How to follow your Apache error logs in a browser

Photo by Hunting Glee

As I work to make the data import process more reliable, one of the patterns that was recommended to me was having your import processes append their results to a log file, and then have a database load process that watches the file and updates the database as it spots new content.

This potentially solves a lot of problems for me, but it's not at all obvious how to implement the file tailing functionality in PHP, so I implemented a standalone example to test some approaches. Since I've always wished there was a better way than ssh-ing into my servers to view a live version of the Apache error logs, I made the example a long-running PHP process that outputs updates from the logs to your browser. You can see it running here:

The code is downloadable as, or it's included below. Be warned, before you use this on a production server make sure it's password-protected, since sensitive information like passwords or credit-card numbers might leak into your error messages inadvertently!

If you're looking for a Perl version, you might want to look at the File::Tail module.


//! This function never exits!
//! It sits on the specified file, calling the process function for each new line of
//! input as it's appended by some other process. The cookie value lets you pass in
//! an opaque object to be used by the process function callback.
function tail_and_process_file($filename, $processfunction, $cookie=null)
    $retrycount = 0;
    while ($retrycount<5)
        if (file_exists($filename))
            $retrycount = 0;
        $filehandle = fopen($filename, 'r');
        if (!$filehandle && file_exists($filename))
            die("tail_and_process_file($filename, $processfunction, $cookie): The input file exists but I couldn't access it");
        $lastaccesstime = 0;
        $lastfilesize = 0;
        $lastfileposition = 0;
        while (file_exists($filename))
            $currentaccesstime = fileatime($filename);
            if ($currentaccesstime!=$lastaccesstime)
                $currentfilesize = filesize($filename);
                if ($currentfilesize<$lastfilesize)
                    $filehandle = fopen($filename, 'r');
                    $lastfileposition = 0;
                fseek($filehandle, $lastfileposition);
                while (!feof($filehandle))
                    $currentline = fgets($filehandle);
                    if ($currentline!='')
                        $processfunction($currentline, $cookie);
                $lastaccesstime = $currentaccesstime;
                $lastfilesize = $currentfilesize;
                $lastfileposition = ftell($filehandle);
            // Without this, the results of the fileatime() may be cached
        // The file no longer exists, so wait a progressively longer interval
        // and try it again. After too many retries, die with an error
        $retrycount += 1;
    die("tail_and_process_file($filename, $processfunction, $cookie): The input file was not present after multiple retries");


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: