Architecture of Rancher's Docker-machine Integration

Gray Calendar Icon Published: March 31, 2015
Gray Calendar Icon Updated: September 11, 2019

As you may have seen, Rancher recently announced our integration with docker-machine. This integration will allow users to spin up Rancher compute nodes across multiple cloud providers right from the Rancher UI. In our initial release, we supported Digital Ocean. Amazon EC2 is soon to follow and we’ll continue to add more cloud providers as interest dictates. We believe this feature will really help the Zero-to-Docker _(and Zero-to-Rancher)_ experience. But the feature itself is not the focus of this post. In this post, I want to detail the software architerture employed to achieve this integration. First, it’s important to understand that everyhting in Rancher is an API resource with a process lifecycle. Containers, images, networks, and accounts are all API resources with their own process lifecycles. When you deploy a machine in the Rancher UI, you’re creating a machine resource. It has three life cycle processes: 1. Create 2. Bootstrap 3. Delete The create process is kicked off when the user creates a machine in the UI. When the create process completes, it auotmatically kicks off the bootstrap process. Delete (perhaps obviously) occurs when the user chooses to delete or destroy the host. Our integration with machine is achieved through a microservice that hooks into Rancher machine lifecycle events and execs out to the docker-machine binary accordingly. You can check out the source code for this service here: Logically, the interaction looks like this: machine ...Sorry for the bad graphic. Anyway... When you spin up Rancher with docker run rancher/server ... with the default configuration, the Rancher API, Rancher Process Server, DB, and Machine Microservice are all processes living inside that container (and in fact, the API and process server are the same process). The docker-machine binary is in the container as well but only runs when it is called. You may at this point be wondering about that event bus. In Rancher, we keep eventing dead-simple and above all follow this principle:

There is no such thing as reliable messaging.

So, that \“event bus\” consists of the microservice making a POST request to the /subsribe API endpoint. The response is a stream of newline-terminated json events, similar in concept to the docker event stream. The process server is responsible for firing (and refiring) events until it receives a reply event (another API POST) indicating the event was handled. Further event handlers are blocked until the current event handler replies successfully. The microservice is responsible for handling the events, replying, and acting idempotently so that refires can occur without ill-effect. So when the machine microservie receives a create event, it translate the machine API resource’s prooperties into a docker-machine cli command and execs out to it. Since the machine creation process is long lived, the service monitors the standard out and error of the call and sends corresponding status updates to the Rancher server. These are then presented to the user in the UI. When docker-machine reports that the machine was successfully created, the microservice will reply to the original event it received from the Rancher server. The successful end of the create event will cause the process server to automatically kick off the bootstrap event, which makes it way right back down to the machine microservice. When that event is received, we’ll again exec out to docker-machine to get the details needed to connect to the machine’s docker daemon. We do this by executing the docker-machine config command and parsing the response. With the connection parameters in hand, the service fires up a rancher agent on the machine via docker run ... rancher/agent .... This is the exact same command that a user would run if they wanted to manaully join a server to Rancher. When that container is up and running, it will report into the Rancher server and start hooking into container lifecycle events in much the same way that this service hooks into machine lifecycle events. From there, it’s business as normal for the Rancher server and the machine’s rancher-agent. That about does it for the technical architecture of our docker-machine integration. There are a lot more interesting but minor technical detail to share, but I didn’t want to go too far off into the weeds in this post. I’ll write up some follow up post sharing those details in the not-too-distant future. Finally, shout out (and thanks) to Evan Haslett, Ben Firshman, and the rest of the docker-machine team and community for the help along the way. We look forward to more exciting work with the docker-machine, including getting RancherOS in there. If you’d like to learn more about Rancher, please schedule a demo and we’ll walk you through the latest features, and our future roadmap. Note: This post also appears on Craig’s personal blog here. Feel free to check out that blog for more software engineering insights.

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