Adding circuit breakers to your .NET applications

Apps fail. Hardware fails. Networks fail. None of this should surprise you. As we build more distributed systems, these failures create unpredictability. Remote calls between components might experience latency, faults, unresponsiveness, or worse. How do you keep a failure in one component from creating a cascading failure across your whole environment?

In his seminal book Release It!, Michael Nygard introduced the “circuit breaker” software pattern. Basically, you wrap calls to downstream services, and watch for failure. If there are too many failures, the circuit “trips” and the downstream services isn’t called any longer. Or at least for a period of time until the service heals itself.

How do we use this pattern in our apps? Enter Hystrix from Netflix OSS. Released in 2012, this library executes each call on a separate thread, watches for failures in Java calls, invokes a fallback operation upon failure, trips a circuit if needed, and periodically checks to see if the downstream service is healthy. And it has a handy dashboard to visualize your circuits. It’s wicked. The Spring team worked with Netflix and created a easy-to-use version for Spring Boot developers. Spring Cloud Hystrix is the result. You can learn all about it in my most recent Pluralsight course.

But why do Java developers get to have all the fun? Pivotal released an open-source library called Steeltoe last year. This library brings microservices patterns to .NET developers. It started out with things like a Git-backed configuration store, and service discovery. The brand new update offers management endpoints and … an implementation of Hystrix for .NET apps. Note that this is for .NET Framework OR .NET Core apps. Everybody gets in on the action.

Let’s see how Steeltoe Hystrix works. I built an ASP.NET Core service, and than called it from a front-end app. I wrapped the calls to the service using Steeltoe Hystrix, which protects my app when failures occur.

Dependency: the recommendation service

This service returns recommended products to buy, based on your past purchasing history. In reality, it returns four products that I’ve hard-coded into a controller. LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS OF ME.

This is an ASP.NET Core MVC Web API. The code is in GitHub, but here’s the controller for review:

namespace core_hystrix_recommendation_service.Controllers
{
    [Route("api/[controller]")]
    public class RecommendationsController : Controller
    {
        // GET api/recommendations
        [HttpGet]
        public IEnumerable<Recommendations> Get()
        {
            Recommendations r1 = new Recommendations();
            r1.ProductId = "10023";
            r1.ProductDescription = "Women's Triblend T-Shirt";
            r1.ProductImage = "https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0692/5669/products/charcoal_pivotal_grande_43987370-6045-4abf-b81c-b444e4c481bc_1024x1024.png?v=1503505687";

            Recommendations r2 = new Recommendations();
            r2.ProductId = "10040";
            r2.ProductDescription = "Men's Bring Back Your Weekend T-Shirt";
            r2.ProductImage = "https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0692/5669/products/m2_1024x1024.png?v=1503525900";

            Recommendations r3 = new Recommendations();
            r3.ProductId = "10057";
            r3.ProductDescription = "H2Go Force Water Bottle";
            r3.ProductImage = "https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0692/5669/products/Pivotal-Black-Water-Bottle_1024x1024.png?v=1442486197";

            Recommendations r4 = new Recommendations();
            r4.ProductId = "10059";
            r4.ProductDescription = "Migrating to Cloud Native Application Architectures by Matt Stine";
            r4.ProductImage = "https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0692/5669/products/migrating_1024x1024.png?v=1458083725";

            return new Recommendations[] { r1, r2, r3, r4 };
        }
    }
}

Note that the dependency service has no knowledge of Hystrix or how the caller invokes it.

Caller: the recommendations UI

The front-end app calls the recommendation service, but it shouldn’t tip over just because the service is unavailable. Rather, bad calls should fail quickly, and gracefully. We could return cached or static results, as an example. Be aware that a circuit breaker is much more than fancy exception handling. One big piece is that each call executes in its own thread. This implementation of the bulkhead patterns prevents runaway resource consumption, among other things. Besides that, circuit breakers are also machinery to watch failures over time, and allow the failing service to recover before allowing more requests.

