Introduction to ZooKeeper

ZooKeeper is centralized service which offers services used by distributed application developers such as group services, leader election, naming, distributed synchronization and maintaining configuration information. Any distributed applications developer need to have such services in his application, he can work to implement them by him self but this will lead to hard to fix bugs, race conditions and deployment complexity, that is why ZooKeeper was created to have a software that can offer these services in a standardized way rather than implementing them again for every project.

In this tutorial we will learn how to download and run ZooKeeper on Ubuntu Server 16.04 and write a Java Project using eclipse to use and discover ZooKeeper services.

Prepare VM for running ZooKeeper

We are going to download and run ZooKeeper on a virtual machine created using vagrant and virtualbox.

I will assume you are using Ubuntu Desktop on your workstation and describe the steps required to download, install and run vagrant and virtualbox.

  • Download virtualbox debian file: wget
  • Install virtualbox: sudo dpkg -i virtualbox-5.2_5.2.14-123301~Ubuntu~xenial_amd64.deb If you see any errors then you need to install dependencies for virtualbox using this command: sudo apt-get install -fy
  • Download vagrant: wget
  • Install vagrant: sudo dpkg -i vagrant_2.1.2_x86_64.deb If you see any errors then you need to install dependencies for vagrant using this command: sudo apt-get install -fy
  • Create a directory to put vagrant files in it: mkdir ~/ZooKeeper && cd ~/ZooKeeper
  • Run vagrant init to initialize a new Vagrntfile: vagrant init ubuntu/xenial64
  • Now you will see a file called Vagrantfile in current folder, this file describes the VM to be created by vagrant using virtualbox provider, you need to edit this file to expose 2181 port inside the VM to the host using the same port number, so if you connect to port 2181 on the host, it is forwarded to port 2181 inside the VM. Find this line # "forwarded_port", guest: 80, host: 8080 and replace it with "forwarded_port", guest: 2181, host: 2181.
  • Now start tell vagrant to run the VM using this command vagrant up, wait few minutes until the VM is started.
  • Once it is started you can SSH into the VM using this command vagrant ssh

Download and run ZooKeeper

Once the VM is up and running we start to download ZooKeeper, run it and test it.

  • Download ZooKeeper with this command wget
  • Create a directory and untar it to that directory sudo mkdir /opt/ZooKeeper && sudo tar -zxf zookeeper-3.4.12.tar.gz -C /opt/ZooKeeper && sudo chown -R $USER:$USER /opt/ZooKeeper/zookeeper-3.4.12
  • Now you are ready to run ZooKeeper, switch to ZooKeeper directory with this command cd /opt/ZooKeeper/zookeeper-3.4.12.
  • Create ZooKeeper configuration file in /opt/ZooKeeper/zookeeper-3.4.12/conf with this name zoo.cfg and the following content
    • tickTime: This is the basic time unit in milliseconds used by ZooKeeper. It is used to do heartbeats and the minimum session timeout is twice the tickTime.
    • dataDir: The location where to store in-memory database snapshots, it is also used to store the transaction log of database updates, unless specified otherwise using the dataLogDir option.
    • clientPort: The port to listen for client connections.

Note It is HIGHLY recommended to place the dataDir and dataLogDir on two different devices to achieve a better performance.

  • Once the configuration file is ready we need to create ZooKeeper Data Directory and then start ZooKeeper
    sudo mkdir /var/lib/zookeeper
    sudo chown -R $USER:$USER /var/lib/zookeeper
    cd /opt/ZooKeeper/zookeeper-3.4.12
    bin/ start

    Now ZooKeeper is started in background using nohup, we can check its output in this file zookeeper.out.

Test ZooKeeper with provided CLI tool is a CLI tool that comes with ZooKeeper to help in sending requests to ZooKeeper and retrieve results from it, we will use it here to test that ZooKeeper is up and running

  • Start the CLI tool with this command bin/ -server localhost:2181 This will start the CLI tool and connect it to ZooKeeper running on localhost port 2181 [zk: localhost:2181(CONNECTED) 0].
  • You can use help command to get a list of available commands
    [zk: localhost:2181(CONNECTED) 0] help
    ZooKeeper -server host:port cmd args
      stat path [watch]
      set path data [version]
      ls path [watch]
      delquota [-n|-b] path
      ls2 path [watch]
      setAcl path acl
      setquota -n|-b val path
      redo cmdno
      printwatches on|off
      delete path [version]
      sync path
      listquota path
      rmr path
      get path [watch]
      create [-s] [-e] path data acl
      addauth scheme auth
      getAcl path
      connect host:port

    You can use TAB to auto-complete commands as you type them.

