Database Load Balancing (FREE SELF)

Distribute read-only queries among multiple database servers.


Database load balancing improves the distribution of database workloads across multiple computing resources. Load balancing aims to optimize resource use, maximize throughput, minimize response time, and avoid overload of any single resource. Using multiple components with load balancing instead of a single component may increase reliability and availability through redundancy. Wikipedia article

When database load balancing is enabled in GitLab, the load is balanced using a simple round-robin algorithm, without any external dependencies such as Redis.

In the following image, you can see the load is balanced rather evenly among all the secondaries (db4, db5, db6). Because SELECT queries are not sent to the primary (unless necessary), the primary (db3) hardly has any load.

DB load balancing graph


For load balancing to work, you need at least PostgreSQL 11 or newer, MySQL is not supported. You also need to make sure that you have at least 1 secondary in hot standby mode.

Load balancing also requires that the configured hosts always point to the primary, even after a database failover. Furthermore, the additional hosts to balance load among must always point to secondary databases. This means that you should put a load balancer in front of every database, and have GitLab connect to those load balancers.

For example, say you have a primary ( and two secondaries, and For this setup, you need to have 3 load balancers, one for every host. For example:

  • forwards to
  • forwards to
  • forwards to

Now let's say that a failover happens and db2 becomes the new primary. This means forwarding should now happen as follows:

  • forwards to
  • forwards to
  • forwards to

GitLab does not take care of this for you, so you need to do so yourself.

Finally, load balancing requires that GitLab can connect to all hosts using the same credentials and port as configured in the Enabling load balancing section. Using different ports or credentials for different hosts is not supported.

Use cases

  • For GitLab instances with thousands of users and high traffic, you can use database load balancing to reduce the load on the primary database and increase responsiveness, thus resulting in faster page load inside GitLab.

Enabling load balancing

For the environment in which you want to use load balancing, you'll need to add the following. This balances the load between and

In Omnibus installations:

  1. Edit /etc/gitlab/gitlab.rb and add the following line:

    gitlab_rails['db_load_balancing'] = { 'hosts' => ['', ''] }
  2. Save the file and reconfigure GitLab for the changes to take effect.

In installations from source:

  1. Edit /home/git/gitlab/config/database.yml and add or amend the following lines:

      username: gitlab
      database: gitlab
      encoding: unicode
  2. Save the file and restart GitLab for the changes to take effect.

Load balancing for Sidekiq

Introduced in GitLab 14.1, load balancing for Sidekick is enabled by default.

Sidekiq jobs mostly write to the primary database, but there are read-only jobs that can benefit from the use of Sidekiq load balancing. These jobs can use load balancing and database replicas to read the application state. This allows to offload the primary database.

For Sidekiq, we can define data consistency requirements for a specific job.

Service Discovery (PREMIUM SELF)

Introduced in GitLab 11.0.

Service discovery allows GitLab to automatically retrieve a list of secondary databases to use, instead of having to manually specify these in the database.yml configuration file. Service discovery works by periodically checking a DNS A record, using the IPs returned by this record as the addresses for the secondaries. For service discovery to work, all you need is a DNS server and an A record containing the IP addresses of your secondaries.

To use service discovery you need to change your database.yml configuration file so it looks like the following:

  username: gitlab
  database: gitlab
  encoding: unicode
      nameserver: localhost
      record: secondary.postgresql.service.consul
      record_type: A
      port: 8600
      interval: 60
      disconnect_timeout: 120

Here, the discover: section specifies the configuration details to use for service discovery.


The following options can be set:

Option Description Default
nameserver The nameserver to use for looking up the DNS record. localhost
record The record to look up. This option is required for service discovery to work.
record_type Optional record type to look up, this can be either A or SRV (GitLab 12.3 and later) A
port The port of the nameserver. 8600
interval The minimum time in seconds between checking the DNS record. 60
disconnect_timeout The time in seconds after which an old connection is closed, after the list of hosts was updated. 120
use_tcp Lookup DNS resources using TCP instead of UDP false

If record_type is set to SRV, then GitLab continues to use round-robin algorithm and ignores the weight and priority in the record. Since SRV records usually return hostnames instead of IPs, GitLab needs to look for the IPs of returned hostnames in the additional section of the SRV response. If no IP is found for a hostname, GitLab needs to query the configured nameserver for ANY record for each such hostname looking for A or AAAA records, eventually dropping this hostname from rotation if it can't resolve its IP.

The interval value specifies the minimum time between checks. If the A record has a TTL greater than this value, then service discovery honors said TTL. For example, if the TTL of the A record is 90 seconds, then service discovery waits at least 90 seconds before checking the A record again.

When the list of hosts is updated, it might take a while for the old connections to be terminated. The disconnect_timeout setting can be used to enforce an upper limit on the time it takes to terminate all old database connections.

Some nameservers (like Consul) can return a truncated list of hosts when queried over UDP. To overcome this issue, you can use TCP for querying by setting use_tcp to true.

Balancing queries

Read-only SELECT queries balance among all the secondary hosts. Everything else (including transactions) executes on the primary. Queries such as SELECT ... FOR UPDATE are also executed on the primary.

Prepared statements

Prepared statements don't work well with load balancing and are disabled automatically when load balancing is enabled. This should have no impact on response timings.

Primary sticking

After a write has been performed, GitLab sticks to using the primary for a certain period of time, scoped to the user that performed the write. GitLab reverts back to using secondaries when they have either caught up, or after 30 seconds.

Failover handling

In the event of a failover or an unresponsive database, the load balancer tries to use the next available host. If no secondaries are available the operation is performed on the primary instead.

If a connection error occurs while writing data, the operation is retried up to 3 times using an exponential back-off.

When using load balancing, you should be able to safely restart a database server without it immediately leading to errors being presented to the users.


The load balancer logs various events in database_load_balancing.log, such as

  • When a host is marked as offline
  • When a host comes back online
  • When all secondaries are offline
  • When a read is retried on a different host due to a query conflict

The log is structured with each entry a JSON object containing at least:

  • An event field useful for filtering.
  • A human-readable message field.
  • Some event-specific metadata. For example, db_host
  • Contextual information that is always logged. For example, severity and time.

For example:

{"severity":"INFO","time":"2019-09-02T12:12:01.728Z","correlation_id":"abcdefg","event":"host_online","message":"Host came back online","db_host":"111.222.333.444","db_port":null,"tag":"rails.database_load_balancing","environment":"production","hostname":"web-example-1","fqdn":"","path":null,"params":null}

Handling Stale Reads (PREMIUM SELF)

Introduced in GitLab 10.3.

To prevent reading from an outdated secondary the load balancer checks if it is in sync with the primary. If the data is determined to be recent enough the secondary is used, otherwise it is ignored. To reduce the overhead of these checks we only perform these checks at certain intervals.

There are three configuration options that influence this behavior:

Option Description Default
max_replication_difference The amount of data (in bytes) a secondary is allowed to lag behind when it hasn't replicated data for a while. 8 MB
max_replication_lag_time The maximum number of seconds a secondary is allowed to lag behind before we stop using it. 60 seconds
replica_check_interval The minimum number of seconds we have to wait before checking the status of a secondary. 60 seconds

The defaults should be sufficient for most users. Should you want to change them you can specify them in config/database.yml like so:

  username: gitlab
  database: gitlab
  encoding: unicode
    max_replication_difference: 16777216 # 16 MB
    max_replication_lag_time: 30
    replica_check_interval: 30