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High Availability

This document describes the high-availability protocol used by the E2E controller.


The controller supports a high-availability configuration using a primary-backup protocol, loosely based on the Binary Star Pattern. In this setup, two controllers (or "peers") are run on separate machines, and are designated as either "primary" or "backup". If the primary catastrophically fails (e.g. power outage, network failure, hardware failure), the backup will assume control of the Terragraph network.

These are the major components:

  • The underlying finite state machine (FSM), determining each controller's state in response to events (either receiving the peer's state or a client request). This state machine is defined within BinaryStarFsm.
  • The FSM driver for heartbeating between peers and passing events to the state machine. This is done jointly by BinaryStarApp and the controller's Broker.
  • The data synchronization layer, which syncs persistent controller data (e.g. node configuration, network topology) from the active to passive controller. This is done in BinaryStarApp, with handlers in the associated apps.
  • The client layer, which switches between the primary and backup controllers whenever its current connection times out. This logic is handled by the minion's Broker.


Finite State Machine

Each controller's state is comprised of two pieces:

  • The initial fixed configuration (primary, backup)
  • The runtime FSM state (PRIMARY, BACKUP, ACTIVE, PASSIVE)

Each controller stays in its initial state (PRIMARY/BACKUP) until it hears its peer's state, triggering the FSM state change to ACTIVE/PASSIVE. Thus, there are two "steady states" for the high-availability pair:

  • ACTIVE primary <--> PASSIVE (or offline) backup
  • ACTIVE backup <--> PASSIVE (or offline) primary

The peers exchange periodic heartbeats to determine liveness. A controller will consider its peer "dead" if a set interval elapses without receiving any heartbeats. However, a passive (BACKUP/PASSIVE) controller will only become active (ACTIVE) if two conditions are met simultaneously:

  • Its peer is dead (peer timeout)
  • It receives a message from an E2E minion (client request)

The E2E minion (client) only connects to one controller at any given time. If it receives no response from the current controller for a set period (controller timeout), it will disconnect and try connecting to the other controller. This is the only way to trigger controller failover.


Split-brain (i.e. dual-actives) is avoided only if it is impossible to partition the network such that a subset of nodes can see each controller while the controllers cannot see each other.

Automatic Recovery

The FSM additionally supports automatic recovery of the primary controller. If an ACTIVE backup sees that the primary has come back online, it will yield control once it deems the PRIMARY to be stable (i.e. it has received a set number of consecutive heartbeats). All connected clients will be explicitly notified to switch controller URLs to avoid timeouts.

Exceptional States

If an exceptional FSM state occurs (ex. peers reconnecting after a network partition to find they have split-brained), peers will attempt to recover by reverting to their initial states (PRIMARY/BACKUP).

Data Synchronization

The ACTIVE controller sends new application data to the PASSIVE as part of the heartbeat message. It also attaches a sequence number, which the PASSIVE echoes back in its heartbeat. Lastly, both controllers include their software version, and will not sync data if these versions mismatch. This heartbeat Thrift structure is shown below.

struct BinaryStarSync {
1: BinaryStarFsmState state;
2: i32 seqNum;
3: BinaryStarAppData data;
4: string version;

If the ACTIVE controller receives a heartbeat with a mismatching sequence number, it will send a full copy of its data with the next heartbeat. Otherwise, it will only send data that changed since the last heartbeat, if any. The sequence number is only incremented when new data or the full data is sent, not on every heartbeat.

When a controller becomes ACTIVE, it will reset its sequence number, then request current data to be sent from all its applications. Sequence numbers are initialized to 0, but the first heartbeat from the ACTIVE peer will have a sequence number of 1 because new application data was requested.

Only a PASSIVE controller will update its sequence number when receiving a heartbeat. This guarantees that the first heartbeat sent to the ACTIVE will mismatch (since 0 cannot match), and thus trigger full data sync on the next heartbeat.

Note that the data synchronization protocol is strictly best-effort; it is not fully fault-tolerant.



  • BinaryStarFsm - Contains a static function representing the state machine. The actual states, events, and structs are defined in Controller.thrift.
  • Broker - Maintains a copy of the FSM. When receiving a client request, the FSM will indicate whether to drop the request (when passive), forward it (when active), or trigger controller failover (to become active).
  • BinaryStarApp - Maintains a synchronized copy of the FSM, as well as ZMQ PUB/SUB sockets with the peer (for sending and receiving heartbeats). This is the main driver for the FSM, and also handles data synchronization between peers and with controller apps.
  • Controller apps with persistent data (e.g. ConfigApp, TopologyApp) - Install handlers to send data (if active) or receive data (if passive) to and from BinaryStarApp.


  • Broker - Read the primary and backup controller URL, and switch between them if the current connection times out.


Controller Configuration

The primary and backup controllers must know each other's identity and initial configuration on startup. This initial configuration is passed as flags:

bstar_primaryWhether this controller is the primary (true) or backup (false)
bstar_pub_portThe port that the controller publishes heartbeats on
bstar_peer_hostThe hostname or IP address of the peer controller
bstar_peer_pub_portThe publisher port on the peer controller
disable_bstarWhether to disable the high availability feature

High-availability mode is only enabled if bstar_peer_host is explicitly set, and disable_bstar is off or not set. The primary should be started before the backup, or else the backup may become ACTIVE.

There are additional flags to tune timings:

bstar_heartbeat_period_msHeartbeat interval (in ms)
bstar_failover_missed_heartbeatsNumber of missed heartbeats before declaring the peer "dead"
bstar_primary_recovery_heartbeatsNumber of consecutive heartbeats before an ACTIVE backup performs automatic recovery (0 to disable)

The backup controller URL is passed to the minion using Open/R's KvStore, the same way as the primary URL. The key is e2e-ctrl-url-backup, and can be added to any node's configuration (e.g. a POP node) as part of kvstoreParams.

Viewing Runtime State

The controller can be queried for the current FSM state using the BSTAR_GET_STATE message. This is sent as part of the tg version controller command in the TG CLI, and is returned via the /api/getHighAvailabilityState endpoint in the REST API service.

Upgrade Procedure

When performing software upgrades on both controllers, upgrade the backup controller first, then the primary controller. Note that the controllers will not sync data when the versions mismatch, so any changes from the ACTIVE controller will not propagate to the PASSIVE during this time. This is done to prevent any potential issues with configuration management between different controller versions, especially if migration steps are required as part of a software upgrade.