This ASP.NET Core app uses the mvc template. I’ve added the Steeltoe packages to the project. There are a few Nuget packages to choose from. If you’re running this in Pivotal Cloud Foundry, there’s a set of packages that make it easy to integrate with Hystrix dashboard embedded there. Here, let’s assume we’re running this app somewhere else. That means I need the base package “Steeltoe.CircuitBreaker.Hystrix” and “Steeltoe.CircuitBreaker.Hystrix.MetricsEvents” which gives me a stream of real-time data to analyze.

<Project Sdk="Microsoft.NET.Sdk.Web">
  <PropertyGroup>
    <TargetFramework>netcoreapp2.0</TargetFramework>
  </PropertyGroup>
  <ItemGroup>
    <PackageReference Include="Microsoft.AspNet.WebApi.Client" Version="5.2.3" />
    <PackageReference Include="Microsoft.AspNetCore.All" Version="2.0.0" />
    <PackageReference Include="Microsoft.Extensions.Configuration" Version="2.0.0" />
    <PackageReference Include="Steeltoe.CircuitBreaker.Hystrix" Version="1.1.0" />
    <PackageReference Include="Steeltoe.CircuitBreaker.Hystrix.MetricsEvents" Version="1.1.0" />
  </ItemGroup>
  <ItemGroup>
    <DotNetCliToolReference Include="Microsoft.VisualStudio.Web.CodeGeneration.Tools" Version="2.0.0" />
  </ItemGroup>
</Project>

I built a class (“RecommendationService”) that calls the dependent service. This class inherits from HystrixCommand. There are a few ways to use these commands in calling code. I’m adding it to the ASP.NET Core service container, so my constructor takes in a IHystrixCommandOptions.

//HystrixCommand means no result, HystrixCommand<string> means a string comes back
public class RecommendationService: HystrixCommand<List<Recommendations>>
{
  public RecommendationService(IHystrixCommandOptions options):base(options) {
     //nada
  }

I’ve got inherited methods to use thanks to the base class. I call my dependent service by overriding Run (or RunAsync). If failure happens, the RunFallback (or RunFallbackAsync) is invoked and I just return some static data. Here’s the code:

protected override List<Recommendations> Run()
{
  var client = new HttpClient();
  var response = client.GetAsync("http://localhost:5000/api/recommendations").Result;

  var recommendations = response.Content.ReadAsAsync<List<Recommendations>>().Result;

  return recommendations;
}

protected override List<Recommendations> RunFallback()
{
  Recommendations r1 = new Recommendations();
  r1.ProductId = "10007";
  r1.ProductDescription = "Black Hat";
  r1.ProductImage = "https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0692/5669/products/hatnew_1024x1024.png?v=1458082282";

  List<Recommendations> recommendations = new List<Recommendations>();
  recommendations.Add(r1);

  return recommendations;
}

My ASP.NET Core controller uses the RecommendationService class to call its dependency. Notice that I’ve got an object of that type coming into my constructor. Then I call the Execute method (that’s part of the base class) to trigger the Hystrix-protected call.

public class HomeController : Controller
{
  public HomeController(RecommendationService rs) {
  this.rs = rs;
  }

  RecommendationService rs;

  public IActionResult Index()
  {
    //call Hystrix-protected service
    List<Recommendations> recommendations = rs.Execute();

    //add results to property bag for view
    ViewData["Recommendations"] = recommendations;

    return View();
  }

Last thing? Tying it all together. In the Startup.cs class, I added two things to the ConfigureServices operation. First, I added a HystrixCommand to the service container. Second, I added the Hystrix metrics stream.

// This method gets called by the runtime. Use this method to add services to the container.
public void ConfigureServices(IServiceCollection services)
{
  services.AddMvc();

  //add QueryCommand to service container, and inject into controller so it gets config values
  services.AddHystrixCommand<RecommendationService>("RecommendationGroup", Configuration);

  //added to get Metrics stream
  services.AddHystrixMetricsStream(Configuration);
}

In the Configure method, I added couple pieces to the application pipeline.

// This method gets called by the runtime. Use this method to configure the HTTP request pipeline.
public void Configure(IApplicationBuilder app, IHostingEnvironment env)
{
   if (env.IsDevelopment())
   {
     app.UseDeveloperExceptionPage();
   }
   else
   {
     app.UseExceptionHandler("/Home/Error");
   }

   app.UseStaticFiles();

   //added
   app.UseHystrixRequestContext();

   app.UseMvc(routes =>
   {
     routes.MapRoute(
       name: "default",
       template: "{controller=Home}/{action=Index}/{id?}");
   });

   //added
   app.UseHystrixMetricsStream();
}

That’s it. Notice that I took advantage of ASP.NET Core’s dependency injection, and known extensibility points. Nothing unnatural here.

You can grab the source code for this from my GitHub repo.

Testing the circuit

Let’s test this out. First, I started up the recommendation service. Pinging the endpoint proved that I got back four recommended products.

2017.09.21-steeltoe-01

Great. Next I started up the MVC app that acts as the front-end. Loading the page in the browser showed the four recommendations returned by the service.

2017.09.21-steeltoe-02

That works. No big deal. Now let’s turn off the downstream service. Maybe it’s down for maintenance, or just misbehaving. What happens?

2017.09.21-steeltoe-03

The Hystrix wrapper detected a failure, and invoked the fallback operation. That’s cool. Let’s see what Hystrix is tracking in the metrics stream. Just append /hystrix/hystrix.stream to the URL and you get a data stream that’s fully compatible with Spring Cloud Hystrix.

2017.09.21-steeltoe-04

Here, we see a whole bunch of data that Hystrix is tracking. It’s watching request count, error rate, and lots more. What if you want to change the behavior of Hystrix? Amazingly, the .NET version of Hystrix in Steeltoe has the same broad configuration surface that classic Hystrix does. By adding overrides to the appsettings.json file, you can tweak the behavior of commands, the thread pool, and more. In order to see the circuit actually open, I stretched the evaluation window (from 10 to 20 seconds), and reduced the error limit (from 20 to 3). Here’s what that looked like:

{
"hystrix": {
  "command": {
      "default": {
        "circuitBreaker": {
          "requestVolumeThreshold": 3
        },
        "metrics" : {
          "rollingStats": {
            "timeInMilliseconds" : 20000
          }
        }
      }
    }
  }
}

Restarting my service shows new threshold in the Hystrix stream. Super easy, and very powerful.

2017.09.21-steeltoe-05

BONUS: Using the Hystrix Dashboard

Look, I like reading gobs of JSON in the browser as much as the next person with too much free time. However, normal people like dense visualizations that help them make decisions quickly. Fortunately, Hystrix comes with an extremely data-rich dashboard that makes it simple to see what’s going on.

This is still a Java component, so I spun up a new project from start.spring.io and added a Hystrix Dashboard dependency to my Boot app. After adding a single annotation to my class, I spun up the project. The Hystrix dashboard asks for a metrics endpoint. Hey, I have one of those! After plugging in my stream URL, I can immediately see tons of info.

2017.09.21-steeltoe-06.png

As a service owner or operator, this is a goldmine. I see request volumes, circuit status, failure counts, number of hosts, latency, and much more. If you’ve got a couple services, or a couple hundred, visualizations like this are a life saver.

Summary

As someone who started out their career as a .NET developer, I’m tickled to see things like this surface. Steeltoe adds serious juice to your .NET apps and the addition of things like circuit breakers makes it a must-have. Circuit breakers are a proven way to deliver more resilient service environments, so download my sample apps and give this a spin right now!

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Categories: .NET, Cloud, Microservices, Pivotal, Spring

2 replies

Trackbacks

  1. Dew Drop - September 22, 2017 (#2567) - Morning Dew
  2. This Week in Spring – September 26th, 2017 (Java 9 Edition) | Alexius DIAKOGIANNIS

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