A service for autodiscovery and configuration of applications running in containers

go get



A service for assisting discovery and configuration of applications running in containers.

Build Status MPL licensed

Container-native applications vs all the rest

Applications in containers typically need to talk to a source of truth to discover their upstream services and tell their downstream services where to find them. Container-native applications come into the world understanding this responsibility, but no one wants to rewrite all our current applications to do this.

We can wrap each application in a shell script that registers itself with the discovery service easily enough, but watching for changes to that service and ensuring that health checks are being made is more complicated. We can put a second process in the container, but unless we make a supervisor as PID1 then there's no way of knowing whether our buddy process has died.

Additionally, discovery services like Consul provide a means of performing health checks from outside our container, but that means packaging the tooling we need into the Consul container. If we need to change the health check, then we end up re-deploying both our application and Consul, which unnecessarily couples the two.

Containerbuddy to the rescue!

Containerbuddy is a shim written in Go to help make it easier to containerize existing applications. It can act as PID1 in the container and fork/exec the application. If the application exits then so does Containerbuddy.

Alternately, if your application double-forks (which is not recommended for containerized applications but hey we are taking about pre-container apps here!), you can run Containerbuddy as a side-by-side buddy process within the container. In that case the container will not die if the application dies, which can create complicated failure modes but which can be mitigated by having a good TTL health check to detect the problem and alert you.

Containerbuddy registers the application with Consul on start and periodically sends TTL health checks to Consul; should the application fail then Consul will not receive the health check and once the TTL expires will no longer consider the application node healthy. Meanwhile, Containerbuddy runs background workers that poll Consul, checking for changes in dependent/upstream service, and calling an external executable on change.

Using local scripts to test health or act on backend changes means that we can run health checks that are specific to the service in the container, which keeps orchestration and the application bundled together.

Containerbuddy is explicitly not a supervisor process. Although it can act as PID1 inside a container, if the shimmed process dies, so does Containerbuddy (and therefore the container itself). Containerbuddy will return the exit code of its shimmed process back to the Docker Engine or Triton, so that it appears as expected when you run docker ps -a and look for your exit codes. Containerbuddy also attaches stdout/stderr from your application to stdout/stderr of the container, so that docker logs works as expected.

Configuring Containerbuddy

Containerbuddy takes a single file argument (or a JSON string) as its configuration. All trailing arguments will be treated as the executable to shim and that executable's arguments.

# configure via passing a file argument
$ containerbuddy -config file:///opt/containerbuddy/app.json myapp --args --for --my --app

# configure via environment variable
$ export CONTAINERBUDDY=file:///opt/containerbuddy/app.json
$ containerbuddy myapp --args --for --my --app

The format of the JSON file configuration is as follows:

  "consul": "consul:8500",
  "onStart": "/opt/containerbuddy/ {{.ENV_VAR_NAME}}",
  "logging": {
    "level": "INFO",
    "format": "default",
    "output": "stdout"
  "stopTimeout": 5,
  "preStop": "/opt/containerbuddy/",
  "postStop": "/opt/containerbuddy/",
  "services": [
      "name": "app",
      "port": 80,
      "health": [
      "interfaces": [
      "poll": 10,
      "ttl": 30,
      "tags": ["tag1"]
  "backends": [
      "name": "nginx",
      "poll": 30,
      "onChange": "/opt/containerbuddy/"
      "name": "app",
      "poll": 10,
      "onChange": "/opt/containerbuddy/"

Service fields:

  • name is the name of the service as it will appear in Consul. Each instance of the service will have a unique ID made up from name+hostname of the container.
  • port is the port the service will advertise to Consul.
  • health is the executable (and its arguments) used to check the health of the service.
  • interfaces is an optional single or array of interface specifications. If given, the IP of the service will be obtained from the first interface specification that matches. (Default value is ["eth0:inet"])
  • poll is the time in seconds between polling for health checks.
  • ttl is the time-to-live of a successful health check. This should be longer than the polling rate so that the polling process and the TTL aren't racing; otherwise Consul will mark the service as unhealthy.
  • tags is an optional array of tags. If the discovery service supports it (Consul does), the service will register itself with these tags.

