Define the application secrets#

To allow Phalanx to manage and verify the secrets for an application, every secret that the application uses must be configured. This configuration is used to generate secrets that can be randomly generated, copy secret values from an external source if appropriate, and ensure that all secrets required for the application are present in Vault.

If the application doesn’t have any secrets, you can skip this step and continue to Add a new application to Phalanx.

If you have not already written a Helm chart for your application, do that first, following the instructions in either Write a Helm chart for an application or Adding an external Helm chart.

Create the secret definitions#

Secrets for each application are specified by a file named secrets.yaml at the top level of the application chart directory (at the same level as Chart.yaml).

Applications can also define additional secrets used only in specific environments in a secrets-environment.yaml file. Those secrets are merged with the secrets defined in secrets.yaml (and override those secrets if they have the same key).

These are YAML files. The top-level keys are the names of each application secret. This corresponds to the key within the Secret object that will be created in Kubernetes for the application.

The values are specifications of secrets. The most important fields are description, which should contain a human-readable description of the secret in reStructuredText, and generate, which if set defines the rules to generate a random secret.

Secrets can also be copied from the secret for another application, to handle cases where two applications need to share a secret. This is done with the copy directive.

Secrets may be conditional on specific Helm chart settings by using if; in this case, the secret doesn’t need to exist unless that Helm setting is true. It’s also possible for the generate or copy rules to be conditional, meaning that the secret is only generated or copied if some condition is set, and otherwise may be a static secret.

Secrets that contain newlines cannot be stored in 1Password as-is, since 1Password field values don’t support newlines. Mark these secrets by setting onepassword.encoded to true, since they will be stored in 1Password with an additional layer of base64 encoding. (You do not need to do this with GCP service account credentials. Although their normal form contains newlines, they are encoded in JSON, so the newlines are not significant and may be stripped.)

For a full specification of the contents of this file, see Specification for secrets.yaml files.


All of the following examples are single entries in the secrets.yaml file for a service.

Here is the specification for static secret used by Argo CD to authenticate users with an external OpenID Connect server. Since this contains no if or generate clauses, it must be provided as a static secret for all environments.

  description: >-
    OAuth 2 or OpenID Connect client secret, used to authenticate to
    GitHub or Google as part of the authentication flow. This secret
    can be changed at any time.

The Gafaelfawr Redis password, used internally to authenticate to its dedicated Redis. This is an example of a generated secret. It is required for all environments, but will be generated automatically on first sync.

  description: >-
    Password used to authenticate Gafaelfawr to its internal Redis server,
    deployed as part of the same Argo CD application. This secret can be
    changed at any time, but both the Redis server and all Gafaelfawr
    deployments will then have to be restarted to pick up the new value.
    type: password

Here is an example of a conditional static secret. This is the password used by Gafaelfawr to authenticate to an external LDAP server. It only needs to be provided if Gafaelfawr is configured to use an LDAP server, as determined by whether its values setting config.ldap.userDn is set to a true (non-empty) value.

  description: >-
    Password to authenticate to the LDAP server via simple binds to
    retrieve user and group information. This password can be changed
    at any time.
  if: config.ldap.userDn

Here is an example of a secret that is always required but which is automatically generated in some environments but must be provided as a static secret in other environments. This is the Gafaelfawr database password, which is a static secret when using an external database but a generated secret when using the in-cluster PostgreSQL server.

  description: >-
    Password used to authenticate to the PostgreSQL database used to store
    Gafaelfawr data. This password may be changed at any time.
    if: config.internalDatabase
    type: password

Here is an example of a secret that is copied from another application. This is the matching definition of the Gafaelfawr database password in the in-cluster PostgreSQL server, which is copied from the Gafaelfawr application if Gafaelfawr is using the in-cluster database.

  description: "Password for the Gafaelfawr database."
  if: gafaelfawr_db
    application: gafaelfawr
    key: database-password

Finally, here is an example of a static secret that needs an additional layer of base64 encoding when stored in 1Password because its value contains newlines:

  description: >-
    PostgreSQL credentials in its pgpass format for the Butler database.
    encoded: true

Define VaultSecret resources#

The Phalanx secrets tooling will ensure that the secret is in Vault, but you must still create or update a VaultSecret resource in your application’s deployment, typically in its Helm chart, to tell Vault Secrets Operator how to create a Secret that your application can use.

