Observability Developer Guide

This document is for an older version of Crossplane.

This document applies to Crossplane version v1.9 and not to the latest release v1.11.


Observability is crucial to Crossplane users; both those operating Crossplane and those using Crossplane to operate their infrastructure. Crossplane currently approaches observability via Kubernetes events and structured logs.


In short, a non-admin user and an admin user should both be able to debug any issues only by inspecting logs and events. There should be no need to rebuild the Crossplane binary or to reach out to a Crossplane developer.

A user should be able to:

  • Debug an issue without rebuilding the Crossplane binary
  • Understand an issue without contacting a cluster admin
  • Ask a cluster admin to check the logs for more details about the reason the issue happened, if the details are not part of the error message

A cluster admin should be able to:

  • Debug an issue without rebuilding the Crossplane binary
  • Debug an issue only by looking at the logs
  • Debug an issue without needing to contact a Crossplane developer

Error reporting in the logs

Error reporting in the logs is mostly intended for consumption by Crossplane cluster admins. A cluster admin should be able to debug any issue by inspecting the logs, without needing to add more logs themselves or contact a Crossplane developer. This means that logs should contain:

  • Error messages, at either the info or debug level as contextually appropriate
  • Any context leading up to an error, typically at debug level, so that the errors can be debugged

Error reporting as events

Error reporting as Kubernetes events is primarily aimed toward end-users of Crossplane who are not cluster admins. Crossplane typically runs as a Kubernetes pod, and thus it is unlikely that most users of Crossplane will have access to its logs. Events, on the other hand, are available as top-level Kubernetes objects, and show up the objects they relate to when running kubectl describe.

Events should be recorded in the following cases:

  • A significant operation is taken on a resource
  • The state of a resource is changed
  • An error occurs

The events recorded in these cases can be thought of as forming an event log of things that happen for the resources that Crossplane manages. Each event should refer back to the relevant controller and resource, and use other fields of the Event kind as appropriate.

More details about examples of how to interact with events can be found in the guide to debugging an application cluster.

Choosing between methods of error reporting

There are many ways to report errors, such as:

  • Metrics
  • Events
  • Logging
  • Tracing

It can be confusing to figure out which one is appropriate in a given situation. This section will try to offer advice and a mindset that can be used to help make this decision.

Let’s set the context by listing the different user scenarios where error reporting may be consumed. Here are the typical scenarios as we imagine them:

  1. A person using a system needs to figure out why things aren’t working as expected, and whether they made a mistake that they can correct.
  2. A person operating a service needs to monitor the service’s health, both now and historically.
  3. A person debugging a problem which happened in a live environment (often an operator of the system) needs information to figure out what happened.
  4. A person developing the software wants to observe what is happening.
  5. A person debugging the software in a development environment (typically a developer of the system) wants to debug a problem (there is a lot of overlap between this and the live environment debugging scenario).

The goal is to satisfy the users in all of the scenarios. We’ll refer to the scenarios by number.

The short version is: we should do whatever satisfies all of the scenarios. Logging and events are the recommendations for satisfying the scenarios, although they don’t cover scenario 2.

The longer version is:

  • Scenario 1 is best served by events in the context of Crossplane, since the users may not have access to read logs or metrics, and even if they did, it would be hard to relate them back to the event the user is trying to understand.
  • Scenario 2 is best served by metrics, because they can be aggregated and understood as a whole. And because they can be used to track things over time.
  • Scenario 3 is best served by either logging that contains all the information about and leading up to the event. Request-tracing systems are also useful for this scenario.
  • Scenario 4 is usually logs, maybe at a more verbose level than normal. But it could be an attached debugger or some other type of tool. It could also be a test suite.
  • Scenario 5 is usually either logs, up to the highest imaginable verbosity, or an attached debugging session. If there’s a gap in reporting, it could involve adding some print statements to get more logging.

As for the question of how to decide whether to log or not, we believe it helps to try to visualize which of the scenarios the error or information in question will be used for. We recommend starting with reporting as much information as possible, but with configurable runtime behavior so that, for example, debugging logs don’t show up in production normally.

For the question of what constitutes an error, errors should be actionable by a human. See the Dave Cheney article on this topic for some more discussion.

In Practice

Crossplane provides two observability libraries as part of crossplane-runtime:

  • event emits Kubernetes events.
  • logging produces structured logs. Refer to its package documentation for additional context on its API choices.

Keep the following in mind when using the above libraries:

  • Do not use package level loggers or event recorders. Instantiate them in main() and plumb them down to where they’re needed.
  • Each Reconciler implementation should use its own logging.Logger and event.Recorder. Implementations are strongly encouraged to default to using logging.NewNopLogger() and event.NewNopRecorder(), and accept a functional loggers and recorder via variadic options. See for example the managed resource reconciler.
  • Each controller should use its name as its event recorder’s name, and include its name under the controller structured logging key. The controllers name should be of the form controllertype/resourcekind, for example managed/cloudsqlinstance or stacks/stackdefinition. Controller names should always be lowercase.
  • Logs and events should typically be emitted by the Reconcile method of the Reconciler implementation; not by functions called by Reconcile. Author the methods orchestrated by Reconcile as if they were a library; prefer surfacing useful information for the Reconciler to log (for example by wrapping errors) over plumbing loggers and event recorders down to increasingly deeper layers of code.
  • Almost nothing is worth logging at info level. When deciding which logging level to use, consider a production deployment of Crossplane reconciling tens or hundreds of managed resources. If in doubt, pick debug. You can easily increase the log level later if it proves warranted.
  • The above is true even for errors; consider the audience. Is this an error only the Crossplane cluster operator can fix? Does it indicate a significant degradation of Crossplane’s functionality? If so, log it at info. If the error pertains to a single Crossplane resource emit an event instead.
  • Always log errors under the structured logging key error (e.g. log.Debug("boom!, "error", err)). Many logging implementations (including Crossplane’s) add context like stack traces for this key.
  • Emit events liberally; they’re rate limited and deduplicated.
  • Follow API conventions when emitting events; ensure event reasons are unique and CamelCase.
  • Consider emitting events and logs when a terminal condition is encountered (e.g. Reconcile returns) over logging logic flow. i.e. Prefer one log line that reads “encountered an error fooing the bar” over two log lines that read “about to foo the bar” and “encountered an error”. Recall that if the audience is a developer debugging Crossplane they will be provided a stack trace with file and line context when an error is logged.
  • Consider including the reconcile.Request, and the resource’s UID and resource version (not API version) under the keys request, uid, and version. Doing so allows log readers to determine what specific version of a resource the log pertains to.

Finally, when in doubt, aim for consistency with existing Crossplane controller implementations.