Photo by Burst / Unsplash

Choosing the Right Tool for Your Local Kubernetes Development Environment

Prince Onyeanuna
Prince Onyeanuna

Table of Contents

Imagine you're trying to set up a Kubernetes cluster on your local machine to test a new feature before you deploy it to a production environment. You aim to make this local environment as close to the production environment as possible.

A minimal production cluster would require at least three master nodes. Each node would need at least 1 CPU core per 4GB of RAM, a minimum of 8GB of RAM per node, and 40 GB of free disk space, with at least 20 GB dedicated to the operating system and Kubernetes components. Simply put, running a production-like Kubernetes cluster on your local machine is nearly impossible. So, how do you test your application? This is where local Kubernetes environments come in.

This article provides the necessary information to help you choose the right tool for your local Kubernetes development environment. You'll understand why these tools are essential and have an overview of five popular local Kubernetes environments. By the end of this article, you'll be able to choose your preferred tool based on your requirements.


  1. Local Kubernetes environments like Minikube, Kind, Docker Desktop, K3s, and Microk8s provide lightweight, isolated clusters for development and testing.
  2. You can choose an environment based on platform support, complexity of setup, flexibility, and community support.
  3. Minikube and Kind offer strong community support from the Kubernetes community, while K3s is backed by Rancher Labs and Microk8s by Canonical.
  4. Ultimately, the choice depends on your specific requirements and familiarity with the tools.

What are Local Kubernetes Environments?

Local Kubernetes environments are development tools that allow you to set up a cluster on your local machine. They are lightweight and usually have a straightforward setup process.

By lightweight, it means that they don't require a lot of resources to run. You can run them on your laptop or desktop without requiring as many resources as a production cluster.

Local Kubernetes environments are primarily used for development and testing purposes. They abstract away all the hard work of setting up a Kubernetes cluster so you can focus on developing your application locally before deploying it to production environments.

They offer features like container runtime, networking, and storage, similar to what you would find in a production Kubernetes environment.

Why Do You Need a Local Kubernetes Environment?

A local Kubernetes environment aims to reproduce an environment close to a production environment. This is useful for a couple of reasons:

  • Cost saving: For a production environment, you'd usually use a cloud-managed Kubernetes service or buy physical servers, which can be expensive. With a local Kubernetes environment, you only need your laptop or desktop. You can test your app locally rather than spinning up a new test cluster on a cloud provider or a separate physical server.
  • Learning and experimentation: You'll never learn Kubernetes by reading a book or watching a video. You need to get your hands dirty, and I don't mean on a production cluster. A local Kubernetes environment allows you to experiment with Kubernetes features without the fear of breaking a production cluster.
  • Development and testing: How do you know that each service in your cluster communicates with each other as expected? Instead of hoping they do on a production cluster, you can test them locally. With local Kubernetes environments, you can build your app, create the manifest files for your Kubernetes resources, and deploy them to your local cluster to test that they work as expected.

You can use several tools to set up a local Kubernetes environment. However, this article will focus on five of these tools:


Minikube Homepage

Minikube allows you to set up a Kubernetes cluster on your laptop, providing an isolated environment for development and testing. It packages all the necessary Kubernetes components into a single binary, making it easy to install and manage.

One of the key features of Minikube is its support for multiple hypervisors, including VirtualBox, HyperKit, and KVM. This lets you choose the best virtualization technology based on your operating system and hardware requirements. Minikube also supports features like Kubernetes dashboard, kubectl CLI integration, and add-ons for networking, storage, and logging.

When you start Minikube, it creates a virtual machine (VM) using the selected hypervisor and provisions a Kubernetes cluster within that VM. The Minikube binary interacts with the hypervisor to manage the lifecycle of the VM and Kubernetes components. Once the cluster is up and running, you can use kubectl to interact with the cluster and deploy your applications.

Kind (Kubernetes in Docker)

KinD Homepage

Kind, short for Kubernetes in Docker, is a lightweight solution that allows you to create Kubernetes clusters using Docker containers as nodes.

One of the critical features of Kind is its simplicity. It abstracts away the complexities of provisioning Kubernetes clusters by leveraging Docker containers, making it easy to set up and tear down clusters as needed. Kind is primarily designed to test Kubernetes itself, but it's also suitable for local development workflows.

When you create a Kind cluster, it spins up Docker containers to act as Kubernetes nodes. These containers run the necessary Kubernetes components, including the control plane and worker nodes. Kind clusters are lightweight and can be created quickly, making them ideal for scenarios where you need to test your applications in isolated Kubernetes environments.

Docker Desktop

Docker Desktop Homepage

If you're already familiar with Docker, Docker Desktop provides an easy way to run Kubernetes clusters on your local machine. Docker Desktop includes Kubernetes as an optional feature, allowing you to run Kubernetes clusters alongside your Docker containers on your local machine.

One of the standout features of Docker Desktop is its seamless integration with Docker. With Docker Desktop, you can use familiar Docker commands to manage both your Docker containers and Kubernetes clusters. This tight integration streamlines the development process and reduces the learning curve for developers already comfortable with Docker.

When you enable Kubernetes in Docker Desktop, it sets up a Kubernetes cluster using Docker containers as nodes. Docker Desktop abstracts away the complexities of Kubernetes setup and management, providing a user-friendly interface for managing your Kubernetes clusters.


k3s Homepage

K3s is a CNCF conformant distribution of Kubernetes. The "3" in K3s is in contrast to the "8" in K8s - a popular abbreviation of Kubernetes. This is because K3s is meant to be a more approachable, less complex type of Kubernetes.

K3s is packaged as a single binary. Its control plane can act as a worker node as well. This single binary is less than 100MB but contains everything you need to run a node either as a control plane node or a worker node.

One of the standout features of K3s is its simplicity. It provides a minimalistic Kubernetes environment that's ideal for scenarios where resource constraints are a concern. K3s includes all the essential Kubernetes components, such as the control plane, worker nodes, networking, and storage, packaged into a single binary.

When you install K3s on your machine, it sets up a Kubernetes cluster using lightweight containers. K3s abstracts away the complexities of Kubernetes setup and management, allowing you to focus on developing and testing your applications.


MicroK8s Homepage

Microk8s is a CNCF-certified lightweight Kubernetes distribution that's designed for development and testing on Linux machines. It was developed by Canonical - the company behind Ubuntu - and provides a simple way to set up Kubernetes clusters on your local machine.

It provides over-the-air updates, minimal footprints and security fixes. Microk8s can be easily installed on all major Linux distros, Windows and MacOS. It also supports both Intel and ARM architectures.

Unlike some Kubernetes distributions primarily intended for testing purposes, Microk8s goes beyond that scope. It's a production-grade conformant Kubernetes that can run on any standard PC, edge or IoT device.

Comparison between local Kubernetes development tools

In this section, you're going to compare these tools based on specific criteria such as platform support, flexibility, etc.

By the end of each criterion, you can make a choice of which tool best fits your environment or requirements.

Platforms supported

Under this section, you'll get to know which operating systems each tool supports. This is important because you want to choose a tool that is compatible with your environment.


Minikube supports the three main operating systems - Linux, macOS, and Windows - with straightforward installation instructions for each.

It also supports a wide range of hypervisors such as VirtualBox, HyperKit, KVM, and VMware Fusion. This allows you to choose the best option for your environment.


Like MiniKube, Kind is also compatible with Linux, macOS, and Windows with multiple installation options. It also leverages Docker containers as nodes, making it compatible with any platform that supports Docker.


K3s is the only tool on this list which is optimized for Linux distributions. It supports Ubuntu, SUSE, and other Linux distributions, with its installation process being as simple as running a single command.

K3s was developed as a low-resource Kubernetes distribution, meaning it wasn't designed to be a development tool but rather in production environments that use fewer resources.

Docker Desktop

Docker Desktop is compatible with Linux, macOS, and Windows operating systems. This is the tool you'd want to use if you're already familiar with Docker Desktop.


MicroK8s is optimized for the Ubuntu operating system; therefore, installing using snap is a straightforward process. However, it can also be installed on other Linux distributions, Windows, and macOS, but with a bit more effort.

Complexity of Setup

After knowing which platforms each tool supports, the next thing to consider is how easy it is to set up each tool. This is important because you want to choose a tool that is easy for you to set up and get started with.


On MacOS and Linux, you can install Minikube using Homebrew with the brew install minikube command. On Windows, you can use Chocolatey using the command choco install minikube.

After installation, you can start Minikube using the minikube start command and interact with the cluster using kubectl.


Kind has several methods of installation. You can install it using Homebrew on macOS with the command brew install kind. On Windows, you can use Chocolatey with the command choco install kind. On Linux, you can download the binary.
After the setup, you can create a Kind cluster using the Kind create cluster command.


Since K3s is optimized for Linux distributions, you can install it using a single command curl -sfL | sh -. This command downloads the K3s binary and installs it on your machine.

Once the setup is done, you can interact with the cluster using kubectl. However, you need to prepend k3 to each command. For instance, if you want to get the nodes in the cluster, you'd run k3 kubectl get nodes.

