Hastur's C client
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README for Hastur

What Is Hastur?

Hastur is a monitoring system written by Ooyala. It uses Cassandra for time series storage, resulting in remarkable power, flexibility and scalability.

Hastur works hard to make it easy to add your data and easy to get it back at full resolution. For instance, it makes it easy to query in big batches from a REST server, build a dashboard of metrics, show errors in production or email you when an error rate gets too high.

This library helps you get your data into Hastur. See the "hastur-server" ruby gem for the back end, and for how to get your data back out.

How Do I Use It?

Build this library and link your application against it.

You'll need to give Hastur an application name and start it:

hastur_start();  /* hastur_start() must be called from the main thread */

Now you can add Hastur calls to your application, such as:

hastur_counter("my.thing.to.count", 1);          # Add 1 to my.thing.to.count
hastur_gauge("other.thing.foo_latency", 371.1);  # Record a latency of 371.1

You can find extensive per-method documentation in the header file, or see "Is It Documented?" below for friendly Doxygen documentation.

This is enough to instrument your application code, but you'll need to install a local daemon and have a back-end collector for it to talk to. See the hastur-server ruby gem for specifics.

Hastur optionally allows you to send at regular intervals using hastur_every(), which will call a function from a background thread (via pthreads):

static int total = 0;

void send_back_stats(void *user_data) {
  hastur_gauge("total.counting.so.far", total);

hastur_every(HASTUR_MINUTE, send_back_stats);

while(1) { sleep(1); total++; }

All Hastur message calls have a "_v" variation which allow you to pass in a timestamp and/or label. A timestamp can be given in microseconds since the Unix epoch, or you can give 0 or HASTUR_NOW to mean "get a new timestamp". You can also get a timestamp for a given time by calling hastur_timestamp() at that time. See "labels" below for more specifics about labeling messages.

The Doxygen documentation (see below) has far more specifics.

Threads and The Background Thread

If you don't want a background thread, you can turn it off before hastur_start() is called:

hastur_no_background_thread(); hastur_start();

You can call hastur_every() either before or after starting the background thread. It will call your callback at approximately that interval, usually starting immediately on start_start().

hastur_start() may be called multiple times -- for instance if a library and your app both use it. But it must always be called from the main thread of execution. It is an error to call hastur_start() and then call hastur_no_background_thread(). The thread was already started.

Bombing Out

There are a few things that can cause the Hastur client to exit with an error. If you call hastur_no_background_thread() after the first hastur_start() or call hastur_start() from non-main threads, Hastur will exit with status code 1.

If Hastur gets an error from pthreads when creating the background thread, it will exit with status code 2.

''' Code Reason ------------------------------------------- 1 Thread configuration errors 2 Error creating thread '''

The HASTUR_EXIT codes in hastur.h define these as symbols if you're checking from C or C++.

Is It Documented?

We use Doxygen for our C API. See www.doxygen.org for details about how to install and run it. Most package systems, including Linux distributions, have an existing package for Doxygen.

With doxygen installed, type "doxygen hastur.doxygen" to generate the documentation.

As a result, you can read the header files and find lots of inline documentation on whatever you'd like to know about.


Every Hastur message can have one or many attached labels. A few things (application name, process ID, thread ID) will be attached automatically to all messages sent, and other information may be sent in specific circumstances (e.g. process or library information).

To specify more labels, call the "_v" version of a function such as hastur_gauge_v or hastur_event_v. You should include a timestamp parameter and label parameters in the call.


hastur_counter_v("my.counter", 2, HASTUR_NOW,
                 HASTUR_INT_LABEL("mylabel", 7),
                 HASTUR_DOUBLE_LABEL("alabel", 29.4),

If you want the same behavior as the normal version, pass HASTUR_NOW for the timestamp and NULL instead of a list of labels.


Your messages are automatically timestamped in microseconds, labeled and converted to a JSON structure for transport and storage.

Hastur sends the JSON over a local UDP socket to a local "Hastur Agent", a daemon that forwards your data to the shared Hastur servers. That means that your application will never slow down for Hastur -- failed sends become no-ops. Note that local UDP won't randomly drop packets like internet UDP, though you can lose them if there's no Hastur Agent running.

The Hastur Agent forwards the messages to Hastur Routers over ZeroMQ (see "http://0mq.org"). The routers send it to the sinks, which preprocess your data, index it and write it to Cassandra. They also forward to the syndicators for the streaming interface (e.g. to email you if there's a problem).

Cassandra is a highly scalable clustered key-value store inspired somewhat by Amazon Dynamo. It's a lot of the "secret sauce" that makes Hastur interesting.

Hints and Tips

  1. You can retrieve messages with the same name prefix all together from the REST API (for instance: "my.thing.*"). It's usually a good idea to give metrics the same prefix if you will retrieve them at the same time. This prefix syntax is very efficient for Cassandra. That's why we made it easy to use.

  2. Every call allows you to pass labels - a one-level string-to-string hash of tags about what that call means and what data goes with it. For instance, you might call:

    hastur_gauge_v("my.thing.total_latency", 317.4, NULL, "units", "usec", NULL);

Eventually you'll be able to query messages by label through the REST interface, but for now that's inconvenient. However, it's easy to subscribe to labels in the streaming interface. So labels are a powerful way to mark data as being interesting to alert you about.

For example:

hastur_gauge_v("my.thing.total_latency", 317.4, NULL, "severity", "omg", NULL);

It's easy to subscribe to any latency with a severity label in the streaming interface, which would let you calculate how bad the overall latency pretty well. See the hastur-server gem for details of the trigger interface.

  1. You can group multiple messages together by giving them the same timestamp. For instance:

    ts = hastur_timestamp(NULL); hastur_gauge_v("my.thing.latency1", val1, ts, NULL); hastur_gauge_v("my.thing.latency2", val2, ts, NULL); hastur_counter_v("my.thing.counter371", 1, ts, NULL);

This makes it easy to query all events with exactly that timestamp and the same prefix ("my.thing.*"), and otherwise to make sure they're exactly the same.

Do not give multiple messages the same name and the same timestamp. Hastur will only store a single event with the same name and timestamp from the same node. If you give several of them the same name and timestamp, you'll lose all but one.

Keep in mind that timestamps are in microseconds -- you're not limited to one event with the same name per second.

Why Is It in C?

C is portable, linkable from every other language, and there are no worries about ABI or compatibility between two different compilers on the same system. Any other language can easily call C through dyload/JNA/FFI or wrap it via SWIG. I don't need to worry about trying to support STL hash tables for labels. I don't need to worry about accepting various STL/Boost structures as arguments. I don't need to worry about whether using exceptions will mean that people attempting to write sane, reliable C++ simply can't use my library or whether somebody has linked to a library (libjpeg?) that takes callbacks but wasn't recompiled with C++ exception support despite being written in plain C.

C is an excellent least common denominator. C++ is not.

When I want a modern language rather than a least common denominator, I use the Ruby bindings. They have a better interface with a far shorter line count. Or if you prefer Perl or Python, you should be be able to produce roughly the same functionality with about 300 lines of code.