How Keyval Automates the Deployment of Go Microservices with ko build

Learn how Keyval utilizes the ko build tool to effortlessly build and deploy Go microservices in Kubernetes, streamlining the development process.

How Keyval Automates the Deployment of Go Microservices with ko build
/amir.pngAmir Blum
Aug 25 2023

In this blog post, we will describe how and why we setup the ko build tool to deploy our Go microservices in our Kubernetes cluster.


  • ko is a tool for golang applications.
  • ko is relevant if you are using docker containers to run your code.
  • ko is especially handy if you are using kubernetes to deploy your containers.

I will not explain ko from the begining, there are plenty of resources online for that. I assume you are already familiar with the basics of docker, ko, and deploying to your environments. This blog post is not a tutorial, but rather a description of how we use ko in our stack as reference for others who might want to do the same.

Why ko?

At Keyval, the company behind Odigos we deploy our cloud service using the following stack:

  • microservices written in golang.
  • Kubernetes in EKS - Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service.

ko gives us the following benefits:

  • No need to write and maintain Dockerfiles

  • Images following best practices, more secure, smaller in size and contains minimal dependencies.

  • Integrates well with our kubernetess workflow - just one simple command to:

    • Build images
    • Push them to our private repository in ECR
    • Update the relevant "image:" values in our k8s manifest .yaml files
    • Apply them to our cluster

These requirements and workflow is very common, allowing us to simplify our CI/CD pipeline and reduce the amount of code we need to maintain.

Useful Tips


Sanity - Verify Installation

$ ko version

Should produce an output, signaling ko cli is installed and working, plus a chance to make sure the version is not too old.

Search Online

As ko means a lot of things online, I always google or chat-gpt ko build (instead of just ko).

For example, use "ko build getting started" instead of just ko getting started.

CLI Help

Like most prefetional cli tools, you can find a lot of information in the CLI help without switching context to the browser or touching your mouse.

$ ko version
$ ko
Rapidly iterate with Go, Containers, and Kubernetes.

  ko [flags]
  ko [command]

Available Commands:
  apply       Use resolved references in input files for image digest application.
  build       Build and publish container images from the given import paths.
  completion  Generate the autocompletion script for the specified shell
  create      Generate input files with resolved image references.
  delete      See "kubectl help delete" for detailed usage.
  help        Help about any command
  login       Log in to a registry
  resolve     Print files with resolved image references to digests.
  run         A variant of `kubectl run` that containerizes IMPORTPATH first.
  version     Print ko version.

  -h, --help      help for ko
  -v, --verbose   Enable debug logs

Use "ko [command] --help" for more information about a command.

From here you can use ko build --help or ko apply --help to get more information about the subcommands.


Setup auto completion for your shell in few seconds: ko completion --help and follow instructions for your shell and os.

I use zsh on macOS so my flow was:

$ ko completion --help
$ ko completion zsh --help
$ echo "autoload -U compinit; compinit" >> ~/.zshrc
$ source <(ko completion zsh)
$ ko completion zsh > $(brew --prefix)/share/zsh/site-functions/_ko

A few seconds of setup to gain better productivity and less typos.

How we use ko?

Build the Image Locally

I start with a simple sanity check to make sure ko is able to build the image locally and the code compiles.

$ ko build ./cmd/app --push=false

We also use it in the CI to verify build on each PR push.

Let's break down the command:


The ./cmd/app part is the "importpath".

This is how instruct ko where it can find the go package with the func main(). We have a mono repo with multiple apps and multiple main functions, so we specify which one we want ko to build.

If your func main() is in the project root (next to go.mod), you can omit the importpath and just run ko build --push=false.

The import path should be relative, so ./cmd/app and NOT cmd/app


ko build is like docker build + docker push. Confusing, I know.

We use --push=false so ko build the image, but skip pushing it to a docker registry. ko is not bothered with figuring out which repository to use and attempting to push there.


    ko build ./cmd/app --push=false

This is a replacement for go build command, which also verifies ko integration + keep you filesystem clean.

If the code doesn't compile, make build will fail without needing to setup or publishing anything.

Publishing to ECR

Keyval's cluster runs on EKS which is an AWS managed k8s service.

We chose to use ECR - Amazon Elastic Container Registry to store our docker images.

This section describes how to use ko with ECR, but the same principles apply to other registries and can be easily adapted.

Create ECR Repository

$ aws ecr create-repository --repository-name my-app

You should get back a json response with the repository details, and repositoryUri which looks like this: 012345678901.dkr.ecr.us-east-1.amazonaws.com/my-app. You can also find it in the ECR console.

Login to ECR

$ aws ecr get-login-password --region YOUR_REGION | docker login --username AWS --password-stdin YOUR_REPOSITORY_URI

This works if aws cli is setup and you have the right permissions.

Build and Publish to ECR

$ KO_DOCKER_REPO=012345678901.dkr.ecr.us-east-1.amazonaws.com/my-app ko build --bare ./cmd/app

Lets break down the command:


KO_DOCKER_REPO is how you tell ko build where to push the image after it was built.

