In Elixir 1.11 landed set of new features that allows for more powerful logging by utilising Erlang's logger features. Here I will try to describe new possibilities and how You can use them to improve your logs.

New log levels§

Elixir gained 4 new log levels to total 8 (from most verbose to least verbose):

  • debug
  • info
  • notice *
  • warning (renamed from warn)
  • error
  • critical *
  • alert *
  • emergency *

* new levels

This allow to provide finer graded verbosity control, due to compatibility reasons, in Elixir backends we need to translate these levels back to "old" set of 4. The current table looks like:

Call levelWhat Elixir backend will see
debugdebug
infoinfo
noticeinfo *
warning (or warn)warn
errorerror
criticalerror *
alerterror *
emergencyerror *

* "translated" messages

We can set verbosity to all levels. This may be confusing during the transition period, but we cannot change the behaviour until Elixir 2 (which is not happening any time soon).

Usage of the new levels is "obvious":

Logger.notice("Hello")

Will produce message with notice level of verbosity.

Additionally the logger.level option in configuration supports 2 additional verbosity levels that you can use in your config:

  • :all - all messages will be logged, logically exactly the same as :debug
  • :none - no messages will be logged

Per module log level§

This is change that can be quite handy during debugging sessions. With this change we have 4 new functions in Logger module:

These allow us to manipulate verbosity level on per-module basis. What is non-obvious and is super handy is that it allows both lowering and raising verbosity for given module. This mean that:

require Logger

Logger.configure(level: :error)

defmodule Foo do
  def run do
    Logger.debug("I am still there")
  end
end

Foo.run() # Does not log anything

# Set `debug` level for `Foo` module only
Logger.put_module_level(Foo, :debug)
Foo.run()
# `I am still there` is logged
Logger.debug("I will not be printed")
# Nothing got logged as top-level verbositi is still set to `:error`

Of course it will not work if you decide to use compile time purging

Logger handlers§


Warning! This is not fully implemented in both - Erlang and Elixir. Writing your own handlers without additional knowledge can cause overload problems.


Erlang together with their logging implementation needed to provide a way to ingest these logs somehow. This is done via Erlang logger handlers (in this article called handlers in contrast to Elixir backends called backends there).

Handlers are modules that export at least 1 function log/2 that takes 2 arguments:

  • log_event which is a map with 3 fields:
    • :level - verbosity level
    • :msg - tuple describing message:
      • {:io.format(), [term()]} - format string and list of terms that should be passed to :io_lib.format/2 function
      • {:report, map() | keyword()} - report that can be formatted into string by report_cb/{1,2} set in metadata map (see below)
      • {:string, :unicode.chardata()} - raw string that should be printed as a message
    • :meta - map containing all metadata for given event. All keys should be atoms and values can be anything. Some keys have special meaning, and some of them will be populated automatically by the Logger macros and functions. These are:
      • :pid - PID of the process that fired log event
      • :gl - group leader of the process that fired log event
      • :mfa - tuple in form of {module(), name :: atom(), arity :: non_neg_integer()} that describe function that fired log event
      • :file - filename of file that defines the code that fired log event
      • :line - line in the given file where the log event was fired
      • :domain - list of atoms that can be used to describe log events hierarchy which then can be used for filtering. All events fired using Logger macros and functions will have :elixir prepended to their domain list.
      • :report_cb - function that will be used to format {:report, map() | keyword()} messages. This can be either 1-ary function, that takes report and returns {:io.format(), [term()]} leaving truncation and further formatting up to the main formatter, or 2-ary function that takes report and configuration map %{depth: pos_integer() | :unlimited, chars_limit: pos_integer() | :unlimited, single_line: boolean()} and returns already formatted :unicode.chardata(). More about it can be found in separate section.

Return value of this function is ignored. If there will be any exception raised when calling this function, then it will be captured and failing handler will be removed. This is important, as if such handler is the only one, then you can be left without any logging handler and miss logs.

The important thing about Erlang handlers and Elixir backends is that Erlang handlers functions are called within caller process while Elixir backends are called in separate process. This mean that wrongly written Erlang handler can cause quite substantial load on application.

To read on other, optional, callbacks that can be defined by Erlang handler, that will not be covered there, I suggest looking into Erlang documentation.

