Web App Health Checks in Docker

1 minute read

Over at The Zooniverse we’ve been migrating most of our apps to run under Docker. I won’t bother explaining all the benefits of Docker, but we’ve found it to be a great way of packaging and deploying applications, especially since we have a lot of legacy code with conflicting requirements. Getting everything running in Docker has been interesting, and we’ve encountered a few problems that needed to be solved along the way. One issue we needed to solve involved monitoring.

The whole of the Zooniverse is deployed on AWS, and we basically have a handful of load balancers sending traffic to EC2 instances which run various apps deployed inside Docker. There’s one container running Nginx on each instance, which routes requests to the other containers. We use autoscaling to manage capacity, and to terminate and replace any instances that fail. The problem was that it was possible for one container to fail without the ELB health check detecting it, because the Nginx container was fine.

I considered a few of the usual tools to solve this problem. There’s Supervisor, which most of our apps run under already, but they don’t always fail in a way that Supervisor can detect; i.e. the app is still running but in a broken state. Monit might have worked, but would have taken effort to configure and fit in with our deployment process. I wanted something lightweight that doesn’t require any effort to configure. It doesn’t need to do anything fancy – it doesn’t need alerting, and it doesn’t need to try to bring services back up when they fail. It just needs to make the EC2 instance fail the ELB’s health check when there’s a problem so that autoscaling can do its thing.

To that end I threw together an app that I’ve called docker-status (because that’s how creative I am with names). This is a simple Flask app that finds any containers linked to it which expose port 80, asynchronously checks each of them every 30 seconds to see what status code they’re returning, and responds to HTTP requests with a 200 if they’re all OK or 500 otherwise.

That’s all there is to it. There’s nothing to configure – just link your web app containers to it, make sure it’s the default server in Nginx, and you’re done.

It’s also available on the Docker Hub at zooniverse/docker-status.