Query logging performance

Robert Edmonds edmonds at debian.org
Wed Aug 5 01:51:25 UTC 2015

W.C.A. Wijngaards via Unbound-users wrote:
> On 03/08/15 19:50, Darren Spruell via Unbound-users wrote:
> > Unbound's documentation mentions that query logging can have very 
> > adverse performance on server operation. I was curious if the
> > project feels this has been optimized to the degree possible
> > already, or if an approach similar to what some other projects take
> > may be beneficial; namely something like delegating logging
> > responsibilities to a different thread (Suricata IDS engine, I
> > think) or even using a separate log output process (Squid [1],
> > OpenBSD's PF/pflogd(8) [2]).

Hi, Darren:

I looked into how existing DNS servers (BIND, Unbound) implement query
logging when I was originally implementing dnstap support in Unbound.
There are some brief notes on slides 6 and 7 in this slide deck:


Benchmarks are shown on slides 36 and 37.  Query logging just kills the
performance of these two servers.

BIND and Unbound are very similar in how their query logging is
performed, though the actual implementations are very different.
It basically comes down to:

 (1) Formatting the query into a textual log entry, usually using a
 printf() family function.

 (2) Using a stdio function or syslog() to export the log entry to a
 file or socket.

 (3) Doing this from the worker thread responsible for processing the

(The basic idea dates all the way back to BIND 4:

Using printf() family functions in (1) is bad, since format strings have
to be parsed for each entry.  If your log format is highly customizable
or has a lot of fields, etc. you can end up taking a not insubstantial
performance hit.  This can be optimized a bit with custom formatting

(2) + (3) is where the big performance hit comes from, since the C
library is ultimately hiding mutexes in the internal implementations of
typical functions like fprintf() and syslog() used to write the log
output.  With heavily threaded servers like BIND and Unbound, (3) causes
the contention for those mutexes to impact the performance of the
server; you may have many worker threads running and serving clients,
but they will all be contending for the same FILE* or syslog mutex.
(Though, in the syslog case, there's no particularly good reason that
all the threads in a process have to contend for access to the same
socket to the syslog server, other than because that's how the syslog()
implementation provided by the system works.)

If you're only interested in acquiring raw query packets, query logging
in the DNS server is probably not the best approach; there are a variety
of kernel facilities for acquiring that data without affecting the
performance of the DNS server too badly, like BPF/AF_PACKET ("pcap"),
ulogd, pflogd, etc., depending on kernel.  However, there is additional
metadata that can be exported via in-server logging that doesn't appear
on the wire, stuff like cache status and bailiwick information (the
latter is useful for passive DNS).

The dnstap implementation in Unbound is actually a combination of three
different things: the "dnstap.pb" protobuf schema itself [0], the
protobuf-c [1] implementation of Protocol Buffers for binary message
serialization, and the fstrm library [2] which provides a dedicated
logging thread and AF_UNIX transport.

[0] https://github.com/dnstap/dnstap.pb

[1] https://github.com/protobuf-c/protobuf-c

[2] https://github.com/farsightsec/fstrm

So, using binary protobuf messages rather than printf() style formatting
addresses (1) above, though protobuf serialization performance can still
be a concern.  The lock contention in (2) and (3) are addressed by the
use of a dedicated logging thread provided by fstrm that provides each
worker thread a lockless way to enqueue log messages.

However, all of the logging work can't be deferred to the logging
thread, so (3) is still a concern.  Namely, the creation of the log
message itself (and any needed memory allocations, memory copies, etc.)
still has to be done by the worker thread.  Since the logging thread
performs work asynchronously to the worker threads, we can't defer 100%
of the work of creating the log message to the point at which the log
data is actually written out: needed data fields that would go into the
rendered log message may have been free()'d and would no longer be
available.  This is because Unbound is written in C and doesn't use any
sort of refcounting or garbage collection scheme that we could latch
onto to avoid the overhead of those memory copies, so we have to do log
message rendering in the worker thread.  And this applies regardless of
whether the log format is text or binary.

In practice, though, that residual overhead from needing to render the
log message in the worker thread is not that bad, see slide 38 in the
slide deck linked above (compare the 'unbound' or
'unbound-dnstap-disabled' plots against the 'unbound-dnstap-discard'

> > Alternately, is dnstap [3] the preferred direction for this?
> > Depending on the implementation, the difference in complexity
> > between a fast, native textual query log on the server vs. a dnstap
> > configuration could be a factor.

I'm obviously a bit biased, but dnstap does seem to be the direction
that in-server DNS logging is heading in, even with the downside of
needing an additional tool outside the DNS server to save the data.
(Actually, I think Knot DNS allows writing dnstap data directly to a
file.)  I know of about 4-5 DNS servers that have implemented dnstap or
are in the process of implementing it.  And, as far as I know, no one is
working on optimizing the existing text query logging in the various
servers.  (This feature seems to have been added only reluctantly to
some of them.)

Most of the performance issues don't come down to how the log messages
are encoded (text versus binary), but how to keep the cost of exporting
the log messages (writing to a socket or file) from impacting the worker

If you really do need textual query log data, you might look into
converting dnstap encoded log messages into the format you need.  There
is a "dnstap-ldns" [3] utility that shows a good example of producing
plain text and YAML from dnstap data.

[3] https://github.com/dnstap/dnstap-ldns

> Dnstap is implemented, configure --enable-dnstap.
> Make sure to install the dependencies, libfstrm and protobuf-c. In
> unbound.conf it looks a bit like this:
> dnstap:
> 	dnstap-enable: yes
> 	dnstap-socket-path: "/tmp/mysock"

You also need to enable logging for some message types, e.g.:

    dnstap-enable: yes
    dnstap-socket-path: "/tmp/mysock"
    dnstap-log-client-query-messages: yes
    dnstap-log-client-response-messages: yes

Robert Edmonds
edmonds at debian.org

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