Analyzing Usage via Server Logs - HTML

All Web servers generate logs regarding traffic. It is important to routinely review the information in the server logs to ensure your site is not experiencing any problems you might not be aware of.

Monitoring Apache traffic
Any public Web site should have its traffic monitored. Apache does a great job of tracking all access, errors, and content it serves and storing it all in its log files. However, reading a log file—even a modest one—can be tedious and unproductive. Thankfully, several tools are available to monitor traffic on Apache. Most tools work off the Apache log files and can be used to view retroactive traffic. The following sections cover three of the most popular open source tools—Analog, Webalizer, and Advanced Web Statistics (AWStats).

The maintainers of Analog hail it as “the most popular log file analyser [sic] in the world.” Whether this claim is actually true or not, many sites all around the world use Analog. Written in C, Analog is highly portable. The main advantage to Analog is its capability to quickly process many different log file formats. This enables Webmasters to compile data from log files on demand.

Analog also supports 31 different languages.

It can display 45 different reports, including the following:

  • Quick summaries of activities
  • Actual hosts that connected to your site
  • Search terms used to find your site
  • Most common files requested

Another advantage to Analog is the amount of customization that you can add to its reports. Analog is available for multiple platforms. Binaries are available for both Linux and Windows, and full source is available if you need to compile your own copy.

Sample output from Analog.

Sample output from Analog.

Webalizer is similar to Analog, providing fast processing of log files into HTML reports. Also written in C, Webalizer is highly portable, and binary versions are available for download for Windows and Linux from the Webalizer Web site. Webalizer supports 33 different languages and has a multitude of configuration options for customizing the reports it generates.

Sample output from Webalizer.

Sample output from Webalizer.

Advanced Web Statistics is another popular open source log analyzer. AWStats is written in Perl and runs on any platform running Perl. It will run on both Apache and Internet Information Server (IIS) logs.

Note:Perl is available from several different sources. You can download a copy for most platforms from CPAN. Most Linux distributions include a packaged version of Perl in their distribution, as well. Like the other two programs, AWStats supports multiple languages (36), can be configured to read almost any log file format, and is open source, with full source code available.

AWStats runs either from the command line or from administrative pages as a CGI program. Unlike the other two analyzers just described, it is preferable to run AWStats on a regular basis, reading the log files as they are generated instead of after the fact. The advantage to this approach is that your statistic pages are kept relatively up-to-date automatically. The downside is that AWStats wasn’t written for speed, so analyzing old logs can take a while.

Sample output from AWStats.

Sample output from AWStats.

Note Several other commercial log file-analyzing programs are available, such as Webtrends’ Log Analyzer series of programs. However, for general use, the open source tools listed in this session work quite well.

Monitoring IIS Traffic
Unlike Apache, there don’t seem to be as many freely available log analyzers for Microsoft’s Internet Information Server. This is probably due to Apache’s roots in the Open Source community—its specifications are freely available and the community tends to support its own. That said, there are a few good solutions for IIS log analyzing.

  • AWStats and Analog, covered in the preceding section on Apache, can also analyze IIS logs.

Finding the right log analyzer
All three programs covered in this session provide detailed logs that you can use to help troubleshoot your site, fine-tune your server, or just provide raw statistics. All in all, they provide fairly equal features and reporting.

How do you determine which tool is right for you?

My advice is to run at least two tools, even if you run one of them only occasionally. Running more than one helps you get a better view of your data, seeing it from multiple perspectives. Visit all the sites referenced in this section and view the sample reports to ensure that each tool provides the data you need.

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