Active Failover deployments

You can set up multiple single server instances to have one leader and multiple asynchronously replicated followers with automatic failover

An Active Failover is defined as:

  • One ArangoDB Single-Server instance which is read / writable by clients called Leader
  • One or more ArangoDB Single-Server instances, which are passive and not writable called Followers, which asynchronously replicate data from the Leader
  • At least one Agency acting as a “witness” to determine which server becomes the leader in a failure situation

An Active Failover behaves differently from an ArangoDB Cluster, please see the limitations section for more details.

The Active Failover deployment mode is deprecated and will no longer be supported in the next minor version of ArangoDB, from v3.12 onward.

ArangoDB Active Failover

The advantage of the Active Failover setup is that there is an active third party, the Agency, which observes and supervises all involved server processes. Follower instances can rely on the Agency to determine the correct Leader server. From an operational point of view, one advantage is that the failover, in case the Leader goes down, is automatic. An additional operational advantage is that there is no need to start a replication applier manually.

The Active Failover setup is made resilient by the fact that all the official ArangoDB drivers can automatically determine the correct leader server and redirect requests appropriately. Furthermore, Foxx Services do also automatically perform a failover: should the leader instance fail (which is also the Foxxmaster) the newly elected leader will reinstall all Foxx services and resume executing queued Foxx tasks. Database users which were created on the leader will also be valid on the newly elected leader (always depending on the condition that they were synced already).

Consider the case for two arangod instances. The two servers are connected via server wide (global) asynchronous replication. One of the servers is elected Leader, and the other one is made a Follower automatically. At startup, the two servers race for the leadership position. This happens through the Agency locking mechanism (which means that the Agency needs to be available at server start). You can control which server becomes the Leader by starting it earlier than other server instances in the beginning.

The Follower automatically starts replication from the Leader for all available databases, using the server-level replication introduced in version 3.3.

When the Leader goes down, this is automatically detected by the Agency instance, which is also started in this mode. This instance will make the previous follower stop its replication and make it the new Leader.

The different instances participating in an Active Failover setup are supposed to be run in the same Data Center (DC), with a reliable high-speed network connection between all the machines participating in the Active Failover setup.

Multi-datacenter Active Failover setups are currently not supported.

A multi-datacenter solution currently supported is the Datacenter-to-Datacenter Replication (DC2DC) among ArangoDB Clusters. See DC2DC chapter for details.

Operative Behavior

In contrast to the normal behavior of a single-server instance, the Active-Failover mode can change the behavior of ArangoDB in some situations.

The Follower will always deny write requests from client applications. Starting from ArangoDB 3.4, read requests are only permitted if the requests are marked with the X-Arango-Allow-Dirty-Read: true header, otherwise they are denied too. Only the replication itself is allowed to access the follower’s data until the follower becomes a new Leader (should a failover happen).

When sending a request to read or write data on a Follower, the Follower responds with HTTP 503 (Service unavailable) and provides the address of the current Leader. Client applications and drivers can use this information to then make a follow-up request to the proper Leader:

HTTP/1.1 503 Service Unavailable
X-Arango-Endpoint: http://[::1]:8531

Client applications can also detect who the current Leader and the Followers are by calling the /_api/cluster/endpoints REST API. This API is accessible on Leader and Followers alike.

Reading from Followers

Followers in the active-failover setup are in read-only mode. It is possible to read from these followers by adding a X-Arango-Allow-Dirty-Read: true header on each request. Responses will then automatically contain the X-Arango-Potential-Dirty-Read: true header so that clients can reject accidental dirty reads.

Depending on the driver support for your specific programming language, you should be able to enable this option.

How to deploy

The tool ArangoDB Starter supports starting two servers with asynchronous replication and failover out of the box.

The arangojs driver for JavaScript, the Go driver, the Java driver, ArangoJS and the PHP driver support active failover in case the currently accessed server endpoint responds with HTTP 503.

You can also deploy an Active Failover environment manually.


The Active Failover setup in ArangoDB has a few limitations.

  • In contrast to the ArangoDB Cluster:
    • Active Failover has only asynchronous replication, and hence no guarantee on how many database operations may have been lost during a failover.
    • Active Failover has no global state, and hence a failover to a bad follower (see the example above) overrides all other followers with that state (including the previous leader, which might have more up-to-date data). In a Cluster setup, a global state is provided by the agency and hence ArangoDB is aware of the latest state.
  • Should you add more than one follower, be aware that during a failover situation the failover attempts to pick the most up-to-date follower as the new leader on a best-effort basis.
  • Should you be using the ArangoDB Starter or the Kubernetes Operator to manage your Active-Failover deployment, be aware that upgrading might trigger an unintentional failover between machines.