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The Apache Tomcat Connector - Generic HowTo

Timeouts HowTo


Setting communication timeouts is very important to improve the communication process. They help to detect problems and stabilize a distributed system. JK can use several different timeout types, which can be individually configured. For historical reasons, all of them are disabled by default. This HowTo explains their use and gives hints how to find appropriate values.

All timeouts can be configured in the file. For a complete reference of all worker configuration items, please consult the worker reference. This page assumes, that you are using at least version 1.2.16 of JK. Dependencies on newer versions will be mentioned where necessary.

Do not set timeouts to extreme values. Very small timeouts will likely be counterproductive.

Long Garbage Collection pauses on the backend do not make a good fit with some timeouts. Try to optimize your Java memory and GC settings.

JK timeout attributes


CPing/CPong is our notion for using small test packets to check the status of backend connections. JK can use such test packets directly after establishing a new backend connection and also directly before each request gets send to a backend. The maximum waiting time for a CPong answer to a CPing can be configured.

The test packets will be answered by the backend very fast with a minimal amount of needed processing resources. A positive answer tells us, that the backend can be reached and is actively processing requests. It does not detect, if some context is deployed and working. The benefit of CPing/CPong is a fast detection of a communication problem with the backend. The downside is a slightly increased laterncy.

The worker attribute connect_timeout sets the wait timeout for CPong during connection establishment. By default the value is "0", which disables CPing/CPong during connection establishment. Since JK usually uses persistent connections, opening new connections is a rare event. We therefore recommend using connect_timeout. Its value is given in milliseconds. Depending on your network latency and stability, good values often are between 5000 and 15000 milliseconds. Remember: don't use extremely small values.

The worker attribute prepost_timeout sets the wait timeout for CPong before request forwarding. By default the value is "0", which disables CPing/CPong before request forwarding. Activating this type of CPing/CPong adds a small latency to each request. Usually this is small enough and the benefit of CPing/CPong is more important. In general we also recommend using prepost_timeout. Its value is given in milliseconds. Depending on your network latency and stability, good values often are between 5000 and 10000 milliseconds. Remember: don't use extremely small values.

Low-Level TCP Timeouts

Some platforms allow to set timeouts for all operations on TCP sockets. This is available for Linux and Windows, other patforms do not support this, e.g. Solaris. If your platform supports TCP send and receive timeouts, you can set them using the worker attribute socket_timeout. You can not set the two wimeouts to different values.

JK will accept this attribute even if your platform does not support socket timeouts. In this case setting the attribute will have no effect. By default the value is "0" and the timeout is disabled. You can set the attribute to some seconds value (not: milliseconds). JK will then set the send and the receive timeouts of the backend connections to this value. The timeout is low-level, it is used for each read and write operation on the socket individually.

Using this attribute will make JK react faster to some types of network problems. Unfortunately socket timeouts have negative side effects, because for most platforms, there is no good way to recover from such a timeout, once it fired. For JK there is no way to decide, if this timeout fired because of real network problems, or only because it didn't receive an answer packet from a backend in time. So remember: don't use extremely small values.

Connection Pools and Idle Timeouts

JK handles backend connections in a connection pool per web server process. The connections are used in a persistent mode. After a request completed successfully we keep the connection open and wait for the next request to forward. The connection pool is able to grow according to the number of threads that want to forward requests in parallel.

Most applications have a varying load depending on the hour of the day or the day of the month. Other reasons for a growing connection pool would be temporary slowness of backends, leading to an increasing congestion of the frontends like web servers. Many backends use a dedicated thread for each incoming connection they handle. So usually one wants the connection pool to shrink, if the load diminishes.

JK allows connections in the pool to get closed after some idle time. This maximum idle time can be configured with the attribute connection_pool_timeout which is given in units of seconds. The default value is "0", which disables closing idle connections.