Backend fields:

  • name is the name of a backend service that this container depends on, as it will appear in Consul.
  • poll is the time in seconds between polling for changes.
  • onChange is the executable (and its arguments) that is called when there is a change in the list of IPs and ports for this backend.

Service Discovery Backends:

Must supply only one of the following

  • consul configures discovery via Hashicorp Consul. Expects hostname:port string. If you are communicating with Consul over TLS you may include the scheme (ex. https://consul:8500):

    "consul": "consul:8500"
  • etcd configures discovery via CoreOS etcd. Expects a config object:

    "etcd": {
        "endpoints": [
        "prefix": "/containerbuddy"
    • endpoints is the list of etcd nodes in your cluster
    • prefix is the path that will be prefixed to all service discovery keys. This key is optional. (Default: /containerbuddy)

Logging Config (Optional):

The logging config adjust the output format and verbosity of Containerbuddy logs.

  • level adjusts the verbosity of the messages output by containerbuddy. Must be one of: DEBUG, INFO, WARN, ERROR, FATAL, PANIC (Default is INFO)
  • format adjust the output format for log messages. Can be default, text, or json (Default is default)
  • output picks the output stream for log messages. Can be stderr or stdout (Default is stdout)

Logging Format Examples:

default - go log package with LstdFlags

2015/03/26 01:27:38 Started observing beach
2015/03/26 01:27:38 A group of walrus emerges from the ocean
2015/03/26 01:27:38 The group's number increased tremendously!
2015/03/26 01:27:38 Temperature changes
2015/03/26 01:27:38 It's over 9000!
2015/03/26 01:27:38 The ice breaks!

text - logrus TextFormatter

time="2015-03-26T01:27:38-04:00" level=debug msg="Started observing beach" animal=walrus number=8
time="2015-03-26T01:27:38-04:00" level=info msg="A group of walrus emerges from the ocean" animal=walrus size=10
time="2015-03-26T01:27:38-04:00" level=warning msg="The group's number increased tremendously!" number=122 omg=true
time="2015-03-26T01:27:38-04:00" level=debug msg="Temperature changes" temperature=-4
time="2015-03-26T01:27:38-04:00" level=panic msg="It's over 9000!" animal=orca size=9009
time="2015-03-26T01:27:38-04:00" level=fatal msg="The ice breaks!" err=&{0x2082280c0 map[animal:orca size:9009] 2015-03-26 01:27:38.441574009 -0400 EDT panic It's over 9000!} number=100 omg=true
exit status 1

json - logrus JSONFormatter

{"animal":"walrus","level":"info","msg":"A group of walrus emerges from the ocean","size":10,"time":"2014-03-10 19:57:38.562264131 -0400 EDT"}

{"level":"warning","msg":"The group's number increased tremendously!","number":122,"omg":true,"time":"2014-03-10 19:57:38.562471297 -0400 EDT"}

{"animal":"walrus","level":"info","msg":"A giant walrus appears!","size":10,"time":"2014-03-10 19:57:38.562500591 -0400 EDT"}

{"animal":"walrus","level":"info","msg":"Tremendously sized cow enters the ocean.","size":9,"time":"2014-03-10 19:57:38.562527896 -0400 EDT"}

{"level":"fatal","msg":"The ice breaks!","number":100,"omg":true,"time":"2014-03-10 19:57:38.562543128 -0400 EDT"}

Other fields:

  • onStart is the executable (and its arguments) that will be called immediately prior to starting the shimmed application. This field is optional. If the onStart handler returns a non-zero exit code, Containerbuddy will exit.
  • preStop is the executable (and its arguments) that will be called immediately before the shimmed application exits. This field is optional. Containerbuddy will wait until this program exits before terminating the shimmed application.
  • postStop is the executable (and its arguments) that will be called immediately after the shimmed application exits. This field is optional. If the postStop handler returns a non-zero exit code, Containerbuddy will exit with this code rather than the application's exit code.
  • stopTimeout Optional amount of time in seconds to wait before killing the application. (defaults to 5). Providing -1 will kill the application immediately.

