Setting a Static Cookie for Elixir

Before two Elixir nodes can cluster together, they must share a secret cookie. The cookie itself isn't meant to be a super secret encryption key or anything like that, it's designed to let you create multiple sets of small clusters on the same network that don't all just connect together. Different cookies means different clusters. For instance, only the nodes that all use the cookie "abc" will connect together.

For us, this means that in order for my_remote node to connect to the cluster on Fly, I need to share the same cookie value used in production.

When you build a mix release, it generates a long random string for the cookie value. When you re-run the mix release command, it keeps the same cookie value. That is, when you don't run it in Docker. The Dockerfile we're using is building a fresh release every time we run it. That's kind of the point of a Docker container. So our cookie value is being randomly generated every time we deploy. This means after every deploy, I would have to figure out what the new cookie value is so my local node can use it.

The easiest solution here is to specify the value to use for our cookie. One that we will know outside of the build and that won't keep changing on us.

Making the Changes

Let's walk through making the changes on the hello_elixir project used in the Elixir guide to see what's involved.

Release Section

In your mix.exs file, you can add a releases/0 function that returns the configuration.

This is following the mix release docs, these are the changes we'll make:

defmodule HelloElixir.MixProject do
  use Mix.Project

  def project do
    [
      app: :hello_elixir,
      # ...
      releases: releases()
    ]
  end

  # ...

  defp releases() do
    [
      hello_elixir: [
        include_executables_for: [:unix],
        cookie: "YOUR-COOKIE-VALUE"
      ]
    ]
  end
end

The releases function returns a keyword list. To clarify, the :hello_elixir atom isn't actually important. It could be named demo or full_app. The name becomes important when you are defining multiple release configurations. However, that's beyond the scope of this guide. When only defining a single configuration, it uses that regardless of the name. So for simplicity, I'll just name it the same as the application.

For the :cookie value, you can generate a unique value using the following Elixir command:

Base.url_encode64(:crypto.strong_rand_bytes(40))

Once your pre-defined cookie value is set, deploy your updated app.

fly deploy

If desired, you can verify that the cookie value was set correctly in production, here's how:

$ fly ssh console
Connecting to icy-leaf-7381.internal... complete

/ #  cat app/releases/COOKIE
YOUR-COOKIE-VALUE

With a known and unchanging cookie value deployed in our application, we are ready for the next step!

Umbrella Note

If you have an umbrella project, you may want to add an option called :applications. In it, you specify the name of all "entrypoint" applications. For instance, if I had two apps in my umbrella: web and core where web is a Phoenix application, that is the entrypoint. My configuration would look like this:

  defp releases() do
    [
      hello_elixir: [
        include_executables_for: [:unix],
        applications: [web: :permanent],
        cookie: "YOUR-COOKIE-VALUE"
      ]
    ]
  end

This instructs which applications should be started and in which order for this release configuration. In my application web has a dependency on core, so specifying web is all I need to do.

See the documentation here for more details and what other options are available.