rancher 2 as a container:

docker run -d --restart=unless-stopped \
  -p 80:80 -p 443:443 \
  -v /host/rancher:/var/lib/rancher \

Make sure to use rancher/rancher:v2.0.x, where v2.0.x must be replaced by the latest Rancher 2 version. Sadly latest cannot be used as v1.6.x releases also write to this tag.

But, I’m planning to run an Ingress controller:

[ Ingress ]
[ Services ]

Typically, an Ingress is a load-balancer which exposes your services to the internet through a unique port. There are various possible strategies including the one i’m interested in, Name based virtual hosting:

jenkins.octoperf.com   --|                 |-> 192.168.0.xx:8082
                         | xxx.xxx.xxx.xx  |
sonarqube.octoperf.com --|                 |-> sonarqube:9000

But, the problem i’m facing:

  • I want to use Ingress: because my machine is running both Sonarqube and Jenkins for our dev team,
  • Ingress uses port 80 and 443, like Rancher 2 does. There is a port conflict, both cannot use the same,
  • Jenkins is not running within Kubernetes, but as a simple Tomcat on my own machine. But, it needs to be accessible from inside Kubernetes from the Ingress.

Let’s see how to solve those issues.

Rancher Setup

Listening Ports

We’re going to configure Rancher slightly differently than with the default setup:

  • Port 80 left closed: as it’s only used when Rancher is behind a load-balancer that does SSL Termination, i’m not gonna use it. My Rancher is not accessible from internet,
  • Port 443: i’ll use port 8443 instead.

Thus, to start Rancher, i’m going to use the following command:

docker run -d --restart=unless-stopped \
  -p 8443:443 \
  -v /host/rancher:/var/lib/rancher \

Rancher 2 UI

Great! Now we have Rancher 2 running on port 8443. But it’s not finished yet:

  • Browse to https://localhost:8443,
  • Setup the admin account and login,
  • Click on Global in top left corner,
  • Then select menu Settings,
  • Locate server-url setting. It should be something like https://192.168.0.xx, (My LAN uses CIDR)
  • Change this setting to https://192.168.0.xx:8443.

IMPORTANT! Changing Rancher’s server-url setting must be done prior to installing nodes within a cluster. Otherwise agents won’t be able to communicate with Rancher.

Rancher 2 Server Url

Great! Rancher is now properly configured, it’s time to create a new cluster and add a node. We have solved upfront the following issue: Free the 443 port so that Ingress can use it.

Cluster Setup

To setup a new cluster:

  • Click on Clusters,
  • Then click on Add Cluster button,
  • Select Custom flavor: when installing the node on your own machine,
  • Give the cluster a name and click on Next,
  • In node roles, select all options (etcd, controlplane and worker): our single-node local setup has all the components in one place.

Rancher 2 Cluster Settings

The command-line to launch an agent should look like:

sudo docker run -d --privileged \
--restart=unless-stopped --net=host \
-v /etc/kubernetes:/etc/kubernetes \
-v /var/run:/var/run rancher/rancher-agent:v2.0.2 \
--server https://192.168.0.xx:8443 \
--token xxxxx --ca-checksum xxxxxxx \
--etcd --controlplane --worker

Copy the command and run it on the same machine. After a few minutes, the node should be registered and initialized. It can take 10+ minutes because it downloads many Rancher Kubernete Engine (known as RKE) docker images.

Node Cleanup Script

Suppose you have forgotten to properly configure Rancher prior to launching the agent. Or for some odd reasons, the node is not working properly. The following script cleans:

  • All the containers running on the machine: be careful, Rancher server container will be wiped too (except you should have mapped /var/lib/rancher volume to a local folder so that’s not a problem),
  • And all volumes: yes all of them.
docker rm -f $(docker ps -qa)
docker volume rm $(docker volume ls -q)
cleanupdirs="/var/lib/etcd /etc/kubernetes /etc/cni /opt/cni /var/lib/cni /var/run/calico"
for dir in $cleanupdirs; do
  echo "Removing $dir"
  sudo rm -rf $dir

Prior to finding this script, I tried to reinstall a node without cleaning the mess. Trust me, you can spend hours trying to figure out why it’s not working. Simply clean the host, and launch an agent again (make make sure to check etcd, controlplane and worker roles othwerwise it won’t work either).

That being said, you should now have:

  • Rancher running on port 8443,
  • The local machine node registered within your cluster,
  • And port 80 and 443 free for use!

Rancher 2 Node

As you can see, everything should be marked as green. Let’s now setup the dev environment!

Ingress Setup

What is an Ingress? It’s a load balancer: it receives incoming HTTP and HTTPS traffic respectively on port 80 and 443 and redirects it to the appropriate service inside the Kubernetes cluster.

