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How to Get Started with Logging in Ruby

Ayooluwa Isaiah
Updated on November 23, 2023

When it comes to building and maintaining robust Ruby applications, logging is one essential aspect that can't be ignored. It allows you to keep track of a program's behavior, catch errors and exceptions, and record important business or security events. It can also aid in troubleshooting issues and debugging problems in production environments especially when the logs are aggregated into a log management system for real-time monitoring and analysis.

Logging in Ruby can be done in by using the built-in Logger class or a third-party logging framework. Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses and is suited to different use cases. Choosing the right logging solution for your application is crucial, as it will impact how easy it is to maintain and monitor your application in production.

This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of logging in Ruby, covering various logging solutions and their use cases. We will begin by diving into the details of the Logger class, exploring its features and limitations. We will then discuss third-party logging frameworks and how they can be used to supplement or replace the Logger class to suit specific logging needs.

By the end of this article, you should have a solid understanding of logging in Ruby and be well equipped to apply this knowledge to implement robust logging solutions in your Ruby programs.


Before proceeding with this article, we recommend that you have a recent version of Ruby installed on your machine. All the code snippets presented in this article were thoroughly tested using Ruby 3.2.1, which was the latest version available at the time of writing.

Getting started with the Ruby Logger

Ruby provides the Logger class for logging in Ruby applications. It is built-in to Ruby so you don't need to install anything to use it. Here's a simple example that logs to the standard output:

require 'logger'

logger =$stdout) # create a new logger that writes to the console'Starting application...')

# ... application code here ...

logger.error('An error occurred!')

# ... more application code ...'Shutting down application...')

Before you can start logging in Ruby, you must require the logger module and then create a new logger instance using the method which accepts one compulsory argument: the destination of the records ($stdout in this case).

Once we have a logger instance, we can use level methods such as info(), error(), and others to log messages with different severity levels. Here's the output to expect when you run the above program:

I, [2023-04-17T19:50:35.871039 #33575]  INFO -- : Starting application...
E, [2023-04-17T19:50:35.871069 #33575] ERROR -- : An error occurred!
I, [2023-04-17T19:50:35.871075 #33575]  INFO -- : Shutting down application...

Each line in the output above corresponds to a log record and they follow the default log format of the Logger class:

SeverityLetter, [Timestamp #ProcessID] SeverityWord ProgramName: LogMessage

Here's what each part of the log format means:

  • SeverityLetter: the severity level of the log message represented by a single letter (I for INFO, E, for ERROR, etc).

  • Timestamp: the date and time when the log message was created, in the format %Y-%m-%dT%H:%M:%S.%6N.

  • ProcessID: the process ID of the program that generated the log message.

  • SeverityWord: the severity level of the message as a word (INFO, DEBUG, etc).

  • ProgramName: the program name if set (using logger.progname for example).

  • LogMessage: the message that was logged.

We will discuss how you can customize the output of your logs in a subsequent section. First lets look at log levels in Ruby and how you can customize them

Log Levels in Ruby

Ruby's Logger class supports five log levels: DEBUG, INFO, WARN, ERROR, FATAL. Each log level represents how severe the event being recorded is, and can they can also be used to control the amount of information that is logged. By default, each logger created with is set to log at the DEBUG.

Here's a brief explanation of what each log level means (see our log levels guide for a more detailed analysis):

  • DEBUG: used to log detailed information about the program intended for debugging purposes. Usually only used during development or troubleshooting.
  • INFO: used to record normal and expected events in the program.
  • WARN: indicates that something unexpected has happened, but the application can still continue at least for sometime.
  • ERROR: indicates that an unexpected error has occurred that prevents a program function from working as expected.
  • FATAL: indicates that a very serious error has occurred that may cause the program to crash.

The Logger class provides a corresponding method for each of the above levels:

logger.debug('Started processing request for user 1234')'Server started on port 3000')
logger.warn('Disk space low: only 5% remaining on /dev/sda1')
logger.error('Failed to write to file /var/log/application.log: permission denied')
logger.fatal('Fatal error: could not connect to database at localhost:3306')
D, [2023-04-17T20:24:22.752275 #90147] DEBUG -- : Started processing request for user 1234
I, [2023-04-17T20:24:22.752306 #90147]  INFO -- : Server started on port 3000
W, [2023-04-17T20:24:22.752313 #90147]  WARN -- : Disk space low: only 5% remaining on /dev/sda1
E, [2023-04-17T20:24:22.752317 #90147] ERROR -- : Failed to write to file /var/log/application.log: permission denied
F, [2023-04-17T20:24:22.752321 #90147] FATAL -- : Fatal error: could not connect to database at localhost:3306

