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README.md

VclFiddle

VclFiddle is an online tool for experimenting with the Varnish Cache HTTP reverse-proxy in a sandboxed environment. The name comes from a combination of the Varnish Configuration Language (VCL) and another tool that inspired this project, JSFiddle.

VclFiddle aims to provide an environment where one can reproduce a website caching scenario for testing, collaborative debugging, or just trying new ideas, with the least friction possible.

VclFiddle has just three requirements to use it:

  1. An Internet-accessible origin web server to which Varnish will proxy requests.
  2. The VCL to configure the Varnish instance, minimally specifying the address of the origin web server.
  3. The HTTP requests to issue to Varnish for proxying, expressible (currently) as cURL commands or a HAR-formatted JSON document.

When these items are submitted, VclFiddle will provision an isolated Varnish instance, configure it, then replay the HTTP requests. The resulting HTTP response headers and the output of running varnishlog are captured and displayed. The set of inputs and their outputs are saved, given a Fiddle ID, and a permalink to this information is made available for sharing.

VclFiddle is hosted at http://www.vclfiddle.net/.

How To Use VclFiddle

A short video introduction to VclFiddle is available here:

http://youtu.be/lJ-Rf1L94Sc

VclFiddle exposes a very direct interface to the Varnish instance used internally. You provide the VCL exactly as you would for a self-managed Varnish instance and in return you get an unprocessed Varnishlog output.

You can find the documentation for VCL for each Varnish version here:

VclFiddle currently pre-fills the VCL editor with the minimum required for Varnish 4.0. If you choose another Varnish version instead you will need to replace the default VCL with the appropriate VCL syntax for your chosen version.

Note that Varnish does not support a backend specified by DNS name if that name resolves to multiple IP addresses. In this instance, choose one of the possible IP addresses to specify directly.

Similarly to the VCL, the HTTP requests that will be sent to the Varnish instance need to be expressed in a direct manner. The first format (of currently two) supported is the simulated cURL command line.

You enter a single cURL command per line and the requests will be executed in the order specified. There should be enough common cURL arguments recognised to produce most HTTP requests. If you there are cURL arguments that you need but are not implemented, please submit an issue on GitHub. To quickly create cURL commands, you will find 'Copy as cURL' options in the Chrome and Firefox developer tools.

The second format supported is HTTP Archive, or HAR. This is a JSON-based format that is not as easy to hand-craft as cURL. You can obtain HAR from the Chrome developer tools 'Copy all as HAR' option, from Fiddler's Export Sessions menu, and several other tools.

VclFiddle will automatically detect whether you have entered requests using cURL or HAR format, just don't use a combination of both in one Fiddle.

Some types of requests that are not yet supported will be ignored and this will be reported in the results. One example is HTTPS requests - these are not supported because Varnish does not support HTTPS directly. If there are any request types you need supported (including HTTPS), please raise a GitHub issue.

When using VclFiddle, each Run will use a new instance of Varnish with an empty cache therefore it is common to perform the specified set of requests twice - the first time to populate the empty cache, the second time to verify the expected cache hit or miss behaviour. Rather than expecting you to duplicate the requests specified manually, VclFiddle offers a 'Replay requests twice' checkbox which will do this automatically for your convenience.

Once you have specified the VCL and requests to use, click the 'Run' button at the top of the page to send these to the VclFiddle server for processing. Within 5 to 10 seconds, or longer for large or many requests, the results will be displayed. These results will be the raw varnishlog applicable to your chosen Varnish version and a summary of the HTTP response headers and cache hit/miss status for each request.

Contributors

VclFiddle was started by Jason Stangroome and Daniel Bartholomew as an opportunity to learn more about Docker and the latest version of Varnish.

VclFiddle is licensed under the Apache License 2.0 and contributions are welcome via pull request. There are a number of existing issues available to work on, and other new ideas and feedback is appreciated.

Direction

VclFiddle is in its very early stages of life and its future development will depend upon how it gets used. However our current plans include:

  • Providing a mechanism to embed a Fiddle into another webpage.
  • Supporting other Varnish versions and popular Varnish modules.
  • Displaying more detailed results with more useful visualizations.

You can add comments to existing issues, or submit new issues, to let us know how you would like VclFiddle to evolve.

How It Works

VclFiddle consists of a Node.js web application, built with the Sails.js MVC framework. It is currently hosted with PM2, behind an NGINX proxy.

When the VCL and the cURL (or HAR) are submitted, the application first converts the requests from their input format to their raw TCP format. A new Fiddle ID is generated with a corresponding local working directory and the VCL and the converted requests are written to files in that directory.

Next, a Docker container is started, based on a pre-built image for the specified Varnish version, with a Docker Volume used to map the Fiddle working directory into the container.

The container is responsible for starting and configuring a Varnish instance within itself using the provided VCL file and then transmitting the raw request files via NetCat to the TCP port within the container that Varnish is listening on. The container captures the response headers returned on the TCP connection, saving them to files in the same volume-mapped directory. The varnishlog is also saved and the container exits.

When the Docker container is done, the web application parses the files saved into the working directory and makes the information available to the user.

Supporting more Varnish versions

VclFiddle currently only supports Varnish 4.0 as provided by the public Varnish Cache package repository. Support for other Varnish versions, or compilations, is planned and is intended to implemented by adding more Docker images following a simple contract.

  • Inside the container will be a '/fiddle' directory. When the container starts, it can expect two sets of items inside this directory:
    • A 'default.vcl' file containing the VCL submitted by the user.
    • A numbered set of 'request_*' files containing the raw HTTP request to be submitted to the Varnish instance.
  • The container's entry process should:
    1. Start Varnish and any other required processes (eg Varnishlog).
    2. Configure Varnish using the '/fiddle/default.vcl' file.
    3. Submit the contents of each '/fiddle/request_*' file to Varnish, in order of the file's numerical suffix.
    4. Capture the response headers resulting from each request into files named '/fiddle/response_' where the suffix corresponds the 'request_' file suffix.
    5. Record the final output of Varnishlog to '/fiddle/varnishlog'.
    6. Record the final output of Varnishncsa to '/fiddle/varnishncsa'.
    7. Record all critical failures to '/fiddle/run.log'.
    8. Record any diagnostic information to '/fiddle/debug.log'. This will not be parsed or displayed anywhere.
  • A non-empty run.log will cause the Fiddle to be considered failed. The contents will be reported to the user and all 'response_*' files will be ignored.
  • The 'varnishlog' file will be displayed to the end user in its raw format. It should at least include the Varnish Transaction Identifier (VXID) to aid manual correlation with responses.
  • The 'response_*' files will be parsed for HTTP response code and headers and correlated with the request with the same file name index.
  • The 'varnishncsa' log will be parsed to determine whether a response was a cache hit or miss. It should be formatted with tab-delimited fields in this order :
    1. Value of the 'X-Varnish' response header (ie the VXID).
    2. Total time to serve the request, in seconds.
    3. Total bytes sent to the client (or fallback to response body bytes).
    4. Time until first byte is sent to the client.
    5. Cache hit or miss.
    6. Handling method (ie hit, miss, pass, pipe or error).
  • Container run-time limits will eventually be imposed, and a fast user experience is important, so container start-up overhead should be minimised.