Setting Up A High-Availability Load Balancer (With Failover and Session Support) With HAProxy/Keepalived On Debian Etch

Version 1.0
Author: Falko Timme

This article explains how to set up a two-node load balancer in an active/passive configuration with HAProxy and keepalived on Debian Etch. The load balancer sits between the user and two (or more) backend Apache web servers that hold the same content. Not only does the load balancer distribute the requests to the two backend Apache servers, it also checks the health of the backend servers. If one of them is down, all requests will automatically be redirected to the remaining backend server. In addition to that, the two load balancer nodes monitor each other using keepalived, and if the master fails, the slave becomes the master, which means the users will not notice any disruption of the service. HAProxy is session-aware, which means you can use it with any web application that makes use of sessions (such as forums, shopping carts, etc.).

From the HAProxy web site: "HAProxy is a free, very fast and reliable solution offering high availability, load balancing, and proxying for TCP and HTTP-based applications. It is particularly suited for web sites crawling under very high loads while needing persistence or Layer7 processing. Supporting tens of thousands of connections is clearly realistic with todays hardware. Its mode of operation makes its integration into existing architectures very easy and riskless, while still offering the possibility not to expose fragile web servers to the Net."

I do not issue any guarantee that this will work for you!


1 Preliminary Note

In this tutorial I will use the following hosts:

  • Load Balancer 1:, IP address:
  • Load Balancer 2:, IP address:
  • Web Server 1:, IP address:
  • Web Server 2:, IP address:
  • We also need a virtual IP address that floats between lb1 and lb2:

Here's a little diagram that shows our setup:

    shared IP=
        |            |              |           |
     +--+--+      +--+--+      +----+----+ +----+----+
     | lb1 |      | lb2 |      |  http1  | |  http2  |
     +-----+      +-----+      +---------+ +---------+
     haproxy      haproxy      2 web servers (Apache)
     keepalived   keepalived

The shared (virtual) IP address is no problem as long as you're in your own LAN where you can assign IP addresses as you like. However, if you want to use this setup with public IP addresses, you need to find a hoster where you can rent two servers (the load balancer nodes) in the same subnet; you can then use a free IP address in this subnet for the virtual IP address. Here in Germany, Hetzner is a hoster that allows you to do this - just talk to them. Update: Hetzner's policies have changed - please read here for more details:

http1 and http2 are standard Debian Etch Apache setups with the document root /var/www (the configuration of this default vhost is stored in /etc/apache2/sites-available/default). If your document root differs, you might have to adjust this guide a bit.

To demonstrate the session-awareness of HAProxy, I'm assuming that the web application that is installed on http1 and http2 uses the session id JSESSIONID.


2 Preparing The Backend Web Servers

We will configure HAProxy as a transparent proxy, i.e., it will pass on the original user's IP address in a field called X-Forwarded-For to the backend web servers. Of course, the backend web servers should log the original user's IP address in their access logs instead of the IP addresses of our load balancers. Therefore we must modify the LogFormat line in /etc/apache2/apache2.conf and replace %h with %{X-Forwarded-For}i:


vi /etc/apache2/apache2.conf
#LogFormat "%h %l %u %t \"%r\" %>s %b \"%{Referer}i\" \"%{User-Agent}i\"" combined
LogFormat "%{X-Forwarded-For}i %l %u %t \"%r\" %>s %b \"%{Referer}i\" \"%{User-Agent}i\"" combined

Also, we will configure HAProxy to check the backend servers' health by continuously requesting the file check.txt (translates to /var/www/check.txt if /var/www is your document root) from the backend servers. Of course, these requests would totally bloat the access logs and mess up your page view statistics (if you use a tool like Webalizer or AWstats that generates statistics based on the access logs).

Therefore we open our vhost configuration (in this example it's in /etc/apache2/sites-available/default) and put these two lines into it (comment out all other CustomLog directives in your vhost configuration):

vi /etc/apache2/sites-available/default
SetEnvIf Request_URI "^/check\.txt$" dontlog
CustomLog /var/log/apache2/access.log combined env=!dontlog

This configuration prevents that requests to check.txt get logged in Apache's access log.

Afterwards we restart Apache:

/etc/init.d/apache2 restart

... and create the file check.txt (this can be an empty file):

touch /var/www/check.txt

We are finished already with the backend servers; the rest of the configuration happens on the two load balancer nodes.


3 Installing HAProxy

Unfortunately HAProxy is available as a Debian package for Debian Lenny (testing) and Sid (unstable), but not for Etch. Therefore we will install the HAProxy package from Lenny. To do this, open /etc/apt/sources.list and add the line deb lenny main; your /etc/apt/sources.list could then look like this:


vi /etc/apt/sources.list
deb etch main
deb-src etch main

deb lenny main

deb etch/updates main contrib
deb-src etch/updates main contrib

Of course (in order not to mess up our system), we want to install packages from Lenny only if there's no appropriate package from Etch - if there are packages from Etch and Lenny, we want to install the one from Etch. To do this, we give packages from Etch a higher priority in /etc/apt/preferences:

vi /etc/apt/preferences
Package: *
Pin: release a=etch
Pin-Priority: 700

Package: *
Pin: release a=lenny
Pin-Priority: 650

(The terms etch and lenny refer to the appropriate terms in /etc/apt/sources.list; if you're using stable and testing there, you must use stable and testing instead of etch and lenny in /etc/apt/preferences as well.)

Afterwards, we update our packages database:

apt-get update

... upgrade the installed packages:

apt-get upgrade  

... and install HAProxy:

apt-get install haproxy
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5 Comment(s)

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I wonder what's the point in using HAProxy? Whereas everything can be done with Keepalived only!


 virtual_server 80 {
    delay_loop 10
    lb_algo wlc
    protocol TCP
    lb_kind TUN

    real_server 80 {
        weight 1
        TCP_CHECK {
            connect_timeout 5

    real_server 80 {
        weight 1
        TCP_CHECK {
            connect_timeout 5



For sessions can be added 'persistence_timeout' or (which is much better) - sharedance.


By: Malcolm Turnbull

Keepalive integrates well with LVS a great layer 4 solution, but HaProxy is far more flexible as it runs at layer 7 and can do full cookie insertion etc. Many loadbalancing hardware vendors such as Barraccuda, Kemp, ClusterScale, WebMux & use LVS for its high performance. Many use custom proxies for cookie insertion. My company uses HaProxy we also provide full root access and source code + 24*7 support.. excuse the shameless plug.

BTW. very nicely written, apache logging config is useful. 

By: Multi vendor shopping cart

Supporting tens of thousands of connections is clearly realistic with today's hardware. Its mode of operation makes its integration into existing architectures very easy and risk less, while still offering the possibility not to expose fragile web servers to the Net.

By: ivelclown

Hi guys,
Can I use ubuntu as load balancer/ HA proxy?



By: Jasper Sudario

On LB2 keepalived.conf, the state should be set to SLAVE instead of MASTER, right?