Architecture

At a high level, Linkerd consists of a control plane and a data plane.

The control plane is a set of services that run in a dedicated namespace. These services accomplish various things—aggregating telemetry data, providing a user-facing API, providing control data to the data plane proxies, etc. Together, they drive the behavior of the data plane.

The data plane consists of transparent proxies that are run next to each service instance. These proxies automatically handle all traffic to and from the service. Because they’re transparent, these proxies act as highly instrumented out-of-process network stacks, sending telemetry to, and receiving control signals from, the control plane.

Architecture
Architecture

Control Plane

The Linkerd control plane is a set of services that run in a dedicated Kubernetes namespace (linkerd by default). These services accomplish various things—aggregating telemetry data, providing a user-facing API, providing control data to the data plane proxies, etc. Together, they drive the behavior of the data plane. To install the control plane on your own cluster, follow the instructions.

The control plane is made up of:

Controller

The controller deployment consists of the public-api container that provides an API for the CLI and dashboard to interface with.

Destination

Each proxy in the data plane uses this component to lookup where to send requests. The destination deployment is also used to fetch service profile information used for per-route metrics, retries and timeouts.

Identity

This component provides a Certificate Authority that accepts CSRs from proxies and returns certificates signed with the correct identity. These certificates are fetched by the proxy on start and must be issued before the proxy becomes ready. They are subsequently used for any connection between Linkerd proxies to implement mTLS.

Proxy Injector

The injector is an admission controller, which receives a webhook request every time a pod is created. This injector inspects resources for a Linkerd-specific annotation (linkerd.io/inject: enabled). When that annotation exists, the injector mutates the pod’s specification and adds both an initContainer as well as a sidecar containing the proxy itself.

Service Profile Validator

The validator is also an admission controller, which validates new service profiles before they are saved.

Tap

The tap deployment receives requests from the CLI and dashboard to watch requests and responses in real time. It establishes stream to watch these requests and responses in specific proxies associated with the requested applications.

Web

The web deployment provides the Linkerd dashboard. This does not require running linkerd dashboard and can be exposed to others.

Heartbeat

This CronJob runs once a day and records some analytics that help with the development of Linkerd. It is optional and can be disabled.

Grafana

Linkerd comes with many dashboards out of the box. The Grafana component is used to render and display these dashboards. You can reach these dashboards via links in the Linkerd dashboard itself. It is possible to see high level metrics and dig down into the details for your workloads as well as Linkerd itself.

The dashboards that are provided out of the box include:

Top Line Metrics
Top Line Metrics
Deployment Detail
Deployment Detail
Pod Detail
Pod Detail
Linkerd Health
Linkerd Health

Prometheus

Prometheus is a cloud native monitoring solution that is used to collect and store all of the Linkerd metrics. It is installed as part of the control plane and provides the data used by the CLI, dashboard and Grafana.

The proxy exposes a /metrics endpoint for Prometheus to scrape on port 4191. This is scraped every 10 seconds. These metrics are then available to all the other Linkerd components, such as the CLI and dashboard.

Metrics Collection
Metrics Collection

Data Plane

The Linkerd data plane is comprised of lightweight proxies, which are deployed as sidecar containers alongside each instance of your service code. In order to “add” a service to the Linkerd service mesh, the pods for that service must be redeployed to include a data plane proxy in each pod. The proxy injector accomplishes this by watching for a specific annotation that can either be added with linkerd inject or by hand to the pod’s spec. You can add your service to the data plane with a single CLI command.

These proxies transparently intercept communication to and from each pod by utilizing iptables rules that are automatically configured by linkerd-init, and add features such as instrumentation and encryption (TLS), as well as allowing and denying requests according to the relevant policy.

These proxies are not designed to be configured by hand. Rather, their behavior is driven by the control plane.

Proxy

An ultralight transparent proxy written in Rust, the proxy is installed into each pod of a service and becomes part of the data plane. It receives all incoming traffic for a pod and intercepts all outgoing traffic via an initContainer that configures iptables to forward the traffic correctly. Because it is a sidecar and intercepts all the incoming and outgoing traffic for a service, there are no code changes required and it can even be added to a running service.

The proxy’s features include:

  • Transparent, zero-config proxying for HTTP, HTTP/2, and arbitrary TCP protocols.

  • Automatic Prometheus metrics export for HTTP and TCP traffic.

  • Transparent, zero-config WebSocket proxying.

  • Automatic, latency-aware, layer-7 load balancing.

  • Automatic layer-4 load balancing for non-HTTP traffic.

  • Automatic TLS.

  • An on-demand diagnostic tap API.

The proxy supports service discovery via DNS and the destination gRPC API.

Linkerd Init

To make the proxy truly transparent, traffic needs to be automaticaly routed through it. The linkerd-init container is added as a Kubernetes init container that runs before any other containers are started. This executes a small program which executes iptables and configures the flow of traffic.

There are two main rules that iptables uses:

  • Any traffic being sent to the pod’s external IP address (10.0.0.1 for example) is forwarded to a specific port on the proxy (4143). By setting SO_ORIGINAL_DST on the socket, the proxy is able to forward the traffic to the original destination port that your application is listening on.

  • Any traffic originating from within the pod and being sent to an external IP address (not 127.0.0.1) is forwarded to a specific port on the proxy (4140). Because SO_ORIGINAL_DST was set on the socket, the proxy is able to forward the traffic to the original recipient (unless there is a reason to send it elsewhere). This does not result in a traffic loop because the iptables rules explicitly skip the proxy’s UID.

CLI

The Linkerd CLI is run locally on your machine and is used to interact with the control and data planes. It can be used to view statistics, debug production issues in real time and install/upgrade the control and data planes.

Dashboard

The Linkerd dashboard provides a high level view of what is happening with your services in real time. It can be used to view the “golden” metrics (success rate, requests/second and latency), visualize service dependencies and understand the health of specific service routes. One way to pull it up is by running linkerd dashboard from the command line.

Top Line Metrics
Top Line Metrics