Posts Tagged Logging

Kubernetes-based Microservice Observability with Istio Service Mesh: Part 1

In this two-part post, we will explore the set of observability tools which are part of the Istio Service Mesh. These tools include Jaeger, Kiali, Prometheus, and Grafana. To assist in our exploration, we will deploy a Go-based, microservices reference platform to Google Kubernetes Engine, on the Google Cloud Platform.

Golang Service Diagram with Proxy v2

What is Observability?

Similar to blockchain, serverless, AI and ML, chatbots, cybersecurity, and service meshes, Observability is a hot buzz word in the IT industry right now. According to Wikipedia, observability is a measure of how well internal states of a system can be inferred from knowledge of its external outputs. Logs, metrics, and traces are often known as the three pillars of observability. These are the external outputs of the system, which we may observe.

The O’Reilly book, Distributed Systems Observability, by Cindy Sridharan, does an excellent job of detailing ‘The Three Pillars of Observability’, in Chapter 4. I recommend reading this free online excerpt, before continuing. A second great resource for information on observability is, a developer of observability tools for production systems, led by well-known industry thought-leader, Charity Majors. The site includes articles, blog posts, whitepapers, and podcasts on observability.

As modern distributed systems grow ever more complex, the ability to observe those systems demands equally modern tooling that was designed with this level of complexity in mind. Traditional logging and monitoring systems often struggle with today’s hybrid and multi-cloud, polyglot language-based, event-driven, container-based and serverless, infinitely-scalable, ephemeral-compute platforms.

Tools like Istio Service Mesh attempt to solve the observability challenge by offering native integrations with several best-of-breed, open-source telemetry tools. Istio’s integrations include Jaeger for distributed tracing, Kiali for Istio service mesh-based microservice visualization, and Prometheus and Grafana for metric collection, monitoring, and alerting. Combined with cloud platform-native monitoring and logging services, such as Stackdriver for Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) on Google Cloud Platform (GCP), we have a complete observability platform for modern, distributed applications.

A Reference Microservices Platform

To demonstrate the observability tools integrated with the latest version of Istio Service Mesh, we will deploy a reference microservices platform, written in Go, to GKE on GCP. I developed the reference platform to demonstrate concepts such as API management, Service Meshes, Observability, DevOps, and Chaos Engineering. The platform is comprised of (14) components, including (8) Go-based microservices, labeled generically as Service A – Service H, (1) Angular 7, TypeScript-based front-end, (4) MongoDB databases, and (1) RabbitMQ queue for event queue-based communications. The platform and all its source code is free and open source.

The reference platform is designed to generate HTTP-based service-to-service, TCP-based service-to-database (MongoDB), and TCP-based service-to-queue-to-service (RabbitMQ) IPC (inter-process communication). Service A calls Service B and Service C, Service B calls Service D and Service E, Service D produces a message on a RabbitMQ queue that Service F consumes and writes to MongoDB, and so on. These distributed communications can be observed using Istio’s observability tools when the system is deployed to a Kubernetes cluster running the Istio service mesh.

Service Responses

On the reference platform, each upstream service responds to requests from downstream services by returning a small informational JSON payload (termed a greeting in the source code).

Golang Service Diagram with Proxy v2 res

The responses are aggregated across the service call chain, resulting in an array of service responses being returned to the edge service and on to the Angular-based UI, running in the end user’s web browser. The response aggregation feature is simply used to confirm that the service-to-service communications, Istio components, and the telemetry tools are working properly.


Each Go microservice contains a /ping and /health endpoint. The /health endpoint can be used to configure Kubernetes Liveness and Readiness Probes. Additionally, the edge service, Service A, is configured for Cross-Origin Resource Sharing (CORS) using the access-control-allow-origin: * response header. CORS allows the Angular UI, running in end user’s web browser, to call the Service A /ping endpoint, which resides in a different subdomain from UI. Shown below is the Go source code for Service A.

For this demonstration, the MongoDB databases will be hosted, external to the services on GCP, on MongoDB Atlas, a MongoDB-as-a-Service, cloud-based platform. Similarly, the RabbitMQ queues will be hosted on CloudAMQP, a RabbitMQ-as-a-Service, cloud-based platform. I have used both of these SaaS providers in several previous posts. Using external services will help us understand how Istio and its observability tools collect telemetry for communications between the Kubernetes cluster and external systems.

Shown below is the Go source code for Service F, This service consumers messages from the RabbitMQ queue, placed there by Service D, and writes the messages to MongoDB.

Source Code

All source code for this post is available on GitHub in two projects. The Go-based microservices source code, all Kubernetes resources, and all deployment scripts are located in the k8s-istio-observe-backend project repository. The Angular UI TypeScript-based source code is located in the k8s-istio-observe-frontend project repository.

Docker images referenced in the Kubernetes Deployment resource files, for the Go services and UI, are all available on Docker Hub. The Go microservice Docker images were built using the official Golang Alpine base image on DockerHub, containing Go version 1.12.0. Using the Alpine image to compile the Go source code ensures the containers will be as small as possible and contain a minimal attack surface.

Note several services were updated to release v1.4.0 of the project on 3/19/2019. Please make sure you pull the latest project code from both repositories. There were changes to work with Istio 1.1.0 and enable distributed tracing with Jaeger.

System Requirements

To follow along with the post, you will need the latest version of gcloud CLI (min. ver. 239.0.0), part of the Google Cloud SDK, Helm, and the just releases Istio 1.1.0, installed and configured locally or on your build machine.


Set-up and Installation

To deploy the microservices platform to GKE, we will proceed in the following order.

  1. Create the MongoDB Atlas database cluster;
  2. Create the CloudAMQP RabbitMQ cluster;
  3. Modify the Kubernetes resources and scripts for your own environments;
  4. Create the GKE cluster on GCP;
  5. Deploy Istio 1.1.0 to the GKE cluster, using Helm;
  6. Create DNS records for the platform’s exposed resources;
  7. Deploy the Go-based microservices, Angular UI, and associated resources to GKE;
  8. Test and troubleshoot the platform;
  9. Observe the results in part two!

MongoDB Atlas Cluster

MongoDB Atlas is a fully-managed MongoDB-as-a-Service, available on AWS, Azure, and GCP. Atlas, a mature SaaS product, offers high-availability, guaranteed uptime SLAs, elastic scalability, cross-region replication, enterprise-grade security, LDAP integration, a BI Connector, and much more.

MongoDB Atlas currently offers four pricing plans, Free, Basic, Pro, and Enterprise. Plans range from the smallest, M0-sized MongoDB cluster, with shared RAM and 512 MB storage, up to the massive M400 MongoDB cluster, with 488 GB of RAM and 3 TB of storage.

For this post, I have created an M2-sized MongoDB cluster in GCP’s us-central1 (Iowa) region, with a single user database account for this demo. The account will be used to connect from four of the eight microservices, running on GKE.


Originally, I started with an M0-sized cluster, but the compute resources were insufficient to support the volume of calls from the Go-based microservices. I suggest at least an M2-sized cluster or larger.

CloudAMQP RabbitMQ Cluster

CloudAMQP provides full-managed RabbitMQ clusters on all major cloud and application platforms. RabbitMQ will support a decoupled, eventually consistent, message-based architecture for a portion of our Go-based microservices. For this post, I have created a RabbitMQ cluster in GCP’s us-central1 (Iowa) region, the same as our GKE cluster and MongoDB Atlas cluster. I chose a minimally-configured free version of RabbitMQ. CloudAMQP also offers robust, multi-node RabbitMQ clusters for Production use.

