Flogger Best Practices

Flogger Best Practices

When possible, log objects, not strings

It’s good to remember that a logging backend might not necessarily be outputting only plain text files. For a statement such as

logger.atInfo().log("Received message is: %s", proto)

the backend has the opportunity to do more interesting things with the data in its original, structured form.

On the other hand, with either of these calls:

logger.atInfo().log("Received message is: %s", proto.toString())
logger.atInfo().log("Received message is: " + proto);

that opportunity is lost.

Of course, you may know that you’re not using any advanced structured logging features at the moment, but if it’s not causing any problems, we still recommend this as a good rule of thumb for logging hygiene.

Avoid doing work at log sites

Flogger is designed to make disabled logging statements virtually free, so that more of them can be left intact in the code without harm. This is a great advantage, but unfortunately it can be defeated easily:

logger.atFine().log("stats=%s", createSummaryOf(stats));

createSummaryOf will now be called every time, regardless of configured log levels or rate limiting.

Here’s how to fix this problem, in order of preference.

1. Use lazy (Java 8+):

Import this method from the LazyArgs class.

// Almost no work done at the log site and structure is preserved.
logger.atFine().log("stats=%s", lazy(() -> createSummaryOf(stats)));

With this simple change, almost no work is done at the log site (just instance creation for the lambda expression). Flogger will only evaluate this lambda if it intends to actually log the message.

2. Use the toString() method of the logged value:

If stats.toString() happens to produce the text you want, you can make use of it like this:

// No work done at the log site, but structure is lost.
logger.atFine().log("stats=%s", stats);

You might even create a wrapper so as to have the toString behavior you want:

// Almost no work done at the log site, but structure is lost.
logger.atFine().log("stats=%s", new MyNewStatsFormatter(stats));

Note that either approach removes structure from the logged value and is only suitable in cases where the value being logged is “string like”. For structured values (e.g. protocol buffer messages), prefer lazy().

3. Guard the log statement using isEnabled():

Avoid this last-resort option if at all possible.

// No work done for disabled log statements, but code is less maintainable.
// The "guarding" log level must be kept in sync with the "logging" level.
if (logger.atFine().isEnabled()) {
  Foo foo = doComplexThing();
  Bar bar = doOtherComplexThing();
  Statistics stats = calculateStatsFrom(foo, bar);
  logger.atFine().log("stats=%s", createSummaryOf(stats));
}

Note also that this approach only guards log statements by level and does not help with rate-limited log statements.

Don’t be afraid to add fine-grained logging to your code

Consider:

for (Thing t : things) {
  int status = process(t);
  logger.atFinest().log("processed %s, status=%x", t, status);
}

The log statement may be essential in debugging an important issue, but will it slow down the (possibly time critical) loop?

With Flogger, log statements such as the one above will never cause an object allocation to occur when they are disabled. No varargs arrays are created (up to 10 parameters) and no auto-boxing is necessary (up to 2 parameters).

Hot-spot compilation of this code should result in the cost of the disabled log statement being immeasurably small.

Note that it is not always wise to simply enable “fine” logging everywhere during debugging, and doing so on a production system can cause issues due to the sheer volume of additional logs (enabling “finest” logging may flood the logs on many production systems).

When you want to enable fine-grained logging in production, you should do it selectively for only the classes or packages you are concerned with, or on a per-task/per-request basis using ScopedLoggingContext with a LogLevelMap. Using ScopedLoggingContext also permits the bypassing of rate-limited log statements within a task/request to ensure you see all available debug logs.

Use string literals for your log messages and avoid string concatenation

Even if you are unconcerned with “avoiding work” or with structured logging, there are still other reasons to avoid using string concatenation to create your log message.

  • It separates safe string literals from possible user data, which might need filtering (e.g., if it contains Personally Identifiable Information).
  • Flogger can cache the result of parsing a message template if the log message was a string literal.

Don’t pass loggers between classes

Only log via a single static logger instance that’s created inside the same source file as the log statement. There is generally no reason to pass a logger from one class to another.

Why do people think that loggers should be passed between classes?

I think the primary reason is that people misunderstand where the class name in log output comes from. It is not based on the name of the logger; it’s the location of the log statement, regardless of the name of the logger used.

