Web Dev

Scaling To Infinity with Docker Swarm, Docker Compose and Consul (Part 2/4) – Manually Deploying Services

This series is split into following articles.

The previous article showed how scaling across the server farm looks like. We’ll continue where we left and explore details behind the presented implementation. Orchestration has been done through Ansible. Besides details behind tasks in Ansible playbooks, we’ll see how the same result could be accomplished using manual commands in case you might prefer a different orchestration/deployment framework.

We won’t go into details how to set up Consul, Docker Compose, Docker Swarm, nginx, etc. They can be seen by looking at the Ansible playbooks in the vfarcic/docker-swarm GitHub repository.

Creating New Servers

For the sake of a better explanation, if you followed the previous article, please destroy your VMs. We’ll start over and explain each task one by one.

vagrant destroy

Let’s create our virtual machines and setup infrastructure using few Ansible playbooks. If you are asked whether you want to continue connecting, please answer with yes.s

vagrant up
vagrant ssh swarm-master
ansible-playbook /vagrant/ansible/swarm.yml -i /vagrant/ansible/hosts/prod
ansible-playbook /vagrant/ansible/compose.yml -i /vagrant/ansible/hosts/prod
ansible-playbook /vagrant/ansible/nginx.yml -i /vagrant/ansible/hosts/prod
ansible-playbook /vagrant/ansible/consul.yml -i /vagrant/ansible/hosts/prod

We can verify whether everything seems to be in order by running the following.

export DOCKER_HOST=tcp://
docker info
docker ps -a

The second command should show that there are three nodes in the cluster. The third should list 9 containers; swarm-node, registrator and registrator-kv on each of the three nodes we have.

Now it’s time to start working on deployments.

Even though the previous article had all the commands defined within Ansible playbooks, we’ll do all the steps manually so that you can get an understanding what’s going on.

Service Deployment

We’ll use Docker Compose to run our containers. It has a very simple syntax based on YML. Those familiar with Ansible will feel familiar with it.

In all previous articles we used Ansible for this task. My opinion was that Ansible offers everything that Docker Compose does and so much more. Docker compose is only concerned with building, running and other Docker operations. Ansible is meant to orchestrate everything, from server setup, deployments, building, etc. It is one tool that can take care of all orchestration and deployment steps.

However, Ansible Docker module does not work well with Swarm. Once we’re finished with manual commands, we’ll continue using Ansible for all the tasks except running Docker containers through Swarm.

We’ll be deploying books-service. It is an application that provides REST APIs to list, update or delete books. Data is stored in a Mongo database.

Setup Docker Compose Files on the Server

First step is to set up Docker Compose templates. We’ll need a directory where those templates will reside and a template itself.

Creating directory is easy.

sudo mkdir -p /data/compose/config/books-service

Creating Docker Swarm template, is a bit harder in our case. Since we’re building truly distributed applications, we don’t have all the information in advance. The service we’ll be deploying needs a link to another container hosting Mongo DB. That container can end up being deployed to any of the three servers we just brought up.

What we want to accomplish is something similar to the following Docker Compose configuration.

  - 8080
  - SERVICE_NAME=books-service
image: vfarcic/books-service

We want to expose internal port 8080 (that’s the one service is using). For the outside world, Docker will map that port to any port it has available. We’ll name the service books-service.

Now comes the tricky part, we need to find out what the DB IP and port are before we create this template.

In order to solve this problem, we’ll create Consul template instead. Run the following command.

cd /data/compose/config/books-service
echo 'db:
    - 27017
    - SERVICE_ID=books-service-db
  image: mongo
    - 8080
    - SERVICE_NAME=books-service-blue
    - DB_PORT_27017_TCP={{ key "services/mongo/books-service-db" }}

  image: vfarcic/books-service
    - 8080
    - SERVICE_NAME=books-service-green
    - DB_PORT_27017_TCP={{ key "services/mongo/books-service-db" }}

  image: vfarcic/books-service
' | sudo tee docker-compose.yml.ctmpl
sudo cp docker-compose.yml.ctmpl docker-compose.yml

We created a new template /data/compose/config/books-service/docker-compose.yml.ctmpl. “Strange” things inside {% and %} will be explained soon. For now, it suffices to say that value of the DB_PORT_27017_TCP will be replaced by books-service-db IP and port.

