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Logging Architecture

Application logs can help you understand what is happening inside your application. The logs are particularly useful for debugging problems and monitoring cluster activity. Most modern applications have some kind of logging mechanism. Likewise, container engines are designed to support logging. The easiest and most adopted logging method for containerized applications is writing to standard output and standard error streams.

However, the native functionality provided by a container engine or runtime is usually not enough for a complete logging solution. For example, you may want access your application's logs if a container crashes; a pod gets evicted; or a node dies. In a cluster, logs should have a separate storage and lifecycle independent of nodes, pods, or containers. This concept is called cluster-level logging.

Cluster-level logging architectures require a separate backend to store, analyze, and query logs. Kubernetes does not provide a native storage solution for log data. Instead, there are many logging solutions that integrate with Kubernetes. The following sections describe how to handle and store logs on nodes.

Basic logging in Kubernetes

This example uses a Pod specification with a container to write text to the standard output stream once per second.

apiVersion: v1
kind: Pod
metadata:
  name: counter
spec:
  containers:
  - name: count
    image: busybox
    args: [/bin/sh, -c,
            'i=0; while true; do echo "$i: $(date)"; i=$((i+1)); sleep 1; done']

To run this pod, use the following command:

kubectl apply -f https://k8s.io/examples/debug/counter-pod.yaml

The output is:

pod/counter created

To fetch the logs, use the kubectl logs command, as follows:

kubectl logs counter

The output is:

0: Mon Jan  1 00:00:00 UTC 2001
1: Mon Jan  1 00:00:01 UTC 2001
2: Mon Jan  1 00:00:02 UTC 2001
...

You can use kubectl logs --previous to retrieve logs from a previous instantiation of a container. If your pod has multiple containers, specify which container's logs you want to access by appending a container name to the command. See the kubectl logs documentation for more details.

Logging at the node level

Node level logging

A container engine handles and redirects any output generated to a containerized application's stdout and stderr streams. For example, the Docker container engine redirects those two streams to a logging driver, which is configured in Kubernetes to write to a file in JSON format.

Note: The Docker JSON logging driver treats each line as a separate message. When using the Docker logging driver, there is no direct support for multi-line messages. You need to handle multi-line messages at the logging agent level or higher.

By default, if a container restarts, the kubelet keeps one terminated container with its logs. If a pod is evicted from the node, all corresponding containers are also evicted, along with their logs.

An important consideration in node-level logging is implementing log rotation, so that logs don't consume all available storage on the node. Kubernetes is not responsible for rotating logs, but rather a deployment tool should set up a solution to address that. For example, in Kubernetes clusters, deployed by the kube-up.sh script, there is a logrotate tool configured to run each hour. You can also set up a container runtime to rotate an application's logs automatically.

As an example, you can find detailed information about how kube-up.sh sets up logging for COS image on GCP in the corresponding configure-helper script.

When you run kubectl logs as in the basic logging example, the kubelet on the node handles the request and reads directly from the log file. The kubelet returns the content of the log file.

Note: If an external system has performed the rotation, only the contents of the latest log file will be available through kubectl logs. For example, if there's a 10MB file, logrotate performs the rotation and there are two files: one file that is 10MB in size and a second file that is empty. kubectl logs returns the latest log file which in this example is an empty response.

System component logs

There are two types of system components: those that run in a container and those that do not run in a container. For example:

  • The Kubernetes scheduler and kube-proxy run in a container.
  • The kubelet and container runtime do not run in containers.

On machines with systemd, the kubelet and container runtime write to journald. If systemd is not present, the kubelet and container runtime write to .log files in the /var/log directory. System components inside containers always write to the /var/log directory, bypassing the default logging mechanism. They use the klog logging library. You can find the conventions for logging severity for those components in the development docs on logging.

Similar to the container logs, system component logs in the /var/log directory should be rotated. In Kubernetes clusters brought up by the kube-up.sh script, those logs are configured to be rotated by the logrotate tool daily or once the size exceeds 100MB.

Cluster-level logging architectures

While Kubernetes does not provide a native solution for cluster-level logging, there are several common approaches you can consider. Here are some options:

  • Use a node-level logging agent that runs on every node.
  • Include a dedicated sidecar container for logging in an application pod.
  • Push logs directly to a backend from within an application.

Using a node logging agent

Using a node level logging agent

You can implement cluster-level logging by including a node-level logging agent on each node. The logging agent is a dedicated tool that exposes logs or pushes logs to a backend. Commonly, the logging agent is a container that has access to a directory with log files from all of the application containers on that node.

Because the logging agent must run on every node, it is recommended to run the agent as a DaemonSet.

Node-level logging creates only one agent per node and doesn't require any changes to the applications running on the node.

Containers write stdout and stderr, but with no agreed format. A node-level agent collects these logs and forwards them for aggregation.

Using a sidecar container with the logging agent

You can use a sidecar container in one of the following ways:

  • The sidecar container streams application logs to its own stdout.
  • The sidecar container runs a logging agent, which is configured to pick up logs from an application container.

Streaming sidecar container

Sidecar container with a streaming container

By having your sidecar containers write to their own stdout and stderr streams, you can take advantage of the kubelet and the logging agent that already run on each node. The sidecar containers read logs from a file, a socket, or journald. Each sidecar container prints a log to its own stdout or stderr stream.

This approach allows you to separate several log streams from different parts of your application, some of which can lack support for writing to stdout or stderr. The logic behind redirecting logs is minimal, so it's not a significant overhead. Additionally, because stdout and stderr are handled by the kubelet, you can use built-in tools like kubectl logs.

