Marco Pracucci

Graceful shutdown of pods with Kubernetes

by Marco Pracucci Comments

Docker containers can be terminated any time, due to an auto-scaling policy, pod or deployment deletion or while rolling out an update. In most of such cases, you will probably want to graceful shutdown your application running inside the container.

In our case, for example, we do want to wait until all current requests (or jobs processing) have completed, but the actual reasons to graceful shutdown an application may be many, including releasing resources, distributed locks or opened connections.

How it works

When a pod should be terminated:

  1. A SIGTERM signal is sent to the main process (PID 1) in each container, and a “grace period” countdown starts (defaults to 30 seconds - see below to change it).
  2. Upon the receival of the SIGTERM, each container should start a graceful shutdown of the running application and exit.
  3. If a container doesn’t terminate within the grace period, a SIGKILL signal will be sent and the container violently terminated.

For a detailed explaination, please see:

A common pitfall while handling the SIGTERM

Let’s say your Dockerfile ends with a CMD in the shell form:

CMD myapp

The shell form runs the command with /bin/sh -c myapp, so the process that will get the SIGTERM is actually /bin/sh and not its child myapp. Depending on the actual shell you’re running, it could or could not pass the signal to its children.

For example, the shell shipped by default with Alpine Linux does not pass signals to children, while Bash does it. If your shell doesn’t pass signals to children, you’ve a couple of options to ensure the signal will be correctly delivered to the app.

Option #1: run the CMD in the exec form

You can obviously use the CMD in the exec form. This will run myapp instead of /bin/sh -c myapp, but will not allow you to pass environment variables as arguments.

CMD [ "myapp" ]

Option #2: run the command with Bash

You can ensure your container includes Bash and run your command through it, in order to support environment variables passed as arguments.

CMD [ "/bin/bash", "-c", "myapp --arg=$ENV_VAR" ]

How to change the grace period

The default grace period is 30 seconds. As any default, it could fit or couldn’t fit on your specific use cases. There are two way to change it:

  1. In the deployment .yaml file
  2. On the command line, when you run kubectl delete


You can customize the grace period setting terminationGracePeriodSeconds at the pod spec level. For example, the following .yaml shows a simple deployment config with a 60 seconds termination grace period.

apiVersion: extensions/v1beta1
kind: Deployment
    name: test
    replicas: 1
              - name: test
                image: ...
            terminationGracePeriodSeconds: 60

Command line

You can also change the default grace period when you manually delete a resource with kubectl delete command, adding the parameter --grace-period=SECONDS. For example:

kubectl delete deployment test --grace-period=60


There’re some circumstances where a SIGTERM violently kill the application, vanishing all your efforts to gracefully shutdown it. Nginx, for example, quickly exit on SIGTERM, while you should run /usr/sbin/nginx -s quit to gracefully terminate it.

In such cases, you can use the preStop hook. According to the Kubernetes doc, PreStop works as follow:

This hook is called immediately before a container is terminated. No parameters are passed to the handler. This event handler is blocking, and must complete before the call to delete the container is sent to the Docker daemon. The SIGTERM notification sent by Docker is also still sent. A more complete description of termination behavior can be found in Termination of Pods.

The preStop hook is configured at container level and allows you to run a custom command before the SIGTERM will be sent (please note that the termination grace period countdown actually starts before invoking the preStop hook and not once the SIGTERM signal will be sent).

The following example, taken from the Kubernetes doc, shows how to configure a preStop command.

apiVersion: extensions/v1beta1
kind: Deployment
  name: nginx
        app: nginx
      - name: nginx
        image: nginx
        - containerPort: 80
              # SIGTERM triggers a quick exit; gracefully terminate instead
              command: ["/usr/sbin/nginx","-s","quit"]


This blog post has been written according to my personal knowledge. If something is incorrect, don’t esitate to drop a comment: will be my care to update the post and yet another occasion for me to learn something new. Thanks!

You may also be interested in ...

Upcoming conferences

I will join the following conferences. Reach me out on Twitter if you wanna meet:
Incontro DevOps 2020 Virtual 22 October 2020