3 Aug 2023 · Software Engineering

    Docker Logging: 7 Best Practices

    9 min read

    Docker helps developers make containers for their software. Containers make it easier to use and share said software. Docker logging is an essential aspect of operating containers in a production environment. It provides the capability to track and troubleshoot your applications. Utilizing it can help you identify and fix issues.

    To make logging work well in Docker containers, you need to log the app, the host computer, and the Docker service. You can efficiently log your Dockerized apps by combining multiple logging methods and strategies. In this article, I’ll talk about logging in Docker and give tips to help you manage logs in your Docker setup well.

    What is Docker Logging?

    Docker logging refers to collecting and storing log messages generated by containers and Docker components. Log messages are an essential tool for troubleshooting various issues. They are essential for understanding the behaviour of containers and detecting performance problems. They help in debugging applications and understanding the system’s behaviour.

    Docker supports several ways to log messages. These include logging to files, logging to the standard output stream, and logging to third-party log management tools.

    Challenges with Docker Logging

    While logging is a critical aspect of Docker container management, it also presents several challenges, including:

    • Volume and Variety of Logs: Docker containers create much log data. This data grows fast as more containers are added. Each container makes various logs, each with its own format and detail level. This variety of logs can make it challenging to add and manage log data in a centralized manner.
    • Container Mobility: Docker containers are portable, and you can move them between different hosts and environments. This mobility can make it challenging to ensure that logs are consistently collected, transported, and stored.
    • Log Storage and Management: storing and managing log data in a scalable and reliable manner can be challenging, especially when there’s a lot of log data. Solutions that work well for small-scale environments may become overwhelming or challenging to manage as the scale increases.
    • Container Ephemerality: containers in Docker can be created and destroyed dynamically, which can make it challenging to ensure that logs are consistently captured, stored, and retained. Logs may be lost when a container is deleted, and log data may not persist if a container is recreated.
    • Logging Configuration: configuring logging in Docker can be complex, particularly for teams that are new to Docker or for large-scale environments. Issues such as log rotation, storage, and transport need careful consideration and planning.
    • Debugging and Troubleshooting: debugging and troubleshooting issues in a Docker environment can be challenging due to the sheer volume of log data generated by containers. Logs can be dispersed across multiple containers, hosts, and storage solutions, making it difficult to locate relevant logs for a particular issue quickly.
    • Compatibility with Different Log Formats: different applications, containers, and systems may generate logs in different formats and use different logging tools. This can make it challenging to consolidate and analyze log data in a unified manner.
    • Security and Compliance: in many cases, logs contain sensitive information and are subject to regulations, such as GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI DSS. Ensuring the security and compliance of log data in a Docker environment can be challenging, particularly when it comes to protecting logs from unauthorized access and ensuring that logs are retained for the required period.

    Now that we are familiar with some of the challenges in docker logging, let’s move on to discuss some of the best practices. For better understanding, I’ll be grouping them into two subsections so as to grasp different aspects for docker logging and also general techniques for logging.

    How to Properly Log

    In this section, the focus is on how to properly configure Docker logging to ensure that log data is captured effectively and efficiently. This includes:

    1. Log to the Standard Output Stream

    This can be helpful when working with Docker containers that generate simple log output and also where the log data is transient, meaning it doesn’t need to be persisted long-term. By logging to the standard output stream, you can ensure that logs are accessible from the Docker host, making them easier to manage and track. Also, doing so:

    • Allows you to collect logs in a consistent and accessible manner.
    • Ensures that logs are available on the host, which can be useful in the event of container failure.
    • Makes it easier to monitor logs, as they are stored in a standard location.

    2. Limit the log size

    Docker containers can generate a large amount of log data, which can cause performance issues if not appropriately managed. To avoid this, experts limit the log size to a reasonable amount, e.g. 10 MB per container.

    This practice is necessary as large logs can slow down systems and make log analysis more difficult. Also, limiting the log size will help ensure that logs are accessible from the Docker host, making them easier to manage and track. Limiting log size is important to manage the amount of log data generated by containers. By limiting the size of logs, it becomes easier to manage disk space and prevent logs from consuming too much storage or, in worst case, filling the disk entirely!