You can control the amount of output that your program emits by changing the level property on a Logger instance. For example, you can ignore DEBUG and INFO logs in a production environment by setting logger.level to WARN as shown below:

# add this before using any level method
logger.level = Logger::WARN
# or

You can also set the preferred log level while creating the Logger:

logger =$stdout, level: Logger::WARN)

When you do this, the DEBUG and INFO entries will be suppressed:

W, [2023-04-17T20:24:22.752313 #90147]  WARN -- : Disk space low: only 5% remaining on /dev/sda1
E, [2023-04-17T20:24:22.752317 #90147] ERROR -- : Failed to write to file /var/log/application.log: permission denied
F, [2023-04-17T20:24:22.752321 #90147] FATAL -- : Fatal error: could not connect to database at localhost:3306

Setting the log level using an environmental variable

Instead of hardcoding the log level your program, it's better to set its value using an environmental variables so that you can easily change the logging behavior of your application without having to modify the code. This can be especially useful in production environments where you may want to change the log level without having to redeploy the application.

Here's how to change the logging level of a Ruby program using an environmental variable:

require 'logger'

logger =$stdout)

log_level = ENV.fetch('RUBY_LOG_LEVEL', 'INFO')
logger.level = Logger.const_get(log_level)

In this example, the Logger.const_get() method is used to convert the log level string to a corresponding constant defined in the Logger class. This allows you to provide the log level using a string like DEBUG or WARN, instead of using a constant like Logger::DEBUG or Logger::WARN.

You can set the environmental variable when running the application, like this:


This will ensure that only events of ERROR severity and higher are logged. If the RUBY_LOG_LEVEL variable is not set in the environment, it will default to INFO instead.

Using custom log levels in Ruby

Creating custom log levels can be useful in situations where the default log levels provided by the Logger class are not sufficient for your needs. For example, if you have an application with different types of errors that require different levels of attention, you may want to define custom log levels to make it easier to differentiate between them.

In Ruby's Logger class, you cannot create custom log levels directly. However, you can define your own custom logger class that inherits from Logger and defines its own log levels as constants.

Here's an example that adds the TRACE log level to Ruby:

class CustomLogger < Logger
  TRACE = Logger::DEBUG - 1

    -1 => 'TRACE',
    0 => 'DEBUG',
    1 => 'INFO',
    2 => 'WARN',
    3 => 'ERROR',
    4 => 'FATAL'

  def format_severity(severity)
    SEV_LABEL[severity] || 'ANY'

  def trace(message)
    add(TRACE, message)

logger =$stdout)
logger.level = CustomLogger::TRACE

logger.trace('Entering "calculate" method with arguments: x=5, y=10')

In this example, we've defined a new CustomLogger class that inherits from Logger. The TRACE level is also defined with its corresponding instance method, and the format_severity method of the Logger class is overridden so that the correct label is used when logging at the TRACE level.

T, [2023-04-18T07:25:52.635839 #58839] TRACE -- : Entering "calculate" method with arguments: x=5, y=10

Now that you've seen how the Ruby Logger works and how to set and customize log levels, let's look at other ways to customize the Ruby logger

Customizing the log format

You can customize the format of your Ruby logs using the Logger#formatter property. The formatter is a block that takes four arguments: the severity level, the time stamp, the program name, and the log message. You can use these arguments to create a custom log format that includes the information you need.

Here's an example that prints each record using the logfmt standard which requires each field in the record to be formatted as key=value:

logger.formatter = proc do |severity, datetime, _progname, msg|
  datefmt = datetime.strftime('%Y-%m-%dT%H:%M:%S.%6N')
  "timestamp=#{datefmt} level=#{severity.ljust(5)} msg='#{msg}'\n"

This snippet uses a proc to overwrite the default format, and this change yields the output below:

timestamp=2023-04-18T09:48:15.903589 level=DEBUG msg='Started processing request for user 1234'
timestamp=2023-04-18T09:48:15.903611 level=INFO  msg='Server started on port 3000'
timestamp=2023-04-18T09:48:15.903616 level=WARN  msg='Disk space low: only 5% remaining on /dev/sda1'
timestamp=2023-04-18T09:48:15.903620 level=ERROR msg='Failed to write to file /var/log/application.log: permission denied'
timestamp=2023-04-18T09:48:15.903623 level=FATAL msg='Fatal error: could not connect to database at localhost:3306'

You can customize the log format further by including additional metadata that you'd like to be present in all records generated by the program. For example, you can include the process ID or the Git commit hash to keep track of the running version in production. Here's an example:

git_commit_hash = `git rev-parse HEAD`.strip
logger.formatter = proc do |severity, datetime, _progname, msg| datefmt = datetime.strftime('%Y-%m-%dT%H:%M:%S.%6N')
"timestamp=#{datefmt} level=#{severity.ljust(5)} git_commit_hash=#{git_commit_hash} pid=#{} msg='#{msg}'\n"
timestamp=2023-04-18T09:57:35.895145 level=INFO git_commit_hash=13f2942d96a8a25b4da6e86bd5865c0eee13cc62 pid=106742 msg='Starting application...'

