Logging and error reporting

Having a good system for logging error reporting is essential to making a large project like Zulip successful. Without reliable error reporting, one has to rely solely on bug reports from users in order to produce a working product.

Our goal as a project is to have zero known 500 errors on the backend and zero known JavaScript exceptions on the frontend. While there will always be new bugs being introduced, that goal is impossible without an efficient and effective error reporting framework.

We provide integration with Sentry to make it easier for very large installations like zulip.com to manage their exceptions and ensure they are all tracked down, but our default email-based system is great for small installations.

Backend error reporting

The [Django][django-errors] framework provides much of the infrastructure needed by our error reporting system:

  • The ability to send emails to the server’s administrators with any 500 errors, using django.utils.log.AdminEmailHandler.

  • The ability to rate-limit certain errors to avoid sending hundreds of emails in an outage (see _RateLimitFilter in zerver/lib/logging_util.py)

  • A nice framework for filtering passwords and other important user data from the exception details, which we use in zerver/filters.py.

  • Middleware for handling JsonableError, which is our standard system for API code to return a JSON-format HTTP error response.

Since 500 errors in any Zulip server are usually a problem the server administrator should investigate and/or report upstream, we have this email reporting system configured to report errors by default.

Sentry error logging

Zulip’s optional backend Sentry integration will aggregate errors to show which users and realms are affected, any logging which happened prior to the exception, local variables in each frame of the exception, and the full request headers which triggered it.

You can enable it by:

  1. Create a project in your Sentry organization with a platform of “Django.”

  2. Copy your Sentry DSN into /etc/zulip/settings.py as SENTRY_DSN:

    ## Controls the DSN used to report errors to Sentry.io
    SENTRY_DSN = "https://bbb@bbb.ingest.sentry.io/1234"
  3. As the zulip user, restart Zulip by running:


You may also want to enable Zulip’s Sentry deploy hook.

Backend logging

Django’s logging system uses the standard Python logging infrastructure. We have configured them so that logging.exception and logging.error get emailed to the server maintainer, while logging.warning will just appear in /var/log/zulip/errors.log. Lower log levels just appear in the main server log (as well as in the log for corresponding process, be it django.log for the main Django processes or the appropriate events_* log file for a queue worker).

Backend logging format

The main Zulip server log contains a line for each backend request. It also contains warnings, errors, and the full tracebacks for any Python exceptions. In production, it goes to /var/log/zulip/server.log; in development, it goes to the terminal where you run run-dev.

In development, it’s good to keep an eye on the run-dev console as you work on backend changes, since it’s a great way to notice bugs you just introduced.

In production, one usually wants to look at errors.log for errors since the main server log can be very verbose, but the main server log can be extremely valuable for investigating performance problems.

2016-05-20 14:50:22.056 INFO [zr]       GET     302 528ms (db: 1ms/1q) (+start: 123ms) / (unauth@zulip via ?)
[20/May/2016 14:50:22]"GET / HTTP/1.0" 302 0
2016-05-20 14:50:22.272 INFO [zr]       GET     200 124ms (db: 3ms/2q) /login/ (unauth@zulip via ?)
2016-05-20 14:50:26.333 INFO [zr]       POST    302  37ms (db: 6ms/7q) /accounts/login/local/ (unauth@zulip via ?)
[20/May/2016 14:50:26]"POST /accounts/login/local/ HTTP/1.0" 302 0
2016-05-20 14:50:26.538 INFO [zr]       POST    200  12ms (db: 1ms/2q) (+start: 53ms) /api/v1/events/internal [1463769771:0/0] (8@zulip via internal)
2016-05-20 14:50:26.657 INFO [zr]       POST    200  10ms (+start: 8ms) /api/v1/events/internal [1463769771:0/0] (8@zulip via internal)
2016-05-20 14:50:26.959 INFO [zr]       GET     200 588ms (db: 26ms/21q) / [1463769771:0] (8@zulip via website)

The format of this output is:

  • Timestamp

  • Log level

  • Logger name, abbreviated as “zr” for these Zulip request logs

  • IP address

  • HTTP method

  • HTTP status code

  • Time to process

  • (Optional perf data details, e.g. database time/queries, memcached time/queries, Django process startup time, Markdown processing time, etc.)

  • Endpoint/URL from zproject/urls.py

  • “email via client” showing user account involved (if logged in) and the type of client they used (“web”, “Android”, etc.).

The performance data details are particularly useful for investigating performance problems, since one can see at a glance whether a slow request was caused by delays in the database, in the Markdown processor, in memcached, or in other Python code.

One useful thing to note, however, is that the database time is only the time spent connecting to and receiving a response from the database. Especially when response are large, there can often be a great deal of Python processing overhead to marshall the data from the database into Django objects that is not accounted for in these numbers.

Searching backend log files

Zulip comes with a tool, ./scripts/log-search, to quickly search through the main server.log log file based on a number of different axes – including client IP address, client user-id, request path, response code. It can also search the NGINX logs, which provide similar information.

Because often the requests to static resources, or to things like user avatars, are not as important, they are also filtered out of the output by default.

