Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Pattern: Client-side service discovery


How does the client of service - the API gateway or another service - discover the location of a service instance?


  • Each instance of service exposes a remote API such as HTTP/REST, or Thrift etc. at a particular location (host and port)
  • The number of services instances and their locations changes dynamically.
  • Virtual machines and containers are usually assigned dynamic IP addresses.
  • The number of services instances might vary dynamically. For example, an EC2 Autoscaling Group adjusts the number of instances based on load.


Why Use Service Discovery?

Let’s imagine that you are writing some code that invokes a service that has a REST API or Thrift API. In order to make a request, your code needs to know the network location (IP address and port) of a service instance. 

In a traditional application running on physical hardware, the network locations of service instances are relatively static. For example, your code can read the network locations from a configuration file that is occasionally updated.

In a modern, cloud‑based microservices application, however, this is a much more difficult problem to solve as shown in the following diagram.

Service instances have dynamically assigned network locations. Moreover, the set of service instances changes dynamically because of autoscaling, failures, and upgrades. 

Consequently, your client code needs to use a more elaborate service discovery mechanism.

The Client‑Side Discovery Pattern

When using client‑side discovery, the client is responsible for determining the network locations of available service instances and load balancing requests across them. 

The client queries a service registry, which is a database of available service instances. The client then uses a load‑balancing algorithm to select one of the available service instances and makes a request.

The following diagram shows the structure of this pattern.

The network location of a service instance is registered with the service registry when it starts up. 

It is removed from the service registry when the instance terminates. The service instance’s registration is typically refreshed periodically using a heartbeat mechanism.

Netflix OSS provides a great example of the client‑side discovery pattern. Netflix Eureka is a service registry. It provides a REST API for managing service‑instance registration and for querying available insstances. Netflix Ribbon is an IPC client that works with Eureka to load balance requests across the available service instances. We will discuss Eureka in more depth later in this article.

The client‑side discovery pattern has a variety of benefits and drawbacks. This pattern is relatively straightforward and, except for the service registry, there are no other moving parts. 

Also, since the client knows about the available services instances, it can make intelligent, application‑specific load‑balancing decisions such as using hashing consistently. 

One significant drawback of this pattern is that it couples the client with the service registry. You must implement client‑side service discovery logic for each programming language and framework used by your service clients.

Now that we have looked at client‑side discovery, let’s take a look at server‑side discovery.

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