Debugging With Skaffold

skaffold debug acts like skaffold dev, but it configures containers in pods for debugging as required for each container’s runtime technology. The associated debugging ports are exposed and labelled so that they can be port-forwarded to the local machine.

To debug in an IDE that uses Skaffold events to automatically configure debug sessions, you can use Google Cloud Code for VS Code, Cloud Code for IntelliJ, or, for an IDE in your browser, Cloud Code for Cloud Shell.

One notable difference from skaffold dev is that debug disables image rebuilding and syncing as it leads to users accidentally terminating debugging sessions by saving file changes. These behaviours can be re-enabled with the --auto-build, --auto-deploy, and --auto-sync flags.

Debugging is currently supported for five language runtimes.

  • Go 1.13+ (runtime ID: go) using Delve
  • NodeJS (runtime ID: nodejs) using the NodeJS Inspector (Chrome DevTools)
  • Java and JVM languages (runtime ID: jvm) using JDWP
  • Python 3.5+ (runtime ID: python) using debugpy (Debug Adapter Protocol) or pydevd
  • .NET Core (runtime ID: netcore) using vsdbg

How It works

Enabling debugging has two phases:

  1. Configuring: Skaffold automatically examines each built container image and attempts to recognize the underlying language runtime. Container images can be explicitly configured too.
  2. Monitoring: Skaffold watches the cluster to detect when debuggable containers start execution.

Configuring container images for debugging

skaffold debug examines the built artifacts to determine the underlying language runtime technology. Kubernetes manifests that reference these artifacts are transformed on-the-fly to enable the language runtime’s debugging functionality. These transforms add or alter environment variables and entrypoints, and more.

Some language runtimes require additional support files to enable debugging. For these languages, a special set of runtime-specific images are configured as init-containers to populate a shared-volume that is mounted into each of the appropriate containers. These images are hosted at; alternative locations can be specified in Skaffold’s global configuration.

For images that are successfully recognized, Skaffold adds a annotation to the corresponding Kubernetes pod-spec that encode the debugging parameters.

Monitoring for debuggable containers

Once the application is deployed, debug monitors the cluster looking for debuggable pods with a annotation. For each new debuggable pod, Skaffold emits an event that can be used by tools like IDEs to establish a debug session.

Additional changes

debug makes some other adjustments to simplify the debug experience:

  • Replica Counts: debug rewrites the replica counts to 1 for deployments, replica sets, and stateful sets. This results in requests being serialized so that one request is processed at a time.

  • Kubernetes Probes: debug changes the timeouts on HTTP-based liveness, readiness, and startup probes to 600 seconds (10 minutes) from the default of 1 second. This change allows probes to be debugged, and avoids negative consequences from blocked probes when the app is already suspended during a debugging session. Failed liveness probes in particular result in the container being terminated and restarted.

    The probe timeout value can be set on a per-podspec basis by setting a annotation on the podspec’s metadata with a valid duration (see Go’s time.ParseDuration()). This probe timeout-rewriting can be skipped entirely by using skip. For example:

      annotations: skip
    spec: ...

Supported Language Runtimes

This section describes how debug recognizes the language runtime used in a container image, and how the container image is configured for debugging.

Note that many debuggers may require additional information for the location of source files. We are looking for ways to identify this information and to pass it back if found.

Go (runtime: go, protocols: dlv)

Go-based applications are configured to run under Delve in its headless-server mode.

Go-based container images are recognized by:

Virtually all container images will need to set one of the Go environment variables. GOTRACEBACK=single is the default setting for Go, and GOTRACEBACK=all is a generally useful configuration.

On recognizing a Go-based container image, debug rewrites the container image’s entrypoint to invoke your application using dlv:

dlv exec --headless --continue --accept-multiclient --listen=:56268 --api-version=2 <app> -- <args> ...

Your application should be built with the -gcflags='all=-N -l' options to disable optimizations and inlining. Debugging can be confusing otherwise due to seemingly-random execution jumps from statement reordering and inlining. Skaffold configures Docker builds with a SKAFFOLD_GO_GCFLAGS build argument flag with suitable values:

FROM golang
COPY . .
RUN go build -gcflags="${SKAFFOLD_GO_GCFLAGS}" -o /app .

Note that the golang:NN-alpine container images do not include a C compiler which is required for -gcflags='all=-N -l'.

Note for users of VS Code’s debug adapter for Go: the debug adapter may require configuring both the local and remote source path prefixes via the cwd and remotePath properties. The cwd property should point to the top-level container of your source files and should generally match the artifact’s context directory in the skaffold.yaml. The remotePath path property should be set to the remote source location during compilation. For example, the golang images, which are often used in multi-stage builds, copy the source code to /go. The following remote launch configuration works in this case:

  "name": "Skaffold Debug",
  "type": "go",
  "request": "launch",
  "mode": "remote",
  "host": "localhost",
  "port": 56268,
  "cwd": "${workspaceFolder}",
  "remotePath": "/go/"

Java and Other JVM Languages (runtime: jvm, protocols: jdwp)

Java/JVM applications are configured to expose the JDWP agent using the JAVA_TOOL_OPTIONS environment variable.
Note that the use of JAVA_TOOL_OPTIONS causes extra debugging output from the JVM on launch.

JVM application are recognized by:

  • the presence of a JAVA_VERSION or JAVA_TOOL_OPTIONS environment variable, or
  • the container command-line invokes java.

On recognizing a JVM-based container image, debug rewrites the container image’s environment to set:


NodeJS (runtime: nodejs, protocols: devtools)

NodeJS applications are configured to use the Chrome DevTools inspector via the --inspect argument.

