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Scaling Websockets in the Cloud (Part 2). Introducing Traefik: the all-in-one solution for Docker Stacks and Kubernetes clusters

sw360cab profile image Sergio Matone ・9 min read


In Part 1 we journeyed from a simple websocket application to a quite advanced Kubernetes configuration.
The final architecture looks like the following diagram.

You may remember that one of the key point in the whole multi-server pattern was leveraging an element which acts as Reverse Proxy.
In the case of Docker configuration we defined a service in docker-compose, whereas in Kubernetes it was easier to employ a simple Service Resource, in that case exposed as a NodePort.

It would be nice to have a solution that is suitable for both cases maybe reusing some configurations.
Moreover Kubernetes may require even more attention since resources can be rescheduled quite often, so the configuration should be flexible enough to keep up with this dynamic pattern.

Traefik: one service addressing many issues

Traefik is an open-source Edge Router that makes publishing your services a fun and easy experience. It receives requests on behalf of your system and finds out which components are responsible for handling them.

Traefik has a multipurpose structure, hence it can be employed as a standalone service but, thanks to the concepts of Providers, it works smoothly either in a fully Docker environment or as a Kubernetes resource, likely with many others third party.

The above image explain the basic blocks of Traefik:

  • Entrypoints (network points of access to the infrastructure)
  • Routers (forwarders of requests to the corresponding service)
  • Middlewares (chainable modifiers of requests before they are forwarded or responses before they are forwarded back to requestors)
  • Services (abstract representations of the services that will effectively handle all the requests)
  • Providers (orchestrators, container engines, cloud providers, or key-value stores whose APIs Traefik is able to query to find relevant information about routing).

Tip: take a moment to understand basic concepts and different kind and blocks of configuration in Traefik, you will become immediately friends. Otherwise it may happen that it gives you hard time. That's part of the game, deal with it at the end you will cope and win together.

Traefik is now at version 2.2. and it comes batteries included! Indeed out-of-the-box you can leverage its Dashboard that provides usage statistics but above all a visual overview of the setup configured.

This is particularly useful when you'll need to troubleshoot your configuration, since you may visually find which component is not correctly working or whether a dynamic configuration is not actively recognizing the expected element.

Configuring Traefik

Traefik can have either a static or a dynamic configuration. Most of the option blocks in the static configuration are available seamlessly in the dynamic one.

In a static configuration the Traefik elements are defined at startup and they are not expect to change over time.
The configuration can be defined either as:

  • Traefik CLI parameters (referred as CLI in doc),
  • Environment variables,
  • Text File (either in yaml or toml format).

What is more interesting is dynamic configuration. This can change and is seamlessly hot-reloaded, without any request interruption or connection loss. Depending on the provider Traefik will listen and adapt to any change in configuration.

Static and dynamic configurations can be mixed and work together without any problem. It is quite common to launch Traefik CLI with some options and then allow dynamic parts to complete the configuration. Indeed you will usually declare the provider (e.g. Kubernetes, Docker, File) in Traefik CLI and then leave all the rest of configuration as dynamic, using different patterns, according to each specific provider:

  • Labels for Docker provider
  • CRD or Ingress for Kubernetes provider
  • TOML or YAML format for plain File provider

Going back to what explained at the beginning, this philosopy is particularly useful:

  • it adapts to a K8s cluster where resources can be quickly scheduled or terminated,
  • it is reusable and adaptable, since the same configuration elements (entrypoints, routers, middlewares) are present either if we are working in Docker or in Kubernetes.

Tip: Traefik has a vast and deep documentation. Many examples are included, most of the time they are referred with multiple providers variant. Sometimes only in the File Provider fashion. Since you will likely employ another provider, don't be scared, the transition from File provider to others is simple enough.


One of the key feature of Traefik is its ability to natively handle HTTPS traffic and TLS connections. Traefik can handle very easily HTTP to HTTPS redirection and TLS certificates support. The latter include a very powerful management of certificates through Let's Encrypt (ACME), which is able to generate and renew ACME certificates by itself.

This part is out of the scope of this post but it is a fundamental feature when you will deploy Traefik in production.

Traefik in Docker

Traefik can be defined as a single service in a docker-compose file.

Interested services will be dynamically configured and reachable using the concept of Docker Labels. This list of labels will keep all the definitions allowing Traefik to discover the involved services.