For example, a pod runs a single container, and the container writes to two different log files using two different formats. Here's a configuration file for the Pod:

apiVersion: v1
kind: Pod
metadata:
  name: counter
spec:
  containers:
  - name: count
    image: busybox
    args:
    - /bin/sh
    - -c
    - >
      i=0;
      while true;
      do
        echo "$i: $(date)" >> /var/log/1.log;
        echo "$(date) INFO $i" >> /var/log/2.log;
        i=$((i+1));
        sleep 1;
      done      
    volumeMounts:
    - name: varlog
      mountPath: /var/log
  volumes:
  - name: varlog
    emptyDir: {}

It is not recommended to write log entries with different formats to the same log stream, even if you managed to redirect both components to the stdout stream of the container. Instead, you can create two sidecar containers. Each sidecar container could tail a particular log file from a shared volume and then redirect the logs to its own stdout stream.

Here's a configuration file for a pod that has two sidecar containers:

apiVersion: v1
kind: Pod
metadata:
  name: counter
spec:
  containers:
  - name: count
    image: busybox
    args:
    - /bin/sh
    - -c
    - >
      i=0;
      while true;
      do
        echo "$i: $(date)" >> /var/log/1.log;
        echo "$(date) INFO $i" >> /var/log/2.log;
        i=$((i+1));
        sleep 1;
      done      
    volumeMounts:
    - name: varlog
      mountPath: /var/log
  - name: count-log-1
    image: busybox
    args: [/bin/sh, -c, 'tail -n+1 -f /var/log/1.log']
    volumeMounts:
    - name: varlog
      mountPath: /var/log
  - name: count-log-2
    image: busybox
    args: [/bin/sh, -c, 'tail -n+1 -f /var/log/2.log']
    volumeMounts:
    - name: varlog
      mountPath: /var/log
  volumes:
  - name: varlog
    emptyDir: {}

Now when you run this pod, you can access each log stream separately by running the following commands:

kubectl logs counter count-log-1

The output is:

0: Mon Jan  1 00:00:00 UTC 2001
1: Mon Jan  1 00:00:01 UTC 2001
2: Mon Jan  1 00:00:02 UTC 2001
...
kubectl logs counter count-log-2

The output is:

Mon Jan  1 00:00:00 UTC 2001 INFO 0
Mon Jan  1 00:00:01 UTC 2001 INFO 1
Mon Jan  1 00:00:02 UTC 2001 INFO 2
...

The node-level agent installed in your cluster picks up those log streams automatically without any further configuration. If you like, you can configure the agent to parse log lines depending on the source container.

Note, that despite low CPU and memory usage (order of a couple of millicores for cpu and order of several megabytes for memory), writing logs to a file and then streaming them to stdout can double disk usage. If you have an application that writes to a single file, it's recommended to set /dev/stdout as the destination rather than implement the streaming sidecar container approach.

Sidecar containers can also be used to rotate log files that cannot be rotated by the application itself. An example of this approach is a small container running logrotate periodically. However, it's recommended to use stdout and stderr directly and leave rotation and retention policies to the kubelet.

Sidecar container with a logging agent

Sidecar container with a logging agent

If the node-level logging agent is not flexible enough for your situation, you can create a sidecar container with a separate logging agent that you have configured specifically to run with your application.

Note: Using a logging agent in a sidecar container can lead to significant resource consumption. Moreover, you won't be able to access those logs using kubectl logs because they are not controlled by the kubelet.

Here are two configuration files that you can use to implement a sidecar container with a logging agent. The first file contains a ConfigMap to configure fluentd.

apiVersion: v1
kind: ConfigMap
metadata:
  name: fluentd-config
data:
  fluentd.conf: |
    <source>
      type tail
      format none
      path /var/log/1.log
      pos_file /var/log/1.log.pos
      tag count.format1
    </source>

    <source>
      type tail
      format none
      path /var/log/2.log
      pos_file /var/log/2.log.pos
      tag count.format2
    </source>

    <match **>
      type google_cloud
    </match>    
Note: For information about configuring fluentd, see the fluentd documentation.

The second file describes a pod that has a sidecar container running fluentd. The pod mounts a volume where fluentd can pick up its configuration data.

apiVersion: v1
kind: Pod
metadata:
  name: counter
spec:
  containers:
  - name: count
    image: busybox
    args:
    - /bin/sh
    - -c
    - >
      i=0;
      while true;
      do
        echo "$i: $(date)" >> /var/log/1.log;
        echo "$(date) INFO $i" >> /var/log/2.log;
        i=$((i+1));
        sleep 1;
      done      
    volumeMounts:
    - name: varlog
      mountPath: /var/log
  - name: count-agent
    image: k8s.gcr.io/fluentd-gcp:1.30
    env:
    - name: FLUENTD_ARGS
      value: -c /etc/fluentd-config/fluentd.conf
    volumeMounts:
    - name: varlog
      mountPath: /var/log
    - name: config-volume
      mountPath: /etc/fluentd-config
  volumes:
  - name: varlog
    emptyDir: {}
  - name: config-volume
    configMap:
      name: fluentd-config

In the sample configurations, you can replace fluentd with any logging agent, reading from any source inside an application container.

Exposing logs directly from the application

Exposing logs directly from the application

Cluster-logging that exposes or pushes logs directly from every application is outside the scope of Kubernetes.

Last modified October 28, 2020 at 2:30 PM PST: remove stackdriver, elastic task pages (06ad25e38)