Let’s go through the template quickly. First we’re defining db container that exposes port 27017 (standard Mongo port), sets environment variable SERVICE_ID (we’ll use it later) and specifies that the image is mongo. Similar is done for the books-service except that we’re specifying it twice. Once as blue and the other one as green. We’ll be practicing blue/green deployment in order to accomplish no downtime goal (more info can be found in Continuous Deployment Strategies article).

We could have made Mongo DB always run on the same server as the books-service but that would cause potential problems. First, it would mean that all three containers (db, blue and green) need to be on the same server. While that might be OK in this relatively small example, on big systems this would create a bottleneck. More freedom we have to distribute containers, more CPU, memory and HD utilization we’ll squeeze out of our servers.

Run the DB Container

Running DB container is easy since it does not depend on any other service. We can simply run the db target we specified earlier.

docker-compose pull db
docker-compose up -d --no-recreate db

The first command pulled db to all the nodes (we’ll get into reasons behind this command a bit later).

Second command argument up tells compose that we’d like him to make sure that it is up and running, -d means that it should run in detached mode, --no-recreate tells compose not do do anything if container is already running and, finally, last argument is the name we specified in the docker-compose.yml.

Let’s see where was it deployed.

docker ps | grep booksservice_db

You’ll see the IP and the port of the db service.

Run the Service Container For the First Time

Running the service container will be a bit more complicated. There are few obstacles that we didn’t face with the database. The major one is that we need to know the IP and the port of the database we just deployed and pass that information. Later on when we run the service for the second time (new release), things will get even more complicated.

At the moment, our major problem is to find out the IP and the port of the database service we just deployed. This is where Consul Template comes in handy.

Before we run the command, let us see how does the environments section of the Consul template docker-compose.yml.ctmpl looks like.

cat docker-compose.yml.ctmpl | grep DB_PORT_27017_TCP

The output should be following.

- DB_PORT_27017_TCP={{ key "services/mongo/books-service-db" }}
- DB_PORT_27017_TCP={{ key "services/mongo/books-service-db" }}

Now let us run Consul Template.

sudo consul-template -consul localhost:8500 -template "docker-compose.yml.ctmpl:docker-compose.yml" -once

Let’s take a look at the docker-compose.yml that was just created.

cat docker-compose.yml | grep DB_PORT_27017_TCP

The result might be different depending on the location (IP and port) Docker Swarm choose for our DB service. In my case, the output is the following.

- DB_PORT_27017_TCP=
- DB_PORT_27017_TCP=

Consul Template put the correct database IP and port. How did this happen? Let’s us first go through the command arguments.

  • -consul let’s us specify the address of our Consul instance (localhost:5000).
  • -template consist of two parts; source and destination. In this case we’re telling it to use docker-compose.yml.ctmpl as template and product docker-compose.yml as output.
  • -once is self-explanatory. This should run only one time.

The real “magic” is inside the template. We have the following line in docker-compose.yml.ctmpl.

{{ key "services/mongo/books-service-db" }}

This tells Consul Template to look for a key services/mongo/books-service-db and replace this with its value.

We can have a look at the value of that key using the following command.

curl http://localhost:8500/v1/kv/services/mongo/books-service-db?raw

The only mystery left unsolved is how this information got to Consul in the first place. The answer is in a handy tool called registrator. It allows us to monitor containers and update Consul key/value store whenever one is run or stopped. We already set it up with Ansible so when we run the database service, it detected a new container and updated Consul accordingly.

Now that we have our docker-compose.yml correctly updated with the database information, it is time to pull the latest release of our service.

docker-compose pull blue

This command pulled the latest release of our application to all of the servers in the cluster. While we could have limited it only to the server we’ll be running on, having it on all of them helps reacting swiftly in case of a problem. For example, if one node goes down, we can run the same release anywhere else very fast since we won’t be wasting time in pulling the image from the registry.

Now we can run the container.

docker-compose up -d blue
docker ps | grep booksservice_blue

The second command listed the newly run service (blue). Among other things, you can see the IP and port it is running on.

For our future convenience, we should tell Consul that we just deployed blue version of our service.

curl -X PUT -d 'blue' http://localhost:8500/v1/kv/services/books-service/color

We’re still not done. Even though the application is up and running and correctly pointing to the database running on a different server, we still did not solve the port problem. Our service should be accessible from and not one of the servers Swarm deployed it to. Also, we should be able to use it through the port 80 (standard http) and not a random port that was assigned to us. This can be solved with nginx reverse proxy and Consul Template. We can update nginx configuration in a similar way as we updated docker-compose.yml.

First we’ll create few nginx configuration files.

echo '
server {
    listen 80;
    include includes/*.conf;
}' | sudo tee /data/nginx/servers/common.conf

echo '
location /api/v1/books {
  proxy_pass http://books-service/api/v1/books;
}' | sudo tee /data/nginx/includes/books-service.conf

We’ll also need two more Consul templates.

echo '
upstream books-service {
    {{range service "books-service-blue" "any" }}
    server {{.Address}}:{{.Port}};
' | sudo tee /data/nginx/templates/books-service-blue-upstream.conf.ctmpl
echo '
upstream books-service {
    {{range service "books-service-green" "any" }}
    server {{.Address}}:{{.Port}};
' | sudo tee /data/nginx/templates/books-service-green-upstream.conf.ctmpl

This template is a bit more complicated. It tells Consul to retrieve all instances of a service (range) called books-service-blue ignoring their status (any). For each of those instances it should write the IP (.Address) and port (.Port). We created a template for both blue and green versions.

At the moment this setting might be more complicated than we need since we’re running only one instance of a service. Later on we’ll go deeper and see how to scale not only difference services but also the same service across multiple servers.

Let’s apply the blue template.

sudo consul-template -consul localhost:8500 -template "/data/nginx/templates/books-service-blue-upstream.conf.ctmpl:/data/nginx/upstreams/books-service.conf:docker kill -s HUP nginx" -once
cat /data/nginx/upstreams/books-service.conf

The only new thing here is the third argument in -template. After specify the source and the destination, we’re telling it to restart nginx by running docker kill -s HUP nginx command.

The output of the newly created file would be similar to the following.

upstream books-service {

Finally, let us test whether everything works as expected.

curl -H 'Content-Type: application/json' -X PUT -d '{"_id": 1, "title": "My First Book", "author": "Joh Doe", "description": "Not a very good book"}' | jq .
curl -H 'Content-Type: application/json' -X PUT -d '{"_id": 2, "title": "My Second Book", "author": "John Doe", "description": "Not a bad as the first book"}' | jq .
curl -H 'Content-Type: application/json' -X PUT -d '{"_id": 3, "title": "My Third Book", "author": "John Doe", "description": "Failed writers club"}' | jq .
curl | jq .

The last curl command should output three books that we inserted previously.

    "_id": 1,
    "title": "My First Book",
    "author": "Joh Doe"
    "_id": 2,
    "title": "My Second Book",
    "author": "John Doe"
    "_id": 3,
    "title": "My Third Book",
    "author": "John Doe"

To Be Continued

We managed to manually deploy one database and one REST API service. Both of them were not deployed to a server we specified in advance but to the one that had the least number of containers running.

We still have a lot of ground to cover. The next release of our service should do a few more steps that we did not do yet. Without those additional steps we would not have blue/green deployment and there would be some downtime every time we release a new version.

There are additional benefits we can squeeze from Consul like health checking that will, together with Jenkins, redeploy our services whenever something goes wrong.

Further more, we might want to have an option not only to scale different services but also to scale the same service across multiple servers.

Finally, everything we did by now was manual and we should use Ansible playbooks that will do all those things for us.

The story continues in the Blue-Green Deployment, Automation and Self-Healing Procedure article.

Viktor Farcic

Viktor Farcic is a Software Developer currently focused on transitions from Waterfall to Agile processes with special focus on Behavior-Driven Development (BDD), Test-Driven Development (TDD) and Continuous Integration (CI).
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