Modify Configurations

There are a few configuration settings you will need to change in the GitHub project’s Kubernetes resource files and Bash deployment scripts.

Istio ServiceEntry for MongoDB Atlas

Modify the Istio ServiceEntry, external-mesh-mongodb-atlas.yaml file, adding you MongoDB Atlas host address. This file allows egress traffic from four of the microservices on GKE to the external MongoDB Atlas cluster.

kind: ServiceEntry
  name: mongodb-atlas-external-mesh
  - {{ your_host_goes_here }}
  - name: mongo
    number: 27017
    protocol: MONGO
  location: MESH_EXTERNAL
  resolution: NONE

Istio ServiceEntry for CloudAMQP RabbitMQ

Modify the Istio ServiceEntry, external-mesh-cloudamqp.yaml file, adding you CloudAMQP host address. This file allows egress traffic from two of the microservices to the CloudAMQP cluster.

kind: ServiceEntry
  name: cloudamqp-external-mesh
  - {{ your_host_goes_here }}
  - name: rabbitmq
    number: 5672
    protocol: TCP
  location: MESH_EXTERNAL
  resolution: NONE

Istio Gateway and VirtualService Resources

There are numerous strategies you may use to route traffic into the GKE cluster, via Istio. I am using a single domain for the post,, and four subdomains. One set of subdomains is for the Angular UI, in the dev Namespace ( and the test Namespace ( The other set of subdomains is for the edge API microservice, Service A, which the UI calls ( and Traffic is routed to specific Kubernetes Service resources, based on the URL.

According to Istio, the Gateway describes a load balancer operating at the edge of the mesh, receiving incoming or outgoing HTTP/TCP connections. Modify the Istio ingress Gateway,  inserting your own domains or subdomains in the hosts section. These are the hosts on port 80 that will be allowed into the mesh.

kind: Gateway
  name: demo-gateway
    istio: ingressgateway
  - port:
      number: 80
      name: http
      protocol: HTTP

According to Istio, a VirtualService defines a set of traffic routing rules to apply when a host is addressed. A VirtualService is bound to a Gateway to control the forwarding of traffic arriving at a particular host and port. Modify the project’s four Istio VirtualServices, inserting your own domains or subdomains. Here is an example of one of the four VirtualServices, in the istio-gateway.yaml file.

kind: VirtualService
  name: angular-ui-dev
  - demo-gateway
  - match:
    - uri:
        prefix: /
    - destination:
          number: 80

Kubernetes Secret

The project contains a Kubernetes Secret, go-srv-demo.yaml, with two values. One is for the MongoDB Atlas connection string and one is for the CloudAMQP connections string. Remember Kubernetes Secret values need to be base64 encoded.

apiVersion: v1
kind: Secret
  name: go-srv-config
type: Opaque
  mongodb.conn: {{ your_base64_encoded_secret }}
  rabbitmq.conn: {{ your_base64_encoded_secret }}

On Linux and Mac, you can use the base64 program to encode the connection strings.

> echo -n "mongodb+srv://" | base64

> echo -n "amqp://" | base64

Bash Scripts Variables

The bash script,, contains a series of environment variables. At a minimum, you will need to change the PROJECT variable in all scripts to match your GCP project name.

# Constants - CHANGE ME!
readonly PROJECT='{{ your_gcp_project_goes_here }}'
readonly CLUSTER='go-srv-demo-cluster'
readonly REGION='us-central1'
readonly MASTER_AUTH_NETS=''
readonly NAMESPACE='dev'
readonly GKE_VERSION='1.12.5-gke.5'
readonly MACHINE_TYPE='n1-standard-2'

The bash script,, includes the ISTIO_HOME variable. The value should correspond to your local path to Istio 1.1.0. On my local Mac, this value is shown below.

readonly ISTIO_HOME='/Applications/istio-1.1.0'

Deploy GKE Cluster

Next, deploy the GKE cluster using the included bash script, This will create a Regional, multi-zone, 3-node GKE cluster, using the latest version of GKE at the time of this post, 1.12.5-gke.5. The cluster will be deployed to the same region as the MongoDB Atlas and CloudAMQP clusters, GCP’s us-central1 (Iowa) region. Planning where your Cloud resources will reside, for both SaaS providers and primary Cloud providers can be critical to minimizing latency for network I/O intensive applications.


Deploy Istio using Helm

With the GKE cluster and associated infrastructure in place, deploy Istio. For this post, I have chosen to install Istio using Helm, as recommended my Istio. To deploy Istio using Helm, use the included bash script,


The script installs Istio, using the Helm Chart in the local Istio 1.1.0 install/kubernetes/helm/istio directory, which you installed as a requirement for this demonstration. The Istio install script overrides several default values in the Istio Helm Chart using the --set, flag. The list of available configuration values is detailed in the Istio Chart’s GitHub project. The options enable Istio’s observability features, which we will explore in part two. Features include Kiali, Grafana, Prometheus, and Jaeger.

helm install ${ISTIO_HOME}/install/kubernetes/helm/istio-init \
  --name istio-init \
  --namespace istio-system

helm install ${ISTIO_HOME}/install/kubernetes/helm/istio \
  --name istio \
  --namespace istio-system \
  --set prometheus.enabled=true \
  --set grafana.enabled=true \
  --set kiali.enabled=true \
  --set tracing.enabled=true

kubectl apply --namespace istio-system \
  -f ./resources/secrets/kiali.yaml

Below, we see the Istio-related Workloads running on the cluster, including the observability tools.


Below, we see the corresponding Istio-related Service resources running on the cluster.


Modify DNS Records

Instead of using IP addresses to route traffic the GKE cluster and its applications, we will use DNS. As explained earlier, I have chosen a single domain for the post,, and four subdomains. One set of subdomains is for the Angular UI, in the dev Namespace and the test Namespace. The other set of subdomains is for the edge microservice, Service A, which the API calls. Traffic is routed to specific Kubernetes Service resources, based on the URL.

Deploying the GKE cluster and Istio triggers the creation of a Google Load Balancer, four IP addresses, and all required firewall rules. One of the four IP addresses, the one shown below, associated with the Forwarding rule, will be associated with the front-end of the load balancer.screen_shot_2019-03-09_at_5_49_37_pm

Below, we see the new load balancer, with the front-end IP address and the backend VM pool of three GKE cluster’s worker nodes. Each node is assigned one of the IP addresses, as shown above.


As shown below, using Google Cloud DNS, I have created the four subdomains and assigned the IP address of the load balancer’s front-end to all four subdomains. Ingress traffic to these addresses will be routed through the Istio ingress Gateway and the four Istio VirtualServices, to the appropriate Kubernetes Service resources. Use your choice of DNS management tools to create the four A Type DNS records.


Deploy the Reference Platform

Next, deploy the eight Go-based microservices, the Angular UI, and the associated Kubernetes and Istio resources to the GKE cluster. To deploy the platform, use the included bash deploy script, If anything fails and you want to remove the existing resources and re-deploy, without destroying the GKE cluster or Istio, you can use the delete script.


The deploy script deploys all the resources two Kubernetes Namespaces, dev and test. This will allow us to see how we can differentiate between Namespaces when using the observability tools.