Structured logging§

One of the biggest new features in the Elixir 1.11 is support for structured logging. This mean that the log message do not need to be free-form string, but instead we can pass structure, that can provide more machine-readable data for processing in log aggregators. In Elixir 1.11 is simple as passing map as a first argument to the Logger macros:

Logger.info(%{
  status: :completed,
  response: :ok
})

This will produce message that looks like:

14:08:46.849 [info]  [response: :ok, status: :completed]

As we can see, the map (called report) is formatted as a keyword list. This is default way to present the report data. Unfortunately we cannot access the metadata from the Elixir backends, but we have 2 ways to make these messages more readable for the human operator:

  1. Utilise Logger's translators
  2. Using :report_cb field in metadata

1st option is described quite good in Elixir documentation and is available since Elixir 1.0 as it was used to translate error_logger messages in old Erlang versions. Here I will describe the 2nd option which provide way for caller to define how report should be formatted into human-readable string.

:report_cb accepts 2 kind of functions as an argument:

  • 1-ary function, that takes report as an argument and should return tuple in form of {:io.format(), [term()]} that will be later formatted respectively by the formatters.
  • 2-ary function that takes report and configuration map as an arguments and should return formatted string.

1st option is much easier for most use cases, as it do not force you to worry about handling width, depth, and multiline logs, as it will all be handled for you.

For example, instead of doing:

Logger.info("Started HTTP server on http://localhost:8080")

We can do:

Logger.info(
  %{
    protocol: :http,
    port: 8080,
    address: "localhost",
    endpoint: MyEndpoint,
    handler: Plug.Cowboy
  },
  report_cb: &__MODULE__.report_cb/1
)

#
def report_cb(%{protocol: protocol, port: port, address: address}) do
  {"Started ~s server on ~s://~s:~B", [protocol, protocol, address, port]}
end

While the second entry seems much more verbose, with proper handler, it can provide much more detailed output. Just imagine that we would have handler that output JSON data and what information we could contain in such message:

{
  "msg": "Started HTTP server on http://localhost:8080",
  "metadata": {
    "mfa": "MyMod.start/2",
    "file": "foo.ex",
    "line": 42
  }
}

Now our log aggregation service need to parse msg field to extract all information that is contained there, like port, address, and protocol. With structured logging we can have that message available already there while presenting the "human readable" form as well:

{
  "text": "Started HTTP server on http://localhost:8080",
  "msg": {
    "address": "localhost",
    "port": 8080,
    "protocol": "http",
    "endpoint": "MyEndpoint",
    "handler": "Plug.Cowboy"
  },
  "metadata": {
    "mfa": "MyMod.start/2",
    "file": "foo.ex",
    "line": 42
  }
}

You can see there that we can have more information available in the structured log that would otherwise needed to be crammed somewhere into the text message, even if it is not important in "regular" Ops observability.

This can raise a question - why not use metadata for such functionality, like it is available in LoggerJSON or Ink? The reason is that their reason existence is different. Metadata meant for "meta" stuff like location, tracing ID, but not for the information about the message itself. It is best shown on example. For this use Elixir's implementation of GenServer wrapper that produces error log entry on unknown message handled by default handle_info/2:

Logger.error(
  # Report
  %{
    label: {GenServer, :no_handle_info},
    report: %{
      module: __MODULE__,
      message: msg,
      name: proc
    }
  },
  # Metadata
  %{
    error_logger: %{tag: :error_msg},
    report_cb: &GenServer.format_report/1
  }
)

As we can see there, the report contains informations like:

  • :label - that describes type of the event
  • :report - content of the "main" event
    • :module - module that created the event, it is important to notice, that it is also present in metadata (as part of :mfa key), but their meaning is different. Module name here is meant for the operator to know the name of the implementor that failed to handle message, while :mfa is meant to describe the location of the code that fired the event.
    • :message - the message itself that hasn't been handled. Notice, that it is not stringified in any way there, it is simply passed "as is" to the report. It is meant to be stringified later by the :report_cb function.
    • :name - name of the process. Remember, similarly to :module, the PID of the current process is part of the metadata, so in theory we could use value from there, but their meaning is different (additionally this one may be an atom in case if the process is locally registered with name).

Metadata on the other hand contains information that will be useful for filtering or formatting of the event.

The rule of thumb you can follow is:

If it is thing that you will want to filter on, then it probably should be part of the metadata. If you want to aggregate information or just display them, it should be part of the message report.

