Tuesday, November 28, 2017

rsyslog 8.31 - an important release

Today, we release rsyslog 8.31. This is probably one of the biggest releases in the past couple of years. While it also offers great new functionality, what really important about it is the focus on further improved software quality.

Let's get a bit down on it. First let's mention some important new features:

And then we have a set of several hundred commits concerned with improved software quality:
  • testbench dynamic tests have been extended
  • coverage of different compilers and compiler options has been enhanced
  • more modules are automatically scanned by static analysis
  • daily Coverity scans were added to the QA system, which have proofen to be a very useful addition
  • more aggressive and automated testing with threading debuggers (valgrind's helgrind and clang thread sanitizer) has been added, also with great success
  • as a result of these actions, we could find and fix many small software defects.
  • and there also have been some big and important fixes, namely for imjournal, omelasticsearch, mmdblookup and the rsyslog core
Many users were involved in finding and fixing bugs, many of which all I do know from is there github handle. So rather than highlighting just some of them, I would like to refer to the github milestone issue tracker where all can be found. My sincere thanks to everyone for all their support!

I consider rsyslog release 8.31 a major step forward in our QA policy. We already had improved quite a bit and the state was already pretty good. However, with the changes introduced in 8.31, we make a big step forward, into a kind of next-gen QA policy. Of course, QA is a journey and not a "do once" target. So expect more good stuff upcoming in the next releases. We are not done yet!

I would like to use this opportunity to express a personal "thank yo" to Thomas Deutschmann, also know as Whissi for all his good advice and sometimes strong words that drive use towards better quality. While many folks have helped us with this, Whissi is consistenytly insisting on good QA policies for a long time now, and he always was persistent in fighting with me when I did not understand the value or did not want to. Whissi, I admit I sometimes wasn't too fond of you, but believe me, at the end of the day I *really* value what you are doing. You have my deepest respect. Looking forward to many more years of discussions!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The clang thread sanitizer

Finding threading bugs is hard. Clang thread sanitizer makes it easier. The thread sanitizer instruments the to-be-tested code and emits useful information about actions that look suspicious (most importantly data races). This is a great aid in development and for QA. Thread sanitizer is faster than valgrind's helgind, which makes it applicable to more use cases. Note however that helgrind and thread sanitizer sometimes each detect issues that the other one does not.
This is how thread sanitizer can be activated:
  • install clang package (the OS package is usually good enough, but if you want to use clang 5.0, you can obtain packages from http://apt.llvm.org/)
  • export CC=clang // or CC=clang-5.0 for the LLVM packages
  • export CFLAGS="-g -fsanitize=thread -fno-omit-frame-pointer"
  • re-run configure (very important, else CFLAGS is not picked up!)
  • make clean (important, else make does not detect that it needs to build some files due to change of CFLAGS)
  • make
  • install as usual
If you came to this page trying to debug a rsyslog problem, we strongly suggest to run your instrumented version interactively. To do so:
  • stop the rsyslog system service
  • sudo -i (you usually need root privileges for a typical rsyslogd configuration)
  • execute /path/to/rsyslogd -n ...other options...
    here "/path/to" may not be required and often is just "/sbin" (so "/sbin/rsyslogd")
    "other options" is whatever is specified in your OS startup scripts, most often nothing
  • let rsyslog run; thread sanitizer will spit out messages to stdout/stderr (or nothing if all is well)
  • press ctl-c to terminate rsyslog run

Note that the thread sanitizer will display some false positives at the start (related to pthread_cancel, maybe localtime_r). The stack trace shall contain exact location info. If it does not, the ASAN_SYMBOLIZER is not correctly set, but usually it "just works".
Doc on thread sanitizer ist available here: https://clang.llvm.org/docs/ThreadSanitizer.html

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Automating Coverity Scan with a complex TravisCI build matrix

This is how you can automate Coverity Scan using Travis CI - especially if you have a complex build matrix:
  • create an additional matrix entry you will exclusively use for submission to Coverity
  • make sure you use your regular git master branch for the scans (so you can be sure you scan the real thing!)
  • schedule a Travis CI cron job (daily, if permitted by project size and Coverity submission allowance)
  • In that cron job, on the dedicated Coverity matrix entry:
  • cache Coverity's analysis tools on your own web site, download them from there during Travis CI VM preparation (Coverity doesn't like too-frequent downloads)
  • prepare your project for compilation as usual (autoreconf, configure, ...) - ensure that you build all source units, as you want a full scan
  • run the cov-int tool according to Coverity instructions
  • tar the build result
  • use the "manual" wget upload capability (doc on Coverity submission web form); make sure you use a secure Travis environment variable for your Coverity token
  • you will receive scan results via email as usual - if you like, automate email-to-issue creation for newly found defects
Actual Sample Code: rsyslog uses this method. Have a look at it's .travis.yml (search for "DO_COVERITY"). The scan run can be found here (search for "DO_CRON"), a script that calls another one ultimately doing the steps described above. These two scripts are called from .travis.yml.


Why so complicated? After all, there is a Coverity addon for Travis CI. That's right, and it probably works great for simple build matrices. Rsyslog uses Travis quite intensely. At the time of this writing, we spawn 8 VMs for different tests and test environments plus the one for cron jobs (so 9 in total). With the Coverity addon, this would result in 9 submissions per run, because the addon runs once per VM requested. Given that rsyslog currently has an allowance of 3 scans per day, a single run would use up all of our allowance plus 6 more which would not succeed. Even if it would work, it would be a big waste of Coverity resources and be pretty impolitely both to Coverity and fellow users of the free scan service.

With the above method, we have full control over what we submit to Coverity and how we do it.With our current scan allowance, we use exactly one scan per day, which leaves two left for cases where it is useful to run interim scans during development.

Why do you use master branch for the scan? Coverity recommends a dedicated branch.
In my opinion, software quality assurance works well only if it is automated and is applied to what actually is being "delivered". In that sense, real CI with one Coverity run per pull request (before we merge!) would be best. We can't do this due to Coverity allowance limitations. The next best thing is to do it as soon as possible after merge (daily in our case) and make sure it is actually run against the then-current state. Introducing a different branch just for scan purposes sounds counter-productive:

  • you either need to update it to full master branch immediately before the scan, in which case you can use master directly
  • or you do update the "Coverity branch" only on "special events" (or even manually), which would be counter the idea to have things checked as early as possible. Why would you withhold scanning something that you merged to master, aka "this is good to go"? Sounds like an approach to self-cheating to me...
In conclusion, using scanning master is the most appropriate way to automatically scan your project. Be bold enough to do that.

Does your approach work for non-Travis, e.g. Buildbot?
Of course, it works perfectly with any solution that permits you to run scheduled "builds". We also use Buildbot for rsyslog. We could have placed it there. Simply because of ease of use we have decided to use Travis for automating the scan as well. We could also have used a scheduled Buildbot instance. So the approach described here is universal. The only thing you really want is that the scan is initiated automatically at scheduled intervals - otherwise you could simply use the manual submit.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Time for a better Version Numbering Scheme!

The traditional major.minor.patchlevel versioning scheme is no longer of real use:

  • users want new features when they are ready, not when a new major version is crafted
  • there is a major-version-number-increase fear in open source development, thus major version bumps sometimes come very random (see Linux for example)
  • distros fire the major-version-number-increase fear because they are much more hesitant to accept new packages with increased major version
In conclusion, the major version number has become cosmetic for many projects. Take rsyslog as an example: when we switched to rsyslog scheduled releases, we also switched to just incrementing the minor version component, which now actually increments with each release - but nothing else. We still use the 8.x.0 scheme, where x is more or less the real version number. We keep that old scheme for cosmetic reasons, aka "people are used to it".

Some projects, most notably systemd, which probably invented that scheme, are more boldly: the have switched to a single ever-increasing integer as version (so you talk of e.g. version 221 vs 235 of systemd). This needs some adaption from the user side, but seems to be accepted by now.

And different other approach, known from Ubuntu, is to use "wine-versioning": just use the date. So we have 14.04, 16.04, 17.04 representing year and month of release. This also works well, but is unusual yet for single projects.