Below, we see the Istio-related resources, which we just deployed. They include the Istio Gateway, four Istio VirtualService, and two Istio ServiceEntry resources.


Below, we see the platform’s Workloads (Kubernetes Deployment resources), running on the cluster. Here we see two Pods for each Workload, a total of 18 Pods, running in the dev Namespace. Each Pod contains both the deployed microservice or UI component, as well as a copy of Istio’s Envoy Proxy.


Below, we see the corresponding Kubernetes Service resources running in the dev Namespace.


Below, a similar view of the Deployment resources running in the test Namespace. Again, we have two Pods for each deployment with each Pod contains both the deployed microservice or UI component, as well as a copy of Istio’s Envoy Proxy.


Test the Platform

We do want to ensure the platform’s eight Go-based microservices and Angular UI are working properly, communicating with each other, and communicating with the external MongoDB Atlas and CloudAMQP RabbitMQ clusters. The easiest way to test the cluster is by viewing the Angular UI in a web browser.


The UI requires you to input the host domain of the Service A, the API’s edge service. Since you cannot use my subdomain, and the JavaScript code is running locally to your web browser, this option allows you to provide your own host domain. This is the same domain or domains you inserted into the two Istio VirtualService for the UI. This domain route your API calls to either the FQDN (fully qualified domain name) of the Service A Kubernetes Service running in the dev namespace,, or the test Namespace, service-a.test.svc.cluster.local.


You can also use performance testing tools to load-test the platform. Many issues will not show up until the platform is under load. I recently starting using hey, a modern load generator tool, as a replacement for Apache Bench (ab), Unlike ab, hey supports HTTP/2 endpoints, which is required to test the platform on GKE with Istio. Below, I am running hey directly from Google Cloud Shell. The tool is simulating 25 concurrent users, generating a total of 1,000 HTTP/2-based GET requests to Service A.



If for some reason the UI fails to display, or the call from the UI to the API fails, and assuming all Kubernetes and Istio resources are running on the GKE cluster (all green), the most common explanation is usually a misconfiguration of the following resources:

  1. Your four Cloud DNS records are not correct. They are not pointing to the load balancer’s front-end IP address;
  2. You did not configure the four Kubernetes VirtualService resources with the correct subdomains;
  3. The GKE-based microservices cannot reach the external MongoDB Atlas and CloudAMQP RabbitMQ clusters. Likely, the Kubernetes Secret is constructed incorrectly, or the two ServiceEntry resources contain the wrong host information for those external clusters;

I suggest starting the troubleshooting by calling Service A, the API’s edge service, directly, using cURL or Postman. You should see a JSON response payload, similar to the following. This suggests the issue is with the UI, not the API.


Next, confirm that the four MongoDB databases were created for Service D, Service, F, Service, G, and Service H. Also, confirm that new documents are being written to the database’s collections.


Next, confirm new the RabbitMQ queue was created, using the CloudAMQP RabbitMQ Management Console. Service D produces messages, which Service F consumes from the queue.


Lastly, review the Stackdriver logs to see if there are any obvious errors.


Part Two

In part two of this post, we will explore each observability tool, and see how they can help us manage our GKE cluster and the reference platform running in the cluster.


Since the cluster only takes minutes to fully create and deploy resources to, if you want to tear down the GKE cluster, run the script.


All opinions expressed in this post are my own and not necessarily the views of my current or past employers or their clients.

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Docker Log Aggregation and Visualization Options with the Elastic Stack


As a Developer and DevOps Engineer, it wasn’t that long ago, I spent a lot of time requesting logs from Operations teams for applications running in Production. Many organizations I’ve worked with have created elaborate systems for requesting, granting, and revoking access to application logs. Requesting and obtaining access to logs typically took hours or days, or simply never got approved. Since most enterprise applications are composed of individual components running on multiple application and web servers, it was necessary to request multiple logs. What was often a simple problem to diagnose and fix, became an unnecessarily time-consuming ordeal.

Hopefully, you are still not in this situation. Given the average complexity of today’s modern, distributed, containerized application platforms, accessing individual logs is simply unrealistic and ineffective. The solution is log aggregation and visualization.

Log Aggregation and Visualization

In the context of this post, log aggregation and visualization is defined as the collection, centralized storage, and the ability to simultaneously display application logs from multiple, dissimilar sources. Take a typical modern web application. The frontend UI might be built with Angular, React, or Node. The UI is likely backed by multiple RESTful services, possibly built in Java Spring Boot or Python Flask, and a database or databases, such as MongoDB or MySQL. To support the application, there are auxiliary components, such as API gateways, load-balancers, and messaging brokers. These components are likely deployed as multiple instances, for performance and availability. All instances generate application logs in varying formats.

When troubleshooting an application, such as the one described above, you must often trace a user’s transaction from UI through firewalls and gateways, to the web server, back through the API gateway, to multiple backend services via load-balancers, through message queues, to databases, possibly to external third-party APIs, and back to the client. This is why log aggregation and visualization is essential.

Logging Options

Log aggregation and visualization solutions typically come in three varieties: cloud-hosted by a SaaS provider, a service provided by your Cloud provider, and self-hosted, either on-premises or in the cloud. Cloud-hosted SaaS solutions include Loggly, Splunk, Logentries, and Sumo Logic. Some of these solutions, such as Splunk, are also available as a self-hosted service. Cloud-provider solutions include AWS CloudWatch and Azure Application Insights. Most hosted solutions have reoccurring pricing models based on the volume of logs or the number of server nodes being monitored.

Self-hosted solutions include Graylog 2, Nagios Log Server, Splunk Free, and Elastic’s Elastic Stack. The ELK Stack (Elasticsearch, Logstash, and Kibana), as it was previously known, has been re-branded the Elastic Stack, which now includes Beats. Beats is Elastic’s lightweight shipper that send data from edge machines to Logstash and Elasticsearch.

Often, you will see other components mentioned in the self-hosted space, such as Fluentd, syslog, and Kafka. These are examples of log aggregators or datastores for logs. They lack the combined abilities to collect, store, and display multiple logs. These components are generally part of a larger log aggregation and visualization solution.

This post will explore self-hosted log aggregation and visualization of a Dockerized application on AWS, using the Elastic Stack. The post details three common variations of log collection and routing to Elasticsearch, using various Docker logging drivers, along with Logspout, Fluentd, and GELF (Graylog Extended Log Format).

Docker Swarm Cluster

The post’s example application is deployed to a Docker Swarm, built on AWS, using Docker CE for AWS. Docker has automated the creation of a Swarm on AWS using Docker Cloud, right from your desktop. Creating a Swarm is as easy as inputting a few options and clicking build. Docker uses an AWS CloudFormation script to provision all the necessary AWS resources for the Docker Swarm.


For this post’s logging example, I built a minimally configured Docker Swarm cluster, consisting of a single Manager Node and three Worker Nodes. The four Swarm nodes, all EC2 instances, are behind an AWS ELB, inside a new AWS VPC.

Logging Diagram AWS Diagram 3D

As seen with the docker node ls command, the Docker Swarm will look similar to the following.

