Logrotate is a system utility that controls the automatic rotation and compression of log files. If files have not been rotated, compressed and periodically deleted during long-term server operation, they may sooner or later take up all available memory space.

Logrotate is installed by default on Ubuntu 16.04 and is configured to handle log rotation for all installed packages and applications.

Logrotate version check:

logrotate --version  

The output of the command will be

root@kvmde67-19464:~# logrotate --version  
logrotate 3.8.7  

The default configuration of Logrotate is stored in two paths:

  • The file /etc/logrotate.conf stores some of the default configurations. It also contains archiving templates for non-system files.
  • File /etc/logrotate.d/ is designed to store third-party parameters that the administrator sets himself. Rotation templates for system utilities are stored here.

Let's take a look at the Logrotate configuration file /etc/logrotate.d for the apt package manager:

cat /etc/logrotate.d/apt  

The output of the command will be

root@kvmde67-19464:~# cat /etc/logrotate.d/apt  
/var/log/apt/term.log {
  rotate 12

/var/log/apt/history.log {
  rotate 12

This file contains configuration blocks for two different log files in /var/log/apt/: term.log and history.log. Both blocks have the same options. Any options not specified in these configuration blocks inherit the default values or values set in /etc/logrotate.conf

Parameters set for apt logs:

  • rotate 12 - specifies that the utility saves the last twelve logs;
  • monthly - update once a month;
  • compress - archive command, by default the standard Linux utility gzip is used, if you want to change it to another one then specify the keys after the command;
  • missingok - do not write an error message if the log file is missing;
  • notifempty - do not rotate empty log file.

Two options can be used to manage log files for applications:

  • Create a new Logrotate configuration file and place it in /etc/logrotate.d/. It will run daily as the root user along with all other standard LogRotate tasks.
  • Create a new configuration file and run it with the default LogRotate settings in Ubuntu

Create configuration in /etc/logrotate.d/

As an example, let's configure updates for a server that writes logs to the access.log and error.log files located in /var/log/example-app/

To add the configuration directory /etc/logrotate.d/, open a new file:

sudo nano /etc/logrotate.d/example-app  
/var/log/example-app/*.log {
    rotate 14
    create 0640 www-data www-data
        systemctl reload example-app

Description of the directives:

  • create 0640 www-data www-data - this command will create a new empty log file after rotation with specified permissions (0640), owner ( www-data) and groups (www-data);
  • sharedscripts - this option means that any scripts added to the configuration will only run once per run after the files have been compressed, not for each individual updated file. Because our configuration will match two log files (access.log and error.log), the script specified in postrotate will only run once;
  • postrotate to endscript - the script in this block will be run after the log file is updated. In the example, the application is reloaded

After configuring it according to the requirements, you can run the test with the command:

sudo logrotate /etc/logrotate.conf --debug  

This will bring up the logrotate utility, pointing to the standard configuration file in debug mode.
The console will display information about which files the logrotate is processing at the moment. The standard Logrotate configuration will be performed once a day, including new configuration.

Creating a LogRotate configuration

In this example, we have an application running under user newuser, generating logs that are stored in the /home/newuser/logs/ directory. We need to make these logs rotate hourly, so we have to install it outside the /etc/logrotate.d structure presented in Ubuntu.

Let's create a configuration file in our directory using a text editor

nano /home/newuser/logrotate.conf  

Then insert the following configuration:

/home/newuser/logs/*.log {
    rotate 24


Save and close the file

This configuration will rotate the files hourly, compressing and saving the twenty-four old logs and creating a new log file to replace the rotated one.

It is necessary to customize the configuration to suit your application.

Let's make a log file to check that it works:

cd ~  
mkdir logs  
touch logs/access.log  

Since the logs belong to newuser we don't need to use sudo. However, we do need to specify a status file. This file records what logrotate saw and did last time, so it knows what to do the next time it runs

We will ask Logrotate to put the status file directly in our home directory for this example. We can specify anywhere that is available and convenient:

logrotate /home/newuser/logrotate.conf --state /home/newuser/logrotate-state --verbose --force  


reading config file /home/newuser/logrotate.conf  

Handling 1 logs  

rotating pattern: /home/newuser/logs/*.log hourly (24 rotations)  
empty log files are rotated, old logs are removed  
considering log /home/newuser/logs/access.log  
  log does not need rotating

-verbose will print detailed information about what Logrotate is doing. This is the first time LogRotate has seen this log file, so as far as we know, the file is zero hours old and should not be subject to rotation.

If we look at the status file, we can see that Logrotate has recorded startup information:

cat /home/newuser/logrotate-state  


logrotate state -- version 2  
"/home/newuser/logs/access.log" 2020-05-18-16:0:0

Logrotate noted that it had seen the logs and when it last looked at their rotation. If you run the same command, one hour later, the log is rotated as expected.

If you want to force LogRotate to rotate the log file, then you must use the -force flag:

logrotate /home/newuser/logrotate.conf --state /home/newuser/logrotate-state --verbose --force  

Next, you need to configure a cron job to run Logrotate every hour. Open a user's crontab:

crontab -e  

This opens a text file. The file probably already has some comments explaining the expected basic syntax
Move the cursor to a new blank line at the end of the file and add the following:

14 * * * * * /usr/sbin/logrotate /home/newuser/logrotate.conf --state /home/newuser/logrotate-state  

This task will run at the 14th minute of every hour, every day.

Updated May 18, 2020