»Introduction to Consul

Welcome to the intro guide to Consul! This guide is the best place to start with Consul. We cover what Consul is, what problems it can solve, how it compares to existing software, and how you can get started using it. If you are familiar with the basics of Consul, the documentation provides a more detailed reference of available features. If you're ready to get hands-on experience, deploy Consul locally with our HashiCorp Learn tutorial.

»What is Consul?

Consul is a service mesh solution providing a full featured control plane with service discovery, configuration, and segmentation functionality. Each of these features can be used individually as needed, or they can be used together to build a full service mesh. Consul requires a data plane and supports both a proxy and native integration model. Consul ships with a simple built-in proxy so that everything works out of the box, but also supports 3rd party proxy integrations such as Envoy.

Review the video below to learn more about Consul from HashiCorp's co-founder Armon.

The key features of Consul are:

  • Service Discovery: Clients of Consul can register a service, such as api or mysql, and other clients can use Consul to discover providers of a given service. Using either DNS or HTTP, applications can easily find the services they depend upon.

  • Health Checking: Consul clients can provide any number of health checks, either associated with a given service ("is the webserver returning 200 OK"), or with the local node ("is memory utilization below 90%"). This information can be used by an operator to monitor cluster health, and it is used by the service discovery components to route traffic away from unhealthy hosts.

  • KV Store: Applications can make use of Consul's hierarchical key/value store for any number of purposes, including dynamic configuration, feature flagging, coordination, leader election, and more. The simple HTTP API makes it easy to use.

  • Secure Service Communication: Consul can generate and distribute TLS certificates for services to establish mutual TLS connections. Intentions can be used to define which services are allowed to communicate. Service segmentation can be easily managed with intentions that can be changed in real time instead of using complex network topologies and static firewall rules.

  • Multi Datacenter: Consul supports multiple datacenters out of the box. This means users of Consul do not have to worry about building additional layers of abstraction to grow to multiple regions.

Consul is designed to be friendly to both the DevOps community and application developers, making it perfect for modern, elastic infrastructures.

»Basic Architecture of Consul

Consul is a distributed, highly available system. This section will cover the basics, purposely omitting some unnecessary detail, so you can get a quick understanding of how Consul works. For more detail, please refer to the in-depth architecture overview.

Every node that provides services to Consul runs a Consul agent. Running an agent is not required for discovering other services or getting/setting key/value data. The agent is responsible for health checking the services on the node as well as the node itself.

The agents talk to one or more Consul servers. The Consul servers are where data is stored and replicated. The servers themselves elect a leader. While Consul can function with one server, 3 to 5 is recommended to avoid failure scenarios leading to data loss. A cluster of Consul servers is recommended for each datacenter.

The servers maintain a catalog, which is formed by aggregating information submitted by the agents. The catalog maintains the high-level view of the cluster, including which services are available, which nodes run those services, health information, and more. How agents and the catalog interact can be found here.

Components of your infrastructure that need to discover other services or nodes can query any of the Consul servers or any of the Consul agents. The agents forward queries to the servers automatically.

Each datacenter runs a cluster of Consul servers. When a cross-datacenter service discovery or configuration request is made, the local Consul servers forward the request to the remote datacenter and return the result.

»Next Steps