6 min read

Setting up a High Availability Ruby on Rails environment with keepalived, nginx, HA Proxy and Thin on Debian Lenny


  • Configure Keepalived and Nginx
  • Configure HA Proxy
  • Configure Thin


Nginx and HA Proxy have similar functions: they can both be used as reverse proxies and load balancers. In our case Nginx will be the reverse proxy and HA Proxy will be the load balancer. Nginx is great for dealing with SSL encryption, gzip compression or talking to a cache server (Varnish, memcached).

HA Proxy can control the maximum connections sent to a Thin server which is great because we can queue the users at the load balancer level (HA Proxy) instead of the backend level (Thin servers). HA proxy will health check the Thin servers and only send requests if they are ready to receive connections.


Because all our requests are coming in through Nginx we have a single point of failure: if the server would go down our website will be unavailable. To fix this we'll configure two servers running Nginx and keepalived. The servers will health check each other and if one of them goes down the other one will take over the Virtual IP (VIP) that points to our website.

Edit: As Christian Winkler pointed out, this setup is not entirely fail-over. If something were to happen to the HA Proxy server the web server would be unavailable to take requests. This can be solved by adding another HA Proxy machine to the mix and configuring keepalived, similar to the Nginx boxes.

Configure Keepalived and Nginx

First let's install Debian Lenny on our fist reverse proxy (Nginx 1). You can download a Vmware image of Debian Lenny from thoughpolice.co.uk and run it with the free Vmware Player. The image has 256mb of RAM by default. You can find a very useful article on securing Debian Lenny at slicehost.com. If you are using the image. edit /etc/apt/sources.list and add the following two lines to be able to use apt-get to install all the required programs:

 deb http://ftp.debian.org/debian lenny main 
 deb-src http://ftp.debian.org/debian lenny main

Installing Keepalived

We install keepalived using apt-get:

apt-get install keepalived

Next we are going to allow processes to bind non-local IP addresses. Edit /etc/sysctl.conf

 nano /etc/sysctl.conf

Set net.ipv4.ip_nonlocal_bind

sysctl -p

To configure keepalived we need to edit the keepalived.conf at /etc/keepalived/keepalive.conf

vrrp_instance VI_1 { 
  interface eth0 
  state MASTER lvs_sync_daemon_interface eth0 
  priority 150 advert_int 1 

  authentication { 
    auth_type PASS 
    auth_pass yourpassword 

  virtual_router_id 51 virtual_ipaddress { 

We set the state to MASTER because this is the main reverse proxy. Only one of the two Nginx proxies will listen to the address at any one time. When the MASTER goes down the BACKUP will take over the VIP address. The lvs_sync_daemon_interface eth0 option enables the MASTER to save the connection state and sync it with the BACKUP.

Repeat the same steps to configure keepalived for the BACKUP (Nginx2). Here's is the keepalived.conf on the BACKUP server:

vrrp_instance VI_1 { 
  interface eth0 
  state BACKUP lvs_sync_daemon_interface eth0 
  priority 100 advert_int 1 

  authentication { 
    auth_type PASS 
    auth_pass yourpassword 

  virtual_router_id 51 virtual_ipaddress { 

The BACKUP configuration is not much different to the MASTER except the state BACKUP and priority which is set to a lower value than the MASTER.

Check if the MASTER is listening to by typing:

ip addr sh

This is a sample output:

inet brd scope glocal eth0 
inet scope global eth0

Test if the BACKUP listens to the IP by restarting the MASTER and typing ip addr sh on the BACKUP machine.

Installing Nginx

Repeat the following steps for both the MASTER and BACKUP machines.

apt-get install nginx

Edit the /etc/nginx/nginx.conf file. We will keep all the default settings and add a server and upstream directive to the http section.

http { 
  # ... Leave the default config options here  
  upstream haproxy_server { 

  server { 
    listen 80; 
    server_name nginxserver; 
    location / { 
      proxy_pass http://haproxy_server; 
      proxy_set_header X-Real-IP $remote_addr; 
      proxy_set_header Host $host; 
      proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-For $proxy_add_x_forwarded_for; 
  } #end server 
} #end http

We configured Nginx to proxy all requests to an upstream HA Proxy server located at and listening to the port 3100. We could have added more upstream servers and have Nginx load balance them on top of HA Proxy but according to my http_load benchmarks there is no increase in performance.

