Understanding logging in Python

The standard logging library seems to be a confusing part in the Python programming language. In my case, my application was growing into several modules, sharing loggers, creating new ones, etc. I was getting weird behaviors like repeated log records or missing ones. I didn’t really understand why until I dug into the (rather long) documentation.

This post pretends to be an overview on how Python logging works. For full details, you have plenty of documentation available.

Main concepts

There are 4 main concepts in Python logging:

  1. Loggers expose the interface that application code directly uses
  2. Handlers send the log records (created by loggers) to the appropriate destination
  3. Filters provide a finer grained facility for determining which log records to output
  4. Formatters specify the layout of log records in the final output

You can add from zero to several handlers to the same logger. In the same way, you can apply from zero to several filters to handlers or loggers.

First important thing you need to know is that the logging module in Python is implemented as a hierarchy of loggers, being the RootLogger the main one. Being so, any logger you create will be a descendent of the RootLogger. Thus all the handlers and filters applied to the RootLogger will be applied to the rest of the loggers. It is very important to have this in mind while configuring your logging strategy. For example, you probably don’t want to add a FileHandler to the RootLogger, since that will make all the log records from your code and the libraries you use to be stored in a file.

The second important concept is that you can create descendants of a logger this way:

import logging

parent_log = logging.getLogger('parent')
child_1 = logging.getLogger('parent.child_1')
child_2 = logging.getLogger('parent.child_2')

child_1 and child_2 will now inherit handlers, formatters and filters from parent_log (as well as from RootLogger).

Log levels

As with any decent logging library, loggers can be configured in different levels. The level assigned to a logger determines the log records it will process. A logger will only process logs with a level equal or higher from which it was configured. Levels are DEBUG, INFO, WARNING, ERROR, and CRITICAL, in that order. So a logger configured in level WARNING (the default with the RootLogger) will process log records tagged WARNING, ERROR and CRITICAL. But not DEBUG or INFO.

Example - Configuring logging

There are mainly two ways of configuring logging: via code or via configuration files. I personally think its always better to separate the configuration from the code, so let’s write a configuration file. We want to log everything on the console, but only those records from our app to a file for longer term storage. To do so, we will attach a StreamHandler to the RootLogger. This will “swallow” all the records and spit them in the console. To save the records from our app (called myapp) we will attach a RotatingFileHandler to the main logger of our app. We only need to add it to the parent logger, since all descendants will inherit it. Here is the configuration:

version: 1

        format: "%(asctime)s - %(name)s - %(levelname)s - %(message)s"

        name: myapp

        class: logging.StreamHandler
        formatter: custom_format
        class: logging.handlers.RotatingFileHandler
        formatter: custom_format
        filename: myapp.log
        filters: [myapp]
        maxBytes: 1024
        backupCount: 5

        handlers: [console]
        level: INFO
        handlers: [file]
        level: INFO

NOTE: '' its a special name to modify the RootLogger

Hopefully the configuration file is quite self-explanatory once you know the parameters each handler requires. Now you only need to load the configuration and start logging:

import yaml
import logging
import logging.config

with open('config.yaml', 'r') as f:
    conf = yaml.load(f)


myapp = logging.getLogger('myapp')
myapp.info('This logger will write both to console and to the logging file, since the logger\'s name is myapp')

myapp_api = logging.getLogger('myapp.api')
myapp_api.info('This should also write to both since its a descendant of myapp')

another_logger = logging.getLogger('another_app')
another_logger.info('This instead should only appear in the console')

If you run that code, this will be the output in the console:

2016-12-15 10:57:05,344 - myapp - INFO - This logger will write both to console and to the logging file, since the logger's name is myapp
2016-12-15 10:57:05,345 - myapp - INFO - This should also write to both since its a descendant of myapp
2016-12-15 10:57:05,345 - another_app - INFO - This instead should only appear in the console

And this will be the content of the file myapp.log:

2016-12-15 10:58:13,631 - myapp - INFO - This logger will write both to console and to the logging file, since the logger's name is myapp
2016-12-15 10:58:13,631 - myapp.api - INFO - This should also write to both since its a descendant of myapp


Once you understand the main concepts, logging with the Python standard library it’s actually quite pleasant and flexible. It allows you to configure complex logging architectures and modify its behavior without having to modify your application code.

Logging is very important for any application to gather analytics, detect anomalies and troubleshooting. Hopefully this blog post has enlightened you a little bit and you’re excited to try out a good logging configuration :smile:.

Guillermo Carrasco

In automation, we trust.