Sample Application Components

Multiple containerized copies of a simple Java Spring Boot RESTful Hello-World service, available on GitHub, along with the associated logging aggregators, are deployed to Worker Node 1 and Worker Node 2. We will explore each of these application components later in the post. The containerized components consist of the following:

  1. Fluentd (garystafford/custom-fluentd)
  2. Logspout (garystafford/custom-logspout)
  3. NGINX (garystafford/custom-nginx)
  4. Hello-World Service using Docker’s default JSON file logging driver
  5. Hello-World Service using Docker’s GELF logging driver
  6. Hello-World Service using Docker’s Fluentd logging driver

NGINX is used as a simple frontend API gateway, which to routes HTTP requests to each of the three logging variations of the Hello-World service (garystafford/hello-world).

A single container, running the entire Elastic Stack (garystafford/custom-elk) is deployed to Worker Node 3. This is to isolate the Elastic Stack from the application. Typically, in a real environment, the Elastic Stack would be running on separate infrastructure for performance and security, not alongside your application. Running a docker service ls, the deployed services appear as follows.


A single instance of Portainer (Docker Hub: portainer/portainer) is deployed on the single Manager Node. Portainer, amongst other things, provides a detailed view of Docker Swarm, showing each Swarm Node and the service containers deployed to them.


In my opinion, Portainer provides a much better user experience than Docker Enterprise Edition’s most recent Universal Control Plane (UCP). In the past, I have also used Visualizer (dockersamples/visualizer), one of the first open source solutions in this space. However, since the Visualizer project moved to Docker, it seems like the development of new features has completely stalled out. A good list of container tools can be found on StackShare.


All the Docker service containers are deployed to the AWS-based Docker Swarm using a single Docker Compose file. The order of service startup is critical. Elasticsearch should fully startup first, followed by Fluentd and Logspout, then the three sets of Hello-World instances, and finally NGINX.

To deploy and start all the Docker services correctly, there are two scripts in the GitHub repository. First, execute the following command, sh ./ This will deploy the Docker service stack and create an overlay network, containing all the services as configured in the docker-compose.yml file. Then, to ensure the services start in the correct sequence, execute sh ./ This will restart each service in the correct order, with pauses between services to allow time for startup; a bit of a hack, but effective.

Collection and Routing Examples

Below is a diagram showing all the components comprising this post’s examples, and includes the protocols and ports on which they communicate. Following, we will look at three variations of self-hosted log collection and routing options for the Elastic Stack.

Logging Diagram

Example 1: Fluentd

The first example of log aggregation and visualization uses Fluentd, a Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) hosted project. Fluentd is described as ‘an open source data collector for unified logging layer.’ A container running Fluentd with a custom configuration runs globally on each Worker Node where the applications are deployed, in this case, the hello-fluentd Docker service. Here is the custom Fluentd configuration file (fluent.conf):

The Hello-World service is configured through the Docker Compose file to use the Fluentd Docker logging driver. The log entries from the Hello-World containers on the Worker Nodes are diverted from being output to JSON files, using the default JSON file logging driver, to the Fluentd container instance on the same host as the Hello-World container. The Fluentd container is listening for TCP traffic on port 24224.

Fluentd then sends the individual log entries to Elasticsearch directly, bypassing Logstash. Fluentd log entries are sent via HTTP to port 9200, Elasticsearch’s JSON interface.

Logging Diagram Fluentd

Using Fluentd as a transport method, log entries appear as JSON documents in Elasticsearch, as shown below. This Elasticsearch JSON document is an example of a single line log entry. Note the primary field container identifier, when using Fluentd, is container_id. This field will vary depending on the Docker driver and log collector, as seen in the next two logging examples.


The next example shows a Fluentd multiline log entry. Using the Fluentd Concat filter plugin (fluent-plugin-concat), the individual lines of a stack trace from a Java runtime exception, thrown by the hello-fluentd Docker service, have been recombined into a single Elasticsearch JSON document.


In the above log entries, note the DEPLOY_ENV and SERVICE_NAME fields. These values were injected into the Docker Compose file, as environment variables, during deployment of the Hello-World service. The Fluentd Docker logging driver applies these as env options, as shown in the example Docker Compose snippet, below, lines 5-9.

Example 2: Logspout

The second example of log aggregation and visualization uses GliderLabs’ Logspout. Logspout is described by GliderLabs as ‘a log router for Docker containers that runs inside Docker. It attaches to all containers on a host, then routes their logs wherever you want. It also has an extensible module system.’ In the post’s example, a container running Logspout with a custom configuration runs globally on each Worker Node where the applications are deployed, identical to Fluentd.

The hello-logspout Docker service is configured through the Docker Compose file to use the default JSON file logging driver. According to Docker, ‘by default, Docker captures the standard output (and standard error) of all your containers and writes them in files using the JSON format. The JSON format annotates each line with its origin (stdout or stderr) and its timestamp. Each log file contains information about only one container.

Normally, it is not necessary to explicitly set the default Docker logging driver to JSON files. However, in this case, Docker CE for AWS automatically configured each Swarm Nodes Docker daemon default logging driver to Amazon CloudWatch Logs logging driver. The default drive may be seen by running the docker info command while attached to the Docker daemon. Note line 12 in the snippet below.

The hello-fluentd Docker service containers on the Worker Nodes send log entries to individual JSON files. The Fluentd container on each host then retrieves and routes those JSON log entries to Logstash, within the Elastic Stack container running on Worker Node 3, over UDP to port 5000. Logstash, which is explicitly listening for JSON via UDP on port 5000, then outputs those log entries to Elasticsearch, via HTTP to port 9200, Elasticsearch’s JSON interface.

Logging Diagram Logspout

Using Logspout as a transport method, log entries appear as JSON documents in Elasticsearch, as shown below. Note the field differences between the Fluentd log entry above and this entry. There are a number of significant variations, making it difficult to use both methods, across the same distributed application. For example, the main body of the log entry is contained in the message field using Logspout, but in the log field using Fluentd. The name of the Docker container, which serves as the primary means of identifying the container instance, is the field with Logspout, but for Fluentd.

Another helpful field, provided by Logspout, is the docker.image field. This is beneficial when associating code issues to a particular code release. In this example, the Hello-World service uses the latest Docker image tag, which is not considered best practice. However, in a real production environment, the Docker tags often represents the incremental build number from the CI/CD system, which is tied to a specific build of the code.

logspout-logThe other challenge I have had with Logspout is passing the env and tag options, such as DEPLOY_ENV and SERVICE_NAME, as seen previously with the Fluentd example. Note they are blank in the above sample. It is possible, but not as straightforward as with Fluentd, and requires interacting directly with the Docker daemon on each Worker node.

Example 3: Graylog Extended Format (GELF)

The third and final example of log aggregation and visualization uses the Docker Graylog Extended Format (GELF) logging driver. According to the GELF website, ‘the Graylog Extended Log Format (GELF) is a log format that avoids the shortcomings of classic plain syslog.’ These syslog shortcomings include a maximum length of 1024 bytes, no data types, multiple dialects making parsing difficult, and no compression.

The GELF format, designed to work with the Graylog Open Source Log Management Server, work equally as well with the Elastic Stack. With the GELF logging driver, there is no intermediary logging collector and router, as with Fluentd and Logspout. The hello-gelf Docker service is configured through its Docker Compose file to use the GELF logging driver. The two hello-gelf Docker service containers on the Worker Nodes send log entries directly to Logstash, running within the Elastic Stack container, running on Worker Node 3, via UDP to port 12201.