Why should I use an Ingress? It’s much cleaner to have a single port open to the internet than multiple ones. Also, it offers advanced features like Hostname routing: routing traffic to a target service depending on the requested hostname.

Setup is going to be performed in Default project under default namespace. Namespaces are useful when cluster need to be shared accross multiple teams. In our case, we simply don’t need to mess up with multiple namespaces.

SSL Certificate

Rancher 2 SSL Certificate

The first thing i’m going to setup is the SSL Certificate. It seems surprisingly easy to setup (and in fact, it is), but if you do anything wrong here the Ingress Controller won’t start. We have a paid SSL Certificate provided by Namecheap:

  • Domain: *.octoperf.com, it’s a wildcard domain which protects any sub-domain of octoperf.com (so it includes www.octoperf.com but not octoperf.com itself),
  • Expiration: in about a year.

We’re going to use this SSL certificate when setting up the Ingress controller later. Why? Because I have opened port 443 to my machine and only want to serve Jenkins and Sonarqube through HTTPS:

  • Click on Default project under your cluster in the top left corner,
  • Click on Resources, then Certificates from the drop-down,
  • Click on Add Certificate button.
  • Provide both the Private Key (usually a .key file provided by the SSL Authority) and the Certificate (usually .crt file).

I made the mistake to provide both Certificate Authority chain and certificate within the Certificate box. It causes the Ingress controller to fail to start. Don’t make the same mistake!

OctoPerf SSL Certificate

By clicking on the certificate, make sure all information have been read properly by Rancher. Rancher automatically installs this Certificate within Kubernetes and makes it available to Ingress Controllers.

In fact, when the SSL certificate was wrongly configured (i’ve put CA Authority chain in certificate), the ingress controller returned a blank web page containing:

default backend 404

And the served SSL certificate was named as Kubernetes Fake SSL Certificate. It took me some time to figure out the certificate was wrongly configured. Once i’ve put the content of the .crt file within the Certificate field, the ingress controller worked properly.

Jenkins External IP

As explained earlier, my Jenkins server is deployed within a Tomcat server running through a terminal directly on port 8082. Why? Because it needs Docker and few other things installed on my machine to run our CI tasks. I usually start it like this:

ubuntu@desktop:~/apache-tomcat-8.5.15$ ./bin/catalina.sh run

We could probably containerize it by building an image with appropriate tools and configuration. But, it’s also interesting to see how to redirect traffic outside the Kubernetes cluster.

Rancher Service Discovery

In order to do this, we need to create an External IP service:

  • Click on Default project under your cluster in the top left corner,
  • Click on Workloads,
  • Then click on Service Discovery,
  • Click on Add Record.

Rancher Jenkins External IP

Then, it’s time to create an External IP service:

  • Name: jenkins,
  • Resolves To: one or more external IP addresses,
  • Namespace: default,
  • Target IP Addresses: (my local IP).

Then click on Save. The problem is, the External IP service points to the TCP port 42 by default. Our Jenkins server is running on port 8082. It took me hours to figure this out!

I diagnosed the issue by running the kubectl command through Rancher:

  • Select the cluster (sandbox in my case) from top left corner,
  • Click on Launch kubectl button,
  • Enter command kubectl describe svc jenkins.

The result should look like the following:

# Run kubectl commands inside here
# e.g. kubectl get all
> kubectl describe svc jenkins
Name:              jenkins
Namespace:         default
Labels:            <none>
Annotations:       field.cattle.io/creatorId=user-g6tb7
Selector:          <none>
Type:              ClusterIP
IP:                None
Port:              default  42/TCP
TargetPort:        42/TCP
Session Affinity:  None
Events:            <none>

It appears that endpoint is This is wrong because I want it to point to port 8082 (where my Jenkins server runs).

We need to edit the rule YAML configuration to change the default port 42 to 8082:

  • Next to the jenkins rule, click on View/Edit YAML,
  • Find targetPort: 42 and replace by targetPort: 8082 (because 8082 is the port where my Jenkins server is running),
  • Click on Save.

Now we have a working service pointing to my Jenkins server running on my local machine in a regular process.

Sonarqube Workload

As we also want a Sonarqube server (purposely for code defect analysis), let’s create a workload which spins up a Pod running it. Basically, it’s equivalent to launching a single container on my local machine, but through Kubernetes:

  • Click on Default project under your cluster in the top left corner,
  • Click on Workloads,
  • Click on Deploy.

Rancher Sonarqube Workload

Sonarqube is going to run inside a workload (equivalent to a container):

  • Name: i’ve put sonarqube,
  • Workload type: Scalable deployment of 1 pod, (running only a single instance on my machine)
  • Docker Image: sonarqube:latest,
  • Port Mapping: publish the container TCP port 9000 as A HostPort on listening port 9000. (Jenkins needs to access it through http://localhost:9000)

IMPORTANT Beware using NodePort or HostPort in production. It can lead to port conflicts on shared clusters. Also, NodePort only allows ports >= 30000 to be selected. Should you enter an invalid value, and the pod will fail to start with an obscur error.

