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Logging with Docker 1.0.1

Docker encourages its users to build containers that log to standard out or standard error. In fact, its now common practice to do so. Your process controller (uWSGI/Gunicorn) should combine the logs from all processes and do something useful with them. Like write them all to a file without your app having to worry about locking. Or, maybe even to Syslog.

Docker supports this practice and collects logs for us. In JSON to add missing timestamps and to work well with LogStash. But, what is a show stopping issue for us is that these files grow boundlessly. You cannot use the logrotate utility with them because the Docker daemon will not re-open the file. Well, unless you stop/start the specific container. Docker logging issues are an ongoing topic and this is clearly an area where Docker will improve in the future.

There are two other widely accepted ways of working around this:

  • Bind mount in /dev/log and off load logs to the host’s Syslog
  • Mount a volume from the host or a different container where logs will be processed.

The second point is out. Same problem of not being able to easily tell the app to re-open files for log rotation without restarting the container.

Using /dev/log and off loading logs to the system’s log daemon sounds like a good idea. The Docker host can provide this service arbitrarily to all containers. Containers need not deal with (much) logging complexity inside them.

This approach has multiple problems.

Off loading logs to the host’s Syslog most likely means that you want to add some additional configuration to rsyslog which requires a restart of the rsyslog daemon. (Say, you want to stick your logs in a specific, app-specific file.) The first thing rsyslog does when it starts is (re-)create the /dev/log socket. At this point, any running Docker container that has already bind mounted /dev/log now has an old socket not the newly created one. In any case, rsyslog is no longer listening to any of the currently running containers for logs. Full stop. This method doesn’t pass the smoke test.

What ended up working for me was using the network, but it added complexity to the Docker host. I’m managing Docker hosts with Ansible so this wasn’t a huge problem. I’d rather tune my Docker hosts than alter each image and container. I set the network range on the docker0 bridge interface to a specific and private IP range. Now, my Docker hosts always have a known IP address that my Docker containers can make connections to. In /etc/default/docker:

DOCKER_OPTS="--ip --bip"

I configured rsyslog on the host to listen for UDP traffic and bind only to this private address:

$ModLoad imudp
$UDPServerRun 514

I then built my image to run the process with its output piped to logger using the -n option to specify my syslog server. Guess what. No logs.

The util-linux in Ubuntu Trusty (and other releases) is 2.20 which dates from 2011-ish. The logger utility has known bugs. Specifically that the -n option is ignored silently unless you also specify a local UNIX socket to write to. This version of util-linux also does not have the nsenter command which is very handy when working with Docker containers either. (See here for nsenter.) This is a pretty big frustration.

The final solution was to make my incantations in my Dockerfiles slightly more complex for apps that do not directly support Syslog. But, it works. :

CMD foobar-server --options 2>&1 \
    | logger -n -u /dev/null -t foobar-server -p local0.notice

I promise I’m not logging to /dev/null.

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