Task Health Checking

Sometimes applications crash, misbehave, or become unresponsive. To detect and recover from such situations, some frameworks (e.g., Marathon, Apache Aurora) implement their own logic for checking the health of their tasks. This is typically done by having the framework scheduler send a "ping" request, e.g., via HTTP, to the host where the task is running and arranging for the task or executor to respond to the ping. Although this technique is extremely useful, there are several disadvantages in the way it is usually implemented:

  • Each Mesos framework uses its own API and protocol.
  • Framework developers have to reimplement common functionality.
  • Health checks originating from a scheduler generate extra network traffic if the task and the scheduler run on different nodes (which is usually the case); moreover, network failures between the task and the scheduler may make the latter think that the former is unhealthy, which might not be the case.
  • Implementing health checks in the framework scheduler can be a performance bottleneck. If a framework is managing a large number of tasks, performing health checks for every task can cause scheduler performance problems.

To address the aforementioned problems, Mesos 1.2.0 introduces the Mesos-native health check design, defines common API for command, HTTP(S), and TCP health checks, and provides reference implementations for all built-in executors.

NOTE: Some functionality related to health checking was available prior to 1.2.0 release, however it was considered experimental.

NOTE: Mesos monitors each process-based task, including Docker containers, using an equivalent of a waitpid() system call. This technique allows detecting and reporting process crashes, but is insufficient for cases when the process is still running but is not responsive.

This document describes supported health check types, touches on relevant implementation details, and mentions limitations and caveats.

Mesos-native Health Checks

In contrast to the state-of-the-art "scheduler health check" pattern mentioned above, Mesos-native health checks run on the agent node: it is the executor which performs checks and not the scheduler. This improves scalability but means that detecting network faults or task availability from the outside world becomes a separate concern. For instance, if the task is running on a partitioned agent, it will still be health checked and---if those health checks fail---will be terminated. Needless to say that due to the network partition, all this will happen without the framework scheduler being notified.

Task status updates are leveraged to transfer the health check status to the Mesos master and further to the framework's scheduler ensuring the "at-least-once" delivery guarantee. The boolean healthy field is used to convey health status, which may be insufficient in certain cases. This means a task that has failed health checks will be RUNNING with healthy set to false. Currently, the healthy field is only set for TASK_RUNNING status updates.

When a task turns unhealthy, a task status update message with the healthy field set to false is sent to the Mesos master and then forwarded to a scheduler. The executor is expected to kill the task after a number of consecutive failures defined in the consecutive_failures field of the HealthCheck protobuf.

NOTE: While a scheduler currently cannot cancel a task kill due to failing health checks, it may issue a killTask command itself. This may be helpful to emulate a "global" policy for handling tasks with failing health checks (see limitations).

Built-in executors forward all unhealthy status updates, as well as the first healthy update when a task turns healthy, i.e., when the task has started or after one or more unhealthy updates have occurred. Note that custom executors may use a different strategy.

Custom executors can use the health checker library, the reference implementation for health checking all built-in executors rely on.

Anatomy of a Health Check

Mesos health checks are described in the HealthCheck protobuf. Currently, only tasks can be health checked, not arbitrary processes or executors, i.e., only the TaskInfo protobuf has the optional HealthCheck field. However, it is worth noting that all built-in executors map a task to a process.

It is an executor's responsibility to health check its tasks, because only executor knows how to interpret TaskInfo. All built-in executors support health checking their tasks (see implementation details and limitations).

NOTE: It is up to the executor how---and whether at all---to honor the HealthCheck field in TaskInfo. Implementations may vary significantly depending on what entity TaskInfo represents. In this section only the reference implementation for built-in executors is considered.

Command Health Checks

Command health checks are described by the CommandInfo protobuf; some fields are ignored though: CommandInfo.user and CommandInfo.uris. A command health check specifies an arbitrary command that is used to validate the health of the task. The executor launches the command and inspects its exit status: 0 is treated as success, any other status as failure.

NOTE: If a task is a Docker container launched by the docker executor, it will be wrapped in docker run. For all other tasks, including Docker containers launched in the mesos containerizer, the command will be executed from the task's mount namespace.

To specify a command health check, set type to HealthCheck::COMMAND and populate CommandInfo, for example:

HealthCheck healthCheck;
healthCheck.mutable_command()->set_value("ls /checkfile > /dev/null");


HTTP(S) Health Checks

HTTP(S) health checks are described by the HealthCheck.HTTPCheckInfo protobuf with scheme, port, path, and statuses fields. A GET request is sent to scheme://<host>:port/path using the curl command. Note that <host> is currently not configurable and is resolved automatically to (see limitations). The scheme field supports "http" and "https" values only. Field port must specify an actual port the task is listening on, not a mapped one.

