If you are just starting out as a developer then super, I’ve caught you at a great time, if you’ve been developing for some time and don’t recognise the importance of error logs then please read on.
The title of these logs are self-explanatory, they contain error information provided by a program. A typical website server could be made up of many individual programs like PureFtp, Apache, MySQL and more. Within those will be modules and extensions like PHP. All of these have the potential of running into errors and they provide a method of recording those errors into a log.
Why are they important?
The consequence of an error can vary widely. It could stop an entire website from loading or can go unnoticed completely without seminally affