Ask any engineer and they’ll tell you that logging is essential for maintaining visibility into their systems and applications and troubleshooting them when things go wrong. With the proper logging tools in place, engineers can detect and resolve issues faster, and even prevent more serious issues from arising. The old cliche states that if you don't want to forget something, you should write it down, which rings true for programming and software development. In addition to acting as a record of what happened, logging provides a host of other benefits. Today we're going to dive into a few.
Logging, in its basic form, is a way to keep records of what is happening with a particular piece of software. With logs, developers see what their code is doing in real time and how it changes over time. Using a log management tool allows an individual or team to consult and interact with their logs in a central visual interface. Here, they can search, view, and be alerted on their logs to see what was done, when it took place, the process used to do it, and by who or what.
It's equally as important to see how the software changes over time and how it responds to what a developer or user is doing with it. This type of information is critical because it allows the developer or administrator to monitor trends in the software's performance and observe metrics such as usage times, traffic, and usage purposes—all of which can contribute significantly towards optimizing a product.
A team can have strong developers and IT engineers, but it will be hard to ship and maintain products if they can't communicate efficiently. Logs act as a single source of truth so that developers and administrators can understand exactly what’s happening within their systems and applications as they code, solve issues, and oversee performance. Having a single source of truth fosters transparency and puts everyone involved in the project on the same level of understanding. Another indirect benefit of this is that developers save time because they don't have to spend it explaining the same thing repeatedly to different people due to potentially asynchronous workflows. Instead, they can share the log line or set of log lines with their teammate so that they have context for what they’re working on.
Administrators and analysts rely on logs to oversee their software, ensuring everything is working as intended. If things aren't going according to plan, logs enable the team to localize a problem and debug it with all of the necessary information. A disruption in a trend could quickly signal a problem that, without logs, may not be caught until more severe effects surfaced. Being able to localize a situation and see disruption or issue right when it starts also prevents teams from wasting time trying to unknowingly "fix what they haven't broken." Because they can precisely see the issue, they don't have to double-check and search everything to discover where the problem is.
Another reason developers log is for audit capability. Some regulatory frameworks require firms to audit who did what and when and record things like business logic events. Other events can include items of financial, legal, or managerial importance. Common IT governance frameworks include Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX), Payment Card Industry (PCI), General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and Service Organization Control (SOC) 2. Using a log management tool that is in accordance with these compliance guidelines and allows you to easily access logs during an audit is crucial.
I can't stress enough the importance of logging, but it doesn't stop there. It's one thing to practice logging and another to do it well. Regardless, the first step is to ensure that logging (and management of said logs) takes place at all. Having a log management solution in place will set organizations on the right track to having organized, communicative, and efficient development teams.