A gentle introduction to ATS logging internals


The logging subsystem is a rather large and tricky section of the code base. You’ll find that over the years, as people have come and gone, large swathes of the code may lack comments and/or documentation. Even worse, when there are comments, some (but not all) might be flat out wrong or outdated.

Your author has put in some effort in adding comments and removing wrong documentation, but the effort is ongoing.

Note: before reading this, make sure you read the Logging chapter so you don’t lose sight of the big picture.

Memory layout

Here we will discuss the internal (and in the case of binary logging, also external) memory layout for logs. Keep in mind that you should revisit this section after reading the rest of this doc.

Log data for each transaction (henceforth called a log entry) is stored in a LogBuffer. There may be more than one log entry in each LogBuffer. Each LogBuffer is prepended with a LogBufferHeader. Each log entry is prepended with a LogEntryHeader. In this manner, the layout for a single LogBuffer might look something like this:

                                 free space
  LogBuffer                      |
 ^  ^   ^   ^
 |  |   |   |
 |  |   |   +- a LogEntryHeader
 |  |   +----- actual log entry data
 |  +--------- a LogEntryHeader describing the entry
 +------------ a LogBufferHeader containing info about the log entries

Important data structures

There are a lot of data structures present in the logging code, but undoubtedly the two most important are LogObject and LogBuffer. They are defined in proxy/logging/LogObject.h and proxy/logging/LogBuffer.h, respectively.


Each LogObject represents a logical ATS logging object. This may sound tautological, but that’s because the implementation fits the abstraction well. Hand in glove, so to speak. In typical cases (with the notable exceptions of logging to pipe and logging over network), a LogObject will map to a file on disk.

When a logging event occurs, ATS will cycle through all the configured LogObjects and attempt to save that logging event to each LogObject. In this way, the same event can be saved in a variety of different formats and places.

The list of LogObjects is stored in the LogObjectManager class, defined in proxy/logging/LogObject.h. There is one and only one LogObjectManager instance stored inside the LogConfig instance, which is in turn stored inside static Log class. As indicated by the decades old comment in Log.h, the Log class should ideally be converted to a namespace. Feeling confused yet? We’re just getting started.

Brief detour: LogConfig stores all the configuration the logging subsystem needs. Pretty straightforward.


The LogBuffer class is designed to provide a thread-safe mechanism to buffer/store log entries before they’re flushed. To reduce system call overhead, LogBuffers are designed to avoid heavy-weight mutexes in favor of using lightweight atomics built on top of compare-and-swap operations. When a caller wants to write into a LogBuffer, the caller “checks out” a segment of the buffer to write into. LogBuffer makes sure that no two callers are served overlapping segments. To illustrate this point, consider this diagram of a buffer:

    LogBuffer instance
| thread_1's segment             |
| thread_2's segment             |
|                                |
|                                |
| thread_3's segment             |
|                                |
|                                |
|                                |
| thread_4's segment             |
| <unused>                       |
|                                |
|                                |
|                                |
|                                |
|                                |
|                                |
|                                |

In this manner, since no two threads are writing in the other’s segment, we avoid race conditions during the actual logging. This also makes LogBuffer’s critical section extremely small. In fact, the only time we need to enter a critical section is when we do the book keeping to keep track of which segments are checked out. Despite this, it’s not unusual to see between 5% and 20% of total processor time spent inside LogBuffer serialization code. It’s unclear at this time whether or not actual locks will improve performance, so further performance testing is still necessary.

There’s a lot more that could be said about LogBuffer. If you’re interested, come read it on the author’s personal website

Brief overview of the code

Here I’ll cover the most important parts of the logging code. Note that what’s being covered here is the main data path, the path user agent accesses take to getting into a log file. Much more can be said about the rest of the logging code, but it’s all rather trivial to manually figure out once you know the data path and data structures. In an effort to keep this document timeless, we will avoid documenting more code than this.

proxy/logging/Log.h and proxy/logging/Log.cc are the entry points into the logging subsystem. There are a few notable functions in Log.cc that we should pay close attention to: Log::access(..), Log::error(..), preproc_thread_main(..), and flush_thread_main(..).

Log::access(..) and Log::error(..)

These two functions are the entirety of the API that the logging subsystem exposes to the rest of ATS. Log::access(..) records access events, eg. when a user agent requests a document through ATS. These entries are typically sent to squid.[b]log. Log::error(..) is used to put error logs into error.log.


preproc_thread_main(..) is a thread that runs inside Apache Traffic Server™’s event system. Think of it as just a regular POSIX pthread. This thread periodically takes a look all the full LogBuffers, does some preprocessing work on them, and then finally adds the full and preprocessed LogBuffers to the global/static Log::flush_data_list. flush_thread_main(..) then consumes these processed LogBuffers.


Just like preproc_thread_main(..), flush_thread_main(..) is run in a thread like environment. flush_thread_main(..)’s role is rather simple.

  1. Pop each processed LogBuffer off the global/static queue.
  2. Check to make sure all the file structures underpinning our LogObjects are good to go.
  3. Flush the LogBuffers onto disk or through the network (in the case of collated logs).


Adding LogFields

If you’re working with logging code, there’s a good chance you’ll be adding more log fields. This isn’t so much hard as it’s annoying. The best way to learn all the incantations is to look at an example. For example, this commit.