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K8 vs K3

Today, Kubernetes is indisputably the leader in container orchestration. Popularly known as K8, Kubernetes is an expandable, portable, open-source platform that manages the containerization of workloads and services. It helps in the declarative and automated management of Kubernetes using configuration files. These config files illustrate which containerized applications are in running mode and the resources available for them. However, due to its complexity and superpower, Kubernetes is also considered bulky, resource-intensive and difficult to comprehend.

K3s on the other hand is a lightweight certified Kubernetes distribution solution that is efficient, fast, easy to deploy and has a significantly smaller footprint. K3s is an upstream version of Kubernetes where the code used is the same as in K8 but with the software packaged differently. 3 billion lines of code have been removed from K8s source code to make K3 lightweight. This was done by mostly eliminating all the legacy, alpha and non-Container Storage Interface (CSI) components usually used to devise a full-fledged Kubernetes solution.

Enterprises struggle with the decision of whether to employ K3s or K8s in their production depending upon the volume of the project. Both showcase some unique characteristics and it is vital to study the pros and cons of K3s and K8s before having to make an informed decision. With this blog, we will aim to understand why enterprises are fast adopting Kubernetes and what K3 and K8 are, followed by some key differences between them.

Why Kubernetes?

Before deep diving into K8 vs K3, let us first and foremost try to understand why Kubernetes is used to build applications. Previously, most applications were built as monoliths but it took long to deploy as everything had to be released altogether end-to-end. Also, discrete teams handled different parts of the monolith, which would make the deployment process highly complicated.

Microservices are quite the opposite with each functional component broken down into smaller, independent artifacts. The core function of Kubernetes is to manage these artifacts that are deployed in smaller containers on virtual machines or nodes. Each container they run has endpoints, DNS, storage, and scalability, and the nodes in which it runs, are all packed together as a cluster. Everything a modern application would require is provided by Kubernetes, without the need for any manual efforts.

What Is K8s?

K8s is the most widely used container orchestration tool that is portable, resilient and an expandable platform. It is a Cloud Native Computing Foundation graduate project that facilitates declarative configuration and automation. However, most often when Kubernetes or K8s is discussed, people are actually referring to the original upstream project created by Google, which is a scalable and highly available platform.

What Is K3s?

K3s is a secure, fully CNCF certified Kubernetes distribution solution. It is a refined version of Kubernetes with a single binary of less than 40MB, implementing the Kubernetes API in totality. It came into being showcased as an independent, lightweight product due to its binaries being very small. This was possible only because a big amount of bloat was removed from the K8 source code. All third-party non-CSI storage elements that we not required to implement a full version of K8 were taken out enabling accelerated application installments and deployments. K3s supports low-resource environments, is more flexible and offers optimal efficiency in building and deploying applications.

Difference between K8 and K3

Packaging is the biggest distinction between K8s and K3s. The source code for both Kubernetes and K3s is the same (upstream version), however, K3s has fewer dependencies, cloud provider integrations, add-ons, and can afford to skip all those other components that are not essential in setting up and using a full-fledged Kubernetes solution.

A few pointers pertinent to each of the Kubernetes versions are listed below:

  • K3s is a lighter version of K8 with more enhancements and drivers. K8s often take 10 minutes to deploy, while K3s can run Kubernetes APIs in just 1 minute, are faster to boot, auto upgrade and are easy to learn.
  • While K3s integrates and runs every control plane component, including Kubelet and Kube-proxy, in a single binary, server, and agent process, K8s runs each component in a distinct process.
  • K3s uses SQLite3 as its default datastore, but K8s only supports etcd; K3s also supports MySQL, PostgreSQL, and etcd3 for more complicated requirements.
  • As opposed to K8s, you can install DNS server, CNI, and ingress controller by turning off inbuilt K3s components. The container installation that comes with K3s can be replaced with one from an existing Docker installation for your CRI.


Kubernetes has proven to be a sophisticated solution addressing all the issues on distributed computing. Kubernetes’ principal workflows were modified to form K3s, a scaled-down version of Kubernetes for faster, more effective and economical application deployments and management. Choosing K8 or K3 will solely depend on the project requirements and resource availability. Both these versions can be run on an alternate basis, depending on the purpose and need of a project.

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