The output shows timestamp, request duration, client IP address, response code, and request method, hostname, and path; any property which is limited by the tool is not displayed, for conciseness:

zulip@example-prod:~/deployments/current$ ./scripts/log-search realm-name
22:30:36.593     1ms         2606:2800:220:1:248:1893:25c8:1946       302 GET    /
22:30:42.508   366ms         2606:2800:220:1:248:1893:25c8:1946       200 GET    /login/
23:18:30.977     1ms                            302 GET    /
23:18:31.286   132ms                            200 GET    /login/
23:18:48.094    20ms                            200 GET    /accounts/password/reset/
23:18:51.520   149ms                            200 GET    /login/
23:18:59.420    20ms                            200 GET    /accounts/password/reset/
23:19:02.929  1300ms                            302 POST   /accounts/password/reset/
23:19:03.056    93ms                            200 GET    /accounts/password/reset/done/
23:19:08.911    26ms                            302 GET    /accounts/password/reset/OA/b56jfp-bd80ee99b98e703456b3bdcd91892be2/
23:19:09.189   116ms                            200 GET    /accounts/password/reset/OA/set-password/
23:19:18.743   215ms                            302 POST   /accounts/password/reset/OA/set-password/
23:19:18.779    12ms                            200 GET    /accounts/password/done/
23:19:20.796    12ms                            200 GET    /accounts/login/
23:19:29.323   295ms 8@                            302 POST   /accounts/login/
23:19:29.704   362ms 8@                            200 GET    /
23:20:04.980   110ms 8@                            200 DELETE /json/users/me/subscriptions

zulip@example-prod:~/deployments/current$ ./scripts/log-search 2606:2800:220:1:248:1893:25c8:1946
22:30:36.593     1ms          302 GET    https://realm-one.example-prod.example.com/
22:30:42.508   366ms          200 GET    https://realm-one.example-prod.example.com/login/

See ./scripts/log-search --help for complete documentation.

Blueslip frontend error reporting

We have a custom library, called blueslip (named after the form used at MIT to report problems with the facilities), that logs and reports JavaScript errors in the browser. In production, this uses Sentry (if configured) to report and aggregate errors. In development, this means displaying a highly visible overlay over the message view area, to make exceptions in testing a new feature hard to miss.

  • Blueslip is implemented in web/src/blueslip.ts.

  • In order to capture essentially any error occurring in the browser, in development mode Blueslip listens for the error event on window.

  • It also has methods for being manually triggered by Zulip JavaScript code for warnings and assertion failures. Explicit blueslip.error calls are sent to Sentry, if configured.

  • Blueslip keeps a log of all the notices it has received during a browser session, so that one can see cases where exceptions chained together. You can print this log from the browser console using blueslip = require("./src/blueslip"); blueslip.get_log().

Blueslip supports several error levels:

  • throw new Error(…): For fatal errors that cannot be easily recovered from. We try to avoid using it, since it kills the current JS thread, rather than returning execution to the caller.

  • blueslip.error: For logging of events that are definitely caused by a bug and thus sufficiently important to be reported, but where we can handle the error without creating major user-facing problems (e.g. an exception when handling a presence update).

  • blueslip.warn: For logging of events that are a problem but not important enough to log an error to Sentry in production. They are, however, highlighted in the JS console in development, and appear as breadcrumb logs in Sentry in production.

  • blueslip.log (and blueslip.info): Logged to the JS console in development and also in the Sentry breadcrumb log in production. Useful for data that might help discern what state the browser was in during an error (e.g. whether the user was in a narrow).

  • blueslip.debug: Similar to blueslip.log, but are not printed to the JS console in development.

Sentry JavaScript error logging

Zulip’s optional JavaScript Sentry integration will aggregate errors to show which users and realms are affected, any logging which happened prior to the exception, and any DOM interactions which happened prior to the error.

You can enable it by:

  1. Create a project in your Sentry organization with a platform of “JavaScript.”

  2. Copy your Sentry DSN into /etc/zulip/settings.py as SENTRY_FRONTEND_DSN:

    ## Controls the DSN used to report JavaScript errors to Sentry.io
    SENTRY_FRONTEND_DSN = "https://bbb@bbb.ingest.sentry.io/1234"
  3. If you wish to sample some fraction of the errors, you should adjust SENTRY_FRONTEND_SAMPLE_RATE down from 1.0.

  4. As the zulip user, restart Zulip by running:


You may also want to enable Zulip’s Sentry deploy hook.

Frontend performance reporting

In order to make it easier to debug potential performance problems in the critically latency-sensitive message sending code pathway, we log and report to the server the following whenever a message is sent:

  • The time the user triggered the message (aka the start time).

  • The time the send_message response returned from the server.

  • The time the message was received by the browser from the get_events protocol (these last two race with each other).

  • Whether the message was locally echoed.

  • If so, whether there was a disparity between the echoed content and the server-rendered content, which can be used for statistics on how effective our local echo system is.

The code is all in zerver/lib/report.py and web/src/sent_messages.ts.

We have similar reporting for the time it takes to narrow / switch to a new view:

  • The time the action was initiated

  • The time when the updated message feed was visible to the user

  • The time when the browser was idle again after switching views (intended to catch issues where we generate a lot of deferred work).