  • Use the ls / command to print all ZNodes in / path, you will get one default ZNode called zookeeper.
  • Use create /zk_test my_data to create a ZNode in /zk_test called my_data.
  • Use the get command to retrieve data from a ZNode
    [zk: localhost:2181(CONNECTED) 7] get /zk_test
    cZxid = 0x14
    ctime = Sat Jul 07 09:59:43 UTC 2018
    mZxid = 0x14
    mtime = Sat Jul 07 09:59:43 UTC 2018
    pZxid = 0x14
    cversion = 0
    dataVersion = 0
    aclVersion = 0
    ephemeralOwner = 0x0
    dataLength = 7
    numChildren = 0
  • Use the set command to add data to a ZNode
    [zk: localhost:2181(CONNECTED) 8] set /zk_test junk
    cZxid = 0x14
    ctime = Sat Jul 07 09:59:43 UTC 2018
    mZxid = 0x15
    mtime = Sat Jul 07 10:00:41 UTC 2018
    pZxid = 0x14
    cversion = 0
    dataVersion = 1
    aclVersion = 0
    ephemeralOwner = 0x0
    dataLength = 4
    numChildren = 0
    [zk: localhost:2181(CONNECTED) 9] get /zk_test     
    cZxid = 0x14
    ctime = Sat Jul 07 09:59:43 UTC 2018
    mZxid = 0x15
    mtime = Sat Jul 07 10:00:41 UTC 2018
    pZxid = 0x14
    cversion = 0
    dataVersion = 1
    aclVersion = 0
    ephemeralOwner = 0x0
    dataLength = 4
    numChildren = 0
  • Finally you can use delete command to delete a ZNode
    [zk: localhost:2181(CONNECTED) 10] delete /zk_test
    [zk: localhost:2181(CONNECTED) 11] ls /

So far we learned how to create a VM to run ZooKeeper in it, download, run and test ZooKeeper using the provided CLI tool, there is one thing left for this tutorial, that is to learn how to access and use ZooKeeper server using Java Programs, when we write distributed applications using Java we need to have an API to access ZooKeeper using it from Java Apps, in the next section we will learn how to create a basic Java application that can create a ZNode, write data to it, get data from it and finally delete it.

We will be using eclipse IDE to do the coding, let’s get started.

Setup eclipse IDE

  • Download eclipse from this page and run it then create a new Java Project called ZKTest.
  • After the project is created you need to link ZooKeeper packages and JARs with the project to be able to use eclipse IDE. You need to have access to /opt/ZooKeeper/zookeeper-3.4.12/src/java and /opt/ZooKeeper/zookeeper-3.4.12/lib inside the VM copy them to /vagrant to be able to access it from the host use these two commands cp -r /opt/ZooKeeper/zookeeper-3.4.12/src/java /vagrant and cp -r /opt/ZooKeeper/zookeeper-3.4.12/lib /vagrant now the java and lib directories are available in ~/ZooKeeper on your host.
  • Now is the time to link the packages to eclipse project.
    • First add java/main and java/generated to eclipse project, right click on project in package explorer, choose Build Path then Link Source Choose the folder main and click Finish, do the same for generated folder.
    • Now after the two directories are added you need to add external JARs in lib directory, right click on project in package explorer, choose Build Path then Add External Archives..., browse to lib directory and add all JAR files in it.
    • Now you are ready to start writing Java Application that accesses ZooKeeper service.

Write Java Application to access and use ZooKeeper service

We will write a small java program that implements the same functionality in which we showed it previously, the program will list all ZKnodes, create a new node, read its data, set its data, delete it and finally close the connection, these are the very basic actions you would do in any application that uses ZooKeeper.

Write the class used to connect to ZooKeeper

To connect to ZooKeeper instance we will create a new class that sets up the connection, the class will be called ZkConnection.

