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Deploying Python Without Downtime

When you first start out deploying your application it can be easy to just run supervisor restart all or service my_app restart to get your current version into production. This is great when you are starting out but eventually you will try to connect while your application is starting up and see HTTP 503s while you application is booting up.

Eventually you might discover that Gunicorn and uWSGI can reload your application without closing the socket so your web requests will just be delayed a bit delayed as your application starts. This works fine as long as your application doesn't take too long to start. Unfortunately some applications at work can take a minute to start, too long to have connections waiting at the socket.

The Gunicorn reloading using kill -HUP $PID will stop all worker processes then start them again. The slow init for workers tends to cause problems. uWSGI has chain reloading which will restart workers one at a time. I need support for Tornado which doesn't fit well with uWSGI.

With a Load Balancer

A common technique is to remove a single server from the load balancer, upgrade/restart the application, then bring it back. We are using load balancers but it requires coordination while provisioning nodes using the HAProxy management socket in order to schedule this. Our deploys currently deploy to all nodes simultaneously, not one-by-one, an even larger change. It would also be possible to fool the healthcheck by 404'ing the status page then waiting for LBs to take the node out of the pool. That requires a bit more waiting than I want, 2 healthcheck failures with 5 second intervals, for each server, plus time to reintegrate the web process once the upgrade is finished.

Gunicorn Reload ++

Gunicorn will automatically restart failed web processes so it would be possible to just kill each process, sleeping in between, until you get through all the child processes. This works but if application start times change significantly we are either waiting too long for restarts or not long enough and risking some downtime.

Since Gunicorn includes Python hooks into the application it should be possible to write a snippet that will notify the restart process when the worker application is ready. Gunicorn didn't have the needed hook but it was simple to contribute the change. It requires master until a new release is made.

Now our restart process takes advantage of the fact that a single socket has multiple processes accepting connections. Restarting will slightly diminish our capacity (1/N) but we will continue to handle traffic without letting connections wait too long.

The general process for this is

  for child_pid of gunicorn-master:
    kill child_pid
    wait for app startup

My first version of this used shell and nc to listen on UDP for an application startup. This worked well although integrating our process manager into shell was a bit more then I would like to do.

The restart script should be called with the PID of the Gunicorn master restart.sh $PID

and works in tandem with a post_worker_init script that will notify the script when the app is running.

If we had this WSGI application for example:

We could even do things like check the /_status page to verify the application is working.

Be careful with trying to run too much of your application in this healthcheck, if for any reason your post_worker_init raises an error then the worker will exit, preventing your application from starting. This may be a problem when you are checking a DB connection that may go away, even if you application could work it won't be able to boot.

Now with our applications that take a minute to start we can do a rolling restart without taking the application down or dropping any connections!