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Load Balancing Reference
Kong provides multiple ways of load balancing requests to multiple backend services: a straightforward DNS-based method, and a more dynamic ring-balancer that also allows for service registry without needing a DNS server.
DNS-based load balancing
When using DNS-based load balancing, the registration of the backend services is done outside of Kong, and Kong only receives updates from the DNS server.
Every Service that has been defined with a
host containing a hostname
(instead of an IP address) will automatically use DNS-based load balancing
if the name resolves to multiple IP addresses, provided the hostname does not
resolve to an
upstream name or a name in your DNS hosts file.
The DNS record
ttl setting (time to live) determines how often the information
is refreshed. When using a
ttl of 0, every request will be resolved using its
own DNS query. Obviously this will have a performance penalty, but the latency of
updates/changes will be very low.
An A record contains one or more IP addresses. Hence, when a hostname resolves to an A record, each backend service must have its own IP address.
Because there is no
weight information, all entries will be treated as equally
weighted in the load balancer, and the balancer will do a straight forward
An SRV record contains weight and port information for all of its IP addresses. A backend service can be identified by a unique combination of IP address and port number. Hence, a single IP address can host multiple instances of the same service on different ports.
weight information is available, each entry will get its own
weight in the load balancer and it will perform a weighted round-robin.
Similarly, any given port information will be overridden by the port information from
the DNS server. If a Service has attributes
myhost.com resolves to an SRV record with
127.0.0.1:456, then the request
will be proxied to
http://127.0.0.1:456/somepath, as port
123 will be
The DNS resolver will start resolving the following record types in order:
- The last successful type previously resolved
- SRV record
- A record
- CNAME record
This order is configurable through the
dns_order configuration property.
Whenever the DNS record is refreshed a list is generated to handle the weighting properly. Try to keep the weights as multiples of each other to keep the algorithm performance, e.g., 2 weights of 17 and 31 would result in a structure with 527 entries, whereas weights 16 and 32 (or their smallest relative counterparts 1 and 2) would result in a structure with merely 3 entries, especially with a very small (or even 0)
DNS is carried over UDP with a default limit of 512 Bytes. If there are many entries to be returned, a DNS Server will respond with partial data and set a truncate flag, indicating there are more entries unsent. DNS clients, including Kong’s, will then make a second request over TCP to retrieve the full list of entries.
- Some nameservers by default do not respond with the truncate flag, but trim the response
to be under 512 byte UDP size.
- Consul is an example. Consul, in its default configuration, returns up to the first three entries only, and does not set the truncate flag to indicate there are remaining entries unsent. Consul includes an option to enable the truncate flag. Please refer to Consul documentation for more information.
If a deployed nameserver does not provide the truncate flag, the pool of upstream instances might be loaded inconsistently. The Kong node is effectively unaware of some of the instances, due to the limited information provided by the nameserver. To mitigate this, use a different nameserver, use IP addresses instead of names, or make sure you use enough Kong nodes to still keep all upstream services in use.
When the nameserver returns a
3 name error, then that is a valid response for Kong. If this is unexpected, first validate the correct name is being queried for, and second check your nameserver configuration.
- The initial pick of an IP address from a DNS record (A or SRV) is not
randomized. So when using records with a
ttlof 0, the nameserver is expected to randomize the record entries.
When using the ring-balancer, the adding and removing of backend services will be handled by Kong, and no DNS updates will be necessary. Kong will act as the service registry. Nodes can be added/deleted with a single HTTP request and will instantly start/stop receiving traffic.
Configuring the ring-balancer is done through the
target: an IP address or hostname with a port number where a backend service resides, e.g. “192.168.100.12:80”. Each target gets an additional
weightto indicate the relative load it gets. IP addresses can be in both IPv4 and IPv6 format.
upstream: a ‘virtual hostname’ which can be used in a Route
hostfield, e.g., an upstream named
weather.v2.servicewould get all requests from a Service with
Each upstream gets its own ring-balancer. Each
upstream can have many
target entries attached to it, and requests proxied to the ‘virtual hostname’
(which can be overwritten before proxying, using
host_header) will be load balanced over the targets. A ring-balancer has a
maximum predefined number of slots, and based on the target weights the slots get
assigned to the targets of the upstream.
