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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Installing Logstash on FreeBSD

Some time ago, I decided to centralise all the logs generated by a client's production systems to a syslog server and, after assessing a bunch of products, we chose Logstash (now part of the ElasticSearch family) as the tool to organise the unstructured logs into meaningful data structures which can then be searched, filtered and exploited.

The platform chosen to run Logstash is FreeBSD (9.x at the time), a rock-solid and very well documented UNIX-like operating system. Besides, it also ships a production-ready ZFS implementation which always comes handy in the data center.


Installing Logstash in FreeBSD is very easy because a good Logstash port exists and the binary package can be installed with a one-liner:

# pkg install logstash

The FreeBSD package manager will take care of installing Logstash and all its dependencies.

If the OpenJDK is installed during this process, a warning will instruct the administrator to mount the fdesc and proc file systems, since they are required for the correct operation of the OpenJDK. To make the change permanent, the following lines can be added to /etc/fstab:

fdesc  /dev/fd  fdescfs  rw  0  0
proc   /proc    procfs   rw  0  0

To mount them once after this change, execute:

# mount -a

To check they are mounted correctly, the mount command can be used:

# mount
fdescfs on /dev/fd (fdescfs)
procfs on /proc (procfs, local)


The Logstash port performs a very good initial installation of Logstash and very few customisations are required in most cases.

Operation Mode

The Logstash service rc script is installed in /usr/local/etc/rc.d/logstash and supports three modes of operation (further information can be found in the official Logstash documentation):
  • standalone
  • agent
  • web
The operation mode can be set setting the logstash_mode variable in the /etc/rc.conf file:


The default operation mode is standalone does the following:
  • It launches a local ElasticSearch instance.
  • It launches the Logstash agent.
  • It launches the bundled Kibana web interface.
A standalone Logstash service is the easiest way to bootstrap a fully functional Logstash server with an embedded ElasticSearch instance. A more complex setup, for example, could contemplate a separate ElasticSearch server.

Embedded ElasticSearch

If the standalone operation mode is used, then an embedded ElasticSearch instance is launched. This instance stores its index files in the directory specified by the logstash_elastic_datadir configuration variable which, by default, is /var/db/logstash.

If you use the embedded ElasticSearch instance, you may want to mount a separate disk on /var/db/logstash for easier management in case you wanted to dedicate more space as the time passes. A ZFS dataset, in this case, is possibly the most flexible option available on FreeBSD (and other systems).

If you don't plan to store ElasticSearch indexes indefinitely, you're likely looking for a way to optimise them and remove older index entries.

Updating a Stale Logstash JAR

The Logstash port is not updated as often as Logstash is and you are likely going to get a pretty old version. Fortunately, the port lets you very easily run an updated Logstash binary. Beware the following:
  • Changing a ports' file may cause problems while upgrading a port.
  • Index files generated (or updated) by newer ElasticSearch instance may not be backwards compatible and rolling back a manual JAR upgrade may not be easy or possible altogether.
The Logstash service rc script uses the logstash_jar configuration variable to set the path of the Logstash JAR archive, the default value being


where ${version} is the version of the Logstash port.

An updated Logstash JAR archive can be downloaded and the value of the logstash_jar variable can be overridden in the /etc/rc.conf configuration file:


Always test a newer Logstash instance in a test environment.

Edited on June, 20th: Since version 1.4 Logstash is not distributed as a single JAR file any longer. I explored the tasks required to install the new version of Logstash on FreeBSD in a new blog post.

Adding Custom Java VM Options

Very often it's desirable to pass additional options to the Java VM but unfortunately the Logstash port service rc script doesn't allow you to do so. Unless, of course, you modify it.

I usually define a new empty configuration variable, called logstash_java_opts: in the service rc file /usr/local/etc/rc.d/logstash (added line in bold):

: ${logstash_java_home="/usr/local/openjdk6"}
: ${logstash_java_opts=""}
: ${logstash_log="NO"}

and then update the launch command (added fragment in bold):

command_args="-f -p ${pidfile} ${java_cmd} ${logstash_java_opts}
required_files="${java_cmd} ${logstash_config}"

run_rc_command "$1"

Now, you can override the value of the logstash_java_opts variable in /etc/rc.conf:


Once again, beware the consequence of changing the files of an installed binary package. In the meantime, I've asked the current port maintainer to consider a modification to support this use case.

Configuring Logstash

Logstash should now be configured according to your needs. The configuration file used by this package rc script is specified by the logstash_config variable whose default value is set by the rc script (only the relevant lines are shown):

: ${logstash_config="/usr/local/etc/${name}/${name}.conf"}

This value can be overridden setting the logstash_config variable in the /etc/rc.conf configuration file.

Detailed information and working examples can be found in the official Logstash documentation.

Testing Logstash

To start the Logstash service to test its configuration, the following command can be used:

# service logstash onestart

To stop it, use:

# service logstash onestop

To enable the Logstash log, the logstash_log should be set to YES in the /etc/rc.conf file:


The log file location is specified by the logstash_log_file variable, whose default value is set by the service rc file (only the relevant lines are shown):

: ${logstash_log_file="${logdir}/${name}.log"}

The log file location can be overridden setting the logstash_log_file variable in the /etc/rc.conf file.

Enabling the Logstash Service

When the configuration is correct, it can be enabled so that it's started during the system startup. To enable the Logstash service, add the following line to /etc/rc.conf:


Further Readings

An updated version of this post was published on June 20th 2014 to describe the installation procedure of Logstash v. 1.4 (and greater) on FreeBSD.


darkfader said...

Thanks for the writeup, this will let me enjoy a little more sun than if I had to tinker through all of this on my own!

Enrico Maria Crisostomo said...

You're welcome, darkfader. I'm glad it helped.

mattman said...

Thank you for this post, the newer one, and the github repo with the 1.4.2 port in it!