Microservice Discovery

At Leven Labs, we're all about microservices, but something that wasn't immediately apparent to us was how to easily communicate between them.

We had 3 basic requirements:

  • Freely spin up services on demand
  • Quickly recover from failure
  • Simple development environment (inside vagrant)


Hard-coding addresses and ports in our services wasn't an option since we'd have to redeploy whenever we want to change or add servers. We decided to use SkyDNS, which sits above the etcd key-value store and provides an easy way to do service discovery. SkyDNS exposes a REST API that lets you add and remove SRV-type DNS records that contain a host, port, priority, and weight.

Sounds perfect! Whenever a service starts up, it will make a PUT request and announce itself. Other services can make SRV queries (or regular A queries if you don't care about weights, priorities, or ports) to get the address/port of another service. Multiple services can start up and announce themselves to add redundancy transparent to the connecting clients. This satisfies our first requirement.

However, when a service fails every other service will have to wait until the TTL expires before it is removed from DNS. A service cannot remove itself unless it stops gracefully, which isn't usually the case.


In order to quickly remove failed services, we built a small go service that sits in front of SkyDNS called skyapi. It exposes a WebSocket endpoint that services connect to and announce what they're providing. The endpoint accepts GET parameters that allow you to specify a port, priority, and weight. As soon as the WebSocket is disconnected, the record is removed from SkyDNS so there's no TTL waiting.

Now we have satisfied our first 2 requirements. We can spin up services on the fly and they'll be advertised through SkyDNS and when a service crashes it'll be immediately removed by SkyAPI.


Developers will need to be running all services in their development environment in order to develop/test our product. When a developer makes changes to a service they run the service in vagrant with the --runmode=dev flag which sets the priority in SkyDNS to 1 for that particular instance. Lower priority records outweigh higher priority records and since production instances set the priority to 5, the developer's instance will get all local requests. When they're done testing and stop their instance, everything gracefully falls back to the production instance. Keep in mind all your services must take into account priority weighting when making SRV lookups in order for this to work. This also only works if each vagrant box has its own instance of SkyDNS.


What good would it be if we told you what we do without sharing anything? We've open sourced a bunch of libraries to help you get started with SkyDNS and microservice communication:

  • skyapi: Tiny middleware service between your services and SkyDNS to maintain the DNS record. It also includes a go library to announce services.
  • skyprovider: A Node.js library for announcing services to SkyAPI.
  • node-srvclient: A SRV lookup library for Node.js that sorts or randomizes by priority/weight.
  • go-srvclient: A SRV lookup library for go that randomizes by priority/weight.
  • holdingpattern: If you run a service that doesn't support skyapi announcements directly you can run holdingpattern alongside (use BindsTo with systemd) to announce it.
  • struggledns: Forwards DNS queries to multiple servers in a particular order. Useful for vagrant boxes to have their own SkyDNS and fallback to production SkyDNS.

Thanks for reading and let me know in the comments below if you have any suggestions or questions.

James Hartig

James Hartig

Previously a Software Engineer at Grooveshark, James is writing backend code in Go for Admiral. He loves playing video games and laser tag in his free time.

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