Logstash, which is explicitly listening for UDP traffic on port 12201, then outputs those log entries to Elasticsearch, via HTTP to port 9200, Elasticsearch’s JSON interface.

Logging Diagram GELF

Using the Docker Graylog Extended Format (GELF) logging driver as a transport method, log entries appear as JSON documents in Elasticsearch, as shown below. They are the most verbose of the three formats.

gelf-logAgain, note the field differences between the Fluentd and Logspout log entries above, and this GELF entry. Both the field names of the main body of the log entry and the name of the Docker container are different from both previous examples.

Another bonus with GELF, each entry contains the command field, which stores the command used to start the container’s process. This can be helpful when troubleshooting application startup issues. Often, the exact container startup command might have been injected into the Docker Compose file at deploy time by the CI Server and contained variables, as is the case with the Hello-World service. Reviewing the log entry in Kibana for the command is much easier and safer than logging into the container and executing commands to check the running process for the startup command.

Unlike Logspout, and similar to Fluentd, note the DEPLOY_ENV and SERVICE_NAME fields are present in the GELF entry. These were injected into the Docker Compose file as environment variables during deployment of the Hello-World service. The GELF Docker logging driver applies these as env options. With GELF the entry also gets the optional tag, which was passed in the Docker Compose file’s service definition, tag: docker.{{.Name}}.

Unlike Fluentd, GELF and Logspout do not easily handle multiline logs. Below is an example of a multiline Java runtime exception thrown by the hello-gelf Docker service. The stack trace is not recombined into a single JSON document in Elasticsearch, like in the Fluentd example. The stack trace exists as multiple JSON documents, making troubleshooting much more difficult. Logspout entries will look similar to GELF.


Pros and Cons

In my opinion, and based on my level of experience with each of the self-hosted logging collection and routing options, the following some of their pros and cons.


  • Pros
    • Part of CNCF, Fluentd is becoming the defacto logging standard for cloud-native applications
    • Easily extensible via a large number of plugins
    • Easily containerized
    • Ability to easily handle multiline log entries (ie. Java stack trace)
    • Ability to use the Fluentd container’s service name as the Fluentd address, not an IP address or DNS resolvable hostname
  • Cons
    • Using Docker’s Fluentd logging driver, if the Fluentd container is not available on the container’s host, the container logging to Fluentd will fail (major con!)


  • Pros
    • Doesn’t require a change to the default Docker JSON file logging driver, logs are still viewable via docker logs command (big plus!)
    • Easily to add and remove functionality via Golang modules
    • Easily containerized
  • Cons
    • Inability to easily handle multiline log entries (ie. Java stack trace)
    • Logspout containers must be restarted if the Elastic Stack is restarted to restart logging
    • To reach Logstash, Logspout must use a DNS resolvable hostname or IP address, not the name of the Elastic Stack container on the same overlay network (big con!)


  • Pros
    • Application containers, using Docker GELF logging driver will not fail if the downstream Logspout container is unavailable
    • Docker GELF logging driver allows compression of logs for shipment to Logspout
  • Cons
    • Inability to easily handle multiline log entries (ie. Java stack trace)


Of course, there are other self-hosted logging collection and routing options, including Elastic’s Beats, journald, and various syslog servers. Each has their pros and cons, depending on your project’s needs. After building and maintaining several self-hosted mission-critical log aggregation and visualization solutions, it is easy to see the appeal of an off-the-shelf cloud-hosted SaaS solution such as Splunk or Cloud provider solutions such as Application Insights.

All opinions in this post are my own and not necessarily the views of my current employer or their clients.

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Streaming Docker Logs to the Elastic Stack (ELK Stack) using Fluentd



Fluentd and Docker’s native logging driver for Fluentd makes it easy to stream Docker logs from multiple running containers to the Elastic Stack. In this post, we will use Fluentd to stream Docker logs from multiple instances of a Dockerized Spring Boot RESTful service and MongoDB, to the Elastic Stack (ELK).


In a recent post, Distributed Service Configuration with Consul, Spring Cloud, and Docker, we built a Consul cluster using Docker swarm mode, to host distributed configurations for a Spring Boot service. We will use the resulting swarm cluster from the previous post as a foundation for this post.


According to the Fluentd website, Fluentd is described as an open source data collector, which unifies data collection and consumption for a better use and understanding of data. Fluentd combines all facets of processing log data: collecting, filtering, buffering, and outputting logs across multiple sources and destinations. Fluentd structures data as JSON as much as possible.

Logging Drivers

Docker includes multiple logging mechanisms to get logs from running containers and services. These mechanisms are called logging drivers. Fluentd is one of the ten current Docker logging drivers. According to Docker, The fluentd logging driver sends container logs to the Fluentd collector as structured log data. Then, users can utilize any of the various output plugins, from Fluentd, to write these logs to various destinations.

Elastic Stack

The ELK Stack, now known as the Elastic Stack, is the combination of Elastic’s very popular products: Elasticsearch, Logstash, and Kibana. According to Elastic, the Elastic Stack provides real-time insights from almost any type of structured and unstructured data source.


All code for this post has been tested on both MacOS and Linux. For this post, I am provisioning and deploying to a Linux workstation, running the most recent release of Fedora and Oracle VirtualBox. If you want to use AWS or another infrastructure provider instead of VirtualBox to build your swarm, it is fairly easy to switch the Docker Machine driver and change a few configuration items in the script (see Provisioning, below).

Required Software

If you want to follow along with this post, you will need the latest versions of git, Docker, Docker Machine, Docker Compose, and VirtualBox installed.

Source Code

All source code for this post is located in two GitHub repositories. The first repository contains scripts to provision the VMs, create an overlay network and persistent host-mounted volumes, build the Docker swarm, and deploy Consul, Registrator, Swarm Visualizer, Fluentd, and the Elastic Stack. The second repository contains scripts to deploy two instances of the Widget Spring Boot RESTful service and a single instance of MongoDB. You can execute all scripts manually, from the command-line, or from a CI/CD pipeline, using tools such as Jenkins.

Provisioning the Swarm

To start, clone the first repository, and execute the single script, or execute the seven individual scripts necessary to provision the VMs, create the overlay network and host volumes, build the swarm, and deploy Consul, Registrator, Swarm Visualizer, Fluentd, and the Elastic Stack. Follow the steps below to complete this part.

When the scripts have completed, the resulting swarm should be configured similarly to the diagram below. Consul, Registrator, Swarm Visualizer, Fluentd, and the Elastic Stack containers should be distributed across the three swarm manager nodes and the three swarm worker nodes (VirtualBox VMs).


Deploying the Application

Next, clone the second repository, and execute the single script, or execute the four scripts necessary to deploy the Widget Spring Boot RESTful service and a single instance of MongoDB. Follow the steps below to complete this part.

When the scripts have completed, the Widget service and MongoDB containers should be distributed across two of the three swarm worker nodes (VirtualBox VMs).


To confirm the final state of the swarm and the running container stacks, use the following Docker commands.

Open the Swarm Visualizer web UI, using any of the swarm manager node IPs, on port 5001, to confirm the swarm health, as well as the running container’s locations.


Lastly, open the Consul Web UI, using any of the swarm manager node IPs, on port 5601, to confirm the running container’s health, as well as their placement on the swarm nodes.