We generally recommend values around 10 minutes, so setting connection_pool_timeout to 600 (seconds). If you use this attribute, please also set the attribute connectionTimeout in the AJP Connector element of your Tomcat server.xml configuration file to an analogous value. Caution: connectionTimeout is in milliseconds. So if you set JK connection_pool_timeout to 600, you should set Tomcat connectionTimeout to 600000.

JK connections do not get closed immediately after the timeout passed. Instead there is an automatic internal maintenance task running every 60 seconds, that checks the idle status of all connections. The 60 seconds interval can be adjusted with the global attribute worker.maintain. We do not recommend to change this value, because it has a lot of side effects. The maintenance task only runs, if requests get processed. So if your web server has processes that do not receive any requests for a long time, there is no way to close the idle connections in its pool.

The maximum connection pool size can be configured with the attribute connection_pool_size. We generally do not recommend to use this attribute in combination with Apache httpd. For Apache httpd we automatically detect the number of threads per process and set the maximum pool size to this value. For IIS we use a default value of 250, for the Sun Web Server the default is "1". We recommend adjusting this value for IIS and the Sun Web Server to the number of requests one web server process should be able to send to a backend in parallel.

The JK attribute connection_pool_minsize defines, how many idle connections remain when the pool gets shrinked. By default this is half of the maximum pool size.

Firewall Connection Dropping

One particular problem with idle connections comes from firewalls, that are often deployed between the web server layer and the backend. Depending on their configuration, they will silently drop connections from their status table if they are idle for to long.

From the point of view of JK and of the web server, the other side simply doesn't answer any traffic. Since TCP is a reliable protocol it detects the missing TCP ACKs and tries to resend the packets for a relatively long time, typically several minutes.

Many firewalls will allow connection closing, even if they dropped the connection for normal traffic. Therefore you should always use connection_pool_timeout and connection_pool_minsize on the JK side and connectionTimeout on the Tomcat side.

Furthermore using the boolean attribute socket_keepalive you can set a standard socket option, that automatically sends TCP keepalive packets after some idle time on each connection. By default this is set to "False". If you suspect idle connection drops by firewalls you should set this to "True".

Unfortunately the default intervals and algorithms for these packets are platform specific. You might need to inspect TCP tuning options for your platform on how to control TCP keepalive. Often the default intervals are much longer than the firewall timeouts for idle connections. Nevertheless we recommend talking to your firewall administration and your platform administration in order to make them agree on good configuration values for the firewall and the platform TCP tuning.

In case none of our recommendations help and you are definitively having problems with idle connection drops, you can disable the use of persistent connections when using JK together with Apache httpd. For this you set "JkOptions +DisableReuse" in your Apache httpd configuration. This will have a huge negative performance impact!

Reply Timeout

JK can also use a timeout on request replies. This timeout does not measure the full processing time of the response. Instead it controls, how much time between consecutive response packets is allowed.

In most cases, this is what one actually wants. Consider for example long running downloads. You would not be able to set an effective global reply timeout, because downloads could last for many minutes. Most applications though have limited processing time before starting to return the response. For those applications you could set an explicit reply timeout. Applications that do not harmonize with reply timeouts are batch type applications, data warehouse and reporting applications which are expected to observe long processing times.

If JK aborts waiting for a response, because a reply timeout fired, there is no way to stop processing on the backend. Although you free processing ressources in your web server, the request will continue to run on the backend - without any way to send back a result once the reply timout fired.

JK uses the worker attribute reply_timeout to set reply timeouts. The default value is "0" (timeout disabled) and you can set it to any millisecond value.

In combination with a load balancing worker, JK will disable a member worker of the load balancer if a reply timeout fires. The worker will then no longer be used until it gets recovered during the next automatic maintenance task. Starting with JK 1.2.24 you can improve this behaviour using max_reply_timeouts. This attribute will allow occasional long running requests without disabling the worker. Only if those requests happen to often, the worker gets disabled by the load balancer.

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