» Leader Election

This guide describes how to build client-side leader election using Consul. If you are interested in the leader election used internally by Consul, please refer to the consensus protocol documentation instead.

There are a number of ways that leader election can be built, so our goal is not to cover all the possible methods. Instead, we will focus on using Consul's support for sessions. Sessions allow us to build a system that can gracefully handle failures.

» Contending Nodes

Let's imagine we have a set of nodes who are attempting to acquire leadership for a given service. All nodes that are participating should agree on a given key to coordinate. A good pattern is simply:

service/<service name>/leader

We'll abbreviate this pattern as simply <key> for the rest of this guide.

The first step is to create a session using the Session HTTP API:

curl  -X PUT -d '{"Name": "dbservice"}' \

This will return a JSON object containing the session ID:

  "ID": "4ca8e74b-6350-7587-addf-a18084928f3c"

The next step is to acquire a session for a given key from this node using the PUT method on a KV entry with the ?acquire=<session> query parameter. The <body> of the PUT should be a JSON object representing the local node. This value is opaque to Consul, but it should contain whatever information clients require to communicate with your application (e.g., it could be a JSON object that contains the node's name and the application's port).

Attempt to acquire the <key>. This will look something like (note that <session> is the ID returned by the call to /v1/session/create):

curl -X PUT -d <body> http://localhost:8500/v1/kv/<key>?acquire=<session>

This will either return true or false. If true, the lock has been acquired and the local node is now the leader. If false is returned, some other node has acquired the lock.

All nodes now remain in an idle waiting state. In this state, we watch for changes on <key>. This is because the lock may be released, the node may fail, etc. The leader must also watch for changes since its lock may be released by an operator or automatically released due to a false positive in the failure detector.

By default, the session makes use of only the gossip failure detector. That is, the session is considered held by a node as long as the default Serf health check has not declared the node unhealthy. Additional checks can be specified if desired.

Watching for changes is done via a blocking query against <key>. If we ever notice that the Session of the <key> is blank, there is no leader, and we should retry lock acquisition. Each attempt to acquire the key should be separated by a timed wait. This is because Consul may be enforcing a lock-delay.

If the leader ever wishes to step down voluntarily, this should be done by simply releasing the lock:

curl -X PUT http://localhost:8500/v1/kv/<key>?release=<session>

» Discovering a Leader

Another common practice regarding leader election is for nodes to wish to identify the leader for a given service.

As with leader election, all nodes that are participating should agree on the key being used to coordinate. This key will be referred to as just key.

Clients have a very simple role, they simply read <key> to discover who the current leader is:

curl  http://localhost:8500/v1/kv/<key>
    "Session": "4ca8e74b-6350-7587-addf-a18084928f3c",
    "Value": "Ym9keQ==",
    "Flags": 0,
    "Key": "<key>",
    "LockIndex": 1,
    "ModifyIndex": 29,
    "CreateIndex": 29

If the key has no associated Session, then there is no leader. Otherwise, the value of the key will provide all the application-dependent information required as a Base64 encoded blob in the Value field.

You can query the /v1/session/info endpoint to get details about the session:

curl http://localhost:8500/v1/session/info/4ca8e74b-6350-7587-addf-a18084928f3c
    "LockDelay": 1.5e+10,
    "Checks": [
    "Node": "consul-primary-bjsiobmvdij6-node-lhe5ihreel7y",
    "Name": "dbservice",
    "ID": "4ca8e74b-6350-7587-addf-a18084928f3c",
    "CreateIndex": 28

Clients should also watch the key using a blocking query for any changes. If the leader steps down or fails, the Session associated with the key will be cleared. When a new leader is elected, the key value will also be updated.

Using the acquire param is optional. This means that if you use leader election to update a key, you must not update the key without the acquire parameter.