Streaming Logs

Elastic Stack

If you read the previous post, Distributed Service Configuration with Consul, Spring Cloud, and Docker, you will notice we deployed a few additional components this time. First, the Elastic Stack (aka ELK), is deployed to the worker3 swarm worker node, within a single container. I have increased the CPU count and RAM assigned to this VM, to minimally run the Elastic Stack. If you review the docker-compose.yml file, you will note I am using Sébastien Pujadas’ sebp/elk:latest Docker base image from Docker Hub to provision the Elastic Stack. At the time of the post, this was based on the 5.3.0 version of ELK.

Docker Logging Driver

The Widget stack’s docker-compose.yml file has been modified since the last post. The compose file now incorporates a Fluentd logging configuration section for each service. The logging configuration includes the address of the Fluentd instance, on the same swarm worker node. The logging configuration also includes a tag for each log message.


In addition to the Elastic Stack, we have deployed Fluentd to the worker1 and worker2 swarm nodes. This is also where the Widget and MongoDB containers are deployed. Again, looking at the docker-compose.yml file, you will note we are using a custom Fluentd Docker image, garystafford/custom-fluentd:latest, which I created. The custom image is available on Docker Hub.

The custom Fluentd Docker image is based on Fluentd’s official onbuild Docker image, fluent/fluentd:onbuild. Fluentd provides instructions for building your own custom images, from their onbuild base images.

There were two reasons I chose to create a custom Fluentd Docker image. First, I added the Uken Games’ Fluentd Elasticsearch Plugin, to the Docker Image. This highly configurable Fluentd Output Plugin allows us to push Docker logs, processed by Fluentd to the Elasticsearch. Adding additional plugins is a common reason for creating a custom Fluentd Docker image.

The second reason to create a custom Fluentd Docker image was configuration. Instead of bind-mounting host directories or volumes to the multiple Fluentd containers, to provide Fluentd’s configuration, I baked the configuration file into the immutable Docker image. The bare-bones, basicFluentd configuration file defines three processes, which are Input, Filter, and Output. These processes are accomplished using Fluentd plugins. Fluentd has 6 types of plugins: Input, Parser, Filter, Output, Formatter and Buffer. Fluentd is primarily written in Ruby, and its plugins are Ruby gems.

Fluentd listens for input on tcp port 24224, using the forward Input Plugin. Docker logs are streamed locally on each swarm node, from the Widget and MongoDB containers to the local Fluentd container, over tcp port 24224, using Docker’s fluentd logging driver, introduced earlier. Fluentd

Fluentd then filters all input using the stdout Filter Plugin. This plugin prints events to stdout, or logs if launched with daemon mode. This is the most basic method of filtering.

Lastly, Fluentd outputs the filtered input to two destinations, a local log file and Elasticsearch. First, the Docker logs are sent to a local Fluentd log file. This is only for demonstration purposes and debugging. Outputting log files is not recommended for production, nor does it meet the 12-factor application recommendations for logging. Second, Fluentd outputs the Docker logs to Elasticsearch, over tcp port 9200, using the Fluentd Elasticsearch Plugin, introduced above.


Additional Metadata

In addition to the log message itself, in JSON format, the fluentd log driver sends the following metadata in the structured log message: container_id, container_name, and source. This is helpful in identifying and categorizing log messages from multiple sources. Below is a sample of log messages from the raw Fluentd log file, with the metadata tags highlighted in yellow. At the bottom of the output is a log message parsed with jq, for better readability.


Using Elastic Stack

Now that our two Docker stacks are up and running on our swarm, we should be streaming logs to Elasticsearch. To confirm this, open the Kibana web console, which should be available at the IP address of the worker3 swarm worker node, on port 5601.


For the sake of this demonstration, I increased the verbosity of the Spring Boot Widget service’s log level, from INFO to DEBUG, in Consul. At this level of logging, the two Widget services and the single MongoDB instance were generating an average of 250-400 log messages every 30 seconds, according to Kibana.

If that seems like a lot, keep in mind, these are Docker logs, which are single-line log entries. We have not aggregated multi-line messages, such as Java exceptions and stack traces messages, into single entries. That is for another post. Also, the volume of debug-level log messages generated by the communications between the individual services and Consul is fairly verbose.


Inspecting log entries in Kibana, we find the metadata tags contained in the raw Fluentd log output are now searchable fields: container_id, container_name, and source, as well as log. Also, note the _type field, with a value of ‘fluentd’. We injected this field in the output section of our Fluentd configuration, using the Fluentd Elasticsearch Plugin. The _type fiel allows us to differentiate these log entries from other potential data sources.



All opinions in this post are my own and not necessarily the views of my current employer or their clients.

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Containerized Microservice Log Aggregation and Visualization using ELK Stack and Logspout

Log aggregation, visualization, analysis, and monitoring of Dockerized microservices using the ELK Stack (Elasticsearch, Logstash, and Kibana) and Logspout

Kibana Dashboard


In the last series of posts, we learned how to use Jenkins CI, Maven, DockerDocker Compose, and Docker Machine to take a set of Java-based microservices from source control on GitHub, to a fully tested set of integrated Docker containers running within an Oracle VirtualBox VM. We performed integration tests, using a scripted set of synthetic transactions, to make sure the microservices were functioning as expected, within their containers.

In this post, we will round out our Virtual-Vehicles microservices REST API project by adding log aggregation, visualization, analysis, and monitoring, using the ELK Stack (Elasticsearch, Logstash, and Kibana) and Logspout.

ELK Stack 3D Diagram

All code for this post is available on GitHub, release version v3.1.0 on the ‘master’ branch (after running ‘git clone …’, run a ‘git checkout tags/v3.1.0’ command).


If you’re using Docker, then you’re familiar with the command, ‘docker logs container-name command‘. This command streams the log output of running services within a container, commonly used to debugging and troubleshooting. It sure beats ‘docker exec -it container-name cat /var/logs/foo/foo.log‘ and so on, for each log we need to inspect within a container.

With Docker Compose, we gain the command, ‘docker-compose logs‘. This command stream the log output of running services, of all containers defined in our ‘docker-compose.yml‘ file. Although moderately more useful for debugging, I’ve also found it fairly buggy when used with Docker Machine and Docker Swarm.

As helpful as these type of Docker commands are, when you start scaling from one container, to ten containers, to hundreds of containers, individually inspecting container logs from the command line is time-consuming and of little value. Correlating log events between containers is impossible. That’s where solutions such as the ELK Stack and Logspout really shine for containerized environments.

ELK Stack

Although not specifically designed for the purpose, the ELK Stack (Elasticsearch, Logstash, and Kibana) is an ideal tool-chain for log aggregation, visualization, analysis, and monitoring. Individually setting up Elasticsearch, Logstash, and Kibana, and configuring them to communicate with each other is not a small task. Luckily, there are several ready-made Docker images on Docker Hub, whose authors have already done much of the hard work for us. After trying several ELK containers on Docker Hub, I chose on the willdurand/elk image. This image is easy to get started with, and is easily used to build containers using Docker Compose.


Using the ELK Stack, we have a way to collect (Logstash), store and search (Elasticsearch), and visualize and analyze (Kibana) our container’s log events. Although Logstash is capable of collecting our log events, to integrate more easily with Docker, we will add another component, Glider Lab’s Logspout, to our tool-chain. Logspout advertises itself as “a log router for Docker containers that runs inside Docker. It attaches to all containers on a host, then routes their logs wherever you want. It also has an extensible module system.”

