Please don’t write logs inside Program Files (here’s how to do it right)

So the other day I’m troubleshooting a Windows Service that keeps failing on a server, part of a product we’re using in the company. Long story short, that’s what the problem was:

Access to the path 'C:\Program Files\whatever\whatever.log is denied'

I mean, dear programmer, look. You want to write your application’s logs as simple text files. I get it. Text files are simple, reliable (if the file system doesn’t work, you have bigger problems than logging) and they’re shown in virtually every coding tutorial in every programming language. Depending on the case, there might be better ways to do that such as syslog, eventlog and others.

But sure, let’s go with text files. Take the following example somewhere in the middle of a Python tutorial. Look at line 3:

import logging

logging.basicConfig(filename='app.log', filemode='w', format='%(name)s - %(levelname)s - %(message)s')
logging.warning('This will get logged to a file')

Did you notice? This code writes the log in the same place as the binary. It’s not explicitly mentioned and usually you wouldn’t give it a second thought, right?

To be clear, I don’t want to be hard on the writers of this or any other tutorial; it’s just a basic tutorial, and as such it should highlight the core concept. A professional developer writing an enterprise product should know a bit more!

But the thing is, these examples are everywhere. Take another Java tutorial and look at line 16:

package com.javacodegeeks.snippets.core;

import java.util.logging.Logger;
import java.util.logging.FileHandler;
import java.util.logging.SimpleFormatter;
import java.io.IOException;

public class SequencedLogFile {

    public static final int FILE_SIZE = 1024;
    public static void main(String[] args) {

        Logger logger = Logger.getLogger(SequencedLogFile.class.getName());
        try {
            // Create an instance of FileHandler with 5 logging files sequences.
            FileHandler handler = new FileHandler("sample.log", FILE_SIZE, 5, true);
            handler.setFormatter(new SimpleFormatter());
            logger.addHandler(handler);
            logger.setUseParentHandlers(false);
        } catch (IOException e) {
            logger.warning("Failed to initialize logger handler.");
        }
        logger.info("Logging info message.");
        logger.warning("Logging warn message.");
    }
}

Or this Dot Net tutorial, which explains how to set up Log4Net (which is great!) and gives this configuration example. Let’s see if you can spot this one. Which line is the problem?

<log4net>
  <root>
    <level value="ALL" />
    <appender-ref ref="LogFileAppender" />
  </root>
  <appender name="LogFileAppender" type="log4net.Appender.RollingFileAppender">
    <file value="proper.log" />
    <lockingModel type="log4net.Appender.FileAppender+MinimalLock" />
    <appendToFile value="true" />
    <rollingStyle value="Size" />
    <maxSizeRollBackups value="2" />
    <maximumFileSize value="1MB" />
    <staticLogFileName value="true" />
    <layout type="log4net.Layout.PatternLayout">
      <conversionPattern value="%d [%t] %-5p %c %m%n" />
    </layout>
  </appender>
</log4net>

If you answered “7”, congrats, you’re starting to get it. Not using a path -this should be obvious, I know, but it’s easy to forget nevertheless- means writing in the current path, which by default is wherever the binary is.

So this works fine while you’re developing. It works fine when you do your unit tests. It probably works when your testers do the user acceptance testing or whatever QA process you have.

But when your customers install the software, the exe usually goes to C:\Program Files (that’s in Windows; in Linux there are different possibilities as explained here, but let’s say /usr/bin). Normal users do not have permission to write there; an administrator can grant this, but they really really really shouldn’t. You’re not supposed to tamper with the executables! Unless you’re doing some maintenance or an upgrade of course.

So how do you do this correctly?

First of all, it’s a good idea to not reinvent the wheel. There are many, many, MANY libraries to choose from, some of them very mature, like log4net for Dot Net or log4j for Java.

But if you want to keep it very simple, fine. There are basically two ways to do it.

If it’s a UI-based software, that your users will use interactively:

Create a directory under %localappdata% (by default C:\Users\SOMEUSER\AppData\Local) with the brand name of your company and/or product, and write in there.

You can get the localappdata path using the following line in Dot Net:

string localAppDataPath = Environment.GetFolderPath(Environment.SpecialFolder.LocalApplicationData);

Take for example the screen-capturing software called Greenshot. These guys do it right:

If it’s a non-interactive software, like a Windows Service:

You can do the same as above, but instead of Environment.SpecialFolder.LocalApplicationData use Environment.SpecialFolder.CommonApplicationData, which by default is C:\ProgramData. So your logs will be in C:\ProgramData\MyAmazingCompany\myamazingproduct.log.

Or -not recommended, but not as horrible as writing in Program Files- you can create something custom like C:\MyAmazingCompany\logs. I’ll be honest with you, it’s ugly, but it works.

But in any case, be careful to consider your environment. Is your software supposed to run on Windows, Linux, Mac, everything? A good place to start is here, for Dot Net, but the concept is the same in every language.

And, also important, make your logging configurable! The location should be changeable via a config file. Different systems have different requirements. Someone will need the logs somewhere special for their own reasons.

But whatever you do, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE DON’T WRITE WHERE THE BINARY IS. DON’T WRITE IN C:\PROGRAM FILES. IT. DOES. NOT. WORK.

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Google photo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s