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Consul vs Docker Swarm: What are the differences?


In the world of containerization, there are several orchestration tools available to manage containerized applications. Two popular options are Consul and Docker Swarm. While both tools offer similar functionalities, they have key differences that set them apart. Here, we will explore these differences in detail:

  1. Architecture and Purpose: Consul is a service mesh solution that primarily focuses on service discovery and management, providing features like service registry, health checking, and key-value storage. On the other hand, Docker Swarm is a native clustering and orchestration solution built into Docker, allowing the management of a swarm of Docker nodes, deployment of services, and load balancing.

  2. Scalability and Number of Nodes: Docker Swarm provides a more scalable solution compared to Consul. Docker Swarm supports larger clusters, accommodating hundreds or even thousands of worker nodes, making it suitable for large-scale deployments. Consul, on the other hand, is better suited for smaller or medium-sized deployments, supporting a limited number of nodes.

  3. Supported Container Runtimes: Docker Swarm has the advantage of being tightly integrated with the Docker ecosystem, supporting only Docker as the container runtime. Consul, on the other hand, is a more agnostic solution, supporting multiple container runtimes like Docker, rkt, and more. This flexibility allows Consul to be used in environments with mixed container runtime requirements.

  4. Fault Tolerance and High Availability: Docker Swarm offers automatic fault tolerance and high availability features out of the box. It provides features like automatic re-scheduling of failed tasks, manager node redundancy, and automatic leader election. On the other hand, Consul requires additional configuration and setup to achieve high availability and fault tolerance, including running in a cluster mode with multiple instances.

  5. Networking and Overlay Networks: Docker Swarm uses Docker's built-in overlay network driver to enable communication between services across multiple nodes. This simplifies networking setup and allows seamless communication between containers. On the other hand, Consul provides a more advanced network mesh by utilizing a sidecar proxy model, enabling features like service segmentation and traffic splitting. This makes Consul ideal for complex networking scenarios.

  6. Community and Ecosystem: Docker Swarm benefits from being part of the larger Docker ecosystem, leveraging its large and active community. This results in an extensive set of resources, documentation, and community support. Consul, although part of the HashiCorp ecosystem, has a smaller community compared to Docker Swarm. However, it has its own dedicated user base and a growing ecosystem around it.

In Summary, Consul and Docker Swarm differ in their architecture and purpose, scalability, supported container runtimes, fault tolerance and high availability, networking capabilities, and community size. Understanding these differences is crucial while choosing the right orchestration tool based on the specific requirements of your container deployment.

Decisions about Consul and Docker Swarm
Simon Reymann
Senior Fullstack Developer at QUANTUSflow Software GmbH · | 30 upvotes · 9M views

Our whole DevOps stack consists of the following tools:

  • GitHub (incl. GitHub Pages/Markdown for Documentation, GettingStarted and HowTo's) for collaborative review and code management tool
  • Respectively Git as revision control system
  • SourceTree as Git GUI
  • Visual Studio Code as IDE
  • CircleCI for continuous integration (automatize development process)
  • Prettier / TSLint / ESLint as code linter
  • SonarQube as quality gate
  • Docker as container management (incl. Docker Compose for multi-container application management)
  • VirtualBox for operating system simulation tests
  • Kubernetes as cluster management for docker containers
  • Heroku for deploying in test environments
  • nginx as web server (preferably used as facade server in production environment)
  • SSLMate (using OpenSSL) for certificate management
  • Amazon EC2 (incl. Amazon S3) for deploying in stage (production-like) and production environments
  • PostgreSQL as preferred database system
  • Redis as preferred in-memory database/store (great for caching)

The main reason we have chosen Kubernetes over Docker Swarm is related to the following artifacts:

  • Key features: Easy and flexible installation, Clear dashboard, Great scaling operations, Monitoring is an integral part, Great load balancing concepts, Monitors the condition and ensures compensation in the event of failure.
  • Applications: An application can be deployed using a combination of pods, deployments, and services (or micro-services).
  • Functionality: Kubernetes as a complex installation and setup process, but it not as limited as Docker Swarm.
  • Monitoring: It supports multiple versions of logging and monitoring when the services are deployed within the cluster (Elasticsearch/Kibana (ELK), Heapster/Grafana, Sysdig cloud integration).
  • Scalability: All-in-one framework for distributed systems.
  • Other Benefits: Kubernetes is backed by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), huge community among container orchestration tools, it is an open source and modular tool that works with any OS.
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Pros of Consul
Pros of Docker Swarm
  • 61
    Great service discovery infrastructure
  • 35
    Health checking
  • 29
    Distributed key-value store
  • 26
  • 23
  • 12
  • 10
    Token-based acls
  • 6
    Gossip clustering
  • 5
    Dns server
  • 4
    Not Java
  • 1
    Docker integration
  • 1
  • 55
    Docker friendly
  • 46
    Easy to setup
  • 40
    Standard Docker API
  • 38
    Easy to use
  • 23
  • 22
  • 13
    Clustering made easy
  • 12
    Simple usage
  • 11
    Integral part of docker
  • 6
    Cross Platform
  • 5
    Labels and annotations
  • 5
  • 3
    Easy Networking
  • 3
    Shallow learning curve

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Cons of Consul
Cons of Docker Swarm
    Be the first to leave a con
    • 9
      Low adoption

    Sign up to add or upvote consMake informed product decisions

    - No public GitHub repository available -

    What is Consul?

    Consul is a tool for service discovery and configuration. Consul is distributed, highly available, and extremely scalable.

    What is Docker Swarm?

    Swarm serves the standard Docker API, so any tool which already communicates with a Docker daemon can use Swarm to transparently scale to multiple hosts: Dokku, Compose, Krane, Deis, DockerUI, Shipyard, Drone, Jenkins... and, of course, the Docker client itself.

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    What companies use Consul?
    What companies use Docker Swarm?
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    What are some alternatives to Consul and Docker Swarm?
    etcd is a distributed key value store that provides a reliable way to store data across a cluster of machines. It’s open-source and available on GitHub. etcd gracefully handles master elections during network partitions and will tolerate machine failure, including the master.
    A centralized service for maintaining configuration information, naming, providing distributed synchronization, and providing group services. All of these kinds of services are used in some form or another by distributed applications.
    SkyDNS is a distributed service for announcement and discovery of services. It leverages Raft for high-availability and consensus, and utilizes DNS queries to discover available services. This is done by leveraging SRV records in DNS, with special meaning given to subdomains, priorities and weights (more info here:
    Map services to arbitrary URLs in a single, declarative YAML file. Configure routes with CORS support, circuit breakers, timeouts, and more. Replace your Kubernetes ingress controller. Route gRPC, WebSockets, or HTTP.
    Kubernetes is an open source orchestration system for Docker containers. It handles scheduling onto nodes in a compute cluster and actively manages workloads to ensure that their state matches the users declared intentions.
    See all alternatives