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 Create new Helm chart from template 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.

Inject the secrets into your application

Now that you have arranged for the creation of the Secret Kubernetes resource, you need to make those secrets available to your application. There are two main ways to give a Deployment, StatefulSet, CronJob, or other pod-creating resource access to secrets:

Add the new secrets

Adding secrets for a new application must be done by the environment administrator, since it requires write access to the Vault and possibly the static secret store for the environment.

Once you have defined the secrets for your new application, contact the administrator of that environment and provide the values of any static secrets that you are using. They will then use one or more of the following processes:

Next steps