Structured logging in JSON

JSON is a popular format for structured logging, as it allows for easy integration with a variety of log management tools and systems. It's possible to output your Ruby logs in the JSON format using a custom formatter as shown below:

require 'logger'
require 'json'

. . .

git_commit_hash = `git rev-parse HEAD`.strip

logger.formatter = proc do |severity, datetime, _progname, msg|
  datefmt = datetime.strftime('%Y-%m-%dT%H:%M:%S.%6N')
    timestamp: datefmt,
    level: severity.ljust(5),
    git_commit_hash: git_commit_hash,
    msg: msg
  }.to_json + "\n"
{"timestamp":"2023-04-18T10:04:00.835675","level":"INFO ","git_commit_hash":"13f2942d96a8a25b4da6e86bd5865c0eee13cc62","pid":114761,"msg":"Starting application..."}

As you can see, all you need to do is create a dictionary with the key/value pairs you'd like to include in your logs, and then call the to_json method on it to convert it to a JSON object. A newline character is also added at the end so that each JSON record is placed on its own line.

Logging to files in Ruby

As mentioned earlier, the first argument to the method defines where the log records created by the Logger instance should be stored. We'v only used the standard output so far in this tutorial, but you can also log to a file by providing the path to a file as shown below:

logger ='logs/app.log')

This snippet configures the logger to output to an logs/app.log file in the current directory. Note that any intermediate directories must be created first before executing the program otherwise you'll get an error.

cat logs/app.log
# Logfile created on 2023-04-18 10:23:38 +0100 by logger.rb/v1.5.3
{"timestamp":"2023-04-18T10:23:38.615776","level":"INFO ","pid":144698,"msg":"Starting application..."}

When logging to files, you should also configure log rotation policy through the second and third arguments to the new method so that the file does not grow to an unmanageable size:'app.log', 3) # retain 3 1-megabyte files

The above snippet configures the program to rotate the app.log file when it reaches 1 megabyte (the default), and only 3 files are retained in total (the older logs get deleted). You can change the maximum size of individual files with the third argument:'app.log', 3, 10 * 1024 * 1024) # retain 3 10-megabyte files

You can also rotate log files periodically through string arguments such as daily, weekly, or monthly. See the Logger documentation for more details.

While Ruby's built-in log rotation features can be useful for basic log rotation needs, they may not be sufficient for more complex or high-volume logging scenarios. Therefore we recommend deferring your log rotation needs to dedicated tools such as logrotate which provide better performance, flexibility, reliability, and integration with other logging tools and systems.

Logging errors in Ruby

You can log errors and exceptions in Ruby by feeding the error to the error() or fatal() methods, whichever is more appropriate:

  result = 1 / 0
rescue StandardError => e

You'll observe that the error is logged appropriately along with a stack trace:

E, [2023-04-19T13:12:31.923335 #155487] ERROR -- : divided by 0 (ZeroDivisionError)
main.rb:24:in `/'
main.rb:24:in `<main>'

However, if you're logging in JSON using the technique demonstrated earlier, you will observe that the stack trace is missing from the output:

{"timestamp":"2023-04-19T13:14:10.199836","level":"ERROR","pid":159080,"msg":"divided by 0"}

A possible workaround to ensure that the stack trace is also included in the JSON output is to explicitly include backtrace in the log message:

logger.error(e.message + ' ' + e.backtrace.join(' '))
{"timestamp":"2023-04-19T13:15:32.277236","level":"ERROR","pid":163713,"msg":"divided by 0 main.rb:24:in `/' main.rb:24:in `<main>'"}

Skip ahead to the section on third-party logging frameworks to discover a more elegant way to log exceptions in Ruby programs.

