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When should you use K3s vs. MicroK8s?

Looking for an efficient, user-friendly alternative to traditional Kubernetes? Compare the popular lightweight distributions K3s and MicroK8s to decide which is best for you.

K3s and MicroK8s are among the most popular lightweight Kubernetes distributions. Both do the same basic thing: enable you to set up a Kubernetes cluster with minimal resource consumption.

Although K3s and MicroK8s are similar in that they are both user-friendly options for those exploring lightweight Kubernetes, the two have some major differences. Compare K3s vs. MicroK8s to understand when to use each.

What is lightweight Kubernetes?

Lightweight Kubernetes is a term that refers to any Kubernetes distribution designed to run with low levels of resource consumption. The amount of CPU and memory needed to power Kubernetes nodes using a lightweight distribution is typically lower than the requirements of full-scale distributions, such as VMware Tanzu or SUSE Rancher.

In addition, most lightweight Kubernetes distributions are designed to be easy to use. In most cases, you can install the distribution and start a cluster with just a few commands. This makes lightweight distributions a great option if you want to set up a Kubernetes cluster on your laptop or PC for testing purposes.

However, lightweight Kubernetes isn't just for testing. You can also use lightweight distributions for production purposes. They're useful in situations that involve running Kubernetes on devices such as IoT hardware that have fewer CPU and memory resources than traditional servers.

Starting a cluster on K3s vs. MicroK8s

With K3s, you can start a cluster with just two commands on any Linux system.

curl -sfL | sh -
k3s server

Similarly, you can install MicroK8s on Ubuntu-based computers with the following command.

sudo snap install microk8s --classic --channel=1.26

What are the differences between K3s and MicroK8s?

There are several important differences between K3s and MicroK8s, including the following:

  • System compatibility. K3s works on any Linux distribution, but MicroK8s is designed primarily for Ubuntu. Although it's technically possible to get MicroK8s working on other Linux distributions, it won't be as easy as running a single command.
  • Hardware compatibility. K3s and MicroK8s both support all major CPU architectures, including 32-bit and 64-bit x86 systems. However, MicroK8s supports additional architectures that K3s does not. As a result, MicroK8s can run on a wider array of device types -- a particularly beneficial feature when dealing with IoT-based deployments because IoT devices use a wide range of architectures.
  • Configuration options. Both distributions can be configured in various ways. But compared with K3s, MicroK8s supports a wider array of container runtimes, storage and networking plugins, and configuration options.

When to choose K3s vs. MicroK8s

In general, you're likely to find K3s deployed more often for testing purposes on local devices, whereas MicroK8s is a better fit for deploying Kubernetes on IoT devices that can't run K3s.

The bottom line is that K3s is the better choice if you want a lightweight Linux distribution that will run in any standard Linux-based environment and if you don't require a specific type of configuration that is not supported by K3s.

However, MicroK8s is often a better fit if you're already running Ubuntu or are willing to install it. In addition, MicroK8s might be the only way to run a lightweight Kubernetes distribution if you have hardware or configuration requirements that are not supported by K3s.

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