September 16, 2023

Pure GitOps: How to Create ArgoCD Applications without the UI

What are Declarative Deployments, and why use them?

Most people deploy ArgoCD applications using the UI. They click a few buttons, add details and press sync. While ArgoCD is a GitOps tool, this is a rather clickopsy approach to bootstrapping your GitOps.

To clarify, the YAML files you are deploying with Argo CD are always stored in Git. But the configuration file telling ArgoCD where to find those files can be defined in the UI (imperatively) or in Git itself (declaratively). In this tutorial, we will see the latter approach. We will deploy an ArgoCD Application Declaratively, using the pure GitOps approach. 

When doing declarative ArgoCD Deployments, your Argo CD projects and applications will be defined as Kubernetes manifest files. Nothing will be defined in the ArgoCD UI.

We will have to get those configuration files into the cluster. Once they are in your cluster, the Argo CD controller will recognize them and begin the synchronization process.

Setting up Declarative Deployments with Argo CD

Let’s create an application in Argo CD that deploys a meme-generator application. It is a simple web app containing a Kubernetes Deployment and Service resource.

First, we will create an Argo CD Project. Then an Argo CD App inside that project. Finally, we will verify that our meme-generator web app was created.

All the source code and YAML files for this example are present in a GitHub repository.


1. A Kubernetes cluster

2. Argo CD installed in the argocd namespace

Step 1: Creating an Argo CD Project YAML

Every Argo CD application must be deployed inside a project. Before creating our application, we’ll define the project itself using the AppProject Custom Resource Definition (CRD).

This is how the AppProject would look if you created it in the ArgoCD UI. (But obviously, we won’t use the UI. We will create an equivalent AppProject with declarative YAML.)

An example of creating a new project in the Argo CD UI
Creating an ArgoCD project from the UI


apiVersion: argoproj.io/v1alpha1
kind: AppProject
  name: declarativeproject
  namespace: argocd
    - resources-finalizer.argocd.argoproj.io
  description: Example project used to demonstrate Declarative deployments in ArgoCD
  - '*'
  - namespace: robustaargo
    server: https://kubernetes.default.svc

To deploy the project, run:

kubectl apply -f argoproject.yaml

Here is a detailed explanation of what each line in this file does

  • apiVersion - Source of the Argo CD CRD’s
  • kind - Type of Kubernetes object, in this case an Argo CD AppProject 
  • metadata.name - Name of the project - used to filter apps in the UI 
  • metadata.namespace - Namespace where ArgoCD itself is installed (not necessarily the namespace that applications will be installed to)
  • metadata.finalizers - Include this if you want apps and resources created under this project to be deleted when the project is deleted. Read more about finalizers here.
  • spec.description - Details about the project - can be used to document what this project is for.
  • sourceRepos - Can be useful for compliance purposes. Restrict deployment of manifests to specific repositories to ensure that only applications from this source are deployed into this project. In this case, '*', allows all repositories.
  • destination.namespace  - Helps you organize your applications by only allowing manifests in this project to deploy to the robustaargo namespace.
  • destination.server - Cluster where the application needs to be deployed

Step 2: Creating an Argo CD Application YAML

Now we can create the actual Application in Argo CD.

This is how the Application would look if you created it in the Argo CD UI. (But again, we’re not doing that. We’re creating an equivalent Application with declarative YAML.)

Creating an ArgoCD application using the UI

All options in the Application YAMLfile are similar to what you would see in the UI.


apiVersion: argoproj.io/v1alpha1
kind: Application
  name: meme-generator
  namespace: argocd
  project: declarativeproject
    repoURL: 'https://github.com/robusta-dev/Hello-DevOps-Project.git'
    targetRevision: main
    path: "code/meme-generator/kubernetes"
    server: https://kubernetes.default.svc
    namespace: robustaargo
    automated: {}

Let’s break it down

  • metadata.name - Name of the Argo CD application, used to identify in the UI or CLI
  • metadata.namespace - Namespace where Argo CD is installed (not necessarily the namespace your manifests will be deployed to)
  • source.repoURL - Location of your Git repository
  • source.targetRevision - Name of the branch you want Argo CD to use manifests from.
  • source.path - Git repository URL with your YAML files. (for example, the HTTPS URL of a GitHub repository)
  • destination.server - Kubernetes cluster where you want the manifests to be applied.
  • destination.namespace  - Namespace to deploy the Kubernetes manifests.
  • syncPolicy.automated - Automatically sync when the application state is out of sync.

Find all the options to configure your application here.

Run the following command to deploy the ArgoCD application

kubectl apply -f argoapplication.yaml

Step 3: Verifying the deployed application

ArgoCD password(Optional)

If you already have access to the UI and can log in, skip this step.

Run the command below to get the Argo cd login password. It is a common best practice to change the password and delete the secret after you log in the first time.

kubectl -n argocd get secret argocd-initial-admin-secret -o jsonpath="{.data.password}" | base64 -d

Port Forwarding

kubectl port-forward service/argocd-server -n argocd 8080:443

Log into the application with the username admin, and password from the previous steps.

Log into ArgoCD UI

Successfully deployed project and application.

Successfully deployed application details

Additional Application Configuration Options

Just like in the UI, when defining Argo Applications declaratively, there are various configuration options for each of the CRDs.

Application Information

Additional info about the application, like the project website, Git repo, etc.

  - name: 'Example:'
    value: 'https://example.com'

Sync Policy

Settings to configure Argo CD's behavior when your YAML files are out of sync. This is useful for automation of application deployment.

  automated: # Automated sync with 5 retries each one with a 5sec delay.
    prune: true # Specifies if resources should be pruned during auto-syncing (false by default).
    selfHeal: true  # Automatically try to fix any differences between the cluster's current state and the desired state defined in the Git repository (false by default).
    allowEmpty: false # Allows deleting all application resources during automatic syncing (false by default).

Sync Options

More options to manage how your manifests are deployed during a sync.

  - Validate=false # disables re source validation
  - CreateNamespace=true # Ensures that namespace specified as the application destination exists
  - PrunePropagationPolicy=foreground # Supported policies are background, foreground, and orphan.
  - PruneLast=true # Prunes all the resources at once in the end

Revision History

Useful to perform rollbacks to older versions. Higher numbers increase the storage used (not advised).

revisionhistorylimit: 10


In this blog post we explored why Declarative deployments are needed. We learned how to create a project and application in Argo CD using Kubernetes manifest YAML files.

If you use Helm with Argo CD, be sure to read our guide on  Five Helm Tools for Improving Kubernetes Quality of Life.

Have any questions, comments, or suggestions? Feel free to reach out on Twitter, LinkedIn or via email. Thank you for reading.

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