Software Design

Keepalived is written in pure ANSI/ISO C. The software is articulated around a central I/O multiplexer that provides realtime networking design. The main design focus is to provide a homogenous modularity between all elements. This is why a core library was created to remove code duplication. The goal is to produce a safe and secure code, ensuring production robustness and stability.

To ensure robustness and stability, daemon is split into 3 distinct processes:

  • A minimalistic parent process in charge with forked children process monitoring.
  • Two children processes, one responsible for VRRP framework and the other for healthchecking.

Each children process has its own scheduling I/O multiplexer, that way VRRP scheduling jitter is optimized since VRRP scheduling is more sensible/critical than healthcheckers. This split design minimalizes for healthchecking the usage of foreign libraries and minimalizes its own action down to and idle mainloop in order to avoid malfunctions caused by itself.

The parent process monitoring framework is called watchdog, the design is each children process opens an accept unix domain socket, then while daemon bootstrap, parent process connect to those unix domain socket and send periodic (5s) hello packets to children. If parent cannot send hello packet to remote connected unix domain socket it simply restarts children process.

This watchdog design offers 2 benefits, first of all hello packets sent from parent process to remote connected children is done throught I/O multiplexer scheduler that way it can detect deadloop in the children scheduling framework. The second benefit is brought by the uses of sysV signal to detect dead children. When running you will see in process list:

PID         111     Keepalived  <-- Parent process monitoring children
            112     \_ Keepalived   <-- VRRP child
            113     \_ Keepalived   <-- Healthchecking child

Kernel Components

Keepalived uses four Linux kernel components:

  1. LVS Framework: Uses the getsockopt and setsockopt calls to get and set options on sockets.
  2. Netfilter Framework: IPVS code that supports NAT and Masquerading.
  3. Netlink Interface: Sets and removes VRRP virtual IPs on network interfaces.
  4. Multicast: VRRP advertisements are sent to the reserved VRRP MULTICAST group (

Atomic Elements

keepalived software design

Control Plane

Keepalived configuration is done through the file keepalived.conf. A compiler design is used for parsing. Parser work with a keyword tree hierarchy for mapping each configuration keyword with specifics handler. A central multi-level recursive function reads the configuration file and traverses the keyword tree. During parsing, configuration file is translated into an internal memory representation.

Scheduler - I/O Multiplexer

All the events are scheduled into the same process. Keepalived is a single process. Keepalived is a network routing software, it is so closed to I/O. The design used here is a central select(...) that is in charge of scheduling all internal task. POSIX thread libs are NOT used. This framework provides its own thread abstraction optimized for networking purpose.

Memory Management

This framework provides access to some generic memory managements functions like allocation, reallocation, release,... This framework can be used in two mode : normal_mode & debug_mode. When using debug_mode it provide a strong way to eradicate and track memory leaks. This low level env provides buffer under-run protection by tracking allocation and release of memory. All the buffer used are length fixed to prevent against eventual buffer-overflow.

Core Components

This framework defines some common and global libraries that are used in all the code. Those libraries are : html parsing, link-list, timer, vector, string formating, buffer dump, networking utils, daemon management, pid handling, low level TCP layer4. The goal here is to factorize code to the max to limit as possible code duplication to increase modularity.


This framework provides children processes monitoring (VRRP & Healthchecking). Each child accepts connection to its own watchdog unix domain socket. Parent process send “hello” messages to this child unix domain socket. Hello messages are sent using I/O multiplexer on the parent side and accepted/processed using I/O multiplexer on children side. If parent detects broken pipe it tests using sysV signal if child is still alive and restarts it.


This is one of the main Keepalived functionality. Checkers are in charge of realserver healthchecking. A checker tests if realserver is alive, this test ends on a binary decision : remove or add realserver from/into the LVS topology. The internal checker design is realtime networking software, it uses a fully multi-threaded FSM design (Finite State Machine). This checker stack provides LVS topology manipulation accoring to layer4 to layer5/7 test results. It’s run in an independent process monitored by parent process.

VRRP Stack

The other most important Keepalived functionality. VRRP (Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol : RFC2338) is focused on director takeover, it provides low-level design for router backup. It implements full IETF RFC2338 standard with some provisions and extensions for LVS and Firewall design. It implements the vrrp_sync_group extension that guarantees persistence routing path after protocol takeover. It implements IPSEC-AH using MD5-96bit crypto provision for securing protocol adverts exchange. For more informations on VRRP please read the RFC. Important things : VRRP code can be used without the LVS support, it has been designed for independent use. It’s run in an independent process monitored by parent process.

System Call

This framework offers the ability to launch extra system script. It is mainly used in the MISC checker. In VRRP framework it provides the ability to launch extra script during protocol state transition. The system call is done into a forked process to not pertube the global scheduling timer.


The SMTP protocol is used for administration notification. It implements the IETF RFC821 using a multi-threaded FSM design. Administration notifications are sent for healthcheckers activities and VRRP protocol state transition. SMTP is commonly used and can be interfaced with any other notification sub-system such as GSM-SMS, pagers, etc.

IPVS Wrapper

This framework is used for sending rules to the Kernel IPVS code. It provides translation between Keepalived internal data representation and IPVS rule_user representation. It uses the IPVS libipvs to keep generic integration with IPVS code.


The Linux Kernel code provided by Wensong from OpenSource Project. IPVS (IP Virtual Server) implements transport-layer load balancing inside the Linux kernel, also referred to as Layer-4 switching.


