Service Fabric terminology overview

Service Fabric is a distributed systems platform that makes it easy to package, deploy, and manage scalable and reliable microservices. This topic details the terminology used by Service Fabric to understand the terms used in the documentation.

The concepts listed in this section are also discussed in the following Microsoft Virtual Academy videos: Core concepts, Design-time concepts, and Run-time concepts.

Infrastructure concepts

Cluster: A network-connected set of virtual or physical machines into which your microservices are deployed and managed. Clusters can scale to thousands of machines.

Node: A machine or VM that is part of a cluster is called a node. Each node is assigned a node name (a string). Nodes have characteristics such as placement properties. Each machine or VM has an auto-start Windows service, FabricHost.exe, which starts running upon boot and then starts two executables: Fabric.exe and FabricGateway.exe. These two executables make up the node. For testing scenarios, you can host multiple nodes on a single machine or VM by running multiple instances of Fabric.exe and FabricGateway.exe.

Application concepts

Application Type: The name/version assigned to a collection of service types. Defined in an ApplicationManifest.xml file, embedded in an application package directory, which is then copied to the Service Fabric cluster's image store. You can then create a named application from this application type within the cluster.

Read the Application Model article for more information.

Application Package: A disk directory containing the application type's ApplicationManifest.xml file. References the service packages for each service type that makes up the application type. The files in the application package directory are copied to Service Fabric cluster's image store. For example, an application package for an email application type could contain references to a queue service package, a frontend service package, and a database service package.

Named Application: After an application package is copied to the image store, you create an instance of the application within the cluster by specifying the application package's application type (using its name/version). Each application type instance is assigned a URI name that looks like: "fabric:/MyNamedApp". Within a cluster, you can create multiple named applications from a single application type. You can also create named applications from different application types. Each named application is managed and versioned independently.

Service Type: The name/version assigned to a service's code packages, data packages, and configuration packages. Defined in a ServiceManifest.xml file, embedded in a service package directory and the service package directory is then referenced by an application package's ApplicationManifest.xml file. Within the cluster, after creating a named application, you can create a named service from one of the application type's service types. The service type's ServiceManifest.xml file describes the service.

Read the Application Model article for more information.

There are two types of services:

  • Stateless: Use a stateless service when the service's persistent state is stored in an external storage service such as Azure Storage, Azure SQL Database, or Azure Cosmos DB. Use a stateless service when the service has no persistent storage at all. For example, a calculator service where values are passed to the service, a computation is performed using these values, and a result is returned.
  • Stateful: Use a stateful service when you want Service Fabric to manage your service's state via its Reliable Collections or Reliable Actors programming models. Specify how many partitions you want to spread your state over (for scalability) when creating a named service. Also specify how many times to replicate your state across nodes (for reliability). Each named service has a single primary replica and multiple secondary replicas. You modify your named service's state by writing to the primary replica. Service Fabric then replicates this state to all the secondary replicas keeping your state in sync. Service Fabric automatically detects when a primary replica fails and promotes an existing secondary replica to a primary replica. Service Fabric then creates a new secondary replica.

Service Package: A disk directory containing the service type's ServiceManifest.xml file. This file references the code, static data, and configuration packages for the service type. The files in the service package directory are referenced by the application type's ApplicationManifest.xml file. For example, a service package could refer to the code, static data, and configuration packages that make up a database service.

Named Service: After creating a named application, you can create an instance of one of its service types within the cluster by specifying the service type (using its name/version). Each service type instance is assigned a URI name scoped under its named application's URI. For example, if you create a "MyDatabase" named service within a "MyNamedApp" named application, the URI looks like: "fabric:/MyNamedApp/MyDatabase". Within a named application, you can create several named services. Each named service can have its own partition scheme and instance/replica counts.