A typical VaultSecret Helm template for an application looks like this (replace myapp with your application’s name):

kind: VaultSecret
  name: {{ include "myapp.fullname" . }}
    {{- include "myapp.labels" . | nindent 4 }}
  path: "{{ }}/myapp"
  type: Opaque

The global.vaultSecretsPath setting will be injected into your application by Argo CD.

This Kubernetes resource will instruct Vault Secrets Operator to create a corresponding Secret resource containing the contents of the myapp vault secret located under the value of global.vaultSecretsPath. This Secret will have the same name and namespace as the VaultSecret object.

In some cases, you may not want to exactly copy the full Vault secret for the application. Instead, you may want to only include some keys, create multiple secrets each with different subsets of the application’s secret, add derived values to the secret because a third-party chart requires them, or perform other transformations. This can be done using the templating features of Vault Secrets Operator. See the vault-secrets-operator documentation for more details.


The template syntax documented in the Vault Secrets Operator documentation assumes that secret keys will not contain hyphens (-), but we often use hyphens because they make for good human-readable names. To refer to a secret key that contains a hyphen in a Vault Secrets Operator template, use YAML and template syntax like the following:

    admin-password: >-
      {% index .Secrets "admin-password" %}

The index function can retrieve secrets whose names are not valid identifiers (because, for instance, they contain a dash), and >- quoting avoids the conflict between two layers of quotes. This also works for other characters not allowed in identifiers, such as periods.

See Write a Helm chart for an application for more details on creating a Helm chart for an application.

Create static secrets in 1Password#

For SQuaRE-run Phalanx environments, static secrets for applications are stored in a 1Password vault before being automatically synced to the Vault service. Such secrets are things for external cloud services where we don’t automatically provision accounts and password. When we manually create such a secret, we store it in 1Password.

This step may have to be done for you by a Phalanx environment administrator depending on how permissions in Vault and any underlying secrets store are handled for your environment.


This document only covers creating a 1Password-backed secret for the first time for an application. If you want to update a secret, either by adding new 1Password secrets or by changing their secret values, you should follow the instructions in Updating a secret stored in 1Password.

1. Open the 1Password vault#

In one password, access the LSST IT 1Password team and open the vault for the environment to which you’re adding a secret. If your application will be deployed in multiple environments, you will need to repeat this process for each environment.

The name of the 1Password vault for a given environment is configured in the onepassword.vaultTitle key in the values-environment.yaml file in environments for that environment.

2. Create the new item#

Each application should have one entry in the 1Password vault. Each field in that entry is one Phalanx secret for that application. The value of the field is the value of the secret.

For a new application, create a new 1Password item of type Server. Delete all of the pre-defined fields.

Then, create a field for each static secret for that application, and set the value to the value of that secret in that environemnt. The field names should match the secret keys for the application. Change the field type to password so that the value isn’t displayed any time someone opens the 1Password entry.

Do not use sections. Phalanx requires all of the secret entries be top-level fields outside of any section.

Newlines will be converted to spaces when pasting the secret value. If newlines need to be preserved, be sure to mark the secret with onepassword.encoded set to true in secrets.yaml, and then encode the secret in base64 before pasting it into 1Password. To encode the secret, save it to a file with the correct newlines, and then use a command such as:

base64 -w0 < /path/to/secret; echo ''
base64 -i /path/to/secret; echo ''

This will generate a base64-encoded version of the secret on one line, suitable for cutting and pasting into the 1Password field.

3. Sync 1Password items into Vault#

To sync the new 1Password items into Vault, follow the instructions in Sync secrets for an environment. This must be done using a Phalanx configuration that includes your new application and the secret configuration for it that you created above.

Next steps#