Layer 4 Load Balancing Direct Server Return Mode

Direct server return is usually shortened to DSR.

In DSR mode, the load-balancer routes packets to the backends without changing anything in it but the destination MAC address. The backends process the requests and answer directly to the clients, without passing through the load-balancer.

The backends must have the service IP configured on a loopback to be able to accept the requests.

TCP Connection Overview

Layer 4 DSR TCP Connection

As usual when performing layer 4 load-balancing, the TCP connection is established directly between the client and the backend. Note that the requests pass through the load-balancer while the responses not.

Data Flow

Layer 4 DSR Data Flow

As explained above, the load-balancer sees only the requests and just change the destination MAC address of the packets. The backends answers directly to the client using the service IP configured on a loopback interface.

Pros and Cons


  • Very fast load-balancing mode
  • Load-balancer network bandwidth is not a bottleneck anymore
  • Total output bandwidth is the sum of each backend bandwidth
  • Less intrusive than layer 4 load-balancing NAT mode


  • The service VIP must be configured on a loopback interface on each backend and must not answer to ARP requests
  • No layer 7 advanced features are available

When Use This Architecture

  • Where response time matters
  • Where no intelligence is required
  • When output capacity of the load-balancer could be the bottleneck