Log filtering§

Finally we come to first feature that is not directly accessible from the Elixir Logger API (yet). Erlang's logger have powerful functionality for filtering log messages which allows us to dynamically decide which message should, or should not be logged. These even can alter messages on the fly.

Currently that functionality is available only via :logger module. It can be used like:

defmodule MyFilter do
  def filter(log_event, opts) do
    #  end
end

:logger.add_primary_filter(:my_filter, {&MyFilter.filter/2, opts})
# Or
:logger.add_handler_filter(handler_id, :my_filter, {&MyFilter.filter/2, opts})

Few important things that need to be remembered when writing such filters:

  • It is best practice to make such functions public and define filters using remote function capture, like &__MODULE__.process_disabled/2 (so not anonymous functions either). It will make such filter much easier for VM to handle (it is bigger topic why it is that, I may to cover it in another post).
  • Filters are ran within the same process that fired log event, so it is important to make such filters as fast as possible, and do not do any heavy work there.

Filters can be used for 2 different things:

  • preventing some messages from being logged
  • modifying a message

While the former is much more common, I will try to describe both use cases there, as the latter is also quite useful.

Filters are defined as 2-ary functions where 1st argument is log event, and second argument is any term that can be used as a configuration for filter. Filter should return one of these 3 values:

  • :stop - which will immediately discard message and do not run any additional filters.
  • :ignore - which mean that given filter didn't recognise the given message and leaves it up to other filters to decide on the action. If all filters return :ignore then :filter_default option for the handler will be taken. By default it is :log, which mean that message will be logged, but default handler has it set to :stop by default, which mean, that non-matching messages will be discarded.
  • Just log event (possibly modified) that will cause next filter to be called with altered message. The message returned by the last filter (or in case of :ignore return, previous filters) will be the message passed to handler.

Preventing some messages from being logged§

Most common use-case for filters will probably be rejecting messages that aren't important for us. Erlang even prepared some useful filters:

  • domain - allow filtering by metadata :domain field (remember as I said that metadata is for filtering?). It supports multiple possible relations between the log domain and defined domain.
  • level - allow filtering (in or out) messages depending on their level, in both directions. It will allow you to filter messages with higher level for some handlers. Just remember, that it will not receive messages that will not pass primary/module level.
  • progress - filters all reports from supervisor and application_controller. Simply, reduces startup/process shutdown chatter that often is meaningless for most time.
  • remote_gl - filters messages coming from group leader on another node. Useful when you want to discard/log messages coming from other nodes in cluster.

Modifying a message§

Sometimes there is need to alter messages in the system. For example we may need to prevent sensitive information from being logged. When using "old" Elixir approach you could abuse translators, but that was error prone, as first successful translator was breaking pipeline, so you couldn't just smash one on top and then keep rest working as is. With "new" approach and structured logging you can just traverse the report and replace all occurrences of the unsafe data with anonymised data. For example:

def filter_out_password(%{msg: {:report, report}} = event, _opts) do
  %{event | msg: {:report, replace(report)}}
end

@filtered "[FILTERED]"

defp replace(%{password: _} = map) do
  for {k, v} <- %{map | password: @filtered}, into: %{} do
    {k, replace(v)}
  end
end

defp replace(%{"password" => _} = map) do
  for {k, v} <- %{map | "password" => @filtered}, into: %{} do
    {k, replace(v)}
  end
end

defp replace(list) when is_list(list) do
  for elem <- list do
    case elem do
      {:password, _} -> {:password, @filtered}
      {"password", _} -> {"password", @filtered}
      {k, v} -> {k, replace(v)}
      other -> replace(other)
    end
  end
end

defp replace(other), do: other

This snippet will replace all occurrences of :password or "password" with filtered out value.

The disadvantage of such approach - it will make all messages with such fields allowed in case if your filter has :filter_default set to :stop. That mean, that if you want to make some of them rejected anyway, then you will need to manually add additional step to reject messages that do not fit into your patterns. Alternatively you can use filter_default: :log and then use opt-out logging. There currently is no way to alter the message and make other filters decide whether log it or not (as of OTP 24).

Summary§

New features and possibilities with relation to logging in Elixir 1.11 can be overwhelming. Fortunately all of the new features are optional and provided in addition to "good 'ol Logger.info("logging")". But for the people who works on the observability in BEAM (EEF Observability WG, Sentry, Logflare, etc.) it brings a lot of new powerful capabilities.

I am thrilled to see what will people create using all that power.