Since Logspout is extensible through third-party modules, we will use one last component, Loop Lab’s Logspout/Logstash Adapter. Written in the go programming language, the adapter is described as “a minimalistic adapter for Glider Lab’s Logspout to write to Logstash UDP”. This adapter will allow us to collect Docker’s log events with Logspout and send them to Logstash using User Datagram Protocol (UDP).

In order to use the Logspout/Logstash adapter, we need to build a Logspout container from the /logspout Docker image, which contains a customized version of Logspout’s modules.go configuration file. This is explained in the Custom Logspout Builds section of Logspout’s Below is the modified configuration module with the addition of the adapter (see last import statement).

package main

import (
  _ ""
  _ ""
  _ ""
  _ ""
  _ ""
  _ ""
  _ ""

One note with Logspout, according to their website, for now it Logspout only captures stdout and stderr, but a module to collect container syslog is planned. Although syslog is common centralized log collection method, the Docker logs we will collect are sent to stdout and stderr, the lack of syslog support is not a limitation for us, in this demonstration.

We will configure Logstash to accept log events from Logspout, using UDP on port 5000. Below is an abridged version of the logstash-logspout-log4j2.conf configuration file. The except from the configuration file, below, instructs Logstash to listen for Logspout’s messages over UDP on port 5000, and passes them to Elasticsearch.

input {
  udp {
    port  => 5000
    codec => json
    type  => "dockerlogs"
# filtering section not shown...
output {
  elasticsearch { protocol => "http" }
  stdout { codec => rubydebug }

We could spend several posts on the configuration of Logstash. There are an infinite number of input, filter, and output combinations, to collect, transform, and push log events to various programs, including Logstash. The filtering section alone takes some time to learn exactly how to filter and transform log events, based upon the requirements for visualization and analysis.

Apache Log4j Logs

What about our Virtual-Vehicle microservice’s Log4j 2 logs? In the previous posts, you’ll recall we were sending our log events to physical log files within each container, using Log4j’s Rolling File appender.

    <RollingFile name="RollingFile" fileName="${log-path}/virtual-authentication.log"
                 filePattern="${log-path}/virtual-authentication-%d{yyyy-MM-dd}-%i.log" >
            <pattern>%d{dd/MMM/yyyy HH:mm:ss,SSS}- %c{1}: %m%n</pattern>
            <SizeBasedTriggeringPolicy size="1024 KB" />
        <DefaultRolloverStrategy max="4"/>

Given the variety of appenders available with Log4j 2, we have a few options to leverage the ELK Stack with these logs events. The least disruptive change would be to send the Log4j log events to Logspout by redirecting Log4j output from the physical log file to stdout. We could do this by running a Linux link command in each microservice’s Dockerfile, as in the following example with Authentication microservice.

RUN touch /var/log/virtual-authentication.log && \
    ln -sf /dev/stdout /var/log/virtual-authentication.log

This method would not require us to change the log4j2.xml configuration files, and rebuild the services. However, the alternative we will use in this post is switching to Log4j’s Syslog appender. According to Log4j documentation, the Syslog appender is a Socket appender that writes its output to a remote destination specified by a host and port in a format that conforms with either the BSD Syslog format or the RFC 5424 format. The data can be sent over either TCP or UDP.

To use the Syslog appender option, we do need to change each log4j2.xml configuration file, and then rebuild each of the microservices. Instead of using UDP over port 5000, which is the port Logspout is currently using to communicate with Logstash, we will use UDP over port 5001. Below is a sample of the log4j2.xml configuration files for the Authentication microservice.

    <Syslog name="RFC5424" format="RFC5424" host="elk" port="5001"
            protocol="UDP" appName="virtual-authentication" includeMDC="true"
            facility="SYSLOG" enterpriseNumber="18060" newLine="true"
            messageId="log4j2" mdcId="mdc" id="App"
            connectTimeoutMillis="1000" reconnectionDelayMillis="5000">
            <KeyValuePair key="thread" value="%t"/>
            <KeyValuePair key="priority" value="%p"/>
            <KeyValuePair key="category" value="%c"/>
            <KeyValuePair key="exception" value="%ex"/>
            <KeyValuePair key="message" value="%m"/>

To communicate with Logstash over port 5001 with the Syslog appender, we also need to modify the logstash-logspout-log4j2.conf configuration file, again. Below is the unabridged version of the configuration file, with both the Logspout (UDP port 5000) and Log4j (UDP port 5001) configurations.

input {
  udp {
    port  => 5000
    codec => json
    type  => "dockerlogs"

  udp {
    type => "log4j2"
    port => 5001

filter {
  if [type] == "log4j2" {
    mutate {
     gsub => ['message', "\n", " "]
     gsub => ['message', "\t", " "]

  if [type] == "dockerlogs" {
    if ([message] =~ "^\tat ") {
      drop {}

    grok {
      break_on_match => false
      match => [ "message", " responded with %{NUMBER:status_code:int}" ]
      tag_on_failure => []

    grok {
      break_on_match => false
      match => [ "message", " in %{NUMBER:response_time:int}ms" ]
      tag_on_failure => []

output {
  elasticsearch { protocol => "http" }
  stdout { codec => rubydebug }

You will note some basic filtering in the configuration. I will touch upon this in the next section. Below is a diagram showing the complete flow of log events from both Log4j and from the Docker containers to Logspout and the ELK Stack.ELK Log Message Flow

Troubleshooting and Debugging

Trying to troubleshoot why log events may not be showing up in Kibana can be frustrating, without methods to debug the flow of log events along with way. Were the stdout Docker log events successfully received by Logspout? Did Logspout successfully forward the log events to Logstash? Did Log4j successfully push the microservice’s log events to Logstash? Probably the most frustrating of all issues, did you properly configure the Logstash configuration file(s) to receive, filter, transform, and push the log events to Elasticsearch. I spent countless hours debugging filtering, alone. Luckily, there are several ways to ensure log events are flowing. The below diagram shows some of the debug points along the way.

ELK Ports

First, we can check that the log events are making to Logspout from Docker by cURLing or browsing port 8000. Executing ‘curl -X GET --url‘ will tail incoming log events received to Logspout. You should see log events flowing into Logspout as you call the microservices through NGINX, by running the project’s integration tests, as shown in the example, below.

Logspout Debugging

Second, we can cURL or browse port 9200. This port will display information about Elasticsearch. There are several useful endpoints exposed by Elasticsearch’s REST API interface. Executing ‘curl -X GET --url‘ will display statistics about Elasticsearch, including the number of log events, referred to as ‘documents’ to Elasticsearch’s structured JSON document-based NoSQL datastore. Note the line, ‘"num_docs": 469‘, indicating 469 log events were captured by Elasticsearch as documents.

    "_shards": {
        "total": 32,
        "successful": 16,
        "failed": 0
    "indices": {
        "logstash-2015.08.01": {
            "index": {
                "primary_size_in_bytes": 525997,
                "size_in_bytes": 525997
            "translog": {
                "operations": 492
            "docs": {
                "num_docs": 469,
                "max_doc": 469,
                "deleted_docs": 0

If you find log events are not flowing into Logstash, a quick way to start debugging issues is to check Logstash’s log:

docker exec -it jenkins_elk_1 cat /var/log/logstash/stdout.log

If you find log events are flowing into Logstash, but not being captured by Elasticsearch, it’s probably your Logstash configuration file. Either the input, filter, and/or output sections are wrong. A quick way to debug these types of issues is to check Elasticsearch’s log. I’ve found this log often contains useful and specific error messages, which can help fix Logstash configuration issues.

docker exec -it jenkins_elk_1 cat /var/log/elasticsearch/logstash.log

Without log event documents in Elasticsearch, there is no sense moving on to Kibana. Kibana will have no data available to display.