The logger instance does affect the configuration of the logger, but if all loggers use the same configuration (which is very common) then different logger instances will behave identically and there no reason to pass them around.

Static helper classes

One common anti-pattern is passing loggers into static helper methods in utility classes (e.g. where common metadata is added to all log statements). Having a static helper for logging is okay in some circumstances, but it comes with downsides, and in general you should never need to pass the logger itself in (just use a static logger in the utility class).

For example consider:

LogHelper.logInfo(logger, message, args);

where logInfo might be:

public static void logInfo(GoogleLogger logger, String msg, Object... args) {
  logger.atInfo().with(SOME_METADATA_KEY, getValue()).log(msg, args);
}

There are several distinct downsides to this approach:

  • Log site injection will not work as expected (all logs are now identified as coming from the one line of code in the helper class).
  • You now have an additional, possibly confusing, public API that all future maintainers of the codebase need to be aware of.
  • You reduce you ability to reuse and refactor common code which does logging (since a common library would not use this helper class).

Overall while these utilities can have value, it can also be a burden on future maintainers to use helper classes like this. See also LogSite for more information on how to implement better static helper methods.

Don’t create a Throwable just to log it

There is no need to do this:

logger.atInfo().withCause(new Exception()).log("Message");

You should do this instead:

logger.atInfo().withStackTrace(<SIZE>).log("Message");

where <SIZE> is one of the StackSize enum constants, SMALL, MEDIUM, LARGE or FULL.

A stack trace generated by withStackTrace() will show up as a LogSiteStackTrace exception in the default java.util.logging backend. Other backends may choose to handle this differently though.

Loggers should always be private static final

Why final? The logger for a class should never need to change. If you need to change logging configuration at runtime, you should do that according to the chosen logging backend in your system. Replacing the logger itself is disruptive for no particular upside.

Why static? Most obviously, some loggers must be static, because they will be used from static initializers. And since logger usage should be consistent throughout a codebase, this implies all loggers should be static. Logging behavior should be the same throughout a class’s lifetime, and making a logger static ensures that it will be a singleton. Additionally there is a slight performance advantage, of course: no need to make a new logger for each object.

Why private? Public loggers are bad for encapsulation (why should another class get to use your logger?), and for refactoring. The three most common reasons developers want to make a logger more visible, and the reasons not to do so, are:

  1. For convenience, so that subclasses don’t need to define their own logger. This is not a good enough reason: declare a dedicated logger in each subclass.
  2. For testing, either to change logging behavior in tests, or to test what logs are emitted. In both cases, this is discouraged, and better alternatives exist.
  3. Passing a logger to another class, or another method, so that it can log “on your behalf”. In general this does not work.

Loggers in interfaces

Java 8 introduced interface default and static methods, and you may find yourself wanting to use a logger in one of these cases. Because interfaces do not support private fields, the alternative recommendation is to create an inner class to hold the logger privately:

public interface FooInterface {
  default void doSomething() {
    FooInterfacePrivate.logger.atWarning().log("doSomething not overridden");
  }

  /** Do not use. Exists only to hide implementation details of this interface. */
  final class FooInterfacePrivate {
    private static final GoogleLogger logger = GoogleLogger.forEnclosingClass();

    private FooInterfacePrivate() {}
  }
}

Make the logger the first static field in a class

The following code fails with a NullPointerException:

private static final Data data = initStaticData();
private static final GoogleLogger logger = GoogleLogger.forEnclosingClass();

private static Data initStaticData() {
  logger.atInfo().log("Initializing static data");
  ...
}

When initStaticData() is called, the static logger field is still null. A habit of initializing your logger first will prevent this problem.

Avoid circular dependencies during initialization using a lazy-holder

If using a static field to hold a logger doesn’t work because of circular dependencies during static initialization (i.e. your class must be initialized before the fluent logger can be initialized), you can lazily instantiate your logger using the “lazy static holder” pattern (see “Effective Java”, 2nd ed. “Item 71: Use lazy initialization judiciously”).

