E2E Testing Best Practices, Reloaded

End-to-end (E2E) testing in Kubernetes is how the project validates functionality with real clusters. Contributors sooner or later encounter it when asked to write E2E tests for new features or to help with debugging test failures. Cluster admins or vendors might run the conformance tests, a subset of all tests in the E2E test suite.

The underlying E2E framework for writing these E2E tests has been around for a long time. Functionality was added to it as needed, leading to code that became hard to maintain and use. The testing commons WG started cleaning it up, but dissolved before completely achieving their goals.

After the migration to Gingko v2 in Kubernetes 1.25, I picked up several of the loose ends and started untangling them. This blog post is a summary of those changes. Some of this content is also found in the Kubernetes contributor document about writing good E2E tests and gets reproduced here to raise awareness that the document has been updated.

Overall architecture

At the moment, the framework is used in-tree for testing against a cluster (test/e2e), testing kubeadm (test/e2e_kubeadm) and kubelet (test/e2e_node). The goal is to make the core test/e2e/framework a package that has no dependencies on internal code and that can be used in different E2E suites without polluting them with features or options that make no sense for them. This is currently only a technical goal. There are no plans anymore to actually move the code into a staging repository.

The framework acts like a normal client of an apiserver and thus doesn’t need much more than client-go. Since the sub-package refacoring, additional sub-packages like test/e2e/framework/pod depend on the framework, not the other way around. Those other sub-packages therefore can still use internal code. The import boss configuration enforces these constraints.

What’s left to clean up is that the framework contains a TestContext with fields that are used only by some tests or some test suites. The configuration for test/e2e_node is the last remaining dependency on internal code. Such settings should get moved into the different test suites and/or tests. The advantage besides avoiding such dependencies will be that they will only show up in the command line of a suite when the option really has an effect.


If your test fails, it should provide as detailed as possible reasons for the failure in its failure message. The failure message is the string that gets passed (directly or indirectly) to ginkgo.Fail[f]. That text is what gets shown in the overview of failed tests for a Prow job and what gets aggregated by

A good failure message:

  • identifies the test failure
  • has enough details to provide some initial understanding of what went wrong

It’s okay for it to contain information that changes during each test run. Aggregation simplifies the failure message with regular expressions before looking for similar failures.

Helper libraries like Gomega or testify can be used to produce informative failure messages. Gomega is a bit easier to use in combination with Ginkgo.

The E2E framework itself only has one helper function for assertions that is still recommended. The others are deprecated. Compared to gomega.Expect(err).NotTo(gomega.HaveOccurred()), framework.ExpectNoError(err) is shorter and produces better failure messages because it logs the full error and then includes only the shorter err.Error() in the failure message.

As with any other assertion, it is recommended to include additional context in cases where the parameters being checked by an assertion helper lack relevant information:

framework.ExpectNoError(err, "tried creating %d foobars, only created %d", foobarsReqd, foobarsCreated)

Use assertions that match the check in the test. Using Go code to evaluate some condition and then checking the result often isn’t informative. For example this check should be avoided:

gomega.Expect(strings.Contains(actualStr, expectedSubStr)).To(gomega.Equal(true))

Comparing a boolean like this against true or false with gomega.Equal or framework.ExpectEqual is not useful because dumping the actual and expected value just distracts from the underlying failure reason. Better pass the actual values to Gomega, which will automatically include them in the failure message. Add an annotation that explains what the assertion is about:

gomega.Expect(actualStr).To(gomega.ContainSubstring("xyz"), "checking log output")

This produces the following failure message:

  [FAILED] checking log output
      <string>: hello world
  to contain substring
      <string>: xyz

If there is no suitable Gomega assertion, call ginkgo.Failf directly:

import ""

ok := someCustomCheck(abc)
if !ok {
    ginkgo.Failf("check xyz failed for object:\n%s", format.Object(abc))

It is good practice to include details like the object that failed some assertion in the failure message because then a) the information is available when analyzing a failure that occurred in the CI and b) it only gets logged when some assertion fails. Always dumping objects via log messages can make the test output very large and may distract from the relevant information.

Dumping structs with format.Object is recommended. Starting with Kubernetes 1.26, format.Object will pretty-print Kubernetes API objects or structs as YAML and omit unset fields, which is more readable than other alternatives like fmt.Sprintf("%+v").

import (

var pod v1.Pod
fmt.Printf("Printf: %+v\n\n", pod)
fmt.Printf("format.Object:\n%s", format.Object(pod, 1 /* indent one level */))