Configure HA Proxy and Keepalived

HA Proxy and keepalived will be installed on two machines similar to the Nginx boxes. The VIP of the HA Proxy will be HA Proxy will load balance the requests to a cluster of 5 Thin servers listening on ports 3000-3004 installed on a separate box with the IP of

Let's install it using apt-get:

apt-get install haproxy

Now we have to edit the configuration file:

nano /etc/haproxy/haproxy.cfg

Add the following lines:

     log   local0
     log   local1 notice
     maxconn 10000
     user haproxy
     group haproxy
     nbproc  1
     log     global
     mode    http
     contimeout      5000
     clitimeout      50000
     srvtimeout      50000
     balance roundrobin
listen webfarm *:3100
mode    http
option  forwardfor
cookie  SERVERID insert indirect nocache
option  httpclose
option redispatch
server  web1 cookie A check inter 6000 maxconn 1
server  web2 cookie A check inter 6000 maxconn 1
server  web3 cookie A check inter 6000 maxconn 1
server  web4 cookie A check inter 6000 maxconn 1
server  web5 cookie A check inter 6000 maxconn 1
listen admin_stats *:8080
       mode http
       stats uri /my_stats
       stats realm Global\ statistics
       stats auth username:password

Notice the maxconn option that is set to 10000 connections. The load balancing will be done using roundrobin. HA Proxy will listen to port 3100. The cookie option is important if you have a Ruby on Rails app that requires authentication based on cookies. Also, the configuration option that sends only one request to each Thin cluster: maxconn 1.

HA Proxy has a neat admin interface where we can visually see all the connections to the backend Thin clusters. You can access it by browsing to Enter the username and password you used in the HA Proxy config file and you're good to go. If you check it now all the connections will be red because there are no Thin servers listening to those ports.

Keepalived and HA Proxy

Follow the previous steps to install keepalived on both HA Proxy machines. The configuration options are identical except the virtual_ipaddress directive which in this case will be set to

Configure Thin

I will assume you have a working Ruby on Rails environment. We'll install Thin server first.

gem install thin

Next let's install an open source RoR app to test our setup. I have seen Eldorado (full-stack community web application) in many benchmark tests so I decided to use it. These are the installation steps taken from the project's github:

git clone git://github.com/trevorturk/eldorado.git cd eldorado 
cp config/database.example.yml config/database.yml cp config/config.example.yml config/config.yml rake gems:install rake db:create rake db:schema:load

Configure your database and make sure the app starts by typing script/server in the eldorado folder.

Now to configure Thin to start this app:

thin config -C /etc/thin/eldorado.yml -c /var/rails/eldorado --servers 5 -e production

The -C option sets the location where all our thin config files are located : /etc/thin. The -c option sets the location of the Rails app: /var/rails/eldorado.

Edit the file we just created:

nano /etc/thin/eldorado.yml

Check that the starting port is 3000. I also set the address to to match the HA Proxy configuration.

pid: tmp/pids/thin.pid
log: log/thin.log
timeout: 30
max_conns: 1024
port: 3000
max_persistent_conns: 512
chdir: /var/rails/eldorado
environment: production
servers: 4
daemonize: true

Now we start the thin server:

thin -C /etc/thin/eldorado.yml start

Check the HA Proxy status page ( to see the Thin clusters going online (you have to refresh a few times). Now you can check the Rails app using the VIP address we configured in the first steps:

This setup is flexible because we can easily add an HTTP caching server like Varnish to sit between Nginx and HA Proxy to decrease the load on our backend Thin clusters. Nginx call also accomodate for a memory cache server like memcached with a few modifications to the nginx.conf file. We'll leave that and the benchmarks of this setup for a future article.