    3. Rotate Logs

    Regular log rotation is necessary to avoid logs growing too large and using up disk space. You can do this using log rotation tools like logrotate. Rotating logs helps you archive or delete old ones and retain only the most recent ones. Doing so helps prevent disk space from being exhausted, which can impact system performance and stability. It also helps to ensure that log data is secure, as older logs can be deleted or archived, reducing the risk of data breaches.

    Rotating logs can be useful in scenarios where logs are generated frequently, and it’s important to manage the amount of log data generated by containers.

    How to Leverage Log Data

    This section will focus on how to use log data to gain insights and improve the performance and reliability of your Docker environment.

    4. Use a centralized logging solution

    This practice can come in handy when managing multiple Docker containers across different hosts, and it’s important to aggregate log data in a central location. By centralizing log storage, you can have all your logs in one place, making it easier to manage, search, and analyze them. Doing so allows you to have a centralized view of all the logs generated by your Docker containers, which can be helpful in troubleshooting and monitoring. You can use Centralized logging solutions like ELK (Elasticsearch, Logstash, and Kibana) or Graylog to manage logs from multiple containers. These tools provide a centralized view of log data, making identifying and resolving issues easier. Using a centralized logging solution can help in the following ways:

    • It makes log analysis more efficient, as all logs are stored in one location.
    • It helps to ensure data security, as logs are stored in a centralized location, reducing the risk of data breaches.

    5. Tag log messages

    It is vital to tag log messages with relevant information such as the container name, hostname, and date and time. Doing so makes it easier to identify the source of log messages and helps to debug. Also, Tagging logs makes monitoring and auditing log data more manageable and secure. Tagging logs can also help in the following ways:

    • It allows you to quickly find relevant logs, making log analysis more efficient.
    • It helps to categorize logs, making it easier to search or even purge log categories that you know you don’t need to retain (GDPR, etc.).

    Tagging logs also comes in handy when trying to identify specific log messages related to a particular container or application.

    6. Monitor logs

    Regular monitoring of logs is essential to detect, diagnose, and resolve issues promptly in your application. Doing so allows you to identify and resolve problems before they become more serious quickly. Proper logging can also guarantee the effective operation of your application. In addition, log monitoring can help ensure that your data is secure, as it can help detect security breaches and other security incidents.

    There are many automated log monitoring tools available, such as Sentry, Datadog, and Logwatch. These tools can help keep track of your application’s logs and provide valuable insights into its performance. By automating log monitoring, you can ensure proper application operation, and gather and plot important business KPIs, such as the number of sales per hour.

    7. Store logs for a sufficient amount of time

    Storing logs for an adequate period is vital for maintaining a historical record of application activity. It can come in handy where it’s important to retain log data for compliance, auditing, or troubleshooting purposes. By storing logs for a sufficient amount of time, it becomes easier to analyze historical log data and identify trends and patterns over time. The retention period depends on the requirements of your organization, and it’s prudent to ask your company’s legal team for advice when it comes to log storage.

    NOTE: Organizations can keep logs for much longer by cleaning and removing personally identifiable metadata and other information (PII). There are ways of cleaning out PII and extracting meaningful metadata for business KPI monitoring/tracking i.e. data aggregation, data masking, data archiving etc. This data may be stored as long as the business requires it.

    Storing logs is necessary as it helps in the following ways:

    • It allows you to review log data over time and identify trends and patterns in application behaviour.
    • It provides valuable data for troubleshooting and auditing purposes, as past log data can be used to resolve issues and understand how problems occurred.
    • It supports compliance with regulatory requirements that may require the retention of log data for a specific period of time.


    Docker logging is a critical part of container management. It requires careful planning and management. These best practices can mitigate some of the challenges associated with Docker logging.

    By following these best practices, you can effectively manage logs in your Docker environment and ensure that your containers run smoothly. Would you please share if you found this helpful?

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    Writen by:
    Temitope Oyedele is a software engineer and technical writer, he likes to write about things he’s learned and experienced.
    Reviewed by:
    I picked up most of my soft/hardware troubleshooting skills in the US Army. A decade of Java development drove me to operations, scaling infrastructure to cope with the thundering herd. Engineering coach and CTO of Teleclinic.