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Monitoring many Postgres files at once with tail_n_mail

By Greg Sabino Mullane
May 8, 2012

This post discusses version 1.25.0 of tail_n_mail, which can be downloaded at https://bucardo.org/tail_n_mail/

One of our clients recently had one of their Postgres servers crash. In technical terms, it issued a PANIC because it tried to commit a transaction that had already been committed. We are using tail_n_mail for this client, and while we got notified six ways to Sunday about the server being down (from Nagios, tail_n_mail, and other systems), I was curious as to why the actual PANIC had not gotten picked up by tail_n_mail and mailed out to us.

The tail_n_mail program at its simplest is a Perl script that greps through log files, finds items of interest, and mails them out. It does quite a bit more than that, of course, including normalizing SQL, figuring out which log files to scan, and analyzing the data on the fly. This particular client of ours consolidates all of their logs to some central logging boxes via rsyslog. For the host in question that issued the PANIC, we had two tail_n_mail config files that looked like this:

## Config file for the tail_n_mail program
## This file is automatically updated
## Last updated: Fri Apr 27 18:00:01 2012

INHERIT: tail_n_mail.fatals.global.txt

FILE: /var/log/%Y/groucho/%m/%d/%H/pgsql-err.log
LASTFILE: /var/log/2012/groucho/04/27/18/pgsql-err.log
OFFSET: 10199
## Config file for the tail_n_mail program
## This file is automatically updated
## Last updated: Fri Apr 27 18:00:01 2012

INHERIT: tail_n_mail.fatals.global.txt

FILE: /var/log/%Y/groucho/%m/%d/%H/pgsql-warning.log
LASTFILE: /var/log/2012/groucho/04/27/18/pgsql-warning.log
OFFSET: 7145

The reason for two files was that rsyslog was splitting the incoming Postgres logs into multiple files. Which is normally a very handy thing, because the main file, pgsql-info.log, is quite large, and it’s nice to have the mundane things filtered out for us already. Because rsyslog also splits things based on the timestamp, we don’t give it an exact file name, but use a POSIX template instead, e.g. /var/log/apps/%Y/groucho/%m/%d/%H/pgsql-warning.log. By doing this, tail_n_mail knows where to find the latest file. It also uses the LASTFILE and OFFSET to know exactly where it stopped last time, and then walks through all files from LASTFILE until the current one.

So why did we miss the PANIC? Because it was in a heretofore unseen and untracked log file known as pgsql-crit.log. (Which goes to show how rarely Postgres crashes: this was the first time in well over 700,000 log files generated that a PANIC had occurred!) At this point, the solution was to either create yet another set of config files for each host to watch for and parse any pgsql-crit.log files, or to give tail_n_mail some more brains and allow it to handle multiple FILE entries in a single config file. Obviously, I chose the latter.

After some period of coding, testing, debugging, and caffeine consumption, a new tail_n_mail was ready. This one (version 1.25.0) allows multiple values of the FILE parameter inside of a single config. Thus, for the above, I was able to combine everything into a single tail_n_mail config file like so:


INHERIT: tail_n_mail.fatals.global.txt

FILE: /var/log/%Y/groucho/%m/%d/%H/pgsql-warning.log
FILE: /var/log/%Y/groucho/%m/%d/%H/pgsql-err.log
FILE: /var/log/%Y/groucho/%m/%d/%H/pgsql-crit.log

The INHERIT file is a way of keeping common config items in a single file: in this case, groucho and a bunch of other similar hosts all use it. It contains the rules on what tail_n_mail should care about, and looks similar to this:

## Global behavior for all "fatals" configs
EMAIL: acme-alerts@endpoint.com
FROM: postgres@endpoint.com

## Client specific exceptions:
EXCLUDE: ERROR:  Anvils cannot be delivered via USPS
EXCLUDE: ERROR:  Jetpack fuel quantity missing
EXCLUDE: ERROR:  Iron Carrots and Giant Magnets must go to different addresses
EXCLUDE: ERROR:  Rocket Powered Rollerskates no longer available

## Postgres excceptions:
EXCLUDE: ERROR:  aggregates not allowed in WHERE clause
EXCLUDE: ERROR:  negative substring length not allowed
EXCLUDE: ERROR:  there is no escaped character
EXCLUDE: ERROR:  operator is not unique
EXCLUDE: ERROR:  cannot insert multiple commands into a prepared statement
EXCLUDE: ERROR:  value "\d+" is out of range for type integer
EXCLUDE: ERROR:  could not serialize access due to concurrent update

Thus, we only have one file per host to worry about, in addition to a common shared file across all hosts. So now tail_n_mail can handle multiple files over a time dimension (by walking forward from LASTFILE to the present), as well as over a vertical dimension (by forcing together the files split by rsyslog). However, there is no reason we cannot handle multiple files over a horizontal dimension as well. In other words, putting multiple hosts into a single file. In this client’s case, there were other hosts very similar to “groucho” that had files we wanted to monitor. Thus, the config file was changed to look like this:


INHERIT: tail_n_mail.fatals.global.txt

FILE: /var/log/%Y/groucho/%m/%d/%H/pgsql-warning.log
FILE: /var/log/%Y/groucho/%m/%d/%H/pgsql-err.log
FILE: /var/log/%Y/groucho/%m/%d/%H/pgsql-crit.log

FILE: /var/log/%Y/dawson/%m/%d/%H/pgsql-warning.log
FILE: /var/log/%Y/dawson/%m/%d/%H/pgsql-err.log
FILE: /var/log/%Y/dawson/%m/%d/%H/pgsql-crit.log

FILE: /var/log/%Y/cosby/%m/%d/%H/pgsql-warning.log
FILE: /var/log/%Y/cosby/%m/%d/%H/pgsql-err.log
FILE: /var/log/%Y/cosby/%m/%d/%H/pgsql-crit.log

We’ve just whittled nine config files down to a single one. Of course, the config file cannot stay like that, as the LASTFILE and OFFSET entries need to be applied to specific files. Thus, when tail_n_mail does its first rewrite of the config file, it will assign numbers to each FILE, and the file will then look something like this:

FILE1: /var/log/%Y/groucho/%m/%d/%H/pgsql-warning.log
LASTFILE1: /var/log/2012/groucho/04/27/18/pgsql-warning.log
OFFSET1: 100

FILE2: /var/log/%Y/groucho/%m/%d/%H/pgsql-err.log
LASTFILE2: /var/log/2012/groucho/04/27/18/pgsql-err.log
OFFSET2: 2531

FILE3: /var/log/%Y/groucho/%m/%d/%H/pgsql-crit.log

FILE4: /var/log/%Y/dawson/%m/%d/%H/pgsql-warning.log
LASTFILE4: /var/log/2012/dawson/04/27/18/pgsql-warning.log

# etc.

By using this technique, we were able to reduce a slew of config files (the actual number was around 60), and their crontab entries, into a single config file and a single cron call. We also have a daily “error” report that mails a summary of all ERROR/FATAL calls in the last 24 hours. These were consolidated into a single email, rather than the half dozen that appeared before.

While tail_n_mail has a lot of built-in intelligence to handle Postgres logs, it is ultimately regex-based and can be used on any files which you want to track and receive alerts when certain items appear inside of them, so feel free to use it for more than just Postgres!

monitoring postgres


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