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About Janaka Bandara

Janaka Bandara
A budding software engineer in the enterprise integration space, and a simplistic guy who likes to learn, appreciate, help, share, and enjoy life

Gracefully Shutting Down Java in Containers: Why You Should Double-Check!

Gracefulness is not only an admirable human quality: it is also a must-have for any application program, especially when it is heaving the burden of mission-critical domains.

UltraESB has had a good history of maintaining gracefulness throughout its runtime, including shutdown. The new UltraESB-X honoured the tradition and implemented graceful shutdown in its 17.07 release.

When we composed the ips-worker Docker image for our Integration Platform (IPS) as a tailored version of UltraESB-X, we could guarantee that ESBs running in the platform would shut down gracefully–or so we thought.

Unfortunately not.

As soon as we redeploy or change the replication count of a cluster, all ESB instances running under the cluster would terminate (and new instances get spawned to take their place). The termination is supposed to be graceful; the ESBs would first stop accepting any new incoming messages, and hold off the internal shutdown sequence for a few seconds until processing of in-flight messages gets completed, or a timeout ends the holdoff.

On our Kubernetes-based mainstream IPS release, we retrieve logs of ESB instances (pods) via the K8s API as well as via a database appender so that we can analyze them later. In analyzing the logs, we noticed that we were never seeing any ESB shutdown logs, no matter how big the log store has grown. It was as if the ESBs were getting brutally killed as soon as the termination signal was received.

To investigate the issue, I started off with a simplified Java program: one that registers a shutdown hook–the world-famous way of implementing graceful shutdown in Java, which we had utilized in both our ESBs–and keeps running forever, printing some text periodically (to indicate the main thread is active). As soon as the shutdown hook is triggered, I interrupted the main thread, changed the output to indicate that we are shutting down, and let the handler finish after a few seconds (consistent with a “mock” graceful shutdown).

class Kill {

	private static Thread main;

	public static void main(String[] a) throws Exception {

		Runtime.getRuntime().addShutdownHook(new Thread(new Runnable() {
			public void run() {
				for (int i = 0; i < 4; i++) {
					try {
					} catch (Exception e) {}

		main = Thread.currentThread();
		while (true) {

Testing it is pretty easy:

javac Kill.java
java Kill

While the program keeps on printing:


press Ctrl+C to see what happens:

Exception in thread "main" java.lang.InterruptedException: sleep interrupted
        at java.lang.Thread.sleep(Native Method)
        at Kill.main(Kill.java:22)

Looks good.

That done, converting this into a fully-fledged Docker container took only a few minutes, and the following Dockerfile:

FROM openjdk:8-jre-alpine
ADD Kill*.class /
ENTRYPOINT ["java", "Kill"]

docker build -t kill:v1 .

Next I ran a container with the new image:

docker run -it --rm kill:v1

which gave the expected output:


Then I sent a TERM signal (which maps to Ctrl+C in normal jargon, and is the default trigger for Java’s shutdown hook) to the process, using the kill command:

# pardon the fancy functions;
# they are quite useful for me when dealing with processes

function pid() {
    ps -ef | grep $1 | grep -v grep | awk '{print $2}'

function killsig() {
    for i in pid $2; do
        sudo kill $1 $i

alias termit='killsig -15'

# with all the above in place, I just have to run:
termit Kill

As expected, the shutdown hook got invoked and executed smoothly.

Going a step further, I made the whole thing into a standalone K8s pod (backed by a single-replica Deployment):

apiVersion: extensions/v1beta1
kind: Deployment
  name: kill
      k8s-app: kill
        k8s-app: kill
      - name: kill
        image: kill:v1

and tried out the same thing, this time by zeroing-out spec.replicas (same as we do it in IPS) via the kubectl edit deployment command, instead of a manual kill -TERM:

kubectl edit deployment kill

# vi is my default editor
# set "replicas" to 0 (line 20 in my case)
# <ESC>:wq<ENTER>

while having a console tail of the pod in a separate window:

# fancy stuff again

function findapp() {
    kubectl get pod -l k8s-app=$1 -oname | cut -b 6-;

function klog() {
    kubectl logs -f findapp $1;

# the final command
klog kill

showing the output:

Exception in thread "main" java.lang.InterruptedException: sleep interrupted
        at java.lang.Thread.sleep(Native Method)
        at Kill.main(Kill.java:22)

Damn, it still shuts down gracefully!

So what’s wrong with my ips-worker?

Just to verify, I got a single-replica cluster running on IPS, manually changed the image (spec.template.spec.containers[0].image) and startup command (spec.template.spec.containers[0].command) of the K8s deployment via kubectl edit (keeping all other factors–such as environmental variables and volume mounts–unchanged), and tried out the same zero-out sequence;

Same result! Graceful shutdown!

Then it occurred to me that, while my kill container simply uses a java Kill command, ips-worker uses a bit more complicated command:

/bin/sh -c <copy some files> && <run some custom command> && <run ultraesb-x.sh>

where, in the last part, we construct (with a specially fabricated classpath, and some JVM parameters) and execute a pretty long java command that starts up the UltraESB-X beast.

So ultimately, the final live command in the container boils down to:

/bin/sh -c <basepath>/ultraesb-x.sh

Hence I tried a shell command on my kill container, by slightly changing the Dockerfile:

by slightly changing the Dockerfile:

FROM openjdk:8-jre-alpine
ADD Kill*.class /
# note the missing brackets and quotes, so that the command gets the default /bin/sh -c prefix

and yay! Graceful shutdown was no more. The Java process got killed brutally, on Docker (docker stop) as well as in K8s (replica zero-out).

Investigating further, I was guided by Google to this popular SE post which basically said that the shell (sh) does not pass received signals to its child processes by default. The suggested alternative was to run the internal command as an exec which would basically replace the parent process (sh) with the child (java, in case of kill):

FROM openjdk:8-jre-alpine
ADD Kill*.class /
ENTRYPOINT exec java Kill

For kill, that did the trick right away.

For ips-worker things were a bit different, as there were two levels of invocation: the container’s command invoking a chain of commands via /bin/sh -c, and the built-in ultraesb-x.sh invoking the ultimate java command. Hence I had to include exec at two places:

Once at the end of the command chain:

/bin/sh -c \
<copy some files> && \
<run some custom command> && \
exec <basepath>/ultraesb-x.sh

And again at the end of ultraesb-x.sh:

# do some magic to compose the classpath and other info for ESB startup

exec $JAVA_HOME/bin/java <classpath and other params>

Simple as it may seem, those two execs were enough to bring back graceful shutdown to ips-worker, and hence to our Integration Platform.

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