What is K3s? The lightweight Kubernetes distribution

Kai Hoffman avatar
By Kai Hoffman
Developer Advocate


Discover K3s, a lightweight, fully functional Kubernetes distribution. Learn how it compares to traditional Kubernetes and how it's used at Civo.

Welcome to our lesson on K3s, a lightweight yet fully functional distribution of Kubernetes. Developed by Rancher Labs, now part of SUSE, K3s is a unique offering in the Kubernetes landscape, designed to be more approachable, less complex, and smaller than traditional Kubernetes, hence the name K3s, where '3 is less than 8'.

What is K3s?

K3s is a CNCF conformant, fully compatible version of Kubernetes, packaged as a single binary under 100 megabytes. This compact package includes everything you need to run a node as either a control plane node or a worker node. It's not a fork of Kubernetes but a slimmed-down distribution that maintains full functionality. This makes K3s incredibly efficient and perfect for environments with constrained resources.

K3s vs. Kubernetes: The Differences

K3s differs from traditional Kubernetes in several key ways. Firstly, it's packaged as a single binary, which includes all the components you need to run a node. This streamlined approach makes K3s incredibly efficient and easy to install.

Secondly, K3s is opinionated. It bundles in many components that work well together, providing a ready-to-go Kubernetes experience straight out of the box. These components include the API scheduler, the Kubernetes API server, the control, the Kubelet, and a container runtime in the form of Containerd.

Lastly, in K3s, the control plane can also act as a worker node. This unique feature allows you to run a single node cluster, although it's technically not a cluster.

Myths about K3s

Despite its slimmed-down nature, K3s is not just for edge devices or IoT. It's perfect for these applications due to its low resource requirements - you can stand up a node with just 512 megabytes of RAM. However, being a CNCF-conformant version of Kubernetes, K3s can run any workload that Kubernetes can manage. This makes K3s suitable for any Kubernetes installation, not just for hobby or development workloads.

At Civo, we've adopted K3s as the base Kubernetes installation for all of our managed Kubernetes customers. When you start up a Kubernetes cluster on Civo, you're getting a K3s cluster ready to run your workloads.


In conclusion, K3s is a fully compatible, CNCF-conformant Kubernetes distribution that offers a more streamlined, efficient, and approachable version of Kubernetes. It's not just for edge or IoT applications but for any Kubernetes installation. While it's designed for simplicity and quick deployments, it's also capable of running any workload that Kubernetes can manage.

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