Amazon EKS
User Guide

Using Helm with Amazon EKS

The helm package manager for Kubernetes helps you install and manage applications on your Kubernetes cluster. For more information, see the Helm documentation. This topic helps you install and run the helm and tiller binaries locally so that you can install and manage charts using the helm CLI on your local system.

Although you can run the server-side tiller component in your cluster (and many public Helm installation articles offer only this option), running tiller locally in its own namespace as described in this topic reduces the risk of exploit for your cluster in the following ways:

  • When you run the tiller server on your cluster, it gets its own Kubernetes Identity and associated permission set, often with full Kubernetes administrator permissions. This opens up the possibility for a privilege escalation, where an unprivileged Kubernetes user who has network access to the tiller server can gain additional Kubernetes permissions by way of installing a chart.

  • When you run the tiller server on your local machine, users don't inherit the tiller server permissions on the cluster (likely full-admin), but instead tiller inherits the Kubernetes permissions of the end-user.

  • Running tiller in its own namespace allows you to control access to the Kubernetes secrets that the tiller server stores by controlling access to that namespace.


Before you can install Helm charts on your Amazon EKS cluster, you must configure kubectl to work for Amazon EKS. If you have not already done this, see Installing aws-iam-authenticator and Create a kubeconfig for Amazon EKS before proceeding. If the following command succeeds for your cluster, you're properly configured.

kubectl get svc

To install the helm and tiller binaries on your local system

    • If you're using macOS with Homebrew, install the binaries with the following command.

      brew install kubernetes-helm
    • If you're using Windows with Chocolatey, install the binaries with the following command.

      choco install kubernetes-helm
    • Otherwise, see Installing the Helm Client in the Helm documentation.


      Don't proceed to install the tiller server-side component with the Helm documentation (stop before you reach Installing Tiller). This topic explains how to run tiller locally in its own namespace, which reduces the risk of exploit for your cluster.

  1. To pick up the new binaries in your PATH, Close your current terminal window and open a new one.

To run helm and tiller locally

  1. Create a namespace called tiller with the following command.

    kubectl create namespace tiller


    By default, tiller stores its secrets in the kube-system namespace. Creating a namespace for tiller and specifying that namespace when you run it gives you more specific access controls to who is authorized to view the Helm chart secrets that tiller stores in your cluster.

  2. Open a new terminal window for the tiller server. For the following steps, you need a terminal window for the tiller server and another window for the helm client.


    You should ensure that you are the only active user for the system that you use for the tiller server (such as a local laptop or desktop where you are the only user that is logged in). Otherwise, any user on your system could make requests to the tiller server with your Kubernetes permissions. For Linux and macOS systems, you can see the current users with the following command:




    In the above example, there is only a single user named ericn on the system, so it is safe to proceed. If there are more than one user logged in to your system, you should use a different system, or consider launching an Amazon EC2 instance for this procedure so that you can ensure that you are the only active user.

  3. In the tiller server terminal, set the TILLER_NAMESPACE environment variable to tiller and then start the tiller server.

    1. Set the TILLER_NAMESPACE environment variable to tiller.

      • macOS and Linux:

        export TILLER_NAMESPACE=tiller
      • Windows (PowerShell):

        $env:TILLER_NAMESPACE = 'tiller'
    2. Start the tiller server.

      • macOS and Linux:

        tiller -listen=localhost:44134 -storage=secret -logtostderr
      • Windows (PowerShell):

        tiller -listen=localhost:44134 -storage=secret


      By default, tiller stores release information in ConfigMaps; however, the latest Helm documentation recommends that you use the -storage=secret flag to store this information with Kubernetes secrets instead. For more information, see Tiller's Release Information in Securing your Helm Installation. The -listen=localhost:44134 flag ensures that the tiller server only accepts requests from your local machine (this prevents unauthorized network users from accessing your local tiller process).

  4. In the helm client terminal window, set the HELM_HOST environment variable to :44134.

    • macOS and Linux:

      export HELM_HOST=:44134
    • Windows (PowerShell):

      $env:HELM_HOST = ':44134'
  5. In the helm client terminal window, initialize the helm client.

    helm init --client-only
  6. In the helm client terminal window, verify that helm is communicating with the tiller server properly.

    helm repo update


    Hang tight while we grab the latest from your chart repositories... ...Skip local chart repository ...Successfully got an update from the "stable" chart repository Update Complete. ⎈ Happy Helming!⎈
  7. At this point, you can run any helm commands in your helm client terminal window (such as helm install chart_name) to install, modify, delete, or query Helm charts in your cluster. As you run helm commands, you can follow the tiller logs for those commands in its server terminal window. For more information, see Helm Commands and Charts in the Helm documentation.

    If you're just experimenting with helm and you don't have a specific chart to install, you can see Install an Example Chart in the Helm Quickstart Guide.

  8. When you're finished, close your helm client and tiller server terminal windows. Repeat this procedure when you want to use helm with your cluster.