Limitations of the Ruby Logger

Although the Logger class is a handy tool to initiate logging in Ruby, it may not be the best choice for production logging, depending on your application needs. This is due to some inherent limitations that it has which may impact its effectiveness in certain production environments. Here are a few notable ones:

  1. The Logger class does not support context-aware logging, which can make it challenging to automatically attach contextual information (such as request IDs, transaction IDs, and other relevant metadata) to log messages. This limitation negates one of the main benefits of logging in a structured format such as JSON.

  2. Logging to multiple destinations at once is often helpful when you want provide some redundancy in case one of the destinations fails or becomes unavailable, but Logger instances cannot do this on their own. The workaround here is to create multiple Logger instances that log to different destinations or use an external tool to filter the logs and redirect them to their final destination.

  3. While you can log errors and exceptions as shown above, you have to do additional work to include the stack trace when outputting logs in JSON format. Even then, the output is not optimal as everything gets placed into the msg property.

Considering the limitations of the built-in logging solution, we suggest utilizing a third-party logging framework for comprehensive production logging. In the next section, we will explore some of the available logging frameworks in the Ruby ecosystem and provide insights on how to choose the right one to suit your logging needs.

Using a third-party logging framework

If the capabilities of the built-in Logger class don't quite match up to your expectations, you can adopt one of the third-party logging frameworks discussed below.

1. Ougai

One of the well-known options for structured logging in Ruby is the Ougai gem. It extends the standard Logger class and complements it with useful features such as pretty printing, child loggers, JSON logging, exceptions with stack traces, and more.

You can install it in your project by running the command below:

gem install ougai

Once the gem is installed, you must require it in your program and use it as shown below:

require 'ougai'

logger =$stdout)'Hello from Ougai logger')
{"name":"main","hostname":"fedora","pid":79872,"level":30,"time":"2023-04-19T11:57:06.167+01:00","v":0,"msg":"Hello from Ougai logger"}

Notice that Ougai defaults to structured logging in JSON and it includes some extra properties that is not present when using the Logger class such as the name, hostname, and v fields which represent the name of the file, the hostname of the machine where the log was generated, and the log format version (added for compatibility with node-bunyan). Also, notice that the level property is represented as a number where:

  • 10 => TRACE (Ougai supports TRACE natively).
  • 20 => DEBUG
  • 30 => INFO
  • 40 => WARN
  • 50 => ERROR
  • 60 => FATAL

The reasoning behind using a number for the log level instead of a label is to enable the easy filtration of logs by using a query such as level >= 30 to show only records with INFO or greater severity. If you prefer to use a label, please see the this GitHub issue.

Context-aware logging

When using Ougai, adding relevant metadata at log point is done by passing a hash after the log message. For example:

logger.debug('Calling external API at', {
  api_url: '',
  request_body: {
    id: 42
{"name":"main","hostname":"fedora","pid":128605,"level":20,"time":"2023-04-19T12:34:18.648+01:00","v":0,"msg":"Calling external API at","api_url":"","request_body":{"id":42}}

When you want to include the same metadata in multiple logs, you can use a child logger:

# import and set up the logger
. . .
user_id = 1283
transaction_id = SecureRandom.uuid'Hello from Ougai logger')

child_logger = logger.child({user_id:, transaction_id:})
# log transaction start'Transaction started')

# perform some transaction steps
child_logger.debug('Payment processing', { order_id: '12345', payment_method: 'credit_card' })
child_logger.debug('Order fulfillment', { order_id: '12345', shipping_method: 'standard' })

# log transaction end'Transaction completed')
{"name":"main","hostname":"fedora","pid":240069,"level":30,"time":"2023-04-19T16:51:04.749+01:00","v":0,"msg":"Hello from Ougai logger"}
{"name":"main","hostname":"fedora","pid":240069,"level":30,"time":"2023-04-19T16:51:04.749+01:00","v":0,"msg":"Transaction started","user_id":1283,"transaction_id":"8472b740-697e-4126-8cdc-2ebf2895bf14"}
{"name":"main","hostname":"fedora","pid":240069,"level":20,"time":"2023-04-19T16:51:04.749+01:00","v":0,"msg":"Payment processing","order_id":"12345","payment_method":"credit_card","user_id":1283,"transaction_id":"8472b740-697e-4126-8cdc-2ebf2895bf14"}
{"name":"main","hostname":"fedora","pid":240069,"level":20,"time":"2023-04-19T16:51:04.749+01:00","v":0,"msg":"Order fulfillment","order_id":"12345","shipping_method":"standard","user_id":1283,"transaction_id":"8472b740-697e-4126-8cdc-2ebf2895bf14"}
{"name":"main","hostname":"fedora","pid":240069,"level":30,"time":"2023-04-19T16:51:04.749+01:00","v":0,"msg":"Transaction completed","user_id":1283,"transaction_id":"8472b740-697e-4126-8cdc-2ebf2895bf14"}

You can also use the logger.with_fields property to add custom metadata to all logs in a module or even the entire program. See the documentation for more details.

