GitLab Workhorse

GitLab Workhorse is a smart reverse proxy for GitLab intended to handle resource-intensive and long-running requests. It sits in front of Puma and intercepts every HTTP request destined for and emitted from GitLab Rails. Rails delegates requests to Workhorse and it takes responsibility for resource intensive HTTP requests such as file downloads and uploads, git over HTTP push/pull and git over HTTP archive downloads, which optimizes resource utilization and improves request handling efficiency.

Role in the GitLab stack

Workhorse can have other reverse proxy servers in front of it but only NGINX is supported. It is also possible (although unsupported) to use other reverse proxies such as Apache when installing GitLab from source. On many instances of GitLab, such as, a CDN like CloudFlare sits in front of NGINX.

Every Rails controller and other code that handles HTTP requests and returning HTTP responses is proxied through GitLab Workhorse. Workhorse is unlike other reverse proxies as it is very tightly coupled to GitLab Rails where as most reverse proxies are quite generic. When required, Workhorse makes modifications to HTTP headers which GitLab Rails depends on to offload work efficiently.

Functionality and operations

Request processing

  • Workhorse primarily acts as a pass-through entity for incoming requests, forwarding them to Rails for processing. In essence, it performs minimal intervention on most requests, thereby maintaining a streamlined request handling pipeline.
  • For specific types of requests, especially those that are resource-intensive or require specialized handling (for example, large file uploads), Workhorse takes a more active role. Upon receiving directives from Rails, Workhorse executes specialized tasks such as directly interacting with Gitaly or offloading processing file uploads from Rails.

Specialized task handling

  • Workhorse is capable of intercepting certain requests based on Rails’ responses and executing predefined operations. This includes interacting with Gitaly, managing large data blobs, and altering request handling logic as required.
  • A notable functionality is its ability to manage file uploads efficiently. Workhorse can hijack the file upload process, perform necessary actions as dictated by Rails (such as storing files temporarily or uploading them to object storage), and update Rails when the process has completed.

Integration with the Rails API

Workhorse serves as a proxy to the Rails API, especially in contexts requiring interaction with container registry services. This setup exemplifies Workhorse’s ability to handle high-load services by acting as a reverse proxy, thereby minimizing the direct load on Rails.

Architectural considerations

Expanding functionality

  • Maintaining Simplicity: While expanding Workhorse’s functionalities to include direct handling of specific services (for example, container registry), it’s crucial to maintain its simplicity and efficiency. Workhorse should not encompass complex control logic but rather focus on executing tasks as directed by Rails.
  • Service Implementation and Data Migration: Implementing new functionalities in Workhorse requires careful consideration of data migration strategies and service continuity.

Data management and operational integrity

  • Workhorse’s architecture facilitates efficient data management strategies, including garbage collection and data migration. Workhorse’s role is to support high-performance operations without directly involving complex data manipulation or control logic, which remains the purview of Rails.
  • For operations requiring background processing or long-running tasks, it is suggested to use separate services or Sidekiq job queues, with Workhorse and Rails coordinating to manage task execution and data integrity.

Workhorse is contained in a subfolder of the Rails monorepo at gitlab-org/gitlab/workhorse.

Learning resources

Install Workhorse

To install GitLab Workhorse you need Go 1.18 or newer and GNU Make.

To install into /usr/local/bin run make install.

make install

To install into /foo/bin set the PREFIX variable.

make install PREFIX=/foo

On some operating systems, such as FreeBSD, you may have to use gmake instead of make.

NOTE: Some features depends on build tags, make sure to check Workhorse configuration to enable them.

Run time dependencies

Workhorse uses ExifTool for removing EXIF data (which may contain sensitive information) from uploaded images. If you installed GitLab:

  • Using the Linux package, you’re all set. If you are using CentOS Minimal, you may need to install perl package: yum install perl.
  • From source, make sure exiftool is installed:

    # Debian/Ubuntu
    sudo apt-get install libimage-exiftool-perl
    # RHEL/CentOS
    sudo yum install perl-Image-ExifTool

Testing your code

Run the tests with:

make clean test

Each feature in GitLab Workhorse should have an integration test that verifies that the feature ‘kicks in’ on the right requests and leaves other requests unaffected. It is better to also have package-level tests for specific behavior but the high-level integration tests should have the first priority during development.

It is OK if a feature is only covered by integration tests.