For ECR, you can find it in ECR web console, or get it with cli: aws ecr describe-repositories or just construct it based on the pattern.


Without this flag, ko will attempt to push the image as 012345678901.dkr.ecr.us-east-1.amazonaws.com/my-app/app-2cb05dc2132b0f81c2982cca8f717157:latest which includes the package name and hash (app-{hash} part), and is not supported by ECR.

ECR, dockerhub and possibly other registries only support images with the format {registry}/{repository}:{tag} where the repository is not nested (no / in the name).

The --bare flag tells ko to push the image as 012345678901.dkr.ecr.us-east-1.amazonaws.com/my-app:latest which is what we want.

I also find this long name not very user friendly and prefer to use --bare and control the name myself.

For other registries, explore the --bare, --base-import-paths and --preserve-import-paths flag.

Test published image

Useful command to test image build + publish + pull + run locally:

$ docker run -p 8080:80 $(KO_DOCKER_REPO=012345678901.dkr.ecr
.us-east-1.amazonaws.com/my-app ko build --bare ./cmd/app)

Deploy to Kubernetes

In our k8s Deployment .yaml files, we populate the image: field with a ko:// url, and then use ko apply -f k8s --bare.

apiVersion: apps/v1
kind: Deployment
  name: my-app
        - name: my-service
          image: ko://github.com/keyval-dev/my-app/cmd/app
  • The ko:// scheme is a special url that ko will recognize and replace with the resolved image name and tag.
  • The github.com/keyval-dev/my-app part is identical to the module field in our go.mod file.
  • The cmd/app part is the import path to the package with func main().

You can have multiple ko:// urls in the same file, and ko apply will build push and replace all of them.

ko apply

This is the same as running kubectl apply but with some extra magic.

Before the resources are applied to the cluster, ko will search for import paths starting with ko:// build the images, push them to the registry, and update the image: field in the resource .yaml files with the resolved image name and tag.


This is the directory we want to apply to our cluster, the same directory we would use with kubectl apply -f.

ko in our CI/CD

We use github actions for our CI/CD.

Verify Build

We run ko build on pull requests push to verify we can build the project (no compile errors or missing dependencies).

This is our workflow file in .github/workflows/build.yml:

name: 'build service'

    runs-on: ubuntu-latest
      - name: Checkout Repo
        uses: actions/checkout@v4

      - name: Setup Go
        uses: actions/setup-go@v4
          go-version: '1.21.x'

      - name: Install dependencies
        run: make install

      - name: Setup ko
        uses: ko-build/setup-ko@v0.6

      - name: ko build
        run: ko build ./cmd/app --local --push=false

Deploy to Production

We run ko apply on each merge to main to branch to push and apply the k8s Deployment with the new artifacts.

This is our workflow file in .github/workflows/deploy.yml:

name: Deploy

    branches: ['main']

  AWS_REGION: 'us-east-2'
  ECR_REGISTRY: '012345678901.dkr.ecr.us-east-2.amazonaws.com'

# AWS authentication is required to push to ECR and update the cluster
# https://docs.github.com/en/actions/deployment/security-hardening-your-deployments/configuring-openid-connect-in-amazon-web-services
  id-token: write
  contents: read

    name: Deploy Service
    runs-on: ubuntu-latest
      - name: configure aws credentials
        uses: aws-actions/configure-aws-credentials@v2
          role-to-assume: arn:aws:iam::012345678901:role/github-actions-deploy-service
          role-session-name: my-service-deploy
          aws-region: ${{ env.AWS_REGION }}

      # The following command will update the kube config file with our cluster information.
      # It will use the credentials exported by the previous action.
      - name: Update KubeConfig
        shell: bash
        run: |
          aws eks update-kubeconfig --name ${{ env.CLUSTER_NAME }} --region=${{ env.AWS_REGION }}

      - name: Checkout Repo
        uses: actions/checkout@v4

      - name: Setup Go
        uses: actions/setup-go@v4
          go-version: '1.21.x'

      - uses: ko-build/setup-ko@v0.6
          KO_DOCKER_REPO: ${{ format('{0}/{1}', env.ECR_REGISTRY, env.ECR_REPOSITORY) }}

      # ko uses https://github.com/awslabs/amazon-ecr-credential-helper
      # to automatically login to ECR. no need to `ko login` or `docker login`

      - run: ko apply -f k8s --bare

In the above example, we used OpenID Connect to get temporary credentials for our github workflow to run specific commands in aws. more info here. For this to work we added the permissions: part and the role-to-assume and role-session-name in the configure-aws-credentials step.


I hope this blog post can help in clarifying how to use ko in your project. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us on Odigos Slack

Adding Distributed Tracing to your Go Microservices

After you learned how to deploy your golang microservices with ko into your k8s cluster, you might want to add observability to your service with the popular OpenTelemetry framework.

Check out Odigos for a quick and easy way to add distributed tracing, metrics and logs to your golang microservices, without needing to change your code. Odigos is open-source and free to use 🤙

If you want to learn more about how you can generate distributed traces instantly check out our GitHub repository. We'd really appreciate it if you could throw us a ⭐👇

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