AWS Application Load Balancer (ALB) primary features

ALB routes traffic based on request data. It makes routing decisions based on the HTTP protocol like the URL path (/upload) and host, HTTP headers and method, as well as the source IP address of the client. This enables granular routing to the target groups.

Send responses directly to the client. ALB has the ability to reply directly to the client with a fixed response like a custom HTML page. It also has the ability to send a redirect to the client which is useful when you need to redirect to a specific website or to redirect the request from HTTP to HTTPS, removing that work from your backend servers.

ALB supports TLS offloading. Speaking of HTTPS and saving work from backend servers, ALB understands HTTPS traffic. To be able to pass HTTPS traffic through ALB, an SSL certificate is provided by either importing a certificate via Identity and Access Management (IAM) or AWS Certificate Manager (ACM) services, or by creating one for free using ACM. This ensures the traffic between the client and ALB is encrypted.

Authenticate users. On the topic of security, ALB has the ability to authenticate the users before they are allowed to pass through the load balancer. ALB uses the OpenID Connect protocol and integrates with other AWS services to support more protocols like SAML, LDAP, Microsoft AD, and more. 

Secure traffic. To prevent traffic from reaching the load balancer, you configure a security group to specify the supported IP address ranges. 

ALB uses the round-robin routing algorithm. ALB ensures each server receives the same number of requests in general. This type of routing works for most applications.

ALB uses the least outstanding request routing algorithm. If the requests to the backend vary in complexity where one request may need a lot more CPU time than another, then the least outstanding request algorithm is more appropriate. It’s also the right routing algorithm to use if the targets vary in processing capabilities. An outstanding request is when a request is sent to the backend server and a response hasn’t been received yet.

For example, if the EC2 instances in a target group aren’t the same size, one server’s CPU utilization will be higher than the other if the same number of requests are sent to each server using the round-robin routing algorithm. That same server will have more outstanding requests as well. Using the least outstanding request routing algorithm would ensure an equal usage across targets.

ALB has sticky sessions. In the case where requests need to be sent to the same backend server because the application is stateful, then use the sticky session feature. This feature uses an HTTP cookie to remember across connections which server to send the traffic to.

Finally, ALB is specifically for HTTP and HTTPS traffic. If your application uses a different protocol, then consider the Network Load Balancer (NLB).

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Viet Luu has written 243 articles

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