If you recall from our last post, the project already has Graphite and StatsD configured and running, as shown below. On its own, Graphite provides important monitoring and performance information about our microservices. In fact, we could choose to also send all our Docker log events, through Logstash, to Graphite. This would require some additional filtering and output configuration.

Graphite Dashboard

However, our main interest in this post is the ELK Stack. The way we visualize and analyze the log events we have captured is through Kibana. Kibana resembles other popular log aggregators and log search and analysis products, like Splunk, Graylog, and Sumo Logic. I suggest you familiarize yourself with Kibana before diving into the this part of the demonstration. Kibana can be confusing at first, if you are not familiar with it’s indexing, discovery, and search features.

We can access Kibana from our browser, at port 8200, ‘‘. The first interactions with Kibana will be through the Discover view, as seen in the screen grab shown below. Kibana displays the typical vertical bar chart event timeline, based on log event timestamps. The details of each log event are displayed below the timeline. You can filter and search within this view. Searches can be saved and used later.

Kibana Discovery Tab

Heck, just the ability to view and search all our log events in one place is a huge improvement over the command line. If you look a little closer at the actual log events, as shown below, you will notice two types, ‘dockerlogs‘ and ‘log4j2‘. Looking at the Logstash configuration file again, shown previously, you see we applied the ‘type‘ tag to the log events as they were being processed by Logstash.

Kibana Discovery Message Types

In the Logstash configuration file, shown previously, you will also note the use of a few basic filters. I created a ‘status_code‘ and ‘response_time‘ filter, specifically for the Docker log events. Each Docker log event is passed through the filters. The two fields, ‘status_code‘ and  ‘response_time‘, are extracted from the main log event text and added as separate, indexable, and searchable fields. Below is an example of one such Docker log event, an HTTP DELETE call to the Valet microservice, shown as JSON. Note the two fields, showing a response time of 13ms and a http status code of 204.

  "_index": "logstash-2015.08.01",
  "_type": "dockerlogs",
  "_id": "AU7rcyxTA4OY8JukKyIv",
  "_score": null,
  "_source": {
    "message": "DELETE 
                responded with 204 No Content in 13ms",
    "": "/jenkins_valet_1",
    "": "7ef368f9fdca2d338786ecd8fe612011aebbfc9ad9b677c21578332f7c46cf2b",
    "docker.image": "jenkins_valet",
    "docker.hostname": "7ef368f9fdca",
    "@version": "1",
    "@timestamp": "2015-08-01T22:47:49.649Z",
    "type": "dockerlogs",
    "host": "",
    "status_code": 204,
    "response_time": 13
  "fields": {
    "@timestamp": [
  "sort": [

For comparison, here is a sample Log4j 2 log event, generated by a JsonParseException. Note the different field structure. With more time spent modifying the Log4j event format, and configuring Logstash’s filtering and transforms, we could certainly improve the usability of Log4j log events.

  "_index": "logstash-2015.08.02",
  "_type": "log4j2",
  "_id": "AU7wJt8zA4OY8JukKyrt",
  "_score": null,
  "_source": {
    "message": "<43>1 2015-08-02T20:42:35.067Z bc45ce804859 virtual-authentication - log4j2
                [mdc@18060 category=\"com.example.authentication.objectid.JwtController\" exception=\"\"
                message=\"validateJwt() failed: JsonParseException: Unexpected end-of-input: was expecting closing
                quote for a string value  at [Source:; line: 1, column: 27\\]\"
                priority=\"ERROR\" thread=\"nioEventLoopGroup-3-9\"] validateJwt() failed: JsonParseException:
                Unexpected end-of-input: was expecting closing quote for a string value  at [Source:
      ; line: 1, column: 27] ",
    "@version": "1",
    "@timestamp": "2015-08-02T20:42:35.188Z",
    "type": "log4j2",
    "host": ""
  "fields": {
    "@timestamp": [
  "sort": [

Kibana Dashboard

To demonstrate the visualization capabilities of Kibana, we will create a Dashboard. Our Dashboard will be composed of a series of Kibana Visualizations. Visualizations are charts, graphs, tables, and metrics, based on the log events we see in the Discovery view. Below, I have created a rather basic Dashboard, containing some simple data visualization, based on our Docker and Log4j log events, collected over a 1-hour period. This one small screen-grab does not begin to do justice to the real power of Kibana.

Kibana Dashboard

In the dashboard above, you see a few basic metrics, such as request response times, response http status code, a chart of which containers are logging events, a graph that shows log events captured per minute, and so forth. Along with Searches, Visualizations and Dashboards can also be saved in Kibana. Note this demonstration’s Docker Compose YAML file does not configure volume mapping between the containers and host. If you destroy the containers, you destroy anything you saved in Kibana.

A key feature of Kibana’s Dashboards is their interactive capabilities. Rolling over any piece of a Visualization brings up an informative pop-up with additional details. For example, as shown below, rolling over the http status code ‘500’ pie chart slice, pops up the number of status code 500 responses. In this case, 15 log events, or 1.92% of the total 2,994 log events captured, had a ‘status_code’ field of ‘500’, within the 24-hour period the Dashboard analyzed.

Kibana Dashboard with Popup

Conveniently, Kibana also allows you to switch from a visual mode to a data table mode, for any Visualization on the Dashboard, as shown below, for a 24-hour period.

Kibana Dashboard as Tables


The ELK Stack is just one of a number of enterprise-class tools available to monitor and analyze the overall health of your applications running within a Dockerized environment. Having well planned logging, monitoring, and analytics strategies is key to this type of project. They should be implemented from the beginning of the project, to increase development and testing velocity, as well as provide quick troubleshooting, key business metrics, and proactive monitoring, once the application is in production.

Notes on Running the GitHub Project

If you download and run this project from GitHub, there is two key steps you should note. First, you need add an entry to your local /etc/hosts file. The IP address will be that of the Docker Machine VM, ‘test’. The hostname is ‘’. which matches the one I used throughout the demo. You should run the following bash command before building your containers from the docker-compose.yml file, but after you have built your VM using Docker Machine. The ‘test’ VM must already exist.

echo "$(docker-machine ip test)" \
  | sudo tee --append /etc/hosts

If you want to override this domain name with your own, you will need to modify and re-build the microservices project, first. Then, copy those build artifacts into this project, replacing the ones you pulled from GitHub.

Second, in order to achieve HATEOAS in my REST API responses, I have included some variables in my docker-compose.yml file. Wait, docker-compose.yml doesn’t support variables? Well, it can if you use a template file (docker-compose-template.yml) and run a script ( to provide variable expansion. My gist explains the technique a little better.

You should also run this command before building your containers from the docker-compose.yml file, but after you have built your VM using Docker Machine. Again, the ‘test’ VM must already exist.


Lastly, remember, we can run our integration tests to generate log events, using the following command.


Integration Tests

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