Heroku — What is dynos, workers, and scaling

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Heroku’s killer feature has always been its ability to easily scale up and scale out our applications as our user base grows. This frees us from the pains of setting up and managing load balancers and additional servers on our own.

Scaling up and scaling out are two common terms used when growing web applications:

  • Scaling up (vertical scaling) means that we are making our servers more powerful by adding more CPU/RAM
  • Scaling out (horizontal scaling) means that we are adding more servers to our application

What’s a dyno?

Dyno is the term Heroku uses for its web servers. A dyno is simply a virtual private server that runs our application and responds to web requests.

What’s a worker?

Heroku has an additional class of servers known as workers. These are identical to dynos, with the exception that they do not serve web requests.

Process sizes

Both dynos and workers are available in three different sizes: 1X, 2X, and PX. The default size is 1X; this is a small virtual server with 512 MB of RAM. These are large enough to run most web applications. However, if we find that our application is constrained by the limited memory or CPU size, we can scale up our dynos up to 2X, which provides 1024 MB of RAM and twice as much computing power.

If our application has only a single 1X dyno running, it will shut down after an hour of inactivity. To avoid this, we need to have at least two dynos running or use a single 2X dyno.

  1. To view our currently running processes, we can use the ps command. It will show the type, the size, and exactly what's running:
$ heroku ps
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2. We currently have only one dyno running for this application. Let’s scale it up to two; this will effectively double our application’s capacity. Scaling processes are done with the ps:scale command:

$ heroku ps:scale web=2 

The scale command is very flexible. If we want, we can scale both dynos and workers at the same time:

$ heroku ps:scale web=2 worker=1

DYNOS

A dyno is simply a web server. When we create our application’s Procfile, the web process that we define is what runs on our dynos. When a user visits our web application, their requests get sent to our dynos via Heroku’s routing layer. The routing layer acts like a load balancer. It distributes our users’ requests and monitors the health of our dynos. To handle more users, we can scale out our application by increasing the number of running dynos. This allows us to serve requests from more concurrent users. If we are currently running one dyno and adding another, we have theoretically doubled the amount of web requests that our application can respond do.

WORKERS

In our Procfile, any process other than web will run on a worker. Workers are used to process background tasks such as sending out e-mails or generating PDFs. Any task that a user should not have to wait for is a good candidate that will run on a worker. For a Rails application, any background job (such as Resque or Sidekiq) will need to be run on a worker dyno. Workers can be scaled in exactly the same way as dynos. If our application has a large backlog of tasks that need to be completed, we can add additional workers to increase the number of tasks we can complete simultaneously.

References:

I do not own 100% of this content. I have referred multiple websites and books to learn and produce this content. I give full credit to those websites and books for the content.

Written by

Devops Automation Enginneer

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