Printf: {TypeMeta:{Kind: APIVersion:} ObjectMeta:{Name: GenerateName: Namespace: SelfLink: UID: ResourceVersion: Generation:0 CreationTimestamp:0001-01-01 00:00:00 +0000 UTC DeletionTimestamp:<nil> DeletionGracePeriodSeconds:<nil> Labels:map[] Annotations:map[] OwnerReferences:[] Finalizers:[] ManagedFields:[]} Spec:{Volumes:[] InitContainers:[] Containers:[] EphemeralContainers:[] RestartPolicy: TerminationGracePeriodSeconds:<nil> ActiveDeadlineSeconds:<nil> DNSPolicy: NodeSelector:map[] ServiceAccountName: DeprecatedServiceAccount: AutomountServiceAccountToken:<nil> NodeName: HostNetwork:false HostPID:false HostIPC:false ShareProcessNamespace:<nil> SecurityContext:nil ImagePullSecrets:[] Hostname: Subdomain: Affinity:nil SchedulerName: Tolerations:[] HostAliases:[] PriorityClassName: Priority:<nil> DNSConfig:nil ReadinessGates:[] RuntimeClassName:<nil> EnableServiceLinks:<nil> PreemptionPolicy:<nil> Overhead:map[] TopologySpreadConstraints:[] SetHostnameAsFQDN:<nil> OS:nil HostUsers:<nil> SchedulingGates:[] ResourceClaims:[]} Status:{Phase: Conditions:[] Message: Reason: NominatedNodeName: HostIP: PodIP: PodIPs:[] StartTime:<nil> InitContainerStatuses:[] ContainerStatuses:[] QOSClass: EphemeralContainerStatuses:[] Resize:}}

          creationTimestamp: null
          containers: null
        status: {}

Recovering from test failures

All tests should ensure that a cluster is restored to the state that it was in before the test ran. ginkgo.DeferCleanup is recommended for this because it can be called similar to defer directly after setting up something. It is better than defer because Ginkgo will show additional details about which cleanup code is running and (if possible) handle timeouts for that code (see next section). It is better than ginkgo.AfterEach because it is not necessary to define additional variables and because ginkgo.DeferCleanup executes code in the more useful last-in-first-out order, i.e. things that get set up first get removed last.

Objects created in the test namespace do not need to be deleted because deleting the namespace will also delete them. However, if deleting an object may fail, then explicitly cleaning it up is better because then failures or timeouts related to it will be more obvious.

In cases where the test may have removed the object, framework.IgnoreNotFound can be used to ignore the “not found” error:

podClient := f.ClientSet.CoreV1().Pods(f.Namespace.Name)
pod, err := podClient.Create(ctx, testPod, metav1.CreateOptions{})
framework.ExpectNoError(err, "create test pod")
ginkgo.DeferCleanup(framework.IgnoreNotFound(podClient.Delete), pod.Name, metav1.DeleteOptions{})

Interrupting tests

When aborting a manual gingko ./test/e2e invocation with CTRL-C or a signal, the currently running test(s) should stop immediately. This gets achieved by accepting a ctx context.Context as first parameter in the Ginkgo callback function and then passing that context through to all code that might block. When Ginkgo notices that it needs to shut down, it will cancel that context and all code trying to use it will immediately return with a context canceled error. Cleanup callbacks get a new context which will time out eventually to ensure that tests don’t get stuck. For a detailed description, see Most of the E2E tests were update to use the Ginkgo context at the start of the 1.27 development cycle.

There are some gotchas:

  • Don’t use the ctx passed into ginkgo.It in a ginkgo.DeferCleanup callback because the context will be canceled when the cleanup code runs. This is wrong:

      ginkgo.It("something", func(ctx context.Context) {
            ginkgo.DeferCleanup(func() {
                // do something with ctx

    Instead, register a function which accepts a new context:

       ginkgo.DeferCleanup(func(ctx context.Context) {
           // do something with the new ctx

    Anonymous functions can be avoided by passing some existing function and its parameters directly to ginkgo.DeferCleanup. Again, beware to not pass the wrong ctx. This is wrong:

      ginkgo.It("something", func(ctx context.Context) {
            ginkgo.DeferCleanup(myDeleteFunc, ctx, objName)

    Instead, just pass the other parameters and let ginkgo.DeferCleanup add a new context:

      ginkgo.DeferCleanup(myDeleteFunc, objName)
  • When starting some background goroutine in a ginkgo.BeforeEach callback, use context.WithCancel(context.Background()). The context passed into the callback will get canceled when the callback returns, which would cause the background goroutine to stop before the test runs. This works:

      backgroundCtx, cancel := context.WithCancel(context.Background())
      _, controller = cache.NewInformer( ... )
      go controller.Run(backgroundCtx.Done())
  • When adding a timeout to the context for one particular operation, beware of overwriting the ctx variable. This code here applies the timeout to the next call and everything else that follows:

      ctx, cancel := context.WithTimeout(ctx, 5 * time.Second)
      defer cancel()

    Better use some other variable name:

      timeoutCtx, cancel := context.WithTimeout(ctx, 5 * time.Second)
      defer cancel()

    When the intention is to set a timeout for the entire callback, use ginkgo.NodeTimeout:

      ginkgo.It("something", ginkgo.NodeTimeout(30 * time.Second), func(ctx context.Context) {

    There is also a ginkgo.SpecTimeout, but that then also includes the time taken for BeforeEach, AfterEach and DeferCleanup callbacks.

