What the heck is Service Discovery?

If you are working with container technologies like Docker Swarm, kubernetes or Mesos,  sooner or later you will stumble upon service discovery.

What the heck is service discovery? In layman’s term, it the way one container to know where another container is. Better explain with an example, where Web container needs to connect to DB container, it needs to know the address of DB container.

In container world, containers are like scurry of squirrels. They keep of jumping from one host (may call it VM) to other, moving one cluster to other for the cause of high availability and scalability.

In the tantrum, how does one container connect with other? Here comes the part of Service Discovery, a thing which can tell the present address of container/s. In layman’s term, imagine it to be like a librarian, who tell this book (container) is with Joe, Brandan or anybody else. Service Discovery is like a directory of addresses (Hostname, IP, Port) on all the containers running in a cluster.

If a new container is born or died, this Service Discovery updates its directory to make new entry or delete its entry.

Note, I have explain Service Discovery in it’s core function, but discovery (directory) is not the only function it performs, tools which implement service discocery provides additional functions like load balancing, health check, NATing, bundling, etc. But, if the tools provide all the additional function but not discovery, then it’s should be called Service discovery.

Now, knowing “what” is Service Discovery, come the next part “how”. How do we achieve Service discovery in a docker cluster? There is no single answer to this, answer is “it depends”.

It depends on what stack are you using for docker clustering, is it Mesos, kubernates, Nomad, Docker Swarm.

A stack come with related set of tools for scheduling, storage, scaling, batch execution, monitoring, etc. Stack is collective term of tools. Some stack has all, some stack has few. Service discovery would be part of the sets of tools your choosen stack provide.

Mesos, kubernates has DNS based service discovery. Nomad use consul (service registry). Docker swarm has two stories. If you are using docker prior to 1.12 with swarm, you would use consul, etcd or pick one from large open source community for service discovery. If you are using Docker 1.12 and all next versions, it comes with integrated swarm discovery with based on DNS server embedded in the swarm.

If you are not sure, what I am taking about all the these stack, I would suggest, take a step back,  make google your best friend and try to research what these stack means, what sets of tools and capability they offer, and how they differ for each other. Some are simple and easy to learn, other has many features but also steep learning curve.

If you are new and incline to docker swarm stack, eye close, go with latest docker with integrated swarm. While I was writing post in Dec 2016, Docker 1.3 was in beta, when you would be reading, do research and find out what latest version docker it would be running.


When I was working, that was era of Docker 1.11 and I did service discovery using poor man’s tools, Interlock with Ngnix. Why? I find it to be easiest to work with it when you working with Swarm, Consol plus it provides some cool features like load balacing, health checks and ssl offloading (which are nothing, but feature of load balancer).

I would be writting another post of sharing my experience with Interlock and Nginx.



3 thoughts on “What the heck is Service Discovery?

  1. Pingback: Solving mystery of the service discovery with Azure ACS DCOS – Part 1 | Technical Insanity

  2. Pingback: Service discovery sauce with Interlock and Nginx | Technical Insanity

  3. Pingback: Client Auth with Interlock and Nginx | Technical Insanity

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