Giving linkerd a spin

A while ago, I gave linkerd a spin. Due to vacations and a busy schedule, I was not able to write about my experience. I will briefly discuss how to setup linkerd and then deploy a sample service to illustrate what it can do out of the box. Let’s go!

Wait! What is linkerd?

linkerd basically is a network proxy for your Kubernetes pods that’s designed to be deployed as a service mesh. When the pods you care about have been infused with linkerd, you will automatically get metrics like latency and requests per second, a web portal to check these metrics, live inspection of traffic and much more. Below is an example of a Kubernetes namespace that has been meshed:

A meshed namespace; all deployments in this particular namespace are meshed which means all pods get the linkerd network proxy that provides the metrics and features such as encryption

Installation

I can be very brief about this: installation is about as simple as it gets. Simply navigate to https://linkerd.io/2/getting-started to get started. Here are the simplified steps:

  • Download the linkerd executable as described in the Getting Started guide; I used WSL for this
  • Create a Kubernetes cluster with AKS (or another provider); for AKS, use the Azure CLI to get your credentials (az aks get-credentials); make sure the Azure CLI is installed in WSL and that you connected to your Azure subscription with az login
  • Make sure you can connect to your cluster with kubectl
  • Run linkerd check –pre to check if prerequisites are fulfilled
  • Install linkerd with linkerd install | kubectl apply -f –
  • Check the installation with linkerd check

The last step will nicely show its progress and end when the installation is complete:

linkerd check output

Exploring linkerd with the dashboard

linkerd automatically installs a dashboard. The dashboard is exposed as a Kubernetes service called linkerd-web. The service is of type ClusterIP. Although you could expose the service using an ingress, you can easily tunnel to the service with the following linkerd command (first line is the command; other lines are the output):

linkerd dashboard

Linkerd dashboard available at:
http://127.0.0.1:50750
Grafana dashboard available at:
http://127.0.0.1:50750/grafana
Opening Linkerd dashboard in the default browser
Failed to open Linkerd dashboard automatically
Visit http://127.0.0.1:50750 in your browser to view the dashboard

From WSL, the dashboard can not open automatically but you can manually browse to it. Note that linkerd also installs Prometheus and Grafana.

Out of the box, the linkerd deployment is meshed:

Adding linkerd to your own service

In this section, we will deploy a simple service that can add numbers and add linkerd to it. Although there are many ways to do this, I chose to create a separate namespace and enable auto-injection via an annotation. Here’s the yaml to create the namespace (add-ns.yaml):

apiVersion: v1
kind: Namespace
metadata:
  name: add
  annotations:
    linkerd.io/inject: enabled

Just run kubectl create -f add-ns.yaml to create the namespace. The annotation ensures that all pods added to the namespace get the linkerd proxy in the pod. All traffic to and from the pod will then pass through the proxy.

Now, let’s install the add service and deployment:

apiVersion: v1
kind: Service
metadata:
  name: add-svc
spec:
  ports:
  - port: 80
    name: http
    protocol: TCP
    targetPort: 8000
  - port: 8080
    name: grpc
    protocol: TCP
    targetPort: 8080
  selector:
    app: add
    version: v1
  type: LoadBalancer
---
apiVersion: apps/v1
kind: Deployment
metadata:
  name: add
spec:
  replicas: 2
  selector:
    matchLabels:
      app: add
  template:
    metadata:
      labels:
        app: add
        version: v1
    spec:
      containers:
      - name: add
        image: gbaeke/adder

The deployment deploys to two pods with the gbaeke/adder image. To deploy the above, save it to a file (add.yaml) and use the following command to deploy:

kubectl create -f add-yaml -n add

Because the deployment uses the add namespace, the linkerd proxy will be added to each pod automatically. When you list the pods in the deployment, you see:

Each add pod has two containers: the actual add container based on gbaeke/adder and the proxy

To see more details about one of these pods, I can use the following command:

k get po add-5b48fcc894-2dc97 -o yaml -n add

You will clearly see the two containers in the output:

Two containers in the pod: actual service (gbaeke/adder) and the linkerd proxy

Generating some traffic

Let’s deploy a client that continuously uses the calculator service:

apiVersion: apps/v1
kind: Deployment
metadata:
  name: add-cli
spec:
  replicas: 1
  selector:
    matchLabels:
      app: add-cli
  template:
    metadata:
      labels:
        app: add-cli
    spec:
      containers:
      - name: add-cli
        image: gbaeke/adder-cli
        env:
        - name: SERVER
          value: "add-svc"

Save the above to add-cli.yaml and deploy with the below command:

kubectl create -f add-cli.yaml -n add

The deployment uses another image called gbaeke/adder-cli that continuously makes requests to the server specified in the SERVER environment variable.

Checking the deployment in the linkerd portal

When you now open the add namespace in the linked portal, you should see something similar to the below screenshot (note: I deployed 5 servers and 5 clients):

A view on the add namespace; linkerd has learned how the deployments talk to eachother

The linkerd proxy in all pods sees all traffic. From the traffic, it can infer that the add-cli deployment talks to the add deployment. The add deployment receives about 150 requests per second. The 99th percentile latency is relatively high because the cluster nodes are very small, I deployed more instances and the client is relatively inefficient.

When I click the deployment called add, the following screen is shown:

A view on the deployment

The deployment clearly shows where traffic is coming from plus relevant metrics such as RPS and P99 latency. You also get a view on the live calls now. Note that the client is using GRPC which uses a HTTP POST. When you scroll down on this page, you get more information about the caller and a view on the individual pods:

A view on the inbound calls to the deployment plus a view on the pods

To see live calls in more detail, you can click the Tap icon:

A live view on the calls with Tap

For each call, details can be requested:

Request details

Conclusion

This was just a brief look at linkerd. It is trivially easy to install and with auto-injection, very simple to add it to your own services. Highly recommended to give it a spin to see where it can add value to your projects!

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