What made me think about this problem? When Jan started his log anonymizer project, we thought about how it should be versioned. We concluded that a single ever-incrementing version number is the right path to take. For this project, and most probably for all future ones. Maybe even rsyslog will at some time make the switch to a single version digit...

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Busy at the moment...

Some might have noticed that I am not as active as usual on the rsyslog project. As this seems to turn out to keep at least for the upcoming couple of weeks, I'd like to give a short explanation of what is going on. Starting around the  begin of June I got involved into a political topic in my local village. It's related to civil rights, and it really is a local thingy, so there is little point in explaining the complex story. What is important is that the originally small thing grew larger and larger and we now have to win a kind of election - which means rallies and the like. To make matters a little worse (in regard to my time...) I am one of the movement's speakers and also serve as subject matter expert to our group (I am following this theme for over 20 years now). To cut a long story short, that issue has increasingly eating up my spare time and we are currently at a point where little is left.

Usually, a large part of my spare time goes into rsyslog and related projects. Thankfully, Adiscon funds rsyslog development, and so I can work on it during my office hours. However, during these office hours I am obliged to work on paid support cases and also a limited number of things not directly related to rsyslog. Unfortunately, August (and early September) is main holiday season in our region. As such, I also have limited co-workers available that I could share rsyslog work with. And to make matters "worse", I need to train new folks to get started with rsyslog work - one of them does a summer internship, so I need to work with him now. While new folks is always a good thing to have on a project (and I really appreciate it), this means further reduction of my rsyslog time.

The bottom line is that due to all these things together, I am not really able to react to issues as quickly as I would like to. The political topic is expected to come to a conclusion -one way or the other- by the end of September. Due to personal reasons, I will not be able to do work at all in early October (long-planned out of office period), but I hope to be fully available again by mid October. And the good news is that we will have a somewhat larger team by this time because Jan, who does the internship, will continue to work part time on the project. Even better: Pascal will be with Adiscon for the next months on a full-time basis and will be able to work considerable hours on rsyslog.

So while we have a temporary glitch in availability, I am confident we'll recover from that in autumn and we have very exciting work upcoming (for example, the TLS work Pascal has just announced). I have also a couple of very interesting suggestions which are currently discussed with support contract customers.

All in all, I beg for your patience. And I am really thankful to all of our great community members which do excellent work on the rsyslog mailing list, github and other places. Not to forget the great contributions we increasingly get. Looking forward to many more years of productive syslogging!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Introducing new team member

Good news: we have some new folks working on the rsyslog project. In a small mini-series of two blog postings I'd like to introduce them. I'll start with Jan Gerhards, who already has some rsyslog-related material online.

Jan studies computer science at Stuttgart University. He has occasionally worked on rsyslog for a while. This summer, he does a two-month internship at Adiscon. He also plans to continue to work on rsyslog and logging-related projects in the future. Right now, he looks into improving the mmanon plugin. He is also trying to improve debug logging, which I admit is my personal favorite (albeit it looks like this is the lower-priority project ;-)).

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Would creating a simple Linux log file shipper make sense?

I currently think about creating a very basic shipper for log files, but wonder if it really makes sense. I am especially concerned if good tools already exists. Being lazy, I thought I ask for some wisdom from those in the know before investing more time to search solutions and weigh their quality.

I've more than once read that logstash is far too heavy for a simple shipper, and I've also heard that rsyslog is also sometimes a bit heavy (albeit much lighter) for the purpose. I think with reasonable effort we could create a tool that

  • monitors text files (much like imfile does) and pulls new entries from them
  • does NOT further process or transform these logs
  • sends the resulting file to a very limited number of destionations (for starters, I'd say syslog protocol only)
  • with the focus on being very lightweight, intentionnally not implementing anything complex.
Would this be useful for you? What would be the minimal feature set you need in order to make it useful? Does something like this already exist? Is it really needed or is a stripped-down rsyslog config sufficient?

I'd be grateful for any thoughts in this direction.

rsyslog 8.31 - an important release

Today, we release rsyslog 8.31. This is probably one of the biggest releases in the past couple of years. While it also offers great new fu...