Note that if you're using curl to check HTTP endpoints for health checks, that it doesn't return a non-zero exit code on 404s or similar failure modes by default. Use the --fail flag for curl if you need to catch those cases.

Interface Specifications

The interfaces parameter allows for one or more specifications to be used when searching for the advertised IP. The first specification that matches stops the search process, so they should be ordered from most specific to least specific.

  • eth0 : Match the first IPv4 address on eth0 (alias for eth0:inet)
  • eth0:inet6 : Match the first IPv6 address on eth0
  • eth0[1] : Match the 2nd IP address on eth0 (zero-based index)
  • : Match the first IP that is contained within the IP Network
  • fdc6:238c:c4bc::/48 : Match the first IP that is contained within the IPv6 Network
  • inet : Match the first IPv4 Address (excluding
  • inet6 : Match the first IPv6 Address (excluding ::1/128)

Interfaces and their IP addresses are ordered alphabetically by interface name, then by IP address (lexicographically by bytes).

Sample Ordering

  • eth0
  • eth1
  • eth2 fdc6:238c:c4bc::1
  • lo ::1

Commands & arguments

All executable fields, such as onStart and onChange, accept both a string or an array. If a string is given, the command and its arguments are separated by spaces; otherwise, the first element of the array is the command path, and the rest are its arguments.

String Command

"health": "/usr/bin/curl --fail -s http://localhost/app"

Array Command

"health": [

Template Configuration

Containerbuddy configuration has template support. If you have an environment variable such as FOO=BAR then you can use {{.FOO}} in your configuration file and it will be substituted with BAR.

Example Usage

  "consul": "consul:8500",
  "onStart": "/opt/containerbuddy/ {{.URL_TO_SERVICE}} {{.API_KEY}}",

Note: If you need more than just variable interpolation, check out the Go text/template Docs.

Operating Containerbuddy

Containerbuddy accepts POSIX signals to change its runtime behavior. Currently, Containerbuddy accepts the following signals:

  • SIGUSR1 will cause Containerbuddy to mark its advertised service for maintenance. Containerbuddy will stop sending heartbeat messages to the discovery service. The discovery service backend's MarkForMaintenance method will also be called (in the default Consul implementation, this deregisters the node from Consul).
  • SIGTERM will cause Containerbuddy to send SIGTERM to the application, and eventually exit in a timely manner (as specified by stopTimeout).
  • SIGHUP will cause Containerbuddy to reload its configuration. onChange, health, preStop, and postStop handlers will operate with the new configuration. This forces all advertised services to be re-registered, which may cause temporary unavailability of this node for purposes of service discovery.

Delivering a signal to Containerbuddy is most easily done by using docker exec and relying on the fact that it is being used as PID1.

docker exec myapp_1 kill -USR1 1

Docker will automatically deliver a SIGTERM with docker stop, not when using docker kill. When Containerbuddy receives a SIGTERM, it will propagate this signal to the application and wait for stopTimeout seconds before forcing the application to stop. Make sure this timeout is less than the docker stop timeout period or services may not deregister from the discovery service backend. If -1 is given for stopTimeout, Containerbuddy will kill the application immediately with SIGKILL, but it will still deregister the services.

Caveat: If Containerbuddy is wrapped as a shell command, such as: /bin/sh -c '/opt/containerbuddy .... ' then SIGTERM will not reach Containerbuddy from docker stop. This is important for systems like Mesos which may use a shell command as the entrypoint under default configuration.


Please report any issues you encounter with Containerbuddy or its documentation by opening a Github issue. Roadmap items will be maintained as enhancements. PRs are welcome on any issue.


We've published a number of example applications demonstrating how Containerbuddy works.