Built-in executors treat status codes between 200 and 399 as success; custom executors may employ a different strategy, e.g., leveraging the statuses field.

NOTE: Setting HealthCheck.HTTPCheckInfo.statuses has no effect on the built-in executors.

If necessary, executors enter the task's network namespace prior to launching the curl command.

To specify an HTTP health check, set type to HealthCheck::HTTP and populate HTTPCheckInfo, for example:

HealthCheck healthCheck;


TCP Health Checks

TCP health checks are described by the HealthCheck.TCPCheckInfo protobuf, which has a single port field, which must specify an actual port the task is listening on, not a mapped one. The task is probed using Mesos' mesos-tcp-connect command, which tries to establish a TCP connection to <host>:port. Note that <host> is currently not configurable and is resolved automatically to (see limitations).

The health check is considered successful if the connection can be established.

If necessary, executors enter the task's network namespace prior to launching the mesos-tcp-connect command.

To specify a TCP health check, set type to HealthCheck::TCP and populate TCPCheckInfo, for example:

HealthCheck healthCheck;


Common options

The HealthCheck protobuf contains common options which regulate how a health check must be interpreted by an executor:

  • delay_seconds is the amount of time to wait until starting health checking the task.
  • interval_seconds is the interval between health checks.
  • timeout_seconds is the amount of time to wait for the health check to complete. After this timeout, the health check is aborted and treated as a failure.
  • consecutive_failures is the number of consecutive failures until the task is killed by the executor.
  • grace_period_seconds is the amount of time after the task is launched during which health check failures are ignored. Once a health check succeeds for the first time, the grace period does not apply anymore. Note that it includes delay_seconds, i.e., setting grace_period_seconds < delay_seconds has no effect.

NOTE: Since each time a health check is performed a helper command is launched (see limitations), setting timeout_seconds to a small value, e.g., <5s, may lead to intermittent failures.

As an example, the code below specifies a task which is a Docker container with a simple HTTP server listening on port 8080 and an HTTP health check that should be performed every second starting from the task launch and allows consecutive failures during first 15 seconds and response time under 1 second.

TaskInfo task = createTask(...);

// Use Netcat to emulate an HTTP server.
const string command =
    "nc -lk -p 8080 -e echo -e \"HTTP/1.1 200 OK\r\nContent-Length: 0\r\n\"";

Image image;

ContainerInfo* container = task.mutable_container();

// Set `grace_period_seconds` here because it takes
// some time to launch Netcat to serve requests.
HealthCheck healthCheck;


Under the Hood

All built-in executors rely on the health checker library, which lives in "src/checks". An executor creates an instance of the HealthChecker per task and passes the health check definition together with extra parameters. In return, the library notifies the executor of changes in the task's health status.

The library depends on curl for HTTP(S) checks and mesos-tcp-connect for TCP checks (the latter is a simple command bundled with Mesos).

One of the most non-trivial things the library takes care of is entering the appropriate task's namespaces (mnt, net) on Linux agents. To perform a command health check, the checker must be in the same mount namespace as the checked process; this is achieved by either calling docker run for the health check command in case of docker containerizer or by explicitly calling setns() for mnt namespace in case of mesos containerizer (see containerization in Mesos). To perform an HTTP(S) or TCP health check, the most reliable solution is to share the same network namespace with the checked process; in case of docker containerizer setns() for net namespace is explicitly called, while mesos containerizer guarantees an executor and its tasks are in the same network namespace.

NOTE: Custom executors may or may not use this library. Please check the respective framework's documentation.

Regardless of executor, all resources used to health check a task are accounted towards task's resource allocation. Hence it is a good idea to add some extra resources, e.g., 0.05 cpu and 32MB mem, to the task definition if a Mesos-native health check is specified.

Current Limitations

  • When a task becomes unhealthy, it is deemed to be killed after HealthCheck.consecutive_failures failures. This decision is taken locally by an executor, there is no way for a scheduler to intervene and react differently. A workaround is to set HealthCheck.consecutive_failures to some large value so that the scheduler can react. One possible solution is to introduce a "global" policy for handling unhealthy tasks (see MESOS-6171).
  • HTTP(S) and TCP health checks use as target IP. As a result, if tasks want to support HTTP or TCP health checks, they should listen on the loopback interface in addition to whatever interface they require (see MESOS-6517).
  • HTTP(S) health checks rely on the curl command; if it is not available, a health check is considered failed.
  • TCP health checks are not supported on Windows (see MESOS-6117).
  • Only a single health check per task is allowed (see MESOS-5962).
  • Each time a health check runs, a helper command is launched. This introduces some run-time overhead (see MESOS-6766).
  • A task without a health check may be indistinguishable from a task with a health check but still in a grace period. An extra state should be introduced (see MESOS-6417).
  • Task's health status cannot be assigned from outside, e.g., by an operator via an endpoint.