Logging is the Great Mystery of Our Time

Whenever I can’t find something on Google easily it typically comes down to one of two reasons:

  1. I am phrasing my question so wrong that it’s not turning up useful results
  2. No one has ever asked this question before

The first is frustrating but if you’re paying attention to the results you do get and exercise some cleverness you can muddle your way to whatever you’re really after.

The second is the real problem. No one has ever asked this question before? On Google? …ever?! What is more likely is what I’ve been experiencing while trying to learn about logging (in the context of application development). It’s been a perfect storm of:

My issue is that I don’t really know exactly what I’m asking for. This old Stackoverflow question/answer got me part of the way there (and that person very graciously updated their answer when I asked a followup question!) The phrase “best practices” lead me to a useful Reddit discussion, which helped me refine my Google fu and brought me to a pretty excellent, but also quite old, Ruby Rouge’s podcast. All of this was over many hours of trial and error which in Internet time is eons.

Spongebob meme: Logging

Why is logging such a difficult thing to research? For one thing it’s not a sexy topic in the development community. Another issue is that although there are about 1000 different ways to handle application logging, it’s not a hotly debated topic so you don’t find tons of forum posts with flame wars raging. Also the type of logging you do varies drastically depending on the size and complexity of your application. Small, simple applications use the Ruby standard library Logger and that’s pretty much that. Big applications built on frameworks like Rails have logging built in so it’s sort of taken for granted. There are tons of logging gems that are “better” but it’s difficult to discern why they are better when you can’t find any definitive steps on “how to log.”

Now that I have a (tenuous) handle on what logging is all about, particularly for small webservice/utilities like I’m creating, I’ve settled on this method:

This solutions gives you one, consistently formatted log, that you can write to from anywhere in your application, and doesn’t necessitate instantiating tons of logger objects or including logger methods in all your classes. This solution would probably blow up on a complicated or high load application, but as Time Pease said in the Ruby Rouges podcast above: “do what works until it doesn’t.”

Update 2014-08-28: I wrote even more words about logging in the form of a tutorial. Now that you’re done here, check out All Rubyists Love Logging on SitePoint.