Tip: If any sort of troubleshooting is needed enable access logging and debug level detail by adding these options to Traefik CLI service:

  - "--accesslog"
  - "--log.level=DEBUG"

Docker Stack in action

The new stack will swap HAProxy service (or any other Reverse Proxy) with a Traefik container, whose CLI will declare any static configuration part.

  image: traefik:v2.2
    - "--api.insecure=true"
    - "--accesslog"
    - "80:80"
    # The Web UI (enabled by --api.insecure=true)
    - "8080:8080"
    # allow Traefik to listen to the Docker events
    - /var/run/docker.sock:/var/run/docker.sock

As you see the key part is mapping Docker Daemon entry point for Docker APIs into Traefik, hence it will be able to listen to any configuration change in the stack.

All the necessary configuration parts will be dynamic and left to the Docker Provider. They will placed in the websocket application service as label items of the service configuration:

  image: sw360cab/wsk-base:0.1.1
  restart: always
    mode: replicated
    replicas: 2
    - "REDIS_HOST=redis"
    - "traefik.http.routers.socket-router.rule=PathPrefix(`/wsk`)"
    - ""
    - ""
    - ""
    - ""
    - ""
    - ""
    - "traefik.http.middlewares.socket-replaceprefix.replacepath.path=/"
    - "traefik.http.routers.socket-router.middlewares=socket-replaceprefix@docker"

Note: in this configuration I added another step of complexity. We expect the websocket application to be exposed at the /wsk path instead of root path. This will allow us to see the middleware components of Traefik in action.

These labels define:

  • a router and its rules, which handles the requests to the PathPrefix /wsk
  • a service, which references the port exposed by websocket application service (5000), and addresses the issue of retrieving sticky sessions
  • a middleware, which will translate all the requests received at the /wsk path, into what the websocket service is expecting: /.

In this line:

- "traefik.http.routers.socket-router.middlewares=socket-replaceprefix@docker"

The middleware defined is dynamically associated with the router by a list of formatted strings with the convention <middleware_name>@<provider_name>.

Note: the names of router (socket-router), service (service01) and middleware (socket-replaceprefix) do not follow any convention and are absolutely up to you.

At this point you just need to launch the stack again, with:

docker stack deploy --compose-file stack/docker-compose.yml wsk

Then check out the Traefik Dashboard exposed by default at http://localhost:8080 and if no errors are shown, get your websocket client ready to connect.
Don't forget to tune its configuration: now to reach the websocket service, the client will contact directly Traefik, which in turn is now exposing the service at path /wsk.

const io = require('');
const client = io('http://localhost:80', {
  path: '/wsk'
  transports: ['websocket']

And the magic should happen! The communication among clients and websocket services keeps on working smoothly!

Traefik in Kubernetes

Dynamic configuration of Traefik in Kubernetes may act as an Ingress resource: an entrypoint to a specific service, that can be bound to a domain name and port. In version 2.2 Traefik improved its terminology and added the KubernetesCRD Provider, hence the state of the art is actually defining an Ingress Route through a Kubernetes CRD (Custom Resource Definition).

Here is the new architecture introducing Traefik as first point of access into the cluster:

In this environment Traefik requires the definition of the following resources:

  • CRD
  • RBAC (Role-Based Access Control) defining these items:
    • ServiceAccount
    • ClusterRole (with access to specific api groups in K8s)
    • ClusterRoleBinding (binding the previous two items)
  • Deployment (Traefik Pod definition)
serviceAccountName: traefik-ingress-controller
  - name: traefik
    image: traefik:v2.2
      - --api.insecure
      - --accesslog
      - --entrypoints.web.address=:80
      - --entrypoints.websecure.address=:443
      - --providers.kubernetescr
  • Service (exposing the entrypoint and the Dashboard to the external world)
  • the IngressRoute. The core of our configuration, specifying the router rules, the service to be bound, the entrypoint of reference and eventually extra-rules for middlewares.
kind: IngressRoute
  name: simpleingressroute
  namespace: default
    - web
  - match: PathPrefix(`/`)
    kind: Rule
    - name: wsk-svc
      port: 3000

The previous configuration define an IngressRoute related to the entrypoint web (which was defined above in Traefik deployment), and a rule which match everything having that PathPrefix to a specific Kubernetes service resource.

Tip: whether your service will have access from a predefined domain name, the router match rules will be similar to:

- match: Host(``) && PathPrefix(`/`)

Replacing NodePort for default service and run

In the first Kubernetes configuration we used to expose the websocket service as NodePort. Introducing Traefik we don't need to expose the previous service anymore, since the task of exposing services outside the cluster will be in charge to Traefik service itself.

