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Introduction to Redis Sentinel

Redis Sentinel provides a simple and automatic high availability (HA) solution for Redis. If you’re familiar with how MongoDB elections work, this isn’t too far off. To start, you have a given master replicating to N number of slaves. From there, you have Sentinel daemons running, be it on your application servers or on the servers Redis is running on. These keep track of the master’s health.

If a Sentinel detects that a master is non-responsive, it will broadcast a SDOWN (Subjectively down) message to the other sentinels. Then, once a quorum is reached that a master is down, it will broadcast an ODOWN (Objectively down), and the new master will be elected. Since you need a quorum, or majority, of sentinels to agree to reach the ODOWN state, it's always best practice to have an odd number of Sentinels running to avoid ties.

Note: it is highly recommended to use a version of Redis from the 2.8 branch or higher for best performance with Sentinel.

How it works

Sentinels handle the failover by re-writing config files of the Redis instances that are running. Let’s go through a scenario:

Say we have a master “A” replicating to slaves “B” and “C”. We have three Sentinels (s1, s2, s3) running on our application servers, which write to Redis. At this point “A”, our current master, goes offline. Our sentinels all see “A” as offline, and send SDOWN messages to each other. Then they all agree that “A” is down, so “A” is set to be in ODOWN status. From here, an election happens to see who is most ahead, and in this case “B” is chosen as the new master.

The config file for “B” is set so that it is no longer the slave of anyone. Meanwhile, the config file for “C” is rewritten so that it is no longer the slave of “A” but rather “B.” From here, everything continues on as normal. Should “A” come back online, the Sentinels will recognize this, and rewrite the configuration file for “A” to be the slave of “B,” since “B” is the current master.


Configuring Sentinels isn’t as hard as one would think. In fact, one of the most difficult things is choosing where to place your Sentinel processes. I personally recommend running them on your app servers if at all possible. Presumably if you're setting this up, you’re concerned about write availability to your master. As such, Sentinels provide insight to whether or not your application server can talk to the master. You are of course welcome to run Sentinels on your Redis instance servers as well.

To start with the configuration step, please reference the example file found here. This is an example sentinel.conf found with Redis 2.8.4 on Ubuntu 14.04, but should work with any 2.8.x version of Redis. I’ve taken the liberty of adding two lines to the top that I like to use in practice:

daemonize yes
logfile /var/log/redis/redis-sentinel.log

This puts the sentinel process in daemonize mode, and logs all it’s messages to a log file instead of stdout.

There are a lot of configurable options in here, and most are commented very well. However, for this post we’ll focus on just two.

The most important part is telling the Sentinels where your current master resides. This is referenced in this line:

sentinel monitor mymaster 6379 2

This tells the Sentinel to monitor “mymaster” (this is an arbitrary name, feel free to name it as you see fit) and a given IP on a given port, as well as how many Sentinels are required to meet a quorum for failover (the minimum being 2). The parts you will likely want to change here are the IP address of your master and it’s port, if it's not running on the standard port 6379.

Next, you may want to change the following line:

sentinel down-after-milliseconds mymaster 30000

This is the amount of time you would like a sentinel to wait before it declares a master in SDOWN. The default is 30 seconds, I typically like to lower this a bit to 10 seconds. You don’t want to reduce this too low; otherwise you may have issues with failovers happening too often.

Feel free to take a look at some of the other options. One that may interest a lot of users is the notification script, if you like to keep track of failovers when they happen.

Once you have your sentinel.conf configured as you see fit, start the daemon with the following command:

redis-server /path/to/sentinel.conf --sentinel

Testing Failover

Once you have all your sentinels online, it’s possible to do a dry run for failover to make sure it’s all configured correctly.

First thing’s first. Connect to your Sentinel via the redis-cli:

redis-cli -p 26379

If you’d like to receive some information about sentinel, simply run this command:> INFO

This will give you information, such as who is the current master, how many slaves it has, and how many sentinels are monitoring it.

To test failover, simply execute:> SENTINEL failover mymaster

This will force an ODOWN on the current master and cause a failover to happen. Shortly after, if you run the “INFO” command again, you should now see a new master listed.


Hopefully this has been helpful to demystify Redis and Sentinel. Should you have any questions at all, feel free to post below!

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