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Erlang (and Elixir) distribution without EPMD, aka EPMDLESS

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Allows to connect erlang nodes, via Erlang distribution and without epmd, using tcp or tls.


  • Erlang >= 21


epmdless has 2 options for how ports are handled when Erlang distribution requests the port to use to connect to another node. With epmdless_client (variable ports) each node must first be added with a call to epmdless_client:add_node and this information is not automatically propagated between nodes like with EPMD, so a adding b and c and then connecting to them will not result in b and c creating a full mesh unless one of them has the other added to its mapping of nodes to ports with epmdless_client:add_node.

The other option is epmdless_static (static port). With this module the same port is used for every node it attempts to connect to, meaning when a connects to b and c a full mesh will be created because b will be able to look up c's port and connect to it.

Static Port

As of OTP-23.0 EPMD is still required to use a static port for distribution. This will be changed in an upcoming release, but for OTP releases before the upcoming support and for more dynamic options (see below) epmdless can be used and will continue to work on newer OTP-23.x versions.

At this time rebar3 nightly is required for generating a release that will have working remote console and rpc.

Docker Usage: Connecting Nodes

An example project examples/erlang_docker_example contains a project setup to use epmdless_static as the epmd_module and a docker-compose.yml config that will bring up multiple nodes that all use the same port for distribution each on the same network with specific IP addresses.

The release's vm.args.src uses epmdless_static for epmd_module which results in the same port being used for any lookup of a node. Since the same port is used for each node the port is simply set in vm.args.src with -erl_epmd_port 8001:

-sname epmdless_test

-setcookie epmdless_test

-start_epmd false
-epmd_module epmdless_static
-erl_epmd_port 8001

In docker-compose.yml 3 nodes are created node_a, node_b and node_c:

    container_name: node_a
    hostname: node_a
    build: .

After running docker-compse up we can show that the full mesh network is created in this case when we connect node_a to node_b and node_c:

$ docker exec -ti node_a bin/epmdless_test remote_console

(epmdless_test@node_a)1> net_adm:ping(epmdless_test@node_b).
(epmdless_test@node_a)2> net_adm:ping(epmdless_test@node_c).
(epmdless_test@node_a)3> nodes().

Now open a remote_console on node_c to see that it is connected to both node_a and node_b:

$ docker exec -ti node_c bin/epmdless_test remote_console

(epmdless_test@node_c)1> nodes().

Release: Variable Ports

Below in section Manual Usage you'll find details on how to use epmdless without building a release, this is useful for playing around or developing on epmdless, in this section we will be using a release built with the latest rebar3 nightly, OTP-23 and

The example project is under examples/erlang_variable_ports_example. The rebar3 configuration shows how to include epmdless in your project and release:

{erl_opts, [debug_info]}.
{deps, [epmdless]}.

{relx, [{release, {epmdless_test, "0.1.0"},
        {dev_mode, false},
        {include_erts, true},
        {extended_start_script, true},
        {vm_args_src, "config/vm.args.src"}]}.

Note that epmdless is kept in the release's list of applications and not in a .app.src list of applications. This is because it is not an actual runtime dependency of the application epmdless_test but a dependency of the particular release that applications is being used in.

In vm.args.src you'll find epmdless_client being setup as the epmd_module and the epmd daemon being disabled:

-sname ${NAME}@localhost

-setcookie epmdless_test

-start_epmd false
-epmd_module epmdless_client

Note that in this example there is no -erl_epmd_port in the vm.args.src because we will not use the same port for every node.

Build the release as usual:

$ rebar3 release
===> Plugin rebar3_hex not available. It will not be used.
===> Verifying dependencies...
===> Compiling epmdless
===> Compiling epmdless_test
===> Assembling release... epmdless_test-0.1.0
===> Warnings generating release:
*WARNING* Missing application sasl. Can not upgrade with this release
===> Release successfully assembled: _build/default/rel/epmdless_test

To run a release on a specific port set the ERL_DIST_PORT environment variable and run the console:

$ NAME=a ERL_DIST_PORT=8081 _build/default/rel/epmdless_test/bin/epmdless_test console

Connecting with a remote shell works the same:

$ NAME=a ERL_DIST_PORT=8081 _build/default/rel/epmdless_test/bin/epmdless_test remote_console

Or running an RPC:

$ NAME=a ERL_DIST_PORT=8081 _build/default/rel/epmdless_test/bin/epmdless_test rpc 'erlang nodes [hidden]'

In this case, since the release is running on OTP-23, erl_call is used for rpc and eval commands and assign themselves a hidden nodename and in this case it gives itself the name c371@rosa.

