Deploying Rancher on k3s on WSL 2

Running k3s server on WSL2 and then installing Rancher on it.

Deploying Rancher on k3s on WSL 2

Install Rancher on k3s on WSL


  • Windows 10 build 19041+
  • Some familiarity with WSL and the Linux terminal
  • WSL 2 enabled, if not, in PowerShell as Administrator run:
dism.exe /online /enable-feature /featurename:Microsoft-Windows-Subsystem-Linux /all /norestart

dism.exe /online /enable-feature /featurename:VirtualMachinePlatform /all /norestart

Invoke-WebRequest -Uri -OutFile wsl_update_x64.msi



wsl.exe --set-default-version 2

Create our WSL 2 environment

Download and install an Ubuntu Hirsute Hippo WSL image (hirsute-server-cloudimg-amd64-wsl.rootfs.tar.gz) from the Ubuntu cloud images server and manually import into WSL 2:

wsl.exe --import Ubuntu-k3s C:\WSL\Ubuntu-k3s\ 'C:\Users\Hayden\Downloads\hirsute-server-cloudimg-amd64-wsl.rootfs.tar.gz' --version 2

Launch our newly imported WSL 2 distro and switch to our home folder:

wsl.exe -d Ubuntu-k3s
cd ~

Install k3s on our WSL 2 distro

Download the latest k3s release from GitHub, copy it to /usr/local/bin/, mark it executable, and check that it runs:

wget<latest release binary>

mv k3s /usr/local/bin/

chmod u+x /usr/local/bin/k3s

k3s --version

Install helm in our WSL 2 distro

Download and run the Helm install script, then check that it runs:

curl | bash

helm version

Kubernetes does not play well with nftables, which is now the default on Ubuntu, so lets revert to iptables legacy mode:

sudo update-alternatives --set iptables /usr/sbin/iptables-legacy

You can now run a k3s pre-check to make sure we are ready to go:

k3s check-config

Start k3s Server

Run k3s server in the background using screen, saving the log output to /var/log/k3s.log.

screen -d -m -L -Logfile /var/log/k3s.log /usr/local/bin/k3s server

If you want to monitor the output of k3s server, you can either lookup the screen and re-attach:

 screen -ls
 screen -r #

or live tail the log file:

tail -F /var/log/k3s.log

(Open new panes in Windows Terminal by holding down Alt and then selecting your environment from the drop-down)

Wait a few moments and then check in our cluster:

k3s kubectl cluster-info && k3s kubectl get nodes && k3s kubectl get pods --all-namespaces

Add Helm repositories

Add the Rancher repository to Helm:

helm repo add rancher-latest

Add the Jetstack repository to Helm (needed for cert-manager):

helm repo add jetstack

You could also manually set ~/.config/helm/repositories.yaml:

nano ~/.config/helm/repositories.yaml

Paste in:

apiVersion: ""
generated: "0001-01-01T00:00:00Z"
- caFile: ""
  certFile: ""
  insecure_skip_tls_verify: false
  keyFile: ""
  name: rancher-latest
  password: ""
  username: ""
- caFile: ""
  certFile: ""
  insecure_skip_tls_verify: false
  keyFile: ""
  name: jetstack
  password: ""
  username: ""

Refresh the Helm chart repository metadata:

helm repo update

Configure Environmental Variables

Set KUBERNETES_MASTER and KUBE_CONFIG environmental variables and then store a script in ~/.bashrc to set each in the future:

export KUBERNETES_MASTER=$( grep server: /etc/rancher/k3s/k3s.yaml | cut -c13-)
export KUBECONFIG=/etc/rancher/k3s/k3s.yaml
echo "export KUBERNETES_MASTER=$( grep server: /etc/rancher/k3s/k3s.yaml | cut -c13-)" >> ~/.bashrc
echo "export KUBECONFIG=/etc/rancher/k3s/k3s.yaml" >> ~/.bashrc

or, alternatively, simply echo the export commands to ~/.bashrc and then source the file:

echo "export KUBERNETES_MASTER=$( grep server: /etc/rancher/k3s/k3s.yaml | cut -c13-)" >> ~/.bashrc
echo "export KUBECONFIG=/etc/rancher/k3s/k3s.yaml" >> ~/.bashrc
source ~/.bashrc

Optional: kubectl alias

In the commands below, we call k3s kubectl often. If you do not have kubectl separately installed, you can alias kubectl to avoid having to prefix it with k3s each time and set it in ~/.bashrc:

alias kubectl="k3s kubectl"
echo 'alias kubectl="k3s kubectl"' >> ~/.bashrc

Create Kubernetes Namespaces

Create a namespace for Rancher and cert-manager:

k3s kubectl create namespace cattle-system
k3s kubectl create namespace cert-manager

Install cert-manager

Install the cert-manager custom resource definitions:

k3s kubectl apply --validate=false -f

Install cert-manager using helm:

helm install \
  cert-manager jetstack/cert-manager \
  --namespace cert-manager

After a moment, check to see if cert-manager is running:

k3s kubectl get pods --namespace cert-manager

This guide does not cover certificate management with cert-manager. We will be using Rancher's self-signed certificate function, which your browser will complaint about but is fine for testing. You can also use Let's Encrypt or bring your own certificates.

Install Rancher

Install rancher-latest using helm:

helm install rancher rancher-latest/rancher \
  --namespace cattle-system \
  --set hostname=rancher.local

Wait and bit and then verify the deployment:

kubectl -n cattle-system get deploy rancher

Configure Networking

Add our 'domain name' to /etc/hosts on our WSL 2 distro:

echo " rancher.local" >> /etc/hosts

Get your WSL 2 distro IP address. This resets every time you restart the container, so this next step will need to be repeated every time your WSL distro is reset. There is a way to automate this, but that is for another post.

ip addr show eth0 | grep -oP '(?<=inet\s)\d+(\.\d+){3}'

Open your Windows hosts file as Administrator:

powershell.exe Start-Process notepad.exe 'c:\Windows\System32\Drivers\etc\hosts' -Verb runAs

Append to your Windows hosts file:

<WSL 2 IP address> rancher.local

Open Rancher

You should now be able to open rancher.local from a Windows (or WSL) browser and configure.

For now, set the IP address of your WSL distro as the server URL.

You will need to update this IP address in Rancher settings when your WSL distro resets and gets a different IP address.

Now, you can explore Rancher:

Follow-Up Posts

Now that we have Rancher running on WSL 2, we can use it to build clusters. Here are some follow-up articles I have in various stages of draft form that I hope to finish and post building on the above:

  • Run Windows Containers on Rancher on Windows Server in Hyper-V
  • Provision a Rancher Worker Node on Ubuntu in Hyper-V
  • Provision Rancher Nodes on WSL

Misc Scripts

To quickly reset k3s:

rm -rf /etc/rancher/k3s
rm -rf /var/lib/rancher/k3s

Quick setup if you need to start from scratch:

screen -d -m -L -Logfile /var/log/k3s.log /usr/local/bin/k3s server
k3s kubectl create namespace cattle-system
k3s kubectl create namespace cert-manager
k3s kubectl apply --validate=false -f
helm install cert-manager jetstack/cert-manager --namespace cert-manager