Set the orchestrator type for a node

When you add a node to the cluster, the node’s workloads are managed by a default orchestrator, either Docker Swarm or Kubernetes. When you install MKE, new nodes are managed by Docker Swarm, but you can change the default orchestrator to Kubernetes in the administrator settings.

Changing the default orchestrator doesn’t affect existing nodes in the cluster. You can change the orchestrator type for individual nodes in the cluster by navigating to the node’s configuration page in the MKE web UI.

Change the orchestrator for a node

You can change the current orchestrator for any node that is joined to an MKE cluster. The available orchestrator types are Kubernetes, Swarm, and Mixed.

The Mixed type enables workloads to be scheduled by Kubernetes and Swarm both on the same node. Although you can choose to mix orchestrator types on the same node, this isn’t recommended for production deployments because of the likelihood of resource contention.

To change a node’s orchestrator type from the Edit Node page:

  1. Log in to the MKE web UI with an administrator account.

  2. Navigate to the Nodes page, and click the node that you want to assign to a different orchestrator.

  3. In the details pane, click Configure and select Details to open the Edit Node page.

  4. In the Orchestrator Properties section, click the orchestrator type for the node.

  5. Click Save to assign the node to the selected orchestrator.

What happens when you change a node’s orchestrator

When you change the orchestrator type for a node, existing workloads are evicted, and they’re not migrated to the new orchestrator automatically. If you want the workloads to be scheduled by the new orchestrator, you must migrate them manually. For example, if you deploy WordPress on a Swarm node, and you change the node’s orchestrator type to Kubernetes, MKE doesn’t migrate the workload, and WordPress continues running on Swarm. In this case, you must migrate your WordPress deployment to Kubernetes manually.

The following table summarizes the results of changing a node’s orchestrator.


On orchestrator change


Container continues running in node

Docker service

Node is drained, and tasks are rescheduled to another node

Pods and other imperative resources

Continue running in node

Deployments and other declarative resources

Might change, but for now, continue running in node

If a node is running containers, and you change the node to Kubernetes, these containers will continue running, and Kubernetes won’t be aware of them, so you’ll be in the same situation as if you were running in Mixed node.


Be careful when mixing orchestrators on a node.

When you change a node’s orchestrator, you can choose to run the node in a mixed mode, with both Kubernetes and Swarm workloads. The Mixed type is not intended for production use, and it may impact existing workloads on the node.

This is because the two orchestrator types have different views of the node’s resources, and they don’t know about each other’s workloads. One orchestrator can schedule a workload without knowing that the node’s resources are already committed to another workload that was scheduled by the other orchestrator. When this happens, the node could run out of memory or other resources.

For this reason, we recommend not mixing orchestrators on a production node.

Set the default orchestrator type for new nodes

You can set the default orchestrator for new nodes to Kubernetes or Swarm.

To set the orchestrator for new nodes:

  1. Log in to the MKE web UI with an administrator account.

  2. Open the Admin Settings page, and in the left pane, click Scheduler.

  3. Under Set Orchestrator Type for New Nodes, click Swarm or Kubernetes.

  4. Click Save.

From now on, when you join a node to the cluster, new workloads on the node are scheduled by the specified orchestrator type. Existing nodes in the cluster aren’t affected.

Once a node is joined to the cluster, you can change the orchestrator that schedules its workloads.

MSR in mixed mode

The default behavior for MSR nodes is to be in mixed orchestration. Additionally, if the MSR mode type is changed to Swarm only or Kubernetes only, reconciliation will revert the node back to mixed mode. This is the expected behavior.

Choosing the orchestrator type

The workloads on your cluster can be scheduled by Kubernetes or by Swarm, or the cluster can be mixed, running both orchestrator types. If you choose to run a mixed cluster, be aware that the different orchestrators aren’t aware of each other, and there’s no coordination between them.

We recommend that you make the decision about orchestration when you set up the cluster initially. Commit to Kubernetes or Swarm on all nodes, or assign each node individually to a specific orchestrator. Once you start deploying workloads, avoid changing the orchestrator setting. If you do change the orchestrator for a node, your workloads are evicted, and you must deploy them again through the new orchestrator.

Node demotion and orchestrator type

When you promote a worker node to be a manager, its orchestrator type automatically changes to Mixed. If you demote the same node to be a worker, its orchestrator type remains as Mixed.

Use the CLI to set the orchestrator type

Set the orchestrator on a node by assigning the orchestrator labels, com.docker.ucp.orchestrator.swarm or com.docker.ucp.orchestrator.kubernetes, to true.

To schedule Swarm workloads on a node:

docker node update --label-add com.docker.ucp.orchestrator.swarm=true <node-id>

To schedule Kubernetes workloads on a node:

docker node update --label-add com.docker.ucp.orchestrator.kubernetes=true <node-id>

To schedule Kubernetes and Swarm workloads on a node:

docker node update --label-add com.docker.ucp.orchestrator.swarm=true <node-id>
docker node update --label-add com.docker.ucp.orchestrator.kubernetes=true <node-id>


Mixed nodes

Scheduling both Kubernetes and Swarm workloads on a node is not recommended for production deployments, because of the likelihood of resource contention.

To change the orchestrator type for a node from Swarm to Kubernetes:

docker node update --label-add com.docker.ucp.orchestrator.kubernetes=true <node-id>
docker node update --label-rm com.docker.ucp.orchestrator.swarm <node-id>

MKE detects the node label change and updates the Kubernetes node accordingly.

Check the value of the orchestrator label by inspecting the node:

docker node inspect <node-id> | grep -i orchestrator

The docker node inspect command returns the node’s configuration, including the orchestrator:

"com.docker.ucp.orchestrator.kubernetes": "true"


Orchestrator label

The com.docker.ucp.orchestrator label isn’t displayed in the Labels list for a node in the MKE web UI.

Set the default orchestrator type for new nodes

The default orchestrator for new nodes is a setting in the MKE configuration file:

default_node_orchestrator = "swarm"

The value can be swarm or kubernetes.

See also