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Andrew Lock

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Fixing Nginx "upstream sent too big header" error when running an ingress controller in Kubernetes

In this post I describe a problem I had running IdentityServer 4 behind an Nginx reverse proxy. In my case, I was running Nginx as an ingress controller for a Kubernetes cluster, but the issue is actually not specific to Kubernetes, or IdentityServer - it's an Nginx configuration issue.

The error: "upstream sent too big header while reading response header from upstream"

Initially, the Nginx ingress controller appeared to be configured correctly. I could view the IdentityServer home page, and could click login, but when I was redirected to the authorize endpoint (as part of the standard IdentityServer flow), I would get a 502 Bad Gateway error and a blank page.

Looking through the logs, IdentityServer showed no errors - as far as it was concerned there were no problems with the authorize request. However, looking through the Nginx logs revealed this gem (formatted slightly for legibility):

2018/02/05 04:55:21 [error] 193#193: 
    *25 upstream sent too big header while reading response header from upstream, 
  "GET /idsrv/connect/authorize/callback?state=14379610753351226&nonce=9227284121831921&client_id=test.client& HTTP/1.1",

Apparently, this is a common problem with Nginx, and is essentially exactly what the error says. Nginx sometimes chokes on responses with large headers, because its buffer size is smaller than some other web servers. When it gets a response with large headers, as was the case for my IdentityServer OpenID Connect callback, it falls over and sends a 502 response.

The solution is to simply increase Nginx's buffer size. If you're running Nginx on bare metal you could do this by increasing the buffer size in the config file, something like:

proxy_buffers         8 16k;  # Buffer pool = 8 buffers of 16k
proxy_buffer_size     16k;    # 16k of buffers from pool used for headers

However, in this case, I was working with Nginx as an ingress controller to a Kubernetes cluster. The question was, how do you configure Nginx when it's running in a container?

How to configure the Nginx ingress controller

Luckily, the Nginx ingress controller is designed for exactly this situation. It uses a ConfigMap of values that are mapped to internal Nginx configuration values. By changing the ConfigMap, you can configure the underlying Nginx Pod.

The Nginx ingress controller only supports changing a subset of options via the ConfigMap approach, but luckily proxy‑buffer‑size is one such option! There's two things you need to do to customise the ingress:

  1. Deploy the ConfigMap containing your customisations
  2. Point the Nginx ingress controller Deployment to your ConfigMap

I'm just going to show the template changes in this post, assuming you have a cluster created using kubeadm and kubectl

Creating the ConfigMap

The ConfigMap is one of the simplest resources in kubernets; it's essentially just a collection of key-value pairs. The following manifest creates a ConfigMap called nginx-configuration and sets the proxy-buffer-size to "16k", to solve the 502 errors I was seeing previously.

kind: ConfigMap
apiVersion: v1
  name: nginx-configuration
  namespace: kube-system
    k8s-app: nginx-ingress-controller
  proxy-buffer-size: "16k"

If you save this to a file nginx-configuration.yaml then you can apply it to your cluster using

kubectl apply -f nginx-configuration.yaml

However, you can't just apply the ConfigMap and have the ingress controller pick it up automatically - you have to update your Nginx Deployment so it knows which ConfigMap to use.

Configuring the Nginx ingress controller to use your ConfigMap

In order for the ingress controller to use your ConfigMap, you must pass the ConfigMap name (nginx-configuration) as an argument in your deployment. For example:

  - /nginx-ingress-controller
  - --default-backend-service=$(POD_NAMESPACE)/default-http-backend
  - --configmap=$(POD_NAMESPACE)/nginx-configuration

Without this argument, the ingress controller will ignore your ConfigMap. The complete deployment manifest will look something like the following (adapted from the Nginx ingress controller repo)

apiVersion: extensions/v1beta1
kind: Deployment
  name: nginx-ingress-controller
  namespace: ingress-nginx 
  replicas: 1
        app: ingress-nginx
      annotations: '10254' 'true' 
      - command:
        - sh
        - -c
        - sysctl -w net.core.somaxconn=32768; sysctl -w net.ipv4.ip_local_port_range="1024 65535"
        image: alpine:3.6
        imagePullPolicy: IfNotPresent
        name: sysctl
          privileged: true
        - name: nginx-ingress-controller
            - /nginx-ingress-controller
            - --default-backend-service=$(POD_NAMESPACE)/default-http-backend
            - --configmap=$(POD_NAMESPACE)/nginx-configuration
            - name: POD_NAME
            - name: POD_NAMESPACE
                  fieldPath: metadata.namespace
          - name: http
            containerPort: 80
          - name: https
            containerPort: 443
            failureThreshold: 3
              path: /healthz
              port: 10254
              scheme: HTTP
            initialDelaySeconds: 10
            periodSeconds: 10
            successThreshold: 1
            timeoutSeconds: 1
            failureThreshold: 3
              path: /healthz
              port: 10254
              scheme: HTTP
            periodSeconds: 10
            successThreshold: 1
            timeoutSeconds: 1


While deploying a local Kubernetes cluster locally, the Nginx ingess controller was returning 502 errors for some requests. This was due to the headers being too large for Nginx to handle. Increasing the proxy_buffer_size configuration parmeter solved the problem. To achieve this with the ingress controller, you must provide a ConfigMap and point your ingress controller to it by passing an additional arg in your Deployment.

Andrew Lock | .Net Escapades
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