Polling and timeouts

When waiting for something to happen, use a reasonable timeout. Without it, a test might keep running until the entire test suite gets killed by the CI. Beware that the CI under load may take a lot longer to complete some operation compared to running the same test locally. On the other hand, a too long timeout also has drawbacks:

  • When a feature is broken so that the expected state doesn’t get reached, a test waiting for that state first needs to time out before the test fails.
  • If a state is expected to be reached within a certain time frame, then a timeout that is much higher will cause test runs to be considered successful although the feature was too slow. A dedicated performance test in a well-know environment may be a better solution for testing such performance expectations.

The framework provides some common timeouts through the framework instance. When writing a test, check whether one of those fits before defining a custom timeout in the test.

Good code that waits for something to happen meets the following criteria:

  • accepts a context for test timeouts
  • depending on how the test suite was invoked:
    • informative during interactive use (i.e. intermediate reports, either periodically or on demand)
    • little to no output during a CI run except when it fails
  • full explanation when it fails: when it observes some state and then encounters errors reading the state, then dumping both the latest observed state and the latest error is useful
  • extension mechanism for writing custom checks
  • early abort when condition cannot be reached anymore

gomega.Eventually satisfies all of these criteria and therefore is recommended, but not required. In, test/e2e/framework/pods/wait.go and the framework were modified to use gomega. Typically, Eventually is passed a function which gets an object or lists several of them, then Should checks against the expected result. Errors and retries specific to Kubernetes are handled by wrapping client-go functions.

Using normal Gomega assertions in helper packages is problematic for two reasons:

  • The stacktrace associated with the failure starts with the helper unless extra care is take to pass in a stack offset.
  • Additional explanations for a potential failure must be prepared beforehand and passed in.

The E2E framework therefore uses a different approach:

  • framework.Gomega() offers similar functions as the gomega package, except that they return a normal error instead of failing the test.
  • That error gets wrapped with fmt.Errorf("<explanation>: %w) to add additional information, just as in normal Go code.
  • Wrapping the error (%w instead of %v) is important because then framework.ExpectNoError directly uses the error message as failure without additional boiler plate text. It also is able to log the stacktrace where the error occurred and not just where it was finally treated as a test failure.

Tips for writing and debugging long-running tests

  • Use ginkgo.By to record individual steps. Ginkgo will use that information when describing where a test timed out.

  • Invoke the ginkgo CLI with --poll-progress-after=30s or some other suitable duration to be informed early why a test doesn’t complete and where it is stuck. A SIGINFO or SIGUSR1 signal can be sent to the CLI and/or e2e.test processes to trigger an immediate progress report.

  • Use gomega.Eventually to wait for some condition. When it times out or gets stuck, the last failed assertion will be included in the report automatically. A good way to invoke it is:

      gomega.Eventually(ctx, func(ctx context.Context) (book Book, err error) {
          // Retrieve book from API server and return it.
       }).WithPolling(5 * time.Second).WithTimeout(30 * time.Second).
       Should(gomega.HaveField("Author.DOB.Year()", BeNumerically("<", 1900)))

    Avoid testing for some condition inside the callback and returning a boolean because then failure messages are not informative (see above). See for an example where gomega/gcustom was used to write assertions.

    Some of the E2E framework sub-packages have helper functions that wait for certain domain-specific conditions. Currently most of these functions don’t follow best practices (not using gomega.Eventually, error messages not very informative). Work is planned in that area, so beware that these APIs may change at some point.

  • Use gomega.Consistently to ensure that some condition is true for a while. As with gomega.Eventually, make assertions about the value instead of checking the value with Go code and then asserting that the code returns true.

  • Both gomega.Consistently and gomega.Eventually can be aborted early via gomega.StopPolling.

  • Avoid polling with functions that don’t take a context (wait.Poll, wait.PollImmediate, wait.Until, …) and replace with their counterparts that do (wait.PollWithContext, wait.PollImmediateWithContext, wait.UntilWithContext, …) or even better, with gomega.Eventually.

Next steps

Using wait.Poll in E2E tests can be detected with forbidigo since import alias support was merged. In Kubernetes, that can be enabled in a golangci-lint invocation as soon as a configuration extension is merged. Another enhancement would be useful, but not absolutely required.

Because a lot of existing code wouldn’t pass such a check, it probably will only be enabled in the new stricter pull request linting initially. Converting individual sub packages similar to test/e2e/framework/pod to match current best practices would be a good way for new contributors to get involved.

The SIG Testing’s Slack channel is a good place to start. At KubeCon EU 2023, the “Keeping the lights on and the bugs away” talk will cover some of the material of this blog post. Catch me there or meet me at the Intel booth to discuss this further!