Introducing Radis

A long time ago, I went out to find a centralized logging solution. This artical is about where I finally arrived.

First, a note about the infrastructure I take care of: the underlying network layout is a load balancing server, connected to the internet, with many backend servers (most of them running Apache HTTPd), some database nodes in a cluster and some special purpose hosts. And one host is supposed for centralized logging.

Market analysis

The first step was a very classical market analysis. Besides syslog, I’ve first heard of Graylog, but I found some more solutions:

Graylog was my favourite choice, and still is. In my earlier days I worked at bytemine together with Bernd Ahlers. That was the first time I’ve heard of centralized logging at all. Today Bernd is working for Graylog and Icinga.

Trial and error

So I got Graylog a try. The first shock was: it is a huge Java application. I’m not telling about that I don’t like Java, but Java applications needs a huge amount of memory. That should be considered. The next surprise was the database backend of Graylog: Elasticssearch. Things get worse, it is a Java application too. And it needs much more memory then Graylog.

But I finally got them installed and working. Graylog has a really nice web frontend, but also the frontend needs not-so-little amount of memory. Not because of Java but of JavaScript. Hint: the frontends works very fast in Google Chrome. Things are not so bad as they seem.

How to put data into Graylog, the easy way

Graylog has an integrated syslog server, listening on both TCP and UDP. I’ve managed some servers putting messages via rsyslog into Graylog. It works out of the box and I’m very happy not touching any config files for that.

But then I’ve read more articles about logging. Syslog is an old-fashioned protocol, and I was advised to avoid Syslog whenever possible. Graylog itself uses GELF messages, which is simply a JSON string containing some mandatory keywords.

How to put data into Graylog, the bloated way

Okay, generating GELF messages on the one hand. That could be managed by each application on its own way. Not really standardized, but GELF is open enough to get almost everything you want in a logging message. I’ve looked at many examples how to do so and many examples still using Syslog for transport.

The earlier version of graylog provides a helper tool, called graylog-radio which managed a reliable queue. Today it is part of the big Graylog server application. To accomplish a really good setup with reliable queues on each server you need to install this huge Java software on every server.

I’m not going to do this. So I had to start a market analysis again.

Reliable logging

Two technologies gaining reliable queues are AMQP and Kafka, for example.

Apache Kafka needs Java so it’s out of the race. RabbitMQ is written in Erlang (that’s okay for me) but hard to configure. I’ve looked at some other solutions, too, but they are either Java bloatware or really hard to configure. Finally, I didn’t managed it. What I need is a really simple software, caching the GELF messages in a reliable queue, in order to push them into Graylog directly or wait until the server becomes available.

Time passes by and I worked on another project that heavily uses a Redis DB. I read some notes about creating reliable queues in a Redis database using a special command named RPOPLPUSH.

Finally I’ve got an idea: what about putting GELF messages into Redis?

Putting things together

Thats not hard at all. Using simple technologies is very important in such concepts. We want reliable logging, over a network, never missing any message, even if the Graylog cluster or network is down for a while. These things are simple, compared to AMQP and Kafka:

  • GELF, a JSON based log format, with 3 required fields and 2 more for a verbose message
  • Redis, a in-memory key-value database, with support for high-availbility cluster setups and persitent storage
  • A helper script, generating GELF messages and putting them with a single command into Redis
  • A helper daemon, listening to the queue in Redis DB and piping them to Graylog via TCP

So I started with the latter task and wrote a Perl script. It does just what I said above: listening to one Redis DB and piping messages to one graylog server. In future, I have to add some more options to support cluster setups, for example. But from now on my script works and fits my needs.

The other task sounds simple but is very tricky. Have you ever told Apache HTTPd to generate a JSON string as logging output? So I need a proxy script. Apache allows me to pipe log messages to a programm. I wrote a second Perl script, reading from standard input and create GELF messages. That time I played with it a bit too much and created a new log format, fitting my needs. But in the end, I don’t think it’s imporant that these short-living messages from Apache to my helper script must be human-readable. They aren’t. By the way, a single GELF message is almost human-readable, but many messages almost not.

Client libraries

After that horrible trip with Apache, there are also good stories. When I wanted to adapt my idea to frameworks like Dancer, Cake, Yii or even Joomla, I’ve got very good documentated APIs allowing me to easily implement a suitable wrapper.

The example code in Perl:

use Redis;
use JSON qw(encode_json);
use Sys::Hostname qw(hostname);

# Connect to Redis DB
my $redis = Redis->new(server => "localhost:6379");

# Build log message
my $message = {
  'host' => hostname(),
  'timestamp' => time(),
  'short_message' => 'Hello!'

# Encode to JSON
my $gelf = encode_json($message);

# Push to queue
$redis->lpush('graylog-queue', $gelf);

PHP is quite similiar, needs one depedency less (because JSON is already part of PHP):

$redis = new Redis();

# Connect to Redis DB
$redis->connect('localhost', 6379);

# Build log message
$message = [
  'host' => gethostname(),
  'timestamp' => time(),
  'short_message' => 'Hello!'

# Encode to JSON
$gelf = json_encode($message);

# Push to queue
$redis->lPush('graylog-queue', $gelf);

And even shell scripting:

echo 'lpush graylog-queue {"host":"'$(hostname)'","timestamp":'$(date +%s)',"short_message":"Hello!"}' | redis-cli

Okay, that example has a few disadvantages, but demonstrate how easy the implementation might be.

Current status

I named the whole concept Radis. The word Radis is derived from Redis and Radio. Radis is not supposed to be a piece of software, a protocol or something. It’s just the concept of passing GELF messages into a Redis DB using the LPUSH command.

A list of software I wrote (and published) for Radis:


  • Publishing the rest of software I wrote, including:
    • radis-daemon which pipes messages form Redis DB to Graylog
    • apache2radis a log wrapper for Apache HTTPd

And last but not least I need feedback. Do you like my idea? Write me. You wanna get involved? Fork me at github. Do you think that is all rubbish and I’m stupid because I wasn’t able to install a piece of software? Yeah, maybe you’re right. Let’s talk about that.

Written on May 2, 2016 — Investigate source code & history
Creative Commons License This blog posting by David Zurborg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License .