All keepalived daemon notification messages are logged using the syslog service.

Healthcheck Framework

Each health check is registered to the global scheduling framework. These health check worker threads implement the following types of health checks:

Working at layer4. To ensure this check, we use a TCP Vanilla check using nonblocking/timed-out TCP connections. If the remote server does not reply to this request (timed-out), then the test is wrong and the server is removed from the server pool.
Working at layer5. Performs a HTTP GET to a specified URL. The HTTP GET result is then summed using the MD5 algorithm. If this sum does not match with the expected value, the test is wrong and the server is removed from the server pool. This module implements a multi-URL get check on the same service. This functionality is useful if you are using a server hosting more than one application servers. This functionality gives you the ability to check if an application server is working properly. The MD5 digests are generated using the genhash utility (included in the keepalived package).
Same as HTTP_GET but uses a SSL connection to the remote webservers.
This check allows a user defined script to be run as the health checker. The result must be 0 or 1. The script is run on the director box and this is an ideal way to test in- house applications. Scripts that can be run without arguments can be called using the full path (i.e. /path_to_script/ Those requiring arguments need to be enclosed in double quotes (i.e. “/path_to_script/ arg 1 ... arg n ”)

The goal for Keepalived is to define a generic framework easily extensible for adding new checkers modules. If you are interested the development of existing or new checkers, have a look at the keepalived/check directory in the source:

Failover (VRRP) Framework

Keepalived implements the VRRP protocol for director failover. Within the implemented VRRP stack, the VRRP Packet dispatcher is responsible for demultiplexing specific I/O for each VRRP instance.

From RFC2338, VRRP is defined as:

“VRRP specifies an election protocol that dynamically assigns
responsibility for a virtual router to one of the VRRP routers on a LAN.
The VRRP router controlling the IP address(es) associated with a virtual
router is called the Master, and forwards packets sent to these IP
addresses. The election process provides dynamic fail over in the
forwarding responsibility should the Master become unavailable. This allows
any of the virtual router IP addresses on the LAN to be used as the default
first hop router by end-hosts. The advantage gained from using VRRP is a
higher availability default path without requiring configuration of dynamic
routing or router discovery protocols on every end-host.” [rfc2338]


This framework is LVS independent, so you can use it for LVS director failover, even for other Linux routers needing a Hot-Standby protocol. This framework has been completely integrated in the Keepalived daemon for design & robustness reasons.

The main functionalities provided by this framework are:

  • Failover: The native VRRP protocol purpose, based on a roaming set of VRRP VIPs.
  • VRRP Instance synchronization: We can specify a state monitoring between 2 VRRP Instances, also known as a VRRP sync group. It guarantees that 2 VRRP Instances remain in the same state. The synchronized instances monitor each other.
  • Nice Fallback
  • Advert Packet integrity: Using IPSEC-AH ICV.
  • System call: During a VRRP state transition, an external script/program may be called.

Note on Using VRRP with Virtual MAC Address

To reduce takeover impact, some networking environment would require using VRRP with VMAC address. To reach that goal Keepalived VRRP framework implements VMAC support by the invocation of ‘use_vmac’ keyword in configuration file.

Internally, Keepalived code will bring up virtual interfaces, each interface dedicated to a specific virtual_router. Keepalived uses Linux kernel macvlan driver to defines thoses interfaces. It is then mandatory to use kernel compiled with macvlan support.

In addition we can mention that VRRP VMAC will work only with kernel including the following patch:;a=commitdiff;h=729e72a10930ef765c11a5a35031ba47f18221c4

By default MACVLAN interface are in VEPA mode which filters out received packets whose MAC source address matches that of the MACVLAN interface. Setting MACVLAN interface in private mode will not filter based on source MAC address.

Alternatively, you can specify ‘vmac_xmit_base’ which will cause the VRRP messages to be transmitted and received on the underlying interface whilst ARP will happen from the the VMAC interface.

You may also need to tweak your physical interfaces to play around with well known ARP issues. If you have issues, try the following configurations:

  1. Global configuration:

    net.ipv4.conf.all.arp_ignore = 1
    net.ipv4.conf.all.arp_announce = 1
    net.ipv4.conf.all.arp_filter = 0
  2. Physical interface configuration

For the physical ethernet interface running VRRP instance use:

net.ipv4.conf.eth0.arp_filter = 1
  1. VMAC interface

consider the following VRRP configuration:

vrrp_instance instance1 {
    state BACKUP
    interface eth0
    virtual_router_id 250
        vmac_xmit_base         # Transmit VRRP adverts over physical interface
    priority 150
    advert_int 1
    virtual_ipaddress {

The use_vmac keyword will drive keepalived code to create a macvlan interface named vrrp.250 (default internal paradigm is vrrp.{virtual_router_id}, you can override this naming by giving an argument to ‘use_vmac’ keyword, eg: use_vmac vrrp250).

You then need to configure interface with:

net.ipv4.conf.vrrp.250.arp_filter = 0
net.ipv4.conf.vrrp.250.accept_local = 1 (this is needed for the address owner case)
net.ipv4.conf.vrrp.250.rp_filter = 0

You can create notify_master script to automate this configuration step for you:

vrrp_instance instance1 {
    state BACKUP
    interface eth0
    virtual_router_id 250
    priority 150
    advert_int 1
    virtual_ipaddress {
    notify_master "/usr/local/bin/ vrrp.250"