Heartbeat (computing)

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Not to be confused with Heartbleed.

In computer science, a heartbeat is a periodic signal generated by hardware or software to indicate normal operation or to synchronize other parts of a system.[1] Usually a heartbeat is sent between machines at a regular interval on the order of seconds. If a heartbeat isn't received for a time—usually a few heartbeat intervals—the machine that should have sent the heartbeat is assumed to have failed.[2]

Heartbeat protocol[edit]

A heartbeat protocol is generally used to negotiate and monitor the availability of a resource, such as a floating IP address. Typically when a heartbeat starts on a machine, it will perform an election process with other machines on the heartbeat network to determine which machine, if any, owns the resource. On heartbeat networks of more than two machines, it is important to take into account partitioning, where two halves of the network could be functioning but not able to communicate with each other. In a situation such as this, it is important that the resource is only owned by one machine, not one machine in each partition.

As a heartbeat is intended to be used to indicate the health of a machine, it is important that the heartbeat protocol and the transport that it runs on is as reliable as possible. Effecting a failover because of a false alarm may, depending on the resource, be highly undesirable. It is also important to react quickly to an actual failure, so again it is important that the heartbeat is reliable. For this reason it is often desirable to have heartbeat running over more than one transport; for instance, an Ethernet segment using UDP/IP, and a serial link.

See also[edit]

  • Watchdog timer, electronic timer that is used to detect and recover from computer malfunctions
  • Keepalive, a common generalization of this feature in various protocols.


  1. ^ [1] pcmag.com Encyclopedia - Definition of Heartbeat.
  2. ^ Aguilera, Marcos Kawazoe; Chen, Wei; Toueg, Sam. "Heartbeat: A Timeout-Free Failure Detector for Quiescent Reliable Communication" (PDF). Distributed Algorithms. Springer Berlin Heidelberg. Retrieved 4 March 2015.