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Kubernetes Object Management

The kubectl command-line tool supports several different ways to create and manage Kubernetes objects. This document provides an overview of the different approaches. Read the Kubectl book for details of managing objects by Kubectl.

Management techniques

Warning: A Kubernetes object should be managed using only one technique. Mixing and matching techniques for the same object results in undefined behavior.
Management technique Operates on Recommended environment Supported writers Learning curve
Imperative commands Live objects Development projects 1+ Lowest
Imperative object configuration Individual files Production projects 1 Moderate
Declarative object configuration Directories of files Production projects 1+ Highest

Imperative commands

When using imperative commands, a user operates directly on live objects in a cluster. The user provides operations to the kubectl command as arguments or flags.

This is the simplest way to get started or to run a one-off task in a cluster. Because this technique operates directly on live objects, it provides no history of previous configurations.


Run an instance of the nginx container by creating a Deployment object:

kubectl run nginx --image nginx

Do the same thing using a different syntax:

kubectl create deployment nginx --image nginx


Advantages compared to object configuration:

Disadvantages compared to object configuration:

Imperative object configuration

In imperative object configuration, the kubectl command specifies the operation (create, replace, etc.), optional flags and at least one file name. The file specified must contain a full definition of the object in YAML or JSON format.

See the API reference for more details on object definitions.

Warning: The imperative replace command replaces the existing spec with the newly provided one, dropping all changes to the object missing from the configuration file. This approach should not be used with resource types whose specs are updated independently of the configuration file. Services of type LoadBalancer, for example, have their externalIPs field updated independently from the configuration by the cluster.


Create the objects defined in a configuration file:

kubectl create -f nginx.yaml

Delete the objects defined in two configuration files:

kubectl delete -f nginx.yaml -f redis.yaml

Update the objects defined in a configuration file by overwriting the live configuration:

kubectl replace -f nginx.yaml


Advantages compared to imperative commands:

Disadvantages compared to imperative commands:

Advantages compared to declarative object configuration:

Disadvantages compared to declarative object configuration:

Declarative object configuration

When using declarative object configuration, a user operates on object configuration files stored locally, however the user does not define the operations to be taken on the files. Create, update, and delete operations are automatically detected per-object by kubectl. This enables working on directories, where different operations might be needed for different objects.

Note: Declarative object configuration retains changes made by other writers, even if the changes are not merged back to the object configuration file. This is possible by using the patch API operation to write only observed differences, instead of using the replace API operation to replace the entire object configuration.


Process all object configuration files in the configs directory, and create or patch the live objects. You can first diff to see what changes are going to be made, and then apply:

kubectl diff -f configs/
kubectl apply -f configs/

Recursively process directories:

kubectl diff -R -f configs/
kubectl apply -R -f configs/


Advantages compared to imperative object configuration:

Disadvantages compared to imperative object configuration:

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