Rancher 2.0 has been rearchitected and rewritten with the goal of providing a complete management solution for Kubernetes and Docker. Due to these extensive changes, there is no direct upgrade path from 1.6.x to 2.x, but rather a migration of your 1.6 application workloads into the 2.0 Kubernetes equivalent. In 1.6, the most common orchestration used was Rancher’s own engine called Cattle. The following blogs (that will be converted in an official guide) explain and educate our Cattle users on running workloads in a Kubernetes environment.

If you are an existing Kubernetes user on Rancher 1.6, you only need to review the Get Started section to prepare you on what to expect on a new 2.0 Rancher cluster.

Kubernetes Basics

Rancher 2.0 is built on the Kubernetes container orchestrator. This shift in underlying technology for 2.0 is a large departure from 1.6, which supported several popular container orchestrators. Since Rancher is now based entirely on Kubernetes, it’s helpful to learn the Kubernetes basics.

The following table introduces and defines some key Kubernetes concepts.

Concept Definition
Cluster A collection of machines that run containerized applications managed by Kubernetes.
Namespace A virtual cluster, multiple of which can be supported by a single physical cluster.
Node One of the physical (or virtual) machines that make up a cluster.
Pod The smallest and simplest Kubernetes object. A pod represents a set of running containers on your cluster.
Deployment An API object that manages a replicated application.
Workload Units of work that are running on the cluster, these can be pods or deployments.

Migration Cheatsheet

Because Rancher 1.6 defaulted to our Cattle container orchestrator, it primarily used terminology related to Cattle. However, because Rancher 2.0 uses Kubernetes, it aligns with the Kubernetes naming standard. This shift could be confusing for people unfamiliar with Kubernetes, so we’ve created a table that maps terms commonly used in Rancher 1.6 to their equivalents in Rancher 2.0.

Rancher 1.6 Rancher 2.0
Container Pod
Services Workload
Load Balancer Ingress
Stack Namespace
Environment Project (Administration)/Cluster (Compute)
Host Node
Catalog Helm

More detailed information on Kubernetes concepts can be found in the Kubernetes Concepts Documentation.

Migration Plan

1. Get Started

As a Rancher 1.6 user who’s interested in moving to 2.0, how should you get started with migration? The following blog provides a short checklist to help with this transition.

Blog Post: Migrating from Rancher 1.6 to Rancher 2.0—A Short Checklist

2. Run Migration Tools

To help with migration from 1.6 to 2.0, Rancher has developed a migration tool. Running this tool will help you check if your Rancher 1.6 applications can be migrated to 2.0. If an application can’t be migrated, the tool will help you identify what’s lacking.

This tool will:

  • Accept Docker Compose config files (i.e., docker-compose.yml and rancher-compose.yml) that you’ve exported from your Rancher 1.6 Stacks.
  • Output a list of constructs present in the Compose files that cannot be supported by Kubernetes in Rancher 2.0. These constructs require special handling or are parameters that cannot be converted to Kubernetes YAML, even using tools like Kompose.

A. Download the Migration Tool

The Migration Tool for your platform can be downloaded from its GitHub releases page. The tool is available for Linux, Mac, and Windows platforms.

B. Configure the Migration Tool

After the tool is downloaded, you need to make some configurations to run it.

  1. Modify the Migration Tool file to make it an executable.

    1. Open Terminal and change to the directory that contains the Migration Tool file.

    2. Rename the Migration Tool file to migration-tools so that it no longer includes the platform name.

    3. Enter the following command to make migration-tools an executable:

      chmod +x migration-tools
  2. Export the configuration for each Rancher 1.6 Stack that you want to migrate to 2.0.

    1. Log into Rancher 1.6 and select Stacks > All.

    2. From the All Stacks page, select Ellipsis (…) > Export Config for each Stack that you want to migrate.

    3. Extract the downloaded compose.zip. Move the folder contents (docker-compose.yml and rancher-compose.yml) into the same directory as migration-tools.

C. Run the Migration Tool

To use the Migration Tool, run the command below while pointing to the compose files exported from each stack that you want to migrate. If you want to migrate multiple stacks, you’ll have to re-run the command for each pair of compose files that you exported.


