Use a Better Tool: View Your Logs Using a Dedicated Log File Viewer

Use the right tool for the job

I think it is safe to say that developers can be particular about their tools. I remember a job interview where I was asked, “what’s your favorite text editor?”

I said Atom.

“Huh, okay then…”

Even though the interview continued, I’m pretty sure at that point, I was considered out of the running. And I went home and started getting familiar with other text editors.

Developers may put a lot of thought into which text editor or IDE is the best tool for the job. But how much time is spent finding the preferred log viewer?

When you are staring down a 1GB log file trying desperately to figure out a problem, you will wish you had put some thought into it. Overall, finding the right dedicated log viewer for your project will make you a better-equipped developer that has a proper tool to solve hard problems quickly.

Why use a dedicated log viewer?

A text editor is not always going to be good enough

You can probably view your logs already. Click on the file, and it automatically opens up in Notepad.

This will seem like a fine process at first. If you are working with a simpler program, it may even be kind of manageable. But this is the equivalent of watching a film on an airplane, from the television screen of the person in front of you. And you are actually viewing it between two armrests.

It’s an option for when you have no other options, just like the default text editor is there in a pinch for viewing logs. But if you are running a computer that can connect to the internet, there are other options.

If you are using Notepad ++, that’s a better option, but still has its struggles. It can have some of a dedicated log viewer’s functionality but lack the full features and convenience.

A dedicated log viewer will do the job better

Above all else, you want an effective log viewer. Something with features designed to make finding the information you need easy. Let’s compare the features of Notepad, Notepad ++, and a dedicated log viewer.

Feature Notepad Notepad ++ Loupe Desktop
Real-Time Logging No Possible with Modifications Built-in
Search Multiple Log Files No built-in function, try grep or findstr Limited, Find in Files function Built-in Full Text Search with 14 optional filters
Log Organization No No Built-in workflow, view logs per session
Log File Analysis Tools No No Built-in metrics and quality analysis

Notepad does not support any of the features listed. Notepad ++ can partially cover some features and does have a way to find information from multiple logs. But if you have worked with the Find in Files function, you know that it is limited in how you can narrow down the search.

The dedicated log viewer covers all of these features without needing any modifications. It can’t be used to write an application from scratch, but that’s not what it is designed to do. It’s built to make finding and reading logs as easy as possible. And even help you leverage log data in other ways with performance tracking and other analysis features.

So, where do you start?

There’s going to be some research required in finding the right log viewer. Consider these questions as a good starting point to help narrow down the options.

1. What will work with my application?

First assess which applications are you working on and what languages or frameworks they are made with. A dedicated log viewer may have a limited amount of languages and frameworks supported. Ultimately, this can result in viewers that are less flexible. But, the payoff is a tool that can breakdown the details of your logs in a way that can’t be replicated with Notepad ++ and regular expressions.

I recommend narrowing your selection initially by language and framework because you aren’t going to port your application to use your preferred log viewer. So, once you narrow down which log viewers will work for your application, you can consider the other aspects of the software.

2. Do I want log monitoring and analysis features?

Your log files can be useful outside of active troubleshooting. They can be used to trigger notifications through email or messaging applications. Your logs may contain additional information you can use to track metrics like the adoption rate for your software. These aren’t the first use cases you may think of when you think about log files (I certainly didn’t), but they are the kind of features that make a log viewer a full log management system.

Example metrics graphs from Loupe Desktop Can a text editor aggregate your log data into useful charts or graphs?

3. What is the scope of my application?

Is the application running locally or across many networks across many machines?

The larger the scope of your application, the more you should consider a centralized log management system. One of the reasons I was using notepad early in my career was because it was the default program on production, and I wanted to spend as little time there as possible.

If I had a centralized logging system, I wouldn’t have had to spend any time on production to view any logs. Also, I would have had a better log viewer in the process.

Do you just need a local log viewer to start?

When working on a smaller project, a local log viewer may be all you need.

But even when you are working on a larger project, it may be easier to start with a local log viewer. If you are in the early stages of development or are wary of jumping into a full centralized logging system, local logging can be a good place to start. This way, you can learn how to use the tools at your own pace and see if it is something you want to integrate further into projects.

If you are a developer making applications in .NET or Java, you can learn more about Loupe Desktop, our dedicated local log viewer. It’s free, so you can start taking advantage of dedicated logging software for your local projects at any time.

Rock solid centralized logging

Unlimited applications, unlimited errors, scalable from solo startup to enterprise.