Documentation

Architecture

Caddy is a single, self-contained, static binary with zero external dependencies because it's written in Go. These values comprise important parts of the project's vision because they simplify deployment and reduce tedious troubleshooting in production environments.

If there's no dynamic linking, then how can it be extended? Caddy sports a novel plugin architecture that expands its capabilities far beyond that of any other web server, even those with external (dynamically-linked) dependencies.

Our philosophy of "fewer moving parts" ultimately results in more reliable, more manageable, less expensive sites—especially at scale. This semi-technical document describes how we achieve that goal through software engineering.

Overview

Caddy consists of a command, core library, and modules.

The command provides the command line interface you are hopefully familiar with. It's how you launch the process from your operating system. The amount of code and logic here is fairly minimal, and has only what is needed to bootstrap the core in the user's desired way. We intentionally avoid using flags and environment variables for configuration except as they pertain to bootstrapping config.

The core library, or "core" of Caddy, primarily manages configuration. It can Run() a new configuration or Stop() a running config. It also provides various utilities, types, and values for modules to use.

Modules do everything else. Many modules come built into Caddy, which are called the standard modules. These are determined to be the most useful to the most users.

Caddy core

At its core, Caddy merely loads an initial configuration ("config") or, if there isn't one, opens a socket to accept new configuration later on.

A Caddy configuration is a JSON document, with some fields at its top level:

{
	"admin": {},
	"logging": {},
	"apps": {•••},
	...
}

The core of Caddy knows how to work with some of these fields natively:

But other top-level fields (like apps) are opaque to the core of Caddy. In fact, all Caddy knows how to do with the bytes in apps is deserialize them into an interface type that it can call two methods on:

  1. Start()
  2. Stop()

... and that's it. It calls Start() on each app when a config is loaded, and Stop() on each app when a config is unloaded.

When an app module is started, it initiates the app's module lifecycle.

Module lifecycle

There are two kinds of modules: host modules and guest modules.

Host modules (or "parent" modules) are those that load other modules.

Guest modules (or "child" modules) are those that get loaded. All modules are guest modules -- even app modules.

Modules get loaded, are provisioned and validated, get used, then are cleaned up, in this sequence:

  1. Loaded
  2. Provisioned and validated
  3. Used
  4. Cleaned up

Caddy kicks off the module lifecycle when a config is loaded first by initializing all the configured app modules. From there, it's turtles all the way down as each app module takes it the rest of the way.

Load phase

Loading a module involves deserializing its JSON bytes into a typed value in memory. That's... basically it. It's just decoding JSON into a value.

Provision phase

This phase is where most of the setup work goes. All modules get a chance to provision themselves after being loaded.

Since any properties from the JSON encoding will already have been decoded, only additional setup needs to take place here. The most common task during provisioning is setting up guest modules. In other words, provisioning a host module also results in provisioning its guest modules, all the way down.

You can get a sense for this by traversing Caddy's JSON structure in our docs. Anywhere you see {•••} is where guest modules may be used; and as you click into one, you can continue exploring all the way down until there are no more guest modules.

Other common provisioning tasks are setting up internal values that will be used during the module's lifetime, or standardizing inputs. For example, the http.matchers.remote_ip module uses the provisioning phase to parse CIDR values out of the string inputs it received from the JSON. That way, it doesn't have to do this during every HTTP request, and is more efficient as a result.

Validation also can take place in the provision phase. If a module's resulting config is invalid, an error can be returned here which aborts the entire config load process.

Use phase

Once a guest module is provisioned and validated, it can be used by its host module. What exactly this means is up to each host module.

Each module has an ID, which consists of a namespace and a name in that namespace. For example, http.handlers.reverse_proxy is an HTTP handler because it is in the http.handlers namespace, and its name is reverse_proxy. All modules in the http.handlers namespace satisfy the same interface, known to the host module. Thus, the http app knows how to load and use these kinds of modules.

Cleanup phase

When it is time for a config to be stopped, all modules get unloaded. If a module allocated any resources that should be freed, it has an opportunity to do so in the cleanup phase.

Plugging in

A module -- or any Caddy plugin -- gets "plugged in" to Caddy by adding an import for the module's package. By importing the package, the module registers itself with the Caddy core, so when the Caddy process starts, it knows each module by name. It can even associate between module values and names, and vice-versa.

Managing configuration

Changing a running server's active configuration (often called a "reload") can be tricky with the high levels of concurrency and thousands of parameters that servers require. Caddy solves this problem elegantly using a design that has many benefits:

  • No interruption to running services
  • Granular config changes are possible
  • Only one lock required (in the background)
  • All reloads are atomic, consistent, isolated, and mostly durable ("ACID")
  • Minimal global state

You can watch a video about the design of Caddy 2 here.

A config reload works by provisioning the new modules, and if all succeed, the old ones are cleaned up. For a brief period, two configs are operational at the same time.

Each configuration is associated with a context which holds all the module state, so most state never escapes the scope of a config. This is good news for correctness, performance, and simplicity!

However, sometimes truly global state is necessary. For example, the reverse proxy may keep track of the health of its upstreams; since there is only one of each upstream globally, it would be bad if it forgot about them every time a minor config change was made. Fortunately, Caddy provides facilities similar to a language runtime's garbage collector to keep global state tidy.

One obvious approach to on-line config updates is to synchronize access to every single config parameter, even in hot paths. This is unbelievably bad in terms of performance and complexity—especially at scale—so Caddy does not use this approach.

Instead, configs are treated as immutable, atomic units: either the whole thing is replaced, or nothing gets changed. The admin API endpoints—which permit granular changes by traversing into the structure—mutate only an in-memory representation of the config, from which a whole new config document is generated and loaded. This approach has vast benefits in terms of simplicity, performance, and consistency. Since there is only one lock, it is easy for Caddy to process rapid reloads.