NodeJS images are recognized by:

  • the presence of a NODE_VERSION, NODEJS_VERSION, or NODE_ENV environment variable, or
  • the container command-line invokes node or npm.

On recognizing a NodeJS-based container image, debug rewrites the container image’s entrypoint to invoke your application with --inspect:

node --inspect=9229 <app.js> 

Note that a debugging client must first obtain the inspector UUID.

Python (runtime: python, protocols: dap or pydevd)

Python applications are configured to use either debugpy, or wrapper around pydevd. debugpy uses the debug adapter protocol (DAP) which is supported by Visual Studio Code, Eclipse LSP4e, and other editors and IDEs.

Python application are recognized by:

  • the container command-line invokes python, python2, or python3.

On recognizing a Python-based container image, debug rewrites the container image’s entrypoint to invoke Python using either the pydevd or debugpy modules:

python -m debugpy --listen 5678 <app>


python -m pydevd --server --port 5678 <>

.NET Core (runtime: dotnet, protocols: vsdbg)

.NET Core applications are configured to be deployed along with vsdbg for VS Code.

.NET Core application are recognized by:

  • the container command-line invokes the dotnet cli

Furthermore, your app must be built with the --configuration Debug options to disable optimizations.


My container is not being made debuggable?

Was this image built by Skaffold? debug only works for images that were built by Skaffold so as to avoid affecting system- or infrastructure-level containers such as proxy sidecars.

Was Skaffold able to recognize the image? debug emits a warning when it is unable to configure an image for debugging:

WARN[0005] Image "image-name" not configured for debugging: unable to determine runtime for "image-name" 

See the language runtime section details on how container images are recognized.

Can images be debugged without the runtime support images?

The special runtime-support images are provided as a convenience for automatic configuration. You can manually configure your images for debugging by:

  1. Configure your container image to install and invoke the appropriate debugger.
  2. Add a workload annotation on the pod-spec to describe the debug configuration of each container image in the pod, as described in Workload Annotations.


skaffold debug has some limitations.

Unsupported Container Entrypoints

skaffold debug requires being able to examine and alter the command-line used in the container entrypoint. This transformation will not work with images that use intermediate launch scripts or binaries.

Supported Deployers

skaffold debug is only supported with the kubectl, kustomize, and helm deployers.

Deprecated Workload API Objects

skaffold debug does not support deprecated versions of Workload API objects:

Applications should transition to the apps/v1 APIs, introduced in Kubernetes 1.9.

Appendix: IDE Support via Events and Metadata

debug provides additional support for IDEs to detect the debuggable containers and to determine appropriate configuration parameters.

Workload Annotations

Each transformed workload object carries a annotation with a JSON object describing the debug configurations for the pod’s containers (linebreaks for readability):{

For example the following annotation indicates that the container named web is a Go application that is being debugged by a headless Delve session on port 56268 (linebreaks for readability):{

artifact is the corresponding artifact’s image name in the skaffold.yaml. runtime is the language runtime detected (one of: go, jvm, nodejs, python). ports is a list of debug ports keyed by the language runtime debugging protocol. workingDir is the working directory (if not an empty string).

API: Events

Each debuggable container being started or stopped raises a debug-container-event through Skaffold’s event mechanism (gRPC, REST).

`/v1/events` stream of `skaffold debug` within `examples/jib`

In this example, we do a skaffold debug, and then kill the deployed pod. The deployment starts a new pod. We get a terminated event for the container for the killed pod.

  "result": {
    "timestamp": "2020-02-05T03:27:30.114354Z",
    "event": {
      "debuggingContainerEvent": {
        "status": "Started",
        "podName": "web-f6d56bcc5-6csgs",
        "containerName": "web",
        "namespace": "default",
        "artifact": "skaffold-jib",
        "runtime": "jvm",
        "debugPorts": {
          "jdwp": 5005
    "entry": "Debuggable container started pod/web-f6d56bcc5-6csgs:web (default)"

API: State

The API’s state (gRPC, REST) also includes a list of debuggable containers.

The `/v1/state` listing debugging containers
  "buildState": {
    "artifacts": {
      "skaffold-jib": "Complete"
  "deployState": {
    "status": "Complete"
  "forwardedPorts": {
    "5005": {
      "localPort": 5005,
      "remotePort": 5005,
      "podName": "web-f6d56bcc5-6csgs",
      "containerName": "web",
      "namespace": "default",
      "portName": "jdwp",
      "resourceType": "pod",
      "resourceName": "web-f6d56bcc5-6csgs",
      "address": ""
    "8080": {
      "localPort": 8080,
      "remotePort": 8080,
      "namespace": "default",
      "resourceType": "service",
      "resourceName": "web",
      "address": ""
    "8081": {
      "localPort": 8081,
      "remotePort": 8080,
      "podName": "web-f6d56bcc5-6csgs",
      "containerName": "web",
      "namespace": "default",
      "resourceType": "pod",
      "resourceName": "web-f6d56bcc5-6csgs",
      "address": ""
  "statusCheckState": {
    "status": "Not Started"
  "fileSyncState": {
    "status": "Not Started"
  "debuggingContainers": [
      "status": "Started",
      "podName": "web-f6d56bcc5-6csgs",
      "containerName": "web",
      "namespace": "default",
      "artifact": "skaffold-jib",
      "runtime": "jvm",
      "debugPorts": {
        "jdwp": 5005

Last modified October 21, 2021: release: v1.33.1 (ec522e6)