Last updated on November 26, 2020 by Gabriel Cánepa
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you need to track system calls made and received by a process? You'll probably think of
strace, and you are right. What tool would you use to monitor raw network traffic from the command line? If you thought about
tcpdump, you made an excellent choice again. And if you ever run into the need to having to keep track of open files (in the Unix sense of the word: everything is a file), chances are you'll use
lsof are all indeed great utilities that should be part of every sysadmin's toolset, and that is precisely the reason why you will love
sysdig, a powerful open source tool for system-level exploration and troubleshooting, introduced by its creators as "strace + tcpdump + lsof + awesome sauce with a little Lua cherry on top." Humor aside, one of the great features of
sysdig resides in its ability not only to analyze the live state of a Linux system, but also to save the state in a dump file for offline inspection. What's more, you can customize
sysdig's behavior or even enhance its capabilities by using built-in (or writing your own) small scripts called chisels. Individual chisels are used to analyze
sysdig-captured event streams in various script-specific fashions.
In this tutorial we'll explore the installation and basic usage of
sysdig to perform system monitoring and troubleshooting on Linux.
For this tutorial, we will choose to use the automatic installation process described in the official website for the sake of simplicity, brevity, and distribution agnosticity. In the automatic process, the installation script automatically detects the operating system and installs all the necessary dependencies.
Run the following command as root to install
sysdig from the official
# curl -s https://s3.amazonaws.com/download.draios.com/stable/install-sysdig | bash
Once the installation is complete, we can invoke
sysdig as follows to get a feel for it:
Our screen will be immediately filled with all that is going on in our system, not allowing us to do much more with that information. For that reason, we will run:
# sysdig -cl | less
to see a list of available chisels.
The following categories are available by default, each of which is populated by multiple built-in chisels.
To display information (including detailed command-line usage) on a particular chisel, run:
# sysdig -cl [chisel_name]
For example, we can check information about
spy_port chisel under
Net category by running:
# sysdig -i spy_port
Chisels can be combined with filters (which can be applied to both live data or a trace file) to obtain more useful output.
Filters follow a
class.field structure. For example:
>for enter events or
<for exit events.
The complete filter list can be displayed with:
# sysdig -l
In the rest of the tutorial, I will demonstrate several use cases of
Suppose your server is experiencing performance issues (e.g., unresponsiveness or significant delays in responding). You can use the
bottlenecks chisel to display a list of the 10 slowest systems calls at the moment.
Use the following command to check up on a live server in real time. The
-c flag followed by a chisel name tells
sysdig to run the specified chisel.
# sysdig -c bottlenecks
Alternatively, you can conduct a server performance analysis offline. In that case, you can save a complete
sysdig trace to a file, and run the
bottlenecks chisel against the trace as follows.
First, save a
sysdig trace (use
Ctrl+c to stop the collection):
# sysdig -w trace.scap
Once the trace is collected, you can check the slowest systems calls that were performed during the capture interval by running:
# sysdig -r trace.scap -c bottlenecks
You want to pay attention fo columns
#4, which indicate execution time, process name, and PID, respectively.
Suppose you as a sysadmin want to monitor interactive user activities in a system (e.g., what command a user typed from the command line, and what directories the user went to). That is when
spy_user chisel comes in handy.
Let's first collect a
sysdig trace with a couple of extra options.
# sysdig -s 4096 -z -w /mnt/sysdig/$(hostname).scap.gz
sysdigto capture up to 4096 bytes of each event.
-w) enables compression for a trace file.
sysdigtraces to a specified file.
In the above, we customize the name of the compressed trace file on a per-host basis. Remember that you can interrupt the execution of
sysdig at any moment by pressing
Once we've collected a reasonable amount of data, we can view interactive activities of every user in a system by running:
# sysdig -r /mnt/sysdig/debian.scap.gz -c spy_users
The first column in the above output indicates the PID of the process associated with a given user's activity.
What if you want to target a specific user, and monitor the user's activities only? You can filter the results of the
spy_users chisel by username:
# sysdig -r /mnt/sysdig/debian.scap.gz -c spy_users "user.name=xmodulo"
We can customize the output format of
sysdig traces with
-p flag, and indicate desired fields (e.g., user name, process name, and file or socket name) enclosed inside double quotes. In this example, we will create a trace file that will only contain writing events in home directories (which we can inspect later with
sysdig -r writetrace.scap.gz).
# sysdig -p "%user.name %proc.name %fd.name" "evt.type=write and fd.name contains /home/" -z -w writetrace.scap.gz
As part of server troubleshooting, you may want to snoop on network traffic, which is typically done with
sysdig, traffic sniffing can be done as easily, but in more user friendly fashions.
For example, you can inspect data (in ASCII) that has been exchanged with a particular IP address, served by a particular process (e.g.,
# sysdig -s 4096 -A -c echo_fds fd.cip=192.168.0.100 -r /mnt/sysdig/debian.scap.gz proc.name=apache2
If you want to monitor raw data transfer (in binary) instead, replace
# sysdig -s 4096 -X -c echo_fds fd.cip=192.168.0.100 -r /mnt/sysdig/debian.scap.gz proc.name=apache2
For more information, examples, and case studies, you can check out the project website. Believe me, the possibilities are limitless. But don't just take my word for it. Install
sysdig and start digging today!
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