Update: The default used in the official nginx docker image was changed from SIGTERM to SIGQUIT in November 2020, so this should no longer be an issue for Docker or Kubernetes users.
nginx is a very popular web server.
It may have just become the most popular web server, with 33% market share according to the October 2019 Netcraft survey. This may be in large part thanks to the growth in Kubernetes adoption, as most Kubernetes installations use nginx as the default ingress controller.
Unsurprisingly, its use within Kubernetes configurations is just as popular, with 33k public projects on GitHub using the nginx image in configs, and at least as many running it in their own Docker images.
We run nginx in the docker images for our 15 static websites running on our team’s Charmed Kubernetes cluster.
Closing connections in usn.ubuntu.com
About 2 years ago we noticed a problem in downloads of our database of Ubuntu Security Notices, with clients having their connections reset during the download.
This may have had a few causes, but one very likely culprit was Kubernetes restarting or replacing containers. This may happen during normal running of the service, as Kubernetes reschedules pods to respond to load, but will also happen every time we release a new version of the site.
The trouble with
SIGTERM and nginx
When we release a new version of a site to Kubernetes, we first build and push a new image to the registry, then we ask Kubernetes to gradually roll out new containers based off the new image.
Kubernetes will gradually switch over to the new containers, removing the old ones as it goes. It does this using the same mechanism as
docker stop - it will send a SIGTERM signal to the container, allow 30 seconds for it to stop gracefully, then send SIGKILL. It expects SIGTERM to result in a graceful shutdown:
“It’s important that your application handle termination gracefully so that there is minimal impact on the end user and the time-to-recovery is as fast as possible!
In practice, this means your application needs to handle the SIGTERM message and begin shutting down when it receives it. This means saving all data that needs to be saved, closing down network connections, finishing any work that is left, and other similar tasks.”
From Kubernetes best practices: terminating with grace by Sandeep Dinesh
Unfortunately, this isn’t what happens when nginx receives a TERM signal:
“The master process supports the following signals:
TERM, INT fast shutdown QUIT graceful shutdown”
From the “Controlling nginx” documentation
What that “fast shutdown” means is that any open connections will be immediately closed. So if Kubernetes sends
SIGTERM to my running containers, anyone with an open connection to those containers will see their connection break.
We can illustrate this using a Dockerfile which simply uses nginx to proxy to
httpbin.org/delay/10. When we stop the container, we can see the container exit within less than a second, and the
curl exit with “Empty reply from server”:
$ docker build -t delay-image . ... Successfully tagged delay-image:latest $ docker run --rm --name delay-ctnr --detach --publish 80:80 delay-image E5F6789... $ curl -I localhost 2>&1 | egrep 'curl:|HTTP' &  14531 $ /usr/bin/time --format '%E' docker stop delay-ctnr curl: (52) Empty reply from server delay-ctnr 0:00.56
SIGQUIT to the rescue
What we need instead is to send a
SIGQUIT signal to ask nginx to perform a graceful shutdown, where it will wait for open connections to close before quitting.
If we add
STOPSIGNAL SIGQUIT to the Dockerfile then we can instead see curl exit gracefully with a successful 200 response, and
docker stop wait (in this case, for 8.51 seconds) until it’s done so:
$ docker build -t delay-image . ... Successfully tagged delay-image:latest $ docker run --rm --name delay-ctnr --detach --publish 80:80 delay-image A1B2C3D4... $ curl -I localhost 2>&1 | egrep 'curl:|HTTP' &  14533 $ /usr/bin/time --format '%E' docker stop delay-ctnr HTTP/1.1 200 OK delay-ctnr 0:08.51
Bear in mind that
docker kill will only wait 10 seconds, and Kubernetes will only wait 30, before killing the container with
SIGKILL. So if you might need longer than that to close connections then you may need to increase the grace period.
An exception to this rule is if you are relying on unix sockets in your nginx config. In this case,
SIGQUIT will fail to close the sockets properly, resulting in containers potentially not restarting correctly. So if you’re using sockets, be careful with SIGQUIT.
Why isn’t this default?
I can’t find any reference to why nginx made the decision not to treat
SIGTERM more gracefully, as a graceful termination seems to be the norm with
SIGTERMsignal is sent to a process to request its termination. […] This allows the process to perform nice termination releasing resources and saving state if appropriate.
From Wikipedia: Signal (IPC)
What is a shame is that the Dockerfile for the default nginx Docker image explicitly uses
STOPSIGNAL SIGTERM, meaning that anyone using the default image (and anyone copying it) will get this connection closing issue.
They have made the decision to use SIGTERM rather than SIGQUIT because of the issue with sockets. But if you’re not using sockets, you should definitely use SIGQUIT instead.
Edit: Since November 2020, the official docker image now uses SIGQUIT, so termination should now be graceful in Docker and Kubernetes.
(This was originally published on the Ubuntu blog)