This may seem silly to some, but one of the most difficult to find and more important daily-use pieces of software tooling is a decent cross-platform log reader that provides a decent, if small set of features and doesn’t cost anything.
Finally, after literally years of hoping to find a log reader that was useful without getting in the way, the other day I came across something that’s delightful and, better yet, free. TailView, apparently included with Aptana, has all the fundamental features I’d look for in a log reading tool and one or two that are just plain cool:
- It’s an Eclipse plugin, so it’s cross-platform and goes nicely with the Console, Problems, and Search Results views in the lower-right tabset of my screen, just below the main editor window. Aptana’s instructions to access their Eclipse update/install site are here.
- Within its tab, it has its own tab bar, one for each log you have open
- Start/Stop capture buttons, so you can leave a logfile open and just ignore it
- Add/remove log files (so you can use it to tail any text-based log on your computer)
- It bolds a log’s tab when that tab has been updated with new data
- Clear the log file in the UI (so you can watch new entries roll in)
- Delete logfile from disk
- COOLEST FEATURE: reg-ex based color coding, so you can tell it to turn anything that matches ^[(w| |:)+] [error] purple when it is displayed. Actually that one comes built-in and it’s the regex that matches an Apache log’s error entry.
Why on earth would anyone get excited enough about a log file reader to write a blog post about it? Well… if knowing how to read logs (and sometimes even just where to find them on the machine: Jrun logs on CF Standalone, anyone?) will make or break your day, then a decent tail utility (more about tail in a sec) will take your made day and just add gravy. Yeah, mixed metaphors… life goes on, deal with it.
The point is this: every time I use this thing, I am momentariliy transported back to the days when I would try to diagnose Apache problems on Windows using Notepad as my logfile viewer, and every time that happens, I get a bit of a smile on my face because this is soooo much nicer and so much easier.
Briefly, by the way, tail is an old UNIX command that would open a log file and refresh its own screen when new lines were added. Oldest entries at the top, newest entries at the bottom, it would just sit there pushing every new log line to the screen so you could see things as they happened instead of having to re-open the file to get fresh lines. Eventually it came to be synonymous with live-update log file reading in general and now pretty much anything that will show you new log data as it comes it is loosely called a “tail utility”, whether, like the original, it’s a command-line, text-mode console application or a full-featured, standalone app. Console on OSX (/Applications/Utilities/Console) is one such application, but it has no Windows equivalent.
In fact, I’ve been (casually) looking for a decent cross-platform GUI-based tail utility for (literally) years, with little success until I came across TailView the other day. I’d downloaded a different tail plugin for Eclipse and was checking to see if it had installed correctly so I went to the Window > Other Views… panel and typed Tail in the little filter field… and boom! There was TailView, from Aptana. I strongly recommend you check it out.
Because a decent log reader will really make or break your day, or even your week… seriously.