I have also a few other specific configuration like:

  • Environment variables: SONARQUBE_JDBC_URL pointing to my MySQL container with value jdbc:mysql://mysql:3306/sonar,
  • Volumes: I have mapped both /opt/sonarqube/data and /opt/sonarqube/extensions/plugins to my local disk using Bind-Mount volume type.

Now that we have both Sonarqube and Jenkins running, we can setup the Ingress Controller with the appropriate rules.

Ingress Rules

Let’s now create an ingress controller (equivalent to a load-balancer). It will redirect incoming traffic on port 443 on my machine to the relevant service:

  • Click on Default project under your cluster in the top left corner,
  • Click on Workloads,
  • Then click on Load Balancing,
  • Finally, click on Add Ingress.

Rancher 2 Add Ingress

The ingress controller requires a bunch of settings:

  • Name: name it the way you want. I named mine ingress,
  • Namespace: the Default project is being located in default namespace,
  • Rules: that’s where the real configuration begins. Those rules tell the ingress how to direct incoming traffic to the right services.

Let’s see the rules I have setup to map our 2 hostnames to the sonarqube workload and jenkins service.

Rancher Ingress Rules

First we have the jenkins rule:

  • Specify a hostname to use: with Request Host being set to jenkins.octoperf.com. That means all HTTPS traffic requesting access to this host is redirected to the selected service,
  • Path And Target: I’ve added the jenkins service as target, on port 8082.

Second, we have the sonarqube rule:

  • Specify a hostname to use: with Request Host being set to sonarqube.octoperf.com. That means all HTTPS traffic requesting access to this host is redirected to the selected service,
  • Path And Target: I’ve added the sonarqube workload as target, on port 9000.

Ingress SSL Certificate

Then, we need to specify the SSL Certificate we have previously provided to Rancher.

Rancher Ingress SSL Certificate

I have provided our paid wilcard SSL Certificate (but there are free alternatives like Let’s encrypt) and specified the two hostnames it covers. Click on Save to save and create the Ingress controller.

Now we’re able to browse to https://sonarqube.octoperf.com and see Sonarqube’s web interface.

v1.6.x to 2.0.x


Rancher v2.1.x should provide a migration script to convert docker-compose.yml and rancher-compose.yml to Kubernetes YAML deployment configuration files. That being said, I don’t think it’s that difficult to migrate your services manually.

We have only about 5 services running on our production servers. And most of them only involve mapping volumes and connecting services to the load balancer. I plan to migrate our production services from Rancher v1.6.x to Rancher v2.0.x manually by:

  • Downloading the whole v1.6.x configuration as a ZIP,
  • Creating manually the services and workloads by analogy on Kubernetes.

In fact, v1.6.x services and v2.0.x workloads are highly similar: almost same image, port and volumes configuration wizards.

Which is Better?

Is Rancher 2.0.x better than Rancher 1.6.x? I was first sceptical. After all, Kubernetes seemed like a huge machinery to use it on our production servers just to run a dozen containers on 3 machines.

But, Kubernetes looks like a much more robust technology developed by Google compared to Cattle, the system created by Rancher. Comparing them is a bit like comparing Apples and Oranges too because Cattle does more things than Kubernetes (it takes care of inter-machine networking through IPSec too).

Having had Rancher v1.x in production for years (we started using Rancher at v0.42), I can confidently say we have sweated several times when upgrading Rancher. Cattle isn’t working perfectly and sometimes messes our services. Service upgrades may fail unexpectedly and the reason will never be known.

But, that doesn’t breach my faith in Rancher v2.0.x for the very simple reason: they dropped Cattle and adopted Kubernetes. And that’s probably the single best decision (along with dropping MySQL, Thank you!) they have made to improve Rancher’s stability.

Feel Free to share your own experience with Rancher!

By - CTO.
Tags: Rancher Kubernetes Ingress Workload Pod Service


Renan T Magalhaes  

Very good article ! I’m also working to make Rancher 2.0 my default system in prod. I sense if i got to this text earlier my life would be much simpler :)

In reply to Renan T Magalhaes

Hi Renan,

Thanks for your feedback! We’re planning to move to Rancher 2.0.x soon too. Maybe we’ll wait until 2.1.x because I feel like they still need to iron out some bugs before Rancher 2 can be used production.

Best Regards,

Raül Ojeda  

Thanks a bunch! Maybe a tutorial on the High Availability installation or the usage of external volumes accessible from each node (like in Longhorn) would be nice too :)

In reply to Raül Ojeda

Hi Raul, Thank for your feedback, glad you liked the tutorial :) We only use volumes mapped on host path, so i’m not really expert in external volumes.

Thank you

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