The NodePort part should be removed from websocket service resource. The service won't need to be exposed in any way, it will simply look like that:

apiVersion: v1
kind: Service
  name: wsk-svc
    app: wsk-base
    - protocol: TCP
      port: 3000
      targetPort: 5000

Then we will transfer the access to our cluster to Traefik service. For sake of simplicity I reused a NodePort form:

apiVersion: v1
kind: Service
  name: traefik
    app: traefik
  - name: web
    protocol: TCP
    port: 80
    targetPort: 80
    nodePort: 30080
  - name: admin
    protocol: TCP
    port: 8080
    targetPort: 8080
    nodePort: 30808
  type: NodePort

The configuration above will expose Traefik web entrypoint on port 30080 and Dashboard on port 30808.
When a client send a request through port 30080 (supposing on localhost), the latter will be forwarded to the entrypoint, then through the IngressRoute custom resource, which in turn, according to router rules, will allow the request to be received by the corresponding service. Finally the service response will be forwarded back through the same path and back to the client outside the cluster.

Now we are ready to launch K8s new resources. First off all let's define the new CRD, then we launch Traefik resources and finally we may redeploy websocket service (supposing it has been already scheduled).

# Launch Traefik CRD
kubectl create -f k8s/traefik/crd.yaml
# Lauch Traefik RBAC,deployment/service,ingressRoute
kubectl create -f k8s/traefik/rbac.yaml,k8s/traefik/traefik.yaml,k8s/traefik/ingress.yaml
# Reschedule websocket Service
kubectl apply -f k8s/wsk/wsk-service.yaml

A Traefik Middleware

Middlewares are a key concept in Traefik as they add very powerful manipulation possibilities to incoming requests. There is a long list of natively available ones in the official doc.

As for the Docker configuration also for Kubernetes we may expose our websocket service at path /wsk. Respect to the previous configuration, this shift requires only a slight change by:

  1. introducing a StripPrefix Middleware resource (using another Traefik CRD),
  2. adding the previous middleware reference to the list of middlewares in the Router within the IngressRoute configuration.

The final result is the following:

kind: Middleware
  name: socket-replaceprefix
    path: /
kind: IngressRoute
  name: simpleingressroute
  namespace: default
    - web
  - match: PathPrefix(`/wsk`)
    kind: Rule
    - name: wsk-svc
      port: 3000
    - name: socket-replaceprefix

As you may notice the previous steps are basically the same required while we performed this exact change in Docker configuration above.

Path Prefix Gotchas by default will expose the default websocket endpoint adding a / suffix at the end. This is quite strange when you start reaching your websocket in a complex environment.

The solution is fixing the path of the websocket in the application.

const socketServer = require('http').createServer();
const io = require('')(socketServer, {
  path: '/'


In this part we introduced Traefik which is an impressive tool. It is powerful and straightforward to configure.
However you know that from great power comes great responsibility, so my suggestion is to:

  • understand Traefik basic concepts,
  • have clear in mind what is the final result you expect.

Otherwise you will end up trying again and again to adjust your configuration, which will keep not working (that comes from a true story...mine).

If you have clear where you want to go, Traefik will be a good friend. As you may have noticed it solved both the use cases in Docker and Kubernetes in one-shot. Amazing!


Discussion (5)

ucipass profile image
If you are here, you know who I am. • Edited

Awesome article! I will definitely try some of your ideas. I do have a websocket application as single container app and would like to scale it out on Kubernetes.
One thing I did not understand is what is the gotcha with the / prefix? Why can't you just keep it and also keep things simple?

sw360cab profile image
Sergio Matone Author

Thank you!
IMHO if you are in a complex scenario like the one described, "adjusting" the prefix allows you to create a more clear setup. Otherwise you have to take into account that prefix at each component of your cluster.
I can tell you that throubleshooting the cluster from Ingress, through services and pods it is not easy if you have such a prefix.

bernardbaker profile image
Bernard Baker

That sounds great 👍. You should post a short article when you do.

pptavozl profile image
Gustavo Zimbrón • Edited

Hi, I can't run repo k8s example, im getting problem at this part:

kubectl create -f crd.yaml
kubectl create -f rbac.yaml,traefik.yaml,ingress.yaml
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i changed crd.yaml to content

and finally pass this step, but when i run:

node websockets-scaling-master/stack/client_socket.js
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It only print:

Sending repeated message
Sending repeated message
Sending repeated message
Sending repeated message
Sending repeated message
Sending repeated message
Sending repeated message
Sending repeated message
Sending repeated message
Sending repeated message
Sending repeated message
Sending repeated message
Sending repeated message
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sw360cab profile image
Sergio Matone Author

I think the CRD I used was the one from official Doc. Supposing they did't changed.
Check that Traefik is really up and running and paths is reachable. I encountered this issue form time to time.

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