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This documentation is for Linkerd 1.x, an older version with some significant differences. You may want to see the Linkerd 2.x (current) documentation instead.


Delegation tables (dtabs for short) are lists of routing rules that take a “logical path” (e.g., a popular ice cream store) and transform it into to a “concrete name” where that thing is located (e.g., 2790 Harrison St, San Francisco, CA 94110). This is a process we call “resolution” and it happens via a series of prefix rewrites.

In addition to this documentation, you can refer to Finagle’s dtab docs. You can also experiment with the dtab playground feature of a running Linkerd instance by browsing to http://localhost:9990/delegator. See the Administration page for more details on the dtab playground.


The simplest dtab contains a single rule (called a dentry)

/iceCreamStore => /smitten;

This dentry is really only useful for ice cream stores, so the rule does not apply to the path /shoeStore/windowShop/sandals.

But for the path /iceCreamStore/try/allFlavors, the prefix matches the dentry’s left-hand side (source) and is replaced with the right-hand side (destination) to create the new path: /smitten/try/allFlavors

Dentries & ordering

Dtabs can (and often do) have more than one dentry. For example, we could list several stores:

/smitten       => /USA/CA/SF/Octavia/432;
/iceCreamStore => /smitten;
/iceCreamStore => /humphrys;

When we try to resolve a path that matches more than one prefix, bottom dentries take precedence. So the path /iceCreamStore/try/allFlavors would resolve first as /humphrys/try/allFlavors. However, if the address for humphrys is unknown (as in this example), we fall back to /smitten/try/allFlavors, which ultimately resolves to /USA/CA/SF/Octavia/432/try/allFlavors.


With the dtab:

/iceCreamStore    => /smitten;
/smitten/try      => /smittenLocation/waitInLine/thenTry;
/smittenLocation  => /sanfrancisco/octavia/432;
/california       => /USA/CA;
/sanfrancisco     => /california/SF;

And the path:


Here are the resolution steps:

/iceCreamStore/try/allFlavors first matches the rule /iceCreamStore => /smitten; and is rewritten to

/smitten/try/allFlavors which matches the rule smitten/try => /smittenLocation/waitInLine/thenTry; and is rewritten to

/smittenLocation/waitInLine/thenTry/allFlavors which matches the rule /smittenLocation => /sanfrancisco/octavia/432; and is rewritten to

/sanfrancisco/octavia/432/waitInLine/thenTry/allFlavors which matches the rule /sanfrancisco => /california/SF; and is rewritten to

/california/SF/octavia/432/waitInLine/thenTry/allFlavors which matches the rule /california => /USA/CA; and is rewritten to


Note that every time a prefix match is made, we start with the newly-made path and look through the entire dtab again from bottom to top. This is useful, but also makes it easy to loop accidentally! Consider the following infinite dtab (and don’t worry, Finagle exits after too many recursive calls):

/iceCream        => /youScream;
/youScream       => /weAllScream/for;
/weAllScream/for => /iceCream;

Namers & addresses

So far we have only discussed routing on paths. In order for Finagle to successfully route a request, the path must eventually resolve to a concrete name. Most of these concrete names (in Finagle they are called “bound addresses”) are defined by or looked up using namers.

Finagle provides one such namer called /$/inet which interprets the two subsequent path segments as an ip address and port. So the path /$/inet/ would resolve to the bound address

Linkerd also provides a suite of namers for many different service discovery mechanisms. Some examples are /#/io.l5d.consul, /#/io.l5d.k8s, and /#/io.l5d.marathon. See more on these and others in the Linkerd documentation on namers.

Once a namer converts a path into a bound address, the routing is considered complete and any residual path segments not used in prefix matching will remain unused. As an example, let’s define a namer /#/routeOnMethod that takes the next path segment and routes traffic based on if it’s a GET or POST. Then for the dtab /http/1.1 => /#/routeOnMethod;, the path /http/1.1/GET/host/users will be rewritten to /#/routeOnMethod/GET/host/users and the prefix /#/routeOnMethod/GET will resolve to a bound address. The rest of the segments–/host and /users –have no bearing on where the traffic is routed.

Namers aren’t limited to resolving paths, however. At their most basic, namers are functions that operate on the path segments that follow it. Consider the namer /#/multiply that multiplies the next two segments together and returns a single number. For the dtab:

/byNine  => /#/multiply/9;
/byEight => /#/multiply/8;
/bySeven => /#/multiply/7;

The path /byNine/3 will be rewritten to /#/multiply/9/3 and finally to /27.


When receiving paths like /http/1.1/GET/chocolate/icecream, we may not be interested in using every path segment when routing the request. If all icecream needs to be routed to /smitten, it doesn’t matter what flavor it is. One way to write this dtab is to list all possible flavors:

/http/1.1/GET/chocolate/icecream => /smitten;
/http/1.1/GET/vanilla/icecream => /smitten;
/http/1.1/GET/rockyroad/icecream => /smitten;
/http/1.1/GET/strawberry/icecream => /smitten;
/http/1.1/GET/mintchip/icecream => /smitten;

A simpler and more elegant solution is to replace the flavors segment with a wildcard that will match any string for that segment.

/http/1.1/GET/*/icecream => /smitten;

Alternates, unions, & weights

When two dentries have the same prefix, we call them alternates. We saw an example of one above. Here it is again:

/smitten       => /USA/CA/SF/Octavia/432;
/iceCreamStore => /smitten;
/iceCreamStore => /humphrys;

Alternates can also be specified using the pipe operator:

/smitten       => /USA/CA/SF/Harrison/2790;
/iceCreamStore => /humphrys | /smitten;

In both of these examples, humphrys is the first ice cream store address we try to resolve. But if the address is not found we proceed to smitten (and if smitten is not found either, the whole routing operation fails–no one gets ice cream). You can specify any number of alternates /humphrys | /smitten | /birite | /three-twins

Dtabs also support unions with the following syntax /iceCreamStore => /humphrys & /smitten. In this example we have an equal chance of routing the path to either store. If we wanted to be more likely to enter one store than another, we can add weights to each path:

/smitten       => 3 * /SF/Octavia/432 & 1 * /SF/California/2404;
/iceCreamStore => 0.7 * /humphrys & 0.3 * /smitten;

Weights can be decimals or integers.

Negative, failure, & empty resolutions

If a namer isn’t able to find a concrete address, it returns a negative resolution. This signals to Finagle that this path was a dud, and if there are any alternate paths to try, now would be a good time. If all paths are negative, Finagle throws an error. This kind of fallback logic can be tested with the symbol ~ which Finagle interprets as a negative resolution. For example:

/iceCreamStore => ~ | /smitten;

If we want to stop before checking any alternate paths, we should use failure instead of negative. Failure is specified using /$/fail or even shorter !, like in this dtab where we route to smitten or bust:

/iceCreamStore => /smitten | !;

Namers sometimes also return failure resolutions. For example the /multiply namer might return a failure for the path /multiply/cats/dogs.

There is a final resolution called empty. It is invoked via /$/nil or $, and it is usually only used in test scenarios.