Logging exceptions with Ougai

When you log exceptions with Ougai, an err property is added to the output with its own name, message, and stack properties. This lets you quickly filter errors by type and create more specific alerts in a log management tool:

{"name":"main","hostname":"fedora","pid":197075,"level":50,"time":"2023-04-19T14:01:49.974+01:00","v":0,"msg":"divided by 0","err":{"name":"ZeroDivisionError","message":"divided by 0","stack":"main.rb:24:in `/'\n  main.rb:24:in `<main>'"}}

2. Semantic logger

Semantic Logger is a logging interface for Ruby that can produce both human and machine-readable logs. It allows logging to multiple destinations and can forward logs to centralized logging systems. It is also built with performance in mind as logging is performed in a separate thread so as not to slow down the application whilst logging to one or more destinations.

Every log entry contains contextual information such as the class and file name where the message originated, duration of code blocks, thread name, process ID, exceptions, metrics, tagging, and custom fields. This additional context provides useful insights into application behavior and aids in debugging and monitoring.

Before you can start using Semantic Logger in your programs, you'll need to install it first:

gem install semantic_logger

Once the gem is installed, you can start using it in your Ruby application. Here's an example that logs a message to the standard output using Semantic Logger:

require 'semantic_logger'
SemanticLogger.add_appender(io: $stdout)
logger = SemanticLogger['MyApp']'Hello from semantic logger')

By default, the output is similar to the standard Ruby logger:

2023-04-18 13:59:14.436080 I [249876:60] MyApp -- Hello from semantic logger

However, you can also configure it to produce structured JSON output:

SemanticLogger.add_appender(io: $stdout, formatter: :json)
{"host":"fedora","application":"Semantic Logger","timestamp":"2023-04-19T16:08:04.092164Z","level":"info","level_index":2,"pid":258049,"thread":"60","name":"MyApp","message":"Hello from semantic logger"}

Here's an example that configures Semantic Logger to output log records in JSON format to a file and simultaneously log a colourized format to the standard output:

require 'semantic_logger'
SemanticLogger.add_appender(file_name: 'logs/development.log', formatter: :json)
SemanticLogger.add_appender(io: $stdout, formatter: :color)

logger = SemanticLogger['MyApp']'Hello from semantic logger')

Screenshot from 2023-04-18 14-17-36.png

cat logs/development.log
{"host":"fedora","application":"Semantic Logger","timestamp":"2023-04-18T13:07:42.168913Z","level":"info","level_index":2,"pid":254990,"thread":"60","name":"MyApp","message":"Hello from semantic logger"}

Logging exceptions with Semantic Logger

Semantic Logger provides proper support for logging exceptions by capturing every detail about the exception including its stack trace:

{"host":"fedora","application":"Semantic Logger","timestamp":"2023-04-19T16:09:28.554393Z","level":"error","level_index":4,"pid":259353,"thread":"60","file":"main.rb","line":9,"name":"MyApp","exception":{"name":"ZeroDivisionError","message":"divided by 0","stack_trace":["main.rb:7:in `/'","main.rb:7:in `<main>'"]}}

Final thoughts and next steps

In this tutorial, we covered a lot of ground when it comes to logging in Ruby. We explored the different logging solutions available, discussed their strengths and limitations, and provided examples of how to log effectively using these solutions.

But we know that understanding the theory of logging is only half the battle - seeing it in action is equally important. That's why we've provided another comprehensive tutorial that dives into a practical example of how to use logging in a real-world application. This tutorial demonstrates how to use a logging framework in a Ruby on Rails web application and how to leverage a log management platform to analyze and manage your application logs.

By following along with the tutorial, you'll see many of the logging features we've discussed here in action and gain a more solid understanding of how to implement them in your own projects. We hope that the knowledge and skills you've acquired in this tutorial will help you build more robust, reliable, and performant Ruby applications.

For more resources about Ruby logging, read our articles about best ruby logging libraries.

Thanks for reading, and happy logging!

Author's avatar
Article by
Ayooluwa Isaiah
Ayo is the Head of Content at Better Stack. His passion is simplifying and communicating complex technical ideas effectively. His work was featured on several esteemed publications including, Digital Ocean, and CSS-Tricks. When he’s not writing or coding, he loves to travel, bike, and play tennis.
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