TCP Proxying and Protocol Detection

Linkerd is capable of proxying all TCP traffic, including TLS connections, WebSockets, and HTTP tunneling.

In most cases, Linkerd can do this without configuration. To accomplish this, Linkerd performs protocol detection to determine whether traffic is HTTP or HTTP/2 (including gRPC). If Linkerd detects that a connection is HTTP or HTTP/2, Linkerd automatically provides HTTP-level metrics and routing.

If Linkerd cannot determine that a connection is using HTTP or HTTP/2, Linkerd will proxy the connection as a plain TCP connection, applying mTLS and providing byte-level metrics as usual.

(Note that HTTPS calls to or from meshed pods are treated as TCP, not as HTTP. Because the client initiates the TLS connection, Linkerd is not be able to decrypt the connection to observe the HTTP transactions.)

Configuring protocol detection

In some cases, Linkerd’s protocol detection will time out because it doesn’t see any bytes from the client. This situation is commonly encountered when using “server-speaks-first” protocols where the server sends data before the client does, such as SMTP, or protocols that proactively establish connections without sending data, such as Memcache. In this case, the connection will proceed as a TCP connection after a 10-second protocol detection delay.

To avoid this delay, you will need to provide some configuration for Linkerd. There are two basic mechanisms for configuring protocol detection: opaque ports and skip ports. Marking a port as opaque instructs Linkerd to skip protocol detection and immediately proxy the connection as a TCP stream; marking a port as a skip port bypasses the proxy entirely. Opaque ports are generally preferred (as Linkerd can provide mTLS, TCP-level metrics, etc), but can only be used for services inside the cluster.

By default, Linkerd automatically marks the ports for some server-speaks-first protocol as opaque. Services that speak those protocols over the default ports to destinations inside the cluster do not need further configuration. Linkerd’s default list of opaque ports in the 2.11 release is 25 (SMTP), 587 (SMTP), 3306 (MySQL), 4444 (Galera), 5432 (Postgres), 6379 (Redis), 9300 (ElasticSearch), and 11211 (Memcache). Note that this may change in future releases.

The following table contains common protocols that may require configuration.

Protocol Default port(s) Notes
SMTP 25, 587
MySQL 3306
MySQL with Galera 3306, 4444, 4567, 4568 Ports 4567 and 4568 are not in Linkerd’s default set of opaque ports
PostgreSQL 5432
Redis 6379
ElasticSearch 9300
Memcache 11211

If you are using one of those protocols, follow this decision tree to determine which configuration you need to apply.

  • Is the protocol wrapped in TLS?
    • Yes: no configuration required.
    • No: is the destination on the cluster?
    • Yes: is the port in Linkerd’s default list of opaque ports?
      • Yes: no configuration required.
      • No: mark port(s) as opaque.
    • No: mark port(s) as skip.

Marking a port as opaque

You can use the config.linkerd.io/opaque-ports annotation to mark a port as opaque. This instructions Linkerd to skip protocol detection for that port.

This annotation can be set on a workload, service, or namespace. Setting it on a workload tells meshed clients of that workload to skip protocol detection for connections established to the workload, and tells Linkerd to skip protocol detection when reverse-proxying incoming connections. Setting it on a service tells meshed clients to skip protocol detection when proxying connections to the service. Set it on a namespace applies this behavior to all services and workloads in that namespace.

Setting the opaque-ports annotation can be done by using the --opaque-ports flag when running linkerd inject. For example, for a MySQL database running on the cluster using a non-standard port 4406, you can use the commands:

linkerd inject mysql-deployment.yml --opaque-ports=4406 \
  | kubectl apply -f -
 linkerd inject mysql-service.yml --opaque-ports=4406 \
  | kubectl apply -f -

Marking a port as skip

Sometimes it is necessary to bypass the proxy altogether. For example, when connecting to a server-speaks-first destination that is outside of the cluster, there is no Service resource on which to set the config.linkerd.io/opaque-ports annotation.

In this case, you can use the --skip-outbound-ports flag when running linkerd inject to configure resources to bypass the proxy entirely when sending to those ports. (Similarly, the --skip-inbound-ports flag will configure the resource to bypass the proxy for incoming connections to those ports.)

Skipping the proxy can be useful for these situations, as well as for diagnosing issues, but otherwise should rarely be necessary.

As with opaque ports, multiple skipports can be provided as a comma-delimited string.