Run another instance on a separate port and connect it to the first

$ NAME=b ERL_DIST_PORT=8082 _build/default/rel/epmdless_test/bin/epmdless_test console
(b@localhost)1> epmdless_client:add_node(a@localhost, 8081).
(b@localhost)2> epmdless_client:list_nodes().
(b@localhost)3> net_adm:ping(a@localhost).
(b@localhost)4> nodes().

Since the mapping of nodes to ports must be kept manually by calling add_node/2 if a third node c is added and connected to a it will not create a full mesh as you'd expect with regular usage of Erlang distribution and EPMD. That is, unless you first use add_node/2 to add b and its port to the mapping in c, then it will be able to automatically create the full mesh.

Manual Usage

The following details how to use epmdless with erl directly.

Example Usage with Multiple Ports

To play around with epmdless and get a feel for how it works the simplest way is to run a couple separate erl shells and connect them.

Only run the Erlang shell commands after havng start both a, b, and c, each on a different port 8001, 8002 and 8003:

ERL_DIST_PORT=8002 erl -sname b@localhost -start_epmd false -epmd_module epmdless_client -pa _build/default/lib/epmdless/ebin

ERL_DIST_PORT=8001 erl -sname a@localhost -start_epmd false -epmd_module epmdless_client -pa _build/default/lib/epmdless/ebin

(a@localhost)1> epmdless_client:add_node(b@localhost, 8002).
(a@localhost)2> epmdless_client:list_nodes().

ERL_DIST_PORT=8003 erl -sname c@localhost -start_epmd false -epmd_module epmdless_client -pa _build/default/lib/epmdless/ebin

(c@localhost)1> epmdless_client:add_node(a@localhost, 8001).                                                ok
(c@localhost)2> epmdless_client:list_nodes().
(c@localhost)3> net_adm:ping(a@localhost).
(c@localhost)4> 2020-05-17T09:14:44.300102-06:00 error: ** Cannot get connection id for node c@localhost
2020-05-17T09:14:51.299676-06:00 warning: global: c@localhost failed to connect to b@localhost
(c@localhost)5> nodes().
(c@localhost)6> epmdless_client:list_nodes().

Node a is connected to b and c but c and b are not able to connect to each other because they have no had their respective ports added to the epmdless_client state with add_node/2. This results in the warnings about failed to connect to b@localhost on node c.

Connecting to epmdless nodes

As of OTP-23 there is an option -dist_listen which keeps a remote shell from binding to a listen port -- and implies -hidden so this argument is not needed. Before this option a port had to be bound to even when wanting to simply use erl -remsh a@localhost. This complicated use of epmdless where we want to tell it the port of the remote node a@localhost and not care about any port for the new node that will make the remote connection.

So with OTP-23 it is possible to use the same ERL_DIST_PORT environment variable as used above but in this case it will not be used to listen but only to connect to a@localhost:

$ ERL_DIST_PORT=8001 erl -dist_listen false -remsh a@localhost -epmd_module epmdless_client -pa _build/default/lib/epmdless/ebin

(a@localhost)1> nodes(hidden).

For backwards compatibility reasons the environment variable EPMDLESS_REMSH_PORT is also still supported and can be used in place of ERL_DIST_PORT and will need to if on OTP before 23 because the new node will have to bind to a listen port.

Also in OTP-23 the option -address [Hostname:]Port was added to erl_call, a program for communicating with a distributed Erlang node. This is how the relx script does the rpc and eval commands if run on OTP-23:

$ _build/default/rel/epmdless_test/erts-11.0/bin/erl_call  -r -address :8081 -c epmdless_test -a 'erlang nodes [hidden]'

With OTP-22 and earlier a remote shell requires setting EPMDLESS_REMSH_PORT to the port the node you want to connect to is using and optionally give a port for ERL_DIST_PORT -- if not given then 0 is uesd and a random port is chosen:

$ EPMDLESS_REMSH_PORT=8081 erl -sname a_remsh@localhost -remsh epmdless_test@localhost -epmd_module epmdless_client -hidden -setcookie epmdless_test -pa _build/default/checkouts/epmdless/ebin

(epmdless_test@localhost)1> nodes(hidden).


Testing is done with shelltestrunner and an example project under shelltests/epmdless_test. From that directory run shelltest -c --diff --all --execdir -- epmdless_test.test. It is also run with the latest rebar3 and relx in github actions for this repo.

Other example projects

Note: These will be updated for the latest epmdless options and moved to the examples/ directory. But for now refer to these projects

Please also refer: for an example of complete project running epmdless.

TLS example for Elixir

Here is a small project which shows how to setup EPMDLess with TLS for Elixir:

(Please also see a discussion here: #11)