Generating chaos in a test GitLab instance

As Werner Vogels, the CTO at Amazon Web Services, famously put it, Everything fails, all the time.

As a developer, it’s as important to consider the failure modes in which your software will operate as much as normal operation. Doing so can mean the difference between a minor hiccup leading to a scattering of 500 errors experienced by a tiny fraction of users and a full site outage that affects all users for an extended period.

To paraphrase Tolstoy, all happy servers are alike, but all failing servers are failing in their own way. Luckily, there are ways we can attempt to simulate these failure modes, and the chaos endpoints are tools for assisting in this process.

Currently, there are four endpoints for simulating the following conditions:

  • Slow requests.
  • CPU-bound requests.
  • Memory leaks.
  • Unexpected process crashes.

Enabling chaos endpoints

For obvious reasons, these endpoints are not enabled by default. They can be enabled by setting the GITLAB_ENABLE_CHAOS_ENDPOINTS environment variable to 1.

For example, if you’re using the GDK this can be done with the following command:

GITLAB_ENABLE_CHAOS_ENDPOINTS=1 gdk run

Securing the chaos endpoints

Danger: It is highly recommended that you secure access to the chaos endpoints using a secret token. This is recommended when enabling these endpoints locally and essential when running in a staging or other shared environment. You should not enable them in production unless you absolutely know what you’re doing.

A secret token can be set through the GITLAB_CHAOS_SECRET environment variable. For example, when using the GDK this can be done with the following command:

GITLAB_ENABLE_CHAOS_ENDPOINTS=1 GITLAB_CHAOS_SECRET=secret gdk run

Replace secret with your own secret token.

Invoking chaos

Once you have enabled the chaos endpoints and restarted the application, you can start testing using the endpoints.

Memory leaks

To simulate a memory leak in your application, use the /-/chaos/leakmem endpoint.

Note: The memory is not retained after the request finishes. Once the request has completed, the Ruby garbage collector will attempt to recover the memory.
GET /-/chaos/leakmem
GET /-/chaos/leakmem?memory_mb=1024
GET /-/chaos/leakmem?memory_mb=1024&duration_s=50
Attribute Type Required Description
memory_mb integer no How much memory, in MB, should be leaked. Defaults to 100MB.
duration_s integer no Minimum duration, in seconds, that the memory should be retained. Defaults to 30s.
curl http://localhost:3000/-/chaos/leakmem?memory_mb=1024&duration_s=10 --header 'X-Chaos-Secret: secret'

CPU spin

This endpoint attempts to fully utilise a single core, at 100%, for the given period.

Depending on your rack server setup, your request may timeout after a predermined period (normally 60 seconds). If you’re using Unicorn, this is done by killing the worker process.

GET /-/chaos/cpuspin
GET /-/chaos/cpuspin?duration_s=50
Attribute Type Required Description
duration_s integer no Duration, in seconds, that the core will be utilised. Defaults to 30s
curl http://localhost:3000/-/chaos/cpuspin?duration_s=60 --header 'X-Chaos-Secret: secret'

Sleep

This endpoint is similar to the CPU Spin endpoint but simulates off-processor activity, such as network calls to backend services. It will sleep for a given duration.

As with the CPU Spin endpoint, this may lead to your request timing out if duration exceeds the configured limit.

GET /-/chaos/sleep
GET /-/chaos/sleep?duration_s=50
Attribute Type Required Description
duration_s integer no Duration, in seconds, that the request will sleep for. Defaults to 30s
curl http://localhost:3000/-/chaos/sleep?duration_s=60 --header 'X-Chaos-Secret: secret'

Kill

This endpoint will simulate the unexpected death of a worker process using a kill signal.

Note: Since this endpoint uses the KILL signal, the worker is not given a chance to cleanup or shutdown.
GET /-/chaos/kill
curl http://localhost:3000/-/chaos/kill --header 'X-Chaos-Secret: secret'