Code Package: A disk directory containing the service type's executable files (typically EXE/DLL files). The files in the code package directory are referenced by the service type's ServiceManifest.xml file. When a named service is created, the code package is copied to the node or nodes selected to run the named service. Then the code starts running. There are two types of code package executables:

  • Guest executables: Executables that run as-is on the host operating system (Windows or Linux). That is, these executables do not link to or reference any Service Fabric runtime files and therefore do not use any Service Fabric programming models. These executables are unable to use some Service Fabric features such as the naming service for endpoint discovery. Guest executables cannot report load metrics specific to each service instance.
  • Service Host Executables: Executables that use Service Fabric programming models by linking to Service Fabric runtime files, enabling Service Fabric features. For example, a named service instance can register endpoints with Service Fabric's Naming Service and can also report load metrics.

Data Package: A disk directory containing the service type's static, read-only data files (typically photo, sound, and video files). The files in the data package directory are referenced by the service type's ServiceManifest.xml file. When a named service is created, the data package is copied to the node or nodes selected to run the named service. The code starts running and can now access the data files.

Configuration Package: A disk directory containing the service type's static, read-only configuration files (typically text files). The files in the configuration package directory are referenced by the service type's ServiceManifest.xml file. When a named service is created, the files in the configuration package are copied to the one or more nodes selected to run the named service. Then the code starts running and can now access the configuration files.

Containers: By default, Service Fabric deploys and activates services as processes. Service Fabric can also deploy services in container images. Containers are a virtualization technology that virtualizes the underlying operating system from applications. An application and its runtime, dependencies, and system libraries run inside a container with full, private access to the container's own isolated view of operating system constructs. Service Fabric supports Docker containers on Linux and Windows Server containers. For more information, read Service Fabric and containers.

Partition Scheme: When creating a named service, you specify a partition scheme. Services with large amounts of state split the data across partitions, which spreads the state across the cluster's nodes. This allows your named service's state to scale. Within a partition, stateless named services have instances while stateful named services have replicas. Usually, stateless named services only ever have one partition since they have no internal state. The partition instances provide for availability; if one instance fails, other instances continue to operate normally and then Service Fabric will create a new instance. Stateful named services maintain their state within replicas and each partition has its own replica set with all the state being kept in sync. Should a replica fail, Service Fabric builds a new replica from the existing replicas.

Read the Partition Service Fabric reliable services article for more information.

System services

There are system services that are created in every cluster that provide the platform capabilities of Service Fabric.

Naming Service: Each Service Fabric cluster has a Naming service, which resolves service names to a location in the cluster. You manage the service names and properties, similar to an internet Domain Name Service (DNS) for the cluster. Clients securely communicate with any node in the cluster using the Naming Service to resolve a service name and its location. Applications move within the cluster for example due to failures, resource balancing, or the resizing of the cluster. You can develop services and clients which resolve the current network location. Clients obtain the actual machine IP address and port where it is currently running.

Read Communicate with services for more information on the client and service communication APIs that work with the Naming service.

Image Store Service: Each Service Fabric cluster has an Image Store service where deployed, versioned application packages are kept. Copy an application package to the Image Store and then register the application type contained within that application package. After the application type is provisioned, you create a named application from it. You can unregister an application type from the Image Store service after all its named applications have been deleted.

Read Understand the ImageStoreConnectionString setting for more information about the Image Store service.

Read the Deploy an application article for more information on deploying applications to the Image store service.

Built-in programming models

There are .NET Framework programming models available for you to build Service Fabric services:

Reliable Services: An API to build stateless and stateful services. Stateful service store their state in Reliable Collections (such as a dictionary or a queue). You also get to plug in various communication stacks such as Web API and Windows Communication Foundation (WCF).

Reliable Actors: An API to build stateless and stateful objects through the virtual Actor programming model. This model can be useful when you have lots of independent units of computation/state. Because this model uses a turn-based threading model, it is best to avoid code that calls out to other actors or services since an individual actor cannot process other incoming requests until all its outbound requests have completed.

Read the Choose a Programming Model for your service article for more information.

Next steps

To learn more about Service Fabric: