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Administer and maintain a swarm of Docker Engines

When you run a swarm of Docker Engines, manager nodes are the key components for managing the cluster and storing the cluster state. It is important to understand some key features of manager nodes in order to properly deploy and maintain the swarm.

This article covers the following swarm administration tasks:

Refer to How swarm mode nodes work for a brief overview of Docker Swarm mode and the difference between manager and worker nodes.

Operating manager nodes in a swarm

Swarm manager nodes use the Raft Consensus Algorithm to manage the cluster state. You only need to understand some general concepts of Raft in order to manage a swarm.

There is no limit on the number of manager nodes. The decision about how many manager nodes to implement is a trade-off between performance and fault-tolerance. Adding manager nodes to a swarm makes the swarm more fault-tolerant. However, additional manager nodes reduce write performance because more nodes must acknowledge proposals to update the cluster state. This means more network round-trip traffic.

Raft requires a majority of managers, also called a quorum, to agree on proposed updates to the cluster. A quorum of managers must also agree on node additions and removals. Membership operations are subject to the same constraints as state replication.

Add manager nodes for fault tolerance

You should maintain an odd number of managers in the swarm to support manager node failures. Having an odd number of managers ensures that during a network partition, there is a higher chance that a quorum remains available to process requests if the network is partitioned into two sets. Keeping a quorum is not guaranteed if you encounter more than two network partitions.

Cluster Size Majority Fault Tolerance
1 1 0
2 2 0
3 2 1
4 3 2
5 3 2
6 4 2
7 4 3
8 5 3
9 5 4

For example, in a swarm with 5 nodes, if you lose 3 nodes, you don’t have a quorum. Therefore you can’t add or remove nodes until you recover one of the unavailable manager nodes or recover the cluster with disaster recovery commands. See Recover from disaster.

While it is possible to scale a swarm down to a single manager node, it is impossible to demote the last manager node. This ensures you maintain access to the swarm and that the swarm can still process requests. Scaling down to a single manager is an unsafe operation and is not recommended. If the last node leaves the cluster unexpetedly during the demote operation, the cluster swarm will become unavailable until you reboot the node or restart with --force-new-cluster.

You manage cluster membership with the docker swarm and docker node subsystems. Refer to Add nodes to a swarm for more information on how to add worker nodes and promote a worker node to be a manager.

Distributing manager nodes

In addition to maintaining an odd number of manager nodes, pay attention to datacenter topology when placing managers. For optimal fault-tolerance, distribute manager nodes across a minimum of 3 availability-zones to support failures of an entire set of machines or common maintenance scenarios. If you suffer a failure in any of those zones, the swarm should maintain a quorum of manager nodes available to process requests and rebalance workloads.

Swarm manager nodes Repartition (on 3 Availability zones)
3 1-1-1
5 2-2-1
7 3-2-2
9 3-3-3

Run manager-only nodes

By default manager nodes also act as a worker nodes. This means the scheduler can assign tasks to a manager node. For small and non-critical clusters assigning tasks to managers is relatively low-risk as long as you schedule services using resource constraints for cpu and memory.

However, because manager nodes use the Raft consensus algorithm to replicate data in a consistent way, they are sensitive to resource starvation. You should isolate managers in your swarm from processes that might block cluster operations like cluster heartbeat or leader elections.

To avoid interference with manager node operation, you can drain manager nodes to make them unavailable as worker nodes:

docker node update --availability drain <NODE-ID>

When you drain a node, the scheduler reassigns any tasks running on the node to other available worker nodes in the cluster. It also prevents the scheduler from assigning tasks to the node.

Back up the cluster state

Docker manager nodes store the cluster state and manager logs in the following directory:


Back up the raft data directory often so that you can use it in case of disaster recovery.

You should never restart a manager node with the data directory from another node (for example, by copying the raft directory from one node to another). The data directory is unique to a node ID and a node can only use a given node ID once to join the swarm. (ie. Node ID space should be globally unique)

To cleanly re-join a manager node to a cluster:

  1. Run docker node demote <id-node> to demote the node to a worker.
  2. Run docker node rm <id-node> before adding a node back with a fresh state.
  3. Re-join the node to the cluster using docker swarm join.

In case of disaster recovery, you can take the raft data directory of one of the manager nodes to restore to a new swarm cluster.

Monitor swarm health

You can monitor the health of Manager nodes by querying the docker nodes API in JSON format through the /nodes HTTP endpoint. Refer to the nodes API documentation for more information.

From the command line, run docker node inspect <id-node> to query the nodes. For instance, to query the reachability of the node as a Manager:

docker node inspect manager1 --format "{{ .ManagerStatus.Reachability }}"

To query the status of the node as a Worker that accept tasks:

docker node inspect manager1 --format "{{ .Status.State }}"

From those commands, we can see that manager1 is both at the status reachable as a manager and ready as a worker.

An unreachable health status means that this particular manager node is unreachable from other manager nodes. In this case you need to take action to restore the unreachable manager:

  • Restart the daemon and see if the manager comes back as reachable.
  • Reboot the machine.
  • If neither restarting or rebooting work, you should add another manager node or promote a worker to be a manager node. You also need to cleanly remove the failed node entry from the Manager set with docker node demote <id-node> and docker node rm <id-node>.

Alternatively you can also get an overview of the cluster health with docker node ls:

# From a Manager node
docker node ls
1mhtdwhvsgr3c26xxbnzdc3yp    node05    Accepted    Ready   Active
516pacagkqp2xc3fk9t1dhjor    node02    Accepted    Ready   Active        Reachable
9ifojw8of78kkusuc4a6c23fx *  node01    Accepted    Ready   Active        Leader
ax11wdpwrrb6db3mfjydscgk7    node04    Accepted    Ready   Active
bb1nrq2cswhtbg4mrsqnlx1ck    node03    Accepted    Ready   Active        Reachable
di9wxgz8dtuh9d2hn089ecqkf    node06    Accepted    Ready   Active

Manager advertise address

When initiating or joining a Swarm cluster, you have to specify the --listen-addr flag to advertise your address to other Manager nodes in the cluster.

We recommend that you use a fixed IP address for the advertised address, otherwise the cluster could become unstable on machine reboot.

Indeed if the whole cluster restarts and every Manager gets a new IP address on restart, there is no way for any of those nodes to contact an existing Manager and the cluster will stay stuck trying to contact other nodes through their old address. While having dynamic IP addresses for Worker nodes is acceptable, Managers are meant to be a stable piece in the infrastructure thus it is highly recommended to deploy those critical nodes with static IPs.

Recover from disaster

Swarm is resilient to failures and the cluster can recover from any number of temporary node failures (machine reboots or crash with restart).

In a swarm of N managers, there must be a quorum of manager nodes greater than 50% of the total number of managers (or (N/2)+1) in order for the swarm to process requests and remain available. This means the swarm can tolerate up to (N-1)/2 permanent failures beyond which requests involving cluster management cannot be processed. These types of failures include data corruption or hardware failures.

Even if you follow the guidelines here, it is possible that you can lose a quorum of manager nodes. If you can’t recover the quorum by conventional means such as restarting faulty nodes, you can recover the cluster by running docker swarm init --force-new-cluster on a manager node.

# From the node to recover
docker swarm init --force-new-cluster --listen-addr node01:2377

The --force-new-cluster flag puts the Docker Engine into swarm mode as a manager node of a single-node cluster. It discards cluster membership information that existed before the loss of the quorum but it retains data necessary to the Swarm cluster such as services, tasks and the list of worker nodes.