Enable the eBPF dataplane


Big picture

This guide explains how to enable the eBPF dataplane; a high-performance alternative to the standard (iptables based) dataplane for both Calico and kube-proxy.


The eBPF dataplane mode has several advantages over standard linux networking pipeline mode:

  • It scales to higher throughput.
  • It uses less CPU per GBit.
  • It has native support for Kubernetes services (without needing kube-proxy) that:

    • Reduces first packet latency for packets to services.
    • Preserves external client source IP addresses all the way to the pod.
    • Supports DSR (Direct Server Return) for more efficient service routing.
    • Uses less CPU than kube-proxy to keep the dataplane in sync.

To learn more and see performance metrics from our test environment, see the blog, Introducing the Calico eBPF dataplane.

eBPF mode currently has some limitations relative to the standard Linux pipeline mode:

  • eBPF mode does not yet support IPv6.
  • eBPF mode does not yet support host endpoints, or, their associated policy types.
  • Switching to and from eBPF mode is disruptive to existing workload connections. Workloads that do not detect and recover from connection loss may need to be restarted.
  • Hybrid clusters (with some eBPF nodes and some standard dataplane nodes) are not supported. (In such a cluster, NodePort traffic from eBPF nodes to non-eBPF nodes will be dropped.)


This how-to guide uses the following Calico features:

  • calico/node
  • eBPF dataplane



eBPF (or “extended Berkeley Packet Filter”), is a technology that allows safe mini programs to be attached to various low-level hooks in the Linux kernel. eBPF has a wide variety of uses, including networking, security, and tracing. You’ll see a lot of non-networking projects leveraging eBPF, but for Calico our focus is on networking, and in particular, pushing the networking capabilities of the latest Linux kernels to the limit.

Before you begin…

eBPF mode has the following pre-requisites:

  • A supported Linux distribution:

    • Ubuntu 20.04.
    • Red Hat v8.2 with Linux kernel v4.18.0-193 or above (Red Hat have backported the required features to that build).
    • Another supported distribution with Linux kernel v5.3 or above.

    If Calico does not detect a compatible kernel, Calico will emit a warning and fall back to standard linux networking.

  • On each node, the BPF filesystem must be mounted at /sys/fs/bpf. This is required so that the BPF filesystem persists when Calico is restarted. (If the filesystem does not persist then pods will temporarily lose connectivity when Calico is restarted.)
  • For best pod-to-pod performance, an underlying network that doesn’t require Calico to use an overlay. For example:

    • A cluster within a single AWS subnet.
    • A cluster using a compatible cloud provider’s CNI (such as the AWS VPC CNI plugin).
    • An on-prem cluster with BGP peering configured.

    If you must use an overlay, we recommend that you use VXLAN, not IPIP. This is because IPIP performs poorly with eBPF mode due to technical limitations in the kernel.

  • The underlying network must be configured to allow VXLAN packets between Calico hosts. In eBPF mode, VXLAN is used to forward traffic to Kubernetes NodePorts, while preserving source IP.
  • A stable way to address the Kubernetes API server. Since eBPF mode takes over from kube-proxy, Calico needs a way to reach the API server directly.
  • The base requirements also apply.

Note: The default kernel used by EKS is not compatible with eBPF mode. If you wish to try eBPF mode with EKS, follow the Creating an EKS cluster for eBPF mode guide, which explain how to set up a suitable cluster.

How to

Verify that your cluster is ready for eBPF mode

This section explains how to make sure your cluster is suitable for eBPF mode.

  1. To check that the kernel on a node is suitable, you can run

    uname -rv

    The output should look like this:

    5.4.0-42-generic #46-Ubuntu SMP Fri Jul 10 00:24:02 UTC 2020

    In this case the kernel version is v5.4, which is suitable.

    On Red Hat-derived distributions, you may see something like this:

    4.18.0-193.el8.x86_64 (mockbuild@x86-vm-08.build.eng.bos.redhat.com)

    Since the Red Hat kernel is v4.18 with at least build number 193, this kernel is suitable.

  2. To verify that the BPF filesystem is mounted, on the host, you can run the following command:

    mount | grep "/sys/fs/bpf"

    If the BPF filesystem is mounted, you should see:

    none on /sys/fs/bpf type bpf (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime,mode=700)

    If you see no output, then the BPF filesystem is not mounted; consult the documentation for your OS distribution to see how to make sure the file system is mounted at boot in its standard location /sys/fs/bpf. This may involve editing /etc/fstab or adding a systemd unit, depending on your distribution. If the file system is not mounted on the host then eBPF mode will work normally until Calico is restarted, at which point workload netowrking will be disrupted for several seconds.

Configure Calico to talk directly to the API server

In eBPF mode, Calico implements Kubernetes service networking directly (rather than relying on kube-proxy). This means that, like kube-proxy, Calico must connect directly to the Kubernetes API server rather than via the API server’s ClusterIP.

First, make a note of the address of the API server:

  • If you have a single API server, you can use its IP address and port. The IP can be found by running:

    kubectl get endpoints kubernetes -o wide

    The output should look like the following, with a single IP address and port under “ENDPOINTS”:

    NAME         ENDPOINTS             AGE
    kubernetes   40m

    If there are multiple entries under “ENDPOINTS” then your cluster must have more than one API server. In that case, you should try to determine the load balancing approach used by your cluster and use the appropriate option below.

  • If using DNS load balancing (as used by kops), use the FQDN and port of the API server api.internal.<clustername>.
  • If you have multiple API servers with a load balancer in front, you should use the IP and port of the load balancer.

