Logs provide the foundational data to support performance, user and technical monitoring on your WordPress sites and the web servers they run. With them you can understand who changed what and when. You can then use this log data to troubleshoot technical and administrative issues, increase user accountability, and improve the security of your WordPress site.
Where logs really shine, however, is during troubleshooting. They are a bit like the flight data recorder or “black box” on an airliner. You hope you never need it, but when things go wrong, you’ll be relieved it’s there.
However, if you’re managing more than one WordPress website or a larger infrastructure, the last thing you want is to spend a considerable amount of time manually scanning through WordPress websites activity logs and multiple directories looking for log files to pinpoint the issue.
This is where logs management services come in. With a log management system, the logs from all the systems and your WordPress websites are automatically collated and made accessible from one central location. This dramatically shortens troubleshooting time. Let’s look at some of the other benefits a log management service can provide.
Viewing errors in context
As mentioned above, one of the major advantages of a log management system is that it aggregates logs to a central location. This can become quite critical when you consider that WordPress does not run in a vacuum – it needs an entire ecosystem of components, tools, and services to run. These include the web server it runs on, the MySQL database it uses to save information, the SMTP server to send emails, and a few other things.
In fact, WordPress administrators should consider collecting a variety of logs to ensure a holistic bird’s eye view of their infrastructure. Centralizing logs allows you to view the log data holistically.
You can begin to analyze the behavior of your environment as a whole and start to connect events, and identify patterns. For example, if you experience an issue where WordPress suddenly stops sending emails, the issue might not be with WordPress itself. It could also be the SMTP server, or anything else that is required for emails to be sent successfully. By having all systems and components report their logs to a one central location, it becomes that much easier to troubleshoot such issues without having to go back and forth between all of the different systems.
Log management systems also come with other useful features, such as Loggly’s Surround Search. This tool allows you to view the surrounding events that occurred just before or after critical events across your entire monitored environment. Seeing events in the context of other events can be a great time saver when troubleshooting and can help you identify the root cause of issues that much quicker.
Holistically viewing and searching logs from all your services in a central place is the first step towards analyzing the behavior of your website at scale. For example, when a user enters your website, their ability to login and access the site may depend on multiple services, such as authentication, localization, and content management.
To troubleshoot any anomalies, you need to be able to track the process from end to end, which means you need to connect multiple events from multiple services. Log management tools that aggregate and allow you to view related events can dramatically shorten issue identification and resolution times.
Fast search across large volumes of events
A key value proposition of log management services is the ability to search and filter large datasets with minimal effort. Log management services use more user-friendly query syntax instead of the complex regular expressions synonymous with traditional tools like awk and grep. You can string simple Boolean keywords and operators, such as AND or OR, and use parentheses for grouping to build very targeted and complex expressions without needing to learn a new query language.
Beyond just searching log files, some log management services such as Papertrail also offer the ability to see event messages as they are written. This feature is called Tailing. Tailing a log is very useful both for reproducing an issue, as well as for testing fixes. For example, you can do this on Papertrail with their Live Tail feature.
Broad log support
As new services are introduced, log formats are constantly changing. To get the value out of a log management system, you want to make sure it supports all the logging formats you currently use. It should also be frequently updated to support new formats as they become available.
To easily search across different log types, you’ll want the log management service to map your query to the individual log message fields. This ability depends on the log management service offering comprehensive support for different log formats and accurately parsing each log file.
Scalable and Secure Storage
When there’s an issue or an outage, it’s easy for the size of log files to grow exponentially. If your log management service relies on physical storage or hardware, you can quickly run out of space for new log data and end up losing critical event messages. This is one of the main advantages of log management as a service offers. Cloud-based log management services avoid this issue by allowing log storage capacity to seamlessly scale up as log volume increases. This ability can be a lifesaver when you are facing major system failures.
Since storing data in the cloud isn’t without risks, you’ll need to weigh the ability to scale against your security needs. However, most log management services are built with security in mind. They:
- encrypt the log data using encryption procotols such as AES-256
- make the data available only through Transport Layer Security (TLS)
Getting started with Log Management Services
Logs are essential for both real-time analysis and reporting, as well as issue investigation and troubleshooting. Investing in a solid activity log plugin for WordPress and log management service before you have an issue can provide you with the tools you need to identify an issue, understand the impact, and remediate the problem quickly when an issue does crop up.
With the right log management service, you’ll be able to quickly search across logs from multiple sources, zoom in on the issue, understand the context, and validate the effectiveness of remediation efforts. Many log management services offer a free trial, such as Loggly and Papertrail, so try them out and see what log management can do for your environment.