@madpilot rants

A quick and dirty way to ensure your cron tasks only run on one AWS server

88 Miles has a cron job that runs every hour that does a number of things, one of which is billing. I currently run two servers (Yay failover!), which makes ensuring the cron job only runs once problematic. The obvious solution is to only run cron on one server, but this is also problematic, as there is no guarantee that the server running cron hasn’t died and another spun up in it’s place. The proper sysops solution is to run heartbeat or some other high-availability software to monitor cron – if the currently running server dies, the secondary will take over.

While that is the correct solution that I may implement later, it’s also a pain to setup, and I needed something quick that I could implement now. So came up with a this lo-fi solution.

Each AWS instance has a instance_id with is unique (it’s a string that looks something like this: i-235d734c). By fetching all of the instance_ids of all the productions servers in my cluster, and then sorting them alphabetically, I’ll pick the first one, and run the cron job on that. This setup uses the AWS ruby library, and assumes that your cron job fires off a rake task, which is where this code lives.

So step one is go get the ip address of instance that the job is running on.

uri = URI.parse('')
ip_address = Net::HTTP.get_response(uri).body

That URL is some magic URL that when called from any AWS instance will return metadata about the server – in this case the local ip address (also unique).

Next, pull out all of the servers in the cluster.

servers = []
ec2 = AWS::EC2.new :access_key_id => '[YOUR ACCESS KEY]', :secret_access_key => '[YOUR SECRET KEY]'
ec2.instances.each do |instance|
    servers << instance if instance.tags['environment'] == 'production'

I tag my servers by environment, so I want to filter them based on that tag. You might decided to tag them differently, or just assume all of your server can run cron jobs – that bit is left as an exercise for the reader. Replace [YOUR ACCESS KEY] and [YOUR SECRET KEY] with your access key and your secret key.

Now, sort the servers by instance id

servers.sort{ |x, y| x.instance_id <=> y.instance_id }

Finally, check to see if the first server’s local ip address matches the ip address of the server we are currently running on

if servers.first.private_ip_address == ip_address
    # Success! We are the first server - run that billing code!

See? Quick and dirty. There are a few things to keep in mind…

  • If a server with a lower instance_id gets booted just as the cron jobs are due to run, you might get a race condition. You would have to be pretty unlucky, but it’s a possibility.
  • There is no testing to see if the nominated server can actually perform the job – not a big deal for me, as the user will just get billed the next day. But you can probably work around this via business logic if it is critical for your system – crons fail, so you need a way to recover anyway…

As I said – quick and dirty, but effective!

Delivering fonts from Cloudfront to Firefox

I use both non-standard and custom icon fonts on 88 Miles, which need to be delivered to the browser in some way. Since all of the other assets are delivered via Amazon’s Content Delivery Network (CDN) Cloudfront, it would make sense to do the same for the fonts.

Except that didn’t work for Firefox and some version of Internet Explorer. Turns out they both consider fonts as an attack vector, and will refuse to consume them if they are being delivered via another domain (commonly know as a cross domain policy). On a regular server, this is quite easy to fix: You just set the:

Access-Control-Allow-Origin: *

HTTP header. The problem is, S3 doesn’t seem to support it (It supposedly supports CORS, but I couldn’t get it working properly). It turns out though, that you can selectively point Cloudfront at any server, so the simplest solution is to tell it to pull the fonts from a server I control that can supply the Access-Control-Allow-Origin header.

First, set up your server to supply the correct header. On Apache, it might look something like this (My fonts are in the /assets folder):

<Location /assets>
  Header set Access-Control-Allow-Origin "*"

If you don’t use Apache, google it. Restart your server.

Next, log in to the AWS console and click on Cloudfront, and then click on the i icon next to the distribution that is serving up your assets.

Amazon Cloudfront settings

Next, click on Origins, and then Create Origin button.

In the Origin Domain Name field enter the base URL of your server. In the Origin ID field, enter a name that you’ll be able to recognise – you’ll need that for the next step.

Hit Create, and you should see the new origin.

New origin added

Now, click on the Behaviours tab, and click Create Behavior. (You’ll need to do this once for each font type that you have)

Enter the path to you fonts in Path pattern. You can use wildcards for the filename. So for woff files it might look something like:

Setting up the cache

Select the origin from the origin drop down. Hit Create and you are done!

To test it out, use curl:

> curl -I http://yourcloudfrontid.cloudfront.new/assets/fonts.woff

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Content-Type: application/vnd.ms-fontobject
Content-Length: 10228
Connection: keep-alive
Accept-Ranges: bytes
Access-Control-Allow-Origin: *
Date: Mon, 16 Sep 2013 06:05:35 GMT
ETag: "30fb1-27f4-4e66f39d4165f"
Last-Modified: Sun, 15 Sep 2013 17:14:52 GMT
Server: Apache
Vary: Accept-Encoding
Via: 1.0 ed617e3cc5a406d1ebbf983d8433c4f6.cloudfront.net (CloudFront)
X-Cache: Miss from cloudfront
X-Amz-Cf-Id: ZFTMU-m781XXQ2uOw_9ukQGbBXuGKbjlVsilwW44IS2MvHbeBsLnXw==

The header is there. Success! Now, pop open your site in Firefox, and you should see all of your fonts being served up correctly.