Adding and removing targets can be done with a simple HTTP request on the Admin API. This operation is relatively cheap. Changing the upstream itself is more expensive as the balancer will need to be rebuilt when the number of slots change for example.
Within the balancer there are the positions (from 1 up to the value defined in the
which are randomly distributed on the ring.
The randomness is required to make invoking the ring-balancer cheap at
runtime. A simple round-robin over the wheel (the positions) will do to
provide a well distributed weighted round-robin over the
also having cheap operations when inserting/deleting targets.
Detailed information on adding and manipulating
upstreams is available in the
upstream section of the
Admin API reference.
A target is an IP address/hostname with a port that identifies an instance of
a backend service. Each upstream can have many targets.
Detailed information on adding and manipulating targets is available in the
target section of the Admin API reference.
The targets will be automatically cleaned when there are 10x more inactive entries than active ones. Cleaning will involve rebuilding the balancer, and hence is more expensive than just adding a target entry.
target can also have a hostname instead of an IP address. In that case
the name will be resolved and all entries found will individually be added to
the ring balancer, e.g., adding
name ‘api.host.com’ resolves to an A record with 2 IP addresses. Then both
IP addresses will be added as target, each getting
weight=100 and port 123.
NOTE: the weight is used for the individual entries, not for the whole!
Would it resolve to an SRV record, then also the
from the DNS record would be picked up, and would overrule the given port
The balancer will honor the DNS record’s
ttl setting, and queries and updates
the balancer when it expires.
Exception: When a DNS record has
ttl=0, the hostname will be added
as a single target, with the specified weight. Upon every proxied request
to this target it will query the nameserver again.
The ring-balancer supports the following load balancing algorithms:
By default, a ring-balancer
round-robin algorithm, which provides a well-distributed weighted
round-robin over the targets.
When using the
consistent-hashing algorithm, the input for the hash can be either
cookie. When set to
round-robin scheme will be used, and hashing will be disabled. The
algorithm supports a primary and a fallback hashing attribute; in case the primary
fails (e.g., if the primary is set to
consumer, but no Consumer is authenticated),
the fallback attribute is used.
Supported hashing attributes are:
none: Do not use
consumer: Use the Consumer ID as the hash input. If no Consumer ID is available, it will fall back on the Credential ID (for example, in case of an external authentication mechanism like LDAP).
ip: Use the originating IP address as the hash input. Review the configuration settings for determining the real IP when using this.
header: Use a specified header as the hash input. The header name is specified in either
hash_fallback_header, depending on whether
headeris a primary or fallback attribute, respectively.
cookie: Use a specified cookie with a specified path as the hash input. The cookie name is specified in the
hash_on_cookiefield and the path is specified in the
hash_on_cookie_pathfield. If the specified cookie is not present in the request, it will be set by the response. Hence, the
hash_fallbacksetting is invalid if
cookieis the primary hashing mechanism.
consistent-hashing algorithm is based on Consistent Hashing, which ensures that when the balancer gets modified by
a change in its targets (adding, removing, failing, or changing weights), only
the minimum number of hashing losses occur. This maximizes upstream cache hits.
The ring-balancer also supports the
least-connections algorithm, which selects
the target with the lowest number of connections, weighted by the Target’s
For more information on the exact settings see the
upstream section of the
Admin API reference.
The ring-balancer is designed to work both with a single node as well as in a cluster. For the weighted-round-robin algorithm there isn’t much difference, but when using the hash based algorithm it is important that all nodes build the exact same ring-balancer to make sure they all work identical. To do this the balancer must be build in a deterministic way.
Do not use hostnames in the balancer as the balancers might/will slowly diverge because the DNS ttl has only second precision and renewal is determined by when a name is actually requested. On top of this is the issue with some nameservers not returning all entries, which exacerbates this problem. So when using the hashing approach in a Kong cluster, add
targetentities only by their IP address, and never by name.
When picking your hash input make sure the input has enough variance to get to a well distributed hash. Hashes will be calculated using the CRC-32 digest. So for example, if your system has thousands of users, but only a few consumers, defined per platform (e.g. 3 consumers: Web, iOS and Android) then picking the
consumerhash input will not suffice, using the remote IP address by setting the hash to
ipwould provide more variance in the input and hence a better distribution in the hash output. However, if many clients will be behind the same NAT gateway (e.g. in call center),
cookiewill provide a better distribution than