Create a new class in eclipse and write the following code for it (we will add to this code later to implement the other actions)

  import org.apache.zookeeper.WatchedEvent;
  import org.apache.zookeeper.Watcher;
  import org.apache.zookeeper.Watcher.Event.KeeperState;
  import org.apache.zookeeper.ZooKeeper;

  public class ZkConnection implements Watcher {

  private ZooKeeper zk;

  public void connect(String host) throws IOException {
    zk = new ZooKeeper(host, 3000, this);

  public void process(WatchedEvent event) {
    if (event.getState() == KeeperState.SyncConnected) {

  public void close() throws InterruptedException {


The ZkConnection class defines two methods, one called connect for connecting to ZooKeeper and the other called close for closing the connection.

In the connect method we use the ZooKeeper class constrictor and pass the following parametters * host: This defines the host where ZooKeeper is installed, in this case it is localhost because we setup port forwarding from localhost port 2181 and the VM port 2181, so we can access ZooKeeper from localhost. * timeout: This timeout in milliseconds for the connection attempt. * Watcher Object: this must be an Object of a class that implements Watcher interface, it has the process method which is called every time an event is occurs. The close method simply calls close() on the ZooKeeper instance to close the connection.

Test the ZkConnection class in a main class

Create a new class called ZKMain and create a main method in it and try to use the ZkConnection class to connect to ZooKeeper, this is the code for the class.


  public class ZKMain {

  	public static void main(String[] args) throws IOException, InterruptedException {

  		ZkConnection zk = new ZkConnection();
  		System.out.println("Connecting to zookeeper now");



Write a method to create a node in ZooKeeper

Now we will write a method called createNode to create a new ZKNode in ZooKeeper

    public void createNode(String name, byte[] data) throws InterruptedException, KeeperException {
  		try {
  			zk.create(name, data, Ids.OPEN_ACL_UNSAFE, CreateMode.PERSISTENT);
  		} catch (KeeperException e) {
  			if (e.code() == Code.NODEEXISTS) {
  				System.out.println("A node with name " + name + " already exists");
  			else {
  				throw e;


The createNode method has two arguments * name: This is the name of the node it must start with “/” and not end with “/” * data: This is a byte array to fill the new node with data from it you can pass null to it

Inside the createNode method we use the create method of the ZooKeeper instance which has the following parametters: * name and data: These are passed directly from createNode method. * ACL: This is a List of ACL objects to use it to setup access rights of the newly created node, here we pass a special value to give open permissions. * createMode: This is used to specify the type of the node we want to create there are two main node types, persistent nodes these nodes persist even after closing the connection and ephemeral nodes these nodes are deleted right after the connection is closed, they are temporarily nodes.

Read/Write data from/to a node

Now we will write two methods, one to read data from a node and the other to write data to it

    public byte[] readData(String name) throws KeeperException, InterruptedException {
  		return zk.getData(name, true, null);

  	public void writeData(String name, byte[] data) throws KeeperException, InterruptedException {
  		zk.setData(name, data, -1);

The readData method takes the node name as argument and returns a byte array of data. the writeData method takes the node name and data byte array as arguments and write the data to the method.

We are using ZooKeeper methods setData and getData to do the writing and reading, we will discover these methods more in a later tutorial.

Delete and list nodes

Now we will write another two methods to delete a node and list all root nodes

    public List<String> listNodes() throws KeeperException, InterruptedException {
  		return zk.getChildren("/", true);

  	public void deleteNode(String name) throws InterruptedException, KeeperException {
  		zk.delete(name, -1);

The listNodes method takes no arguments and returns a List of node names as Strings.

the deleteNode method takes a the node’s name as an argument and delete it.

Use the previous methods in a main program

Now we need to modify the ZKMain class to use all the previous methods

    ZkConnection zk = new ZkConnection();
		zk.createNode("/zk_test", "initial data".getBytes());
		String data = new String(zk.readData("/zk_test"));
		zk.writeData("/zk_test", "New Data".getBytes());
		data = new String(zk.readData("/zk_test"));
		List<String> nodes = zk.listNodes();
		System.out.println("The nodes are");
		for (String node : nodes) {
		nodes = zk.listNodes();
		System.out.println("The nodes are");
		for (String node : nodes) {

No need to explain the previous program as all used methods were explained previously.

I hope that this tutorial helped you to get started with ZooKeeper and to write a java application that uses it, in the next tutorials we will explore ZooKeeper more and write more complex programs that use it.


In this tutorial we learned how to download and run ZooKeeper, we also used the to interact with a running ZooKeeper instance and used eclipse to write a java application that can interact with ZooKeeper, I hope you enjoyed it.