For example:

public class MyClassInitializedBeforeFlogger {
  // Cannot initialize logger early; see https://google.github.io/flogger/best_practice#lazy-logging
  private static final class LazyLogger {
    private static final GoogleLogger logger = GoogleLogger.forEnclosingClass();
  }

  void methodCalledDuringNormalVmOperation() {
    // Logger initialization is deferred until the first time logging occurs.
    LazyLogger.logger.atInfo().log("Normal log message");
  }
}

However you should only use the following approach if there’s a definite problem with using a normal static field to reference a logger, and you should comment it carefully.

Note that you still can’t invoke the logger during your class’s static initialization, or at any point before the fluent logger library is initialized.

Don’t log and throw

When throwing an exception, let the surrounding code choose whether to log it. When you log it yourself first, it often ends up being logged multiple times, creating the misleading impression that multiple issues need investigating.

Don’t split log statements

Flogger’s “fluent” API is designed for log statements to exist as a single statement. The Api instance returned by a logger is not safe to use on its own.

GoogleLogger.Api api = logger.atInfo();
...
api.log("message");

Splitting a log statement causes several issues such as:

  • Incorrect timestamps in log statements
  • Incorrect or even broken log site injection
  • Errors due to accidental reuse (the Api is a one-use instance)
  • Errors due to concurrent logging in different threads

Flogger’s API is designed to never need you to split the Api out like this, so if you think you really need to do it, please contact g/flogger-discuss.

One misconception is that you need to do this to make conditional calls on fluent methods, such as:

GoogleLogger.Api api = logger.atInfo();
if (wantRateLimiting) {
  api.atMostEvery(5, SECONDS);
}
api.log("message");

This is never needed, since any fluent methods expected to be conditional accept “no-op” parameters. The below examples have no effect in log statements:

  • atMostEvery(0, unit)
  • every(1)
  • withCause(null)
  • withStackTrace(StackSize.NONE)

Thus the above example can be written as:

logger.atInfo()
    .atMostEvery(wantRateLimiting ? 5 : 0, SECONDS)
    .log("message");

Or you can add a helper method to return the log period if used in many places.

Use LogSite to implement non-trivial logging helper methods

While it is generally unnecessary and bad practice to implement lots of logging helper methods, one legitimate use-case (which has lead to people wanting to split the logging API out) is the desire to implement project specific logging behaviour. The naïve way to write such a method might be:

/** Call this whenever a FooException is caught and handled. */
public static void logFooFailure(FooException error, String message) {
  logger.at(getLogLevelFor(error))
      .atMostEvery(FAILURE_RATE_LIMIT_SECONDS, SECONDS)
      .withCause(error.shouldAlert() ? error : null)
      .log("Foo failure[%s]: %s", error.getStatus(), message);
}

The trouble with this approach is that now, all logs appear to come from the same location, and the rate limiting happens across all calls.

Developers sometimes attempt to work around this problem by splitting the log statement and returning the logging Api from the helper so the log() method can be invoked on the caller’s side. This works only by accident, since log site determination is currently done in the log() method, but that’s not guaranteed and it could easily enough be implemented in the logger.

Relying on specific implementation details like this makes code very fragile (which is why splitting log statements is such a bad idea).

The way to handle this issue properly is to have the calling code obtain a LogSite and inject that into the log statement.

public static void logFooFailure(FooException error, String message) {
  logger.at(getLogLevelFor(error))
      .withInjectedLogSite(LogSites.callerOf(MyClass.class))
      .atMostEvery(FAILURE_RATE_LIMIT_SECONDS, SECONDS)
      .withCause(error.shouldAlert() ? error : null)
      .log("Foo failure[%s]: %s", error.getStatus(), message);

You can also obtain a LogSite for the current line of code using LogSites.logSite() if you cannot use LogSites.callerOf(...) for any reason, but it’s a more error-prone approach since it effectively separates the log statement into two parts.

Now the rate limiting would be per-caller of the helper method and the logs would show that location instead of the eventual logging call. It’s as if the helper method were part of the fluent logger’s API.

One significant caveat here is that the determination of the log site might be “expensive” (requiring stack trace analysis) so it’s not a great idea to use it for logging that’s typically going to be disabled by default (e.g. FINE or below). This often isn’t an issue however since the typical use case for this approach is to handle complex logging, which usually means logging failure and errors, which are almost always enabled and already doing significant work.