Docker Desktop

Installing Docker Desktop is as simple as downloading the installer for your operating system and following the installation instructions. Once installed, you can enable Kubernetes in the Docker Desktop settings.

After waiting for a few minutes, you can interact with the Kubernetes cluster using kubectl. Docker Desktop also provides a graphical interface for managing your containers and Kubernetes clusters.


Microk8s can be installed on Ubuntu using the snap package manager. You can install it using the command sudo snap install microk8s --classic. For other Linux distributions, Windows, and macOS, you can follow the installation instructions.

After installation, you can enable any services you need using the microk8s enable command. For instance, to enable the dashboard, you'd run microk8s enable dashboard.


It would be best if you had a tool that is flexible enough to adapt to your project requirements. This includes support for various Kubernetes configurations and integration with other tools.


Minikube is flexible in terms of the hypervisors it supports. You can choose from VirtualBox, KVM, VMware Fusion and a few others. It also supports add-ons for networking, storage, and logging, allowing you to customize your Kubernetes environment.

You can customize cluster settings and enable additional features using the Minikube CLI, making it suitable for a wide range of use cases.


Kind uses upstream Kubernetes. This means it's very close to the Kubernetes codebase. It also uses Kubeadm, which makes it highly customizable.

The issue with this is that you're limited by your knowledge of Kubernetes configurations. If you're unfamiliar with Kubernetes, you might find it challenging to customize your Kind cluster.


K3s provides an advanced section containing instructions for customizing your cluster in specific scenarios. In most of these cases, you can find similarities that make K3s look like a production-grade Kubernetes cluster.

The thing with K3s is that they have a specific purpose: running on low-resource environments. This means that it might not be as flexible as other tools on this list.

Docker Desktop

When customizing your cluster with Docker Desktop, you're out of luck. It doesn't provide any options for customizing your cluster. You can only enable or disable Kubernetes in the settings.
It does provide easy integration with Docker compose, kubectl, and other docker tools, making it a good choice if you're already familiar with Docker.


For very advanced use cases, MicroK8s isn't as flexible as other tools on this list. They provide some instructions on customizing your cluster.

MicroK8s also allows for integration with add-ons like Istio, Prometheus, and Helm. This makes it a good choice if you're looking to extend the functionality of your Kubernetes cluster.

Community Support

Knowing the community or company backing your tool is essential. This will help you understand how much support you can get when encountering issues.


Minikube is a project developed by Google and donated to CNCF under Kubernetes, which means you can get support from the Kubernetes community. They have a GitHub repository where you can ask questions and report issues.

Minikube also has a Slack channel where you can chat with other users and get help. These channels are active, and you can get help quickly.


Just like Minikube, Kind is part of Kubernetes SIG projects. You can get support from the Kubernetes community through their GitHub repository and Slack channel.


K3s was developed by Rancher Labs, which provides Kubernetes management solutions. Since this is a company-backed project, you can get support through their extensive documentation and community forum.

Docker Desktop

Docker Desktop is the most popular tool on this list. However, it's not a Kubernetes-specific tool. This means that you might get less support than you would with the other tools on this list.
Since Docker is a widely used tool, chances are you can find answers to your questions when you encounter issues. You can also ask questions on the Docker forums.


Ubuntu is the foundation of the top 3 managed Kubernetes services: EKS, AKS, and GKS. That's why Canonical, the publishers of Ubuntu, understand Kubernetes and came up with MicroK8s. Their expertise with Kubernetes allows them to provide tons of articles and well-written documentation on how to use the tool.

However, they don't have an official community forum where you can ask questions. You have to rely on other forums like StackOverflow or Reddit for help.


This article overviews five popular local Kubernetes environments: Minikube, Kind, Docker Desktop, K3s, and Microk8s. You've learned about the importance of local Kubernetes environments, why you need them, and the benefits they offer.

In the end, the choice of which tool to use for your local Kubernetes development environment depends on your requirements. If you're familiar with Docker, Docker Desktop might be your best choice.

If you're running in a low-resource environment like Raspberry Pi, K3s might be the best choice. For an easy setup and management, Minikube is a good choice.

Whatever you choose, the most important thing is getting started. You can always switch to another tool if your current tool doesn't meet your requirements.

Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter below and become one of over 1000 subscribers who stay informed on the latest developments in the world of DevOps. Subscribe now!


Prince Onyeanuna Twitter

Prince is a technical writer and DevOps engineer who believes in the power of showing up. He is passionate about helping others learn and grow through writing and coding.