Menu
Elastic Load Balancing
User Guide

How Elastic Load Balancing Works

A load balancer accepts incoming traffic from clients and routes requests to its registered EC2 instances in one or more Availability Zones. The load balancer also monitors the health of its registered instances and ensures that it routes traffic only to healthy instances. When the load balancer detects an unhealthy instance, it stops routing traffic to that instance, and then resumes routing traffic to that instance when it detects that the instance is healthy again.

You configure your load balancer to accept incoming traffic by specifying one or more listeners. A listener is a process that checks for connection requests. It is configured with a protocol and port number for connections from clients to the load balancer and a protocol and port number for connections from the load balancer to the instances.

Elastic Load Balancing supports two types of load balancers: Application Load Balancers and Classic Load Balancers. The following diagram illustrates a key difference between the way you configure these load balancers. With a Classic Load Balancer, you register instances with the load balancer. With an Application Load Balancer, you register the instances as targets in a target group, and route traffic to a target group.

Registering targets or instances.

Availability Zones and Instances

When you enable an Availability Zone for your load balancer, Elastic Load Balancing creates a load balancer node in the Availability Zone. If you register instances in an Availability Zone but do not enable the Availability Zone, these registered instances do not receive traffic.

With a Classic Load Balancer, we recommend that you enable multiple Availability Zones. With an Application Load Balancer, we require you to enable multiple Availability Zones. After you enable multiple Availability Zones, if one Availability Zone becomes unavailable or has no healthy instances, the load balancer can continue to route traffic to the healthy registered instances in another Availability Zone.

If cross-zone load balancing is enabled, the load balancer distributes traffic evenly across all registered instances in all enabled Availability Zones. If cross-zone load balancing is disabled, the load balancer distributes traffic evenly across all enabled Availability Zones. Cross-zone load balancing is always enabled for an Application Load Balancer and is disabled by default for a Classic Load Balancer.

Cross-zone load balancing and Availability Zones.

Load Balancer Scheme

When you create a load balancer, you must choose whether to make it an internal load balancer or an Internet-facing load balancer. Note that when you create a Classic Load Balancer in EC2-Classic, it must be an Internet-facing load balancer.

The nodes of an Internet-facing load balancer have public IP addresses. The DNS name of an Internet-facing load balancer is publicly resolvable to the public IP addresses of the nodes. Therefore, Internet-facing load balancers can route requests from clients over the Internet.

The nodes of an internal load balancer have only private IP addresses. The DNS name of an internal load balancer is publicly resolvable to the private IP addresses of the nodes. Therefore, internal load balancers can only route requests from clients with access to the VPC for the load balancer.

Note that both Internet-facing and internal load balancers route requests to your instances using private IP addresses. Therefore, your instances do not need public IP addresses to receive requests from an internal or an Internet-facing load balancer.

If your application has multiple tiers, for example web servers that must be connected to the Internet and database servers that are only connected to the web servers, you can design an architecture that uses both internal and Internet-facing load balancers. Create an Internet-facing load balancer and register the web servers with it. Create an internal load balancer and register the database servers with it. The web servers receive requests from the Internet-facing load balancer and send requests for the database servers to the internal load balancer. The database servers receive requests from the internal load balancer.

Multiple tier architecture, with an Internet-facing load balancer and an internal load balancer.

Request Routing

Before a client sends a request to your load balancer, it resolves the load balancer's domain name using a Domain Name System (DNS) server. The DNS entry is controlled by Amazon, because your instances are in the amazonaws.com domain. The Amazon DNS servers return one or more IP addresses to the client, which are the IP addresses of the load balancer nodes for your load balancer. As traffic to your application changes over time, Elastic Load Balancing scales your load balancer and updates the DNS entry. Note that the DNS entry also specifies the time-to-live (TTL) as 60 seconds, which ensures that the IP addresses can be remapped quickly in response to changing traffic.

The client determines which IP address to use to send requests to the load balancer. The load balancer node that receives the request selects a healthy registered instance and sends the request to the instance using its private IP address.