Introducing Consul Template

Introducing Consul Template

Oct 21 2014    Seth Vargo

Today we are releasing Consul Template, a standalone application that is packed full of amazing new features.

Consul Template queries a Consul instance and updates any number of specified templates on the filesystem. As an added bonus, Consul Template can execute arbitrary commands when a template update completes.

» Demo

» Use Cases

Consul Template can query a service entries, keys, and key values in Consul. The powerful abstraction and template query language makes Consul Template perfect for creating dynamic configurations like:

» Apache/Nginx Proxy Balancers

It is not uncommon to have multiple application servers proxied behind a single, public-facing proxy instance. This configuration usually looks something like:

<proxy balancer:="" frontend="">BalanceMember 1.2.3.4:80 BalanceMember 5.6.7.8:80</proxy>

But adding and removing a node from the load balancer is often a painful, time-consuming, and tedious process. Even worse, when a frontend node becomes "unhealthy", an operator needs to manually remove it from the load balancer. Consul Template makes this entire process trivial:

<Proxy balancer://frontend>{{range service "app.frontend"}}
  BalanceMember {{.Address}}{{end}}
</Proxy>

Here is a similar example for an Nginx configuration:

upstream frontend { {{range service "app.frontend"}}
  server {{.Address}};{{end}}
}

As nodes are added and removed from Consul, they are automatically added and removed from the load balancer configuration. Since Consul Template's service method only queries healthy nodes, unhealthy nodes are also removed from the load balancer as soon as they are reported as down. This minimizes both downtime and operator intervention so you can focus on what is important!

» HAProxy Backends

HAProxy is very common, high-performance load balancing software. A typical HAProxy configuration file looks like:

backend frontend
balance roundrobin
server web1 web1.yourdomain.com:80 check
server web2 web2.yourdomain.com:80 check

However, just like the Apache/Nginx proxy balancer, adding and removing nodes from HAProxy is a painful and often scary experience. Consul Template takes the fear out of HAProxy:

backend frontend
balance roundrobin{{range "app.frontend"}}
service {{.ID}} {{.Address}}:{{.Port}}{{end}}

You may notice the check attribute has been removed. Since our health checks are defined in Consul, and Consul Template only returns healthy nodes from a service query, we can save HAProxy the work of checking the nodes health and leave that logic to Consul.

With the optional command argument, Consul Template can automatically trigger a reload of HAProxy when the template is updated. As nodes are dynamically added and removed from Consul, your load balancer will be immediately informed of the change, making it easier than ever to minimize downtime.

» Varnish Servers

Varnish is a powerful caching server which supports querying multiple backends from which to cache data and proxy requests. A typical Varnish configuration file might look like:

import directors;

backend app_01 { .host = "1.2.3.4"; .port = "8080"; }

backend app_02 { .host = "5.6.7.8"; .port = "8080"; }

sub vcl_init { new bar = directors.round_robin() bar.add_backend(app_01); bar.add_backend(app_02); }

sub vcl_recv { set req.backend_hint = bar.backend(); }

Just like our HAProxy example, Consul Template makes it trivial to dynamically populate and manage Varnish backends:

import directors;
{{range service "app.frontend"}}
backend {{.ID}} {
    .host = "{{.Address}}";
    .port = "{{.Port}}";
}{{end}}

sub vcl_init {
    new bar = directors.round_robin()
    {{range service "app.frontend"}}
    bar.add_backend({{.ID}});{{end}}
}

sub vcl_recv {
    set req.backend_hint = bar.backend();
}

» Application Configurations

The intuitive yet powerful key-value store allows application developers and operators to store global configuration information in Consul. Consul Template will dynamically update when a change to one of those values occurs. With today's configuration management practices, it is common to have a configuration template for an application which alter some tunable values for the application:

MaxWorkers 5 JobsPerSecond 11

Even using a dynamic configuration management system, the application's configuration will remain unchanged until the next run. With Consul Template, any change in the key-value store is immediately propagated to all templates listening to that value. Now, your configuration management software can write a Consul Template:

MaxWorkers {{key "web/max-workers"}}
JobsPerSecond {{key "web/jobs-per-second"}}

This template is now connected with Consul and will receive instant, dynamic updates as soon as a change is pushed to Consul. You no longer need to wait an hour for the next iteration of your CM system to run.

» Features

Consul Template is jam-packed full of great features, but we cannot possibly list them all! Here are just a few of the many features you will find in Consul Template:

  • Quiescence - Consul Template ships with built-in quiescence and can intelligently wait for changes from a Consul instance. This critical feature prevents frequent updates to a template while a system is fluctuating.

  • Dry Mode - Unsure of the current state of your infrastructure? Afraid a template change might break a subsystem? Fear no more because Consul Template comes complete with -dry mode. In dry mode, Consul Template will render the result to STDOUT, so an operator can inspect the output and decide if the template change is safe.

  • CLI and Config - Do you prefer to specify everything on the command line? Or are you using a configuration management tool and prefer configurations written to disk? Whatever your preference, Consul Template has you covered! With built-in support for HCL, Consul Template accepts a configuration file, command line flags, or a mix of both! In this way, you can continue to use your existing configuration management tools in tandem with Consul Template.

  • Verbose Debugging - Even when you think it is perfect, sometimes systems fail. For those critical times, Consul Template has a detailed logging system that can be used to track down almost any issue.

» Conclusion

Consul Template has changed the way we think about service discovery in our infrastructure, and we are very excited to bring this new tool to your fingertips. Since Consul Template is completely open source, you can view the code or read more about Consul Template on GitHub. Please join me in welcoming our newest member to the Consul family!

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