“Frequently” is probably an overstatement, but here’s a collection of questions and answers that pop up on the mailing list and issues.

I don’t like a particular label on the metrics. How do I remove it?

All the labels are under your own control, except for the prog label which is used for namespace deconfliction – i.e. multiple programs can be running in mtail and they should not be able to affect each other.

It is best if you do some post processing in your collection system and configure it to filter out the prog label, so that strange aggregations don’t occur.

In Prometheus, this could be achieved like so:

   - target_label: prog
     replacement: ''

(See this comment).

mtail isn’t propagating the scraped timestamp to Prometheus

mtail lets you use the settimestamp() function to extract a timestamp from a log file, and use that timestamp to carry to the monitoring system the closest thing that mtail knows to be the actual time of the event, and not the time at which mtail scraped the log.

However, Prometheus needs to track the existence of a metric in the time series database in order to avoid showing very old data when querying the same metric for multiple instances at a specific timestamp. Exposing the timestamp can lead to triggering this staleness handling.

mtail, being a metric creator, falls under bbrazil’s comment on the prometheus-users list, in which he says “It doesn’t make sense to have timestamps for direct instrumentation, only for proxying metrics from another monitoring system with a custom collector.”.

The mtail timestamp handling is also broken for counters. The timestamp is set to 0 (UNIX epoch) at startup. If no matches are made, the initial zero count will never be ingested and the metric will only appear when first incremented. To avoid this, mtail disables exporting timestamps to Prometheus by default.

You can turn this behaviour back on with the --emit_metric_timestamp commandline flag, and if you have slow moving counters, you should tune your Prometheus’ query.lookback-delta parameter. See also Staleness under Querying Basics in the Prometheus docs.

If you are looking to expose the timestamp of an event, for example the start time of a process, you can create a timestamp metric. This is a metric that contains the timestamp as the value:

counter mtail_lines_read_count by filename
gauge mtail_file_lastread_timestamp by filename

/.*/ {
  mtail_file_lastread_timestamp[getfilename()] = timestamp()

Why doesn’t mtail persist variables and metric values between restarts?

mtail is intended to be stateless, deferring the problem of long term metric storage to a timeseries database and collector like Prometheus.

Partially this reason is technical – not having to save checkpoints and restore them makes the program much simpler.

This means that mtail programs should prefer metrics that perform better in stateless systems, like counters rather than gauges. Prometheus for example is capable of handling counter resets in its rate and delta calculations, so mtail not remembering the value of a metric should not be cause for concern.

Another reason is that failure is normal, and thus Prometheus handles these counter restarts because they are normal. If mtail checkpointed its state, filesystem and state file corruption will still occur, and in those edge cases a counter reset would still be observed, and thus need to be handled regardless.

So, given that the monitoring system needs to handle missing and resetting data already in a distributed system, there is no compelling reason to implement metric checkpointing in mtail as well. It just adds complexity for little overall gain.

Why doesn’t mtail automatically reload programme files?

mtail will reload programme files when it receives a SIGHUP signal.

It’s assumed that programmes do not change very often, so it relies on an external trigger rather than spend resourecs of its own polling for changes at all. inotify is not used either, as programme reloads would be the only use of that library, and the benefit does not seem worth the cost of including the extra dependency.

See the Deployment guide for suggestions for “automatic” programme reloads.