You can run the Migration Tool by entering the following command, replacing each placeholder with the absolute path to your Stack’s compose files.

migration-tools --docker-file <DOCKER_COMPOSE_ABSOLUTE_PATH> --rancher-file <RANCHER_COMPOSE_ABSOLUTE_PATH>


When using the Migration Tool, you can specify the paths to your Docker and Rancher compose files, regardless of where they are on your file system.

Option Description
--docker-file <DOCKER_COMPOSE_ABSOLUTE_PATH> The absolute path to an exported Docker compose file (default value: docker-compose.yml)1.
--rancher-file <RANCHER_COMPOSE_ABSOLUTE_PATH> The absolute path to an alternate Rancher compose file (default value: rancher-compose.yml)1.
--help, -h Lists usage for the Migration Tool.
--version, -v Lists the version of the Migration Tool in use.

1 If you omit the --docker-file and --rancher-file options from your command, the migration tool will check its home directory for compose files.


After you run the migration tool, the following files output to the same directory that you ran the tool from.

Output Description
output.txt This file lists all constructs for each service in docker-compose.yml that requires special handling to be successfully migrated to Rancher 2.0. Each construct links to the relevant blog articles on how to implement it in Rancher 2.0 (these articles are also listed below).
Kubernetes YAML specs The Migration Tool internally invokes Kompose to generate Kubernetes YAML specs for each service you’re migrating to 2.0. Each YAML spec file is named for the service you’re migrating.

3. Migrate Applications

In Rancher 1.6, you launch applications as services and organize them under stacks in an environment, which represents a compute and administrative boundary. Rancher 1.6 supports the Docker compose standard and provides import/export for application configurations using the following files: docker-compose.yml and rancher-compose.yml. In 2.0 the environment concept doesn’t exist. Instead it’s replaced by:

  • Cluster: The compute boundary.
  • Project: An administrative boundary.

The following article explores how to map Cattle’s stack and service design to Kubernetes. It also demonstrates how to migrate a simple application from Rancher 1.6 to 2.0 using either the Rancher UI or Docker Compose.

Blog Post: A Journey from Cattle to Kubernetes!

4. Expose Your Services

In Rancher 1.6, you could provide external access to your applications using port mapping. This article explores how to publicly expose your services in Rancher 2.0. It explores both UI and CLI methods to transition the port mapping functionality.

Blog Post: From Cattle to Kubernetes—How to Publicly Expose Your Services in Rancher 2.0

5. Monitor Your Applications

Rancher 1.6 provided TCP and HTTP healthchecks using its own healthcheck microservice. Rancher 2.0 uses native Kubernetes healthcheck support instead. This article overviews how to configure it in Rancher 2.0.

Blog Post: From Cattle to Kubernetes—Application Healthchecks in Rancher 2.0

6. Schedule Deployments

Scheduling application containers on available resources is a key container orchestration technique. The following blog reviews how to schedule containers in Rancher 2.0 for those familiar with 1.6 scheduling labels (such as affinity and anti-affinity). It also explores how to launch a global service in 2.0.

Blog Post: From Cattle to Kubernetes—Scheduling Workloads in Rancher 2.0

7. Service Discovery

Rancher 1.6 provides service discovery within and across stacks using its own internal DNS microservice. It also supports pointing to external services and creating aliases. Moving to Rancher 2.0, you can replicate this same service discovery behavior. The following blog reviews this topic and the solutions needed to achieve service discovery parity in Rancher 2.0.

Blog Post: From Cattle to Kubernetes—Service Discovery in Rancher 2.0

8. Load Balancing

How to achieve TCP/HTTP load balancing and configure hostname/path-based routing in Rancher 2.0.

Blog Post: From Cattle to Kubernetes-How to Load Balance Your Services in Rancher 2.0

In Rancher 1.6, a Load Balancer was used to expose your applications from within the Rancher environment for external access. In Rancher 2.0, the concept is the same. There is a Load Balancer option to expose your services. In the language of Kubernetes, this function is more often referred to as an Ingress. In short, Load Balancer and Ingress play the same role.