Tip: If your cluster uses a ConfigMap to configure kube-proxy you can find the “right” way to reach the API server by examining the config map. For example:

$ kubectl get configmap -n kube-system kube-proxy -o jsonpath='{.data.kubeconfig}' | grep server`
    server: https://d881b853ae312e00302a84f1e346a77.gr7.us-west-2.eks.amazonaws.com

In this case, the server is d881b853aea312e00302a84f1e346a77.gr7.us-west-2.eks.amazonaws.com and the port is 443 (the standard HTTPS port).

The next step depends on whether you installed Calico using the operator, or a manifest:

If you installed Calico using the operator, create the following config map in the tigera-operator namespace using the host and port determined above:

kind: ConfigMap
apiVersion: v1
  name: kubernetes-services-endpoint
  namespace: tigera-operator

Wait 60s for kubelet to pick up the ConfigMap (see Kubernetes issue #30189); then, restart the operator to pick up the change:

kubectl delete pod -n tigera-operator -l k8s-app=tigera-operator

The operator will then do a rolling update of Calico to pass on the change. Confirm that pods restart and then reach the Running state with the following command:

watch kubectl get pods -n calico-system

If you do not see the pods restart then it’s possible that the ConfigMap wasn’t picked up (sometimes Kubernetes is slow to propagate ConfigMaps due the above issue). You can try restarting the operator again.

If you installed Calico using a manifest, create the following config map in the kube-system namespace using the host and port determined above:

kind: ConfigMap
apiVersion: v1
  name: kubernetes-services-endpoint
  namespace: kube-system

Wait 60s for kubelet to pick up the ConfigMap (see Kubernetes issue #30189); then, restart the Calico pods to pick up the change:

kubectl delete pod -n kube-system -l k8s-app=calico-node
kubectl delete pod -n kube-system -l k8s-app=calico-kube-controllers

And, if using Typha:

kubectl delete pod -n kube-system -l k8s-app=calico-typha

Confirm that pods restart and then reach the Running state with the following command:

watch "kubectl get pods -n kube-system | grep calico"

You can verify that the change was picked up by checking the logs of one of the calico/node pods.

kubectl get po -n kube-system -l k8s-app=calico-node

Should show one or more pods:

NAME                                       READY   STATUS    RESTARTS   AGE
calico-node-d6znw                          1/1     Running   0          48m

Then, to search the logs, choose a pod and run:

kubectl logs -n kube-system <pod name> | grep KUBERNETES_SERVICE_HOST

You should see the following log, with the correct KUBERNETES_SERVICE_... values.

2020-08-26 12:26:29.025 [INFO][7] daemon.go 182: Kubernetes server override env vars. KUBERNETES_SERVICE_HOST="" KUBERNETES_SERVICE_PORT="6443"

Configure kube-proxy

In eBPF mode Calico replaces kube-proxy so it wastes resources to run both. To disable kube-proxy reversibly, we recommend adding a node selector to kube-proxy’s DaemonSet that matches no nodes, for example:

kubectl patch ds -n kube-system kube-proxy -p '{"spec":{"template":{"spec":{"nodeSelector":{"non-calico": "true"}}}}}'

Then, should you want to start kube-proxy again, you can simply remove the node selector.

If you choose not to disable kube-proxy (for example, because it is managed by your Kubernetes distribution), then you must change Felix configuration parameter BPFKubeProxyIptablesCleanupEnabled to false. This can be done with calicoctl as follows:

calicoctl patch felixconfiguration default --patch='{"spec": {"bpfKubeProxyIptablesCleanupEnabled": false}}'

If both kube-proxy and BPFKubeProxyIptablesCleanupEnabled is enabled then kube-proxy will write its iptables rules and Felix will try to clean them up resulting in iptables flapping between the two.

Enable eBPF mode

To enable eBPF mode, change Felix configuration parameter BPFEnabled to true. This can be done with calicoctl, as follows:

calicoctl patch felixconfiguration default --patch='{"spec": {"bpfEnabled": true}}'

Enabling eBPF node can disrupt existing workload connections. After enabling eBPF mode you may need to restart workload pods in order for them to restart connections. In particular, it’s a good idea to restart kube-dns since its connection to the API server can be disrupted:

kubectl delete pod -n kube-system -l k8s-app=kube-dns

Try out DSR mode

Direct return mode skips a hop through the network for traffic to services (such as node ports) from outside the cluster. This reduces latency and CPU overhead but it requires the underlying network to allow nodes to send traffic with each other’s IPs. In AWS, this requires all your nodes to be in the same subnet and for the source/dest check to be disabled.

DSR mode is disabled by default; to enable it, set the BPFExternalServiceMode Felix configuration parameter to "DSR". This can be done with calicoctl:

calicoctl patch felixconfiguration default --patch='{"spec": {"bpfExternalServiceMode": "DSR"}}'

To switch back to tunneled mode, set the configuration parameter to "Tunnel":

calicoctl patch felixconfiguration default --patch='{"spec": {"bpfExternalServiceMode": "Tunnel"}}'

Switching external traffic mode can disrupt in-progress connections.

Reversing the process

To revert to standard Linux networking:

  1. Disable Calico eBPF mode:

    calicoctl patch felixconfiguration default --patch='{"spec": {"bpfEnabled": false}}'
  2. If you disabled kube-proxy, re-enable it (for example, by removing the node selector added above).

  3. Monitor existing workloads to make sure they re-establish any connections disrupted by the switch.

Send us feedback

The eBPF dataplane is still fairly new, and we want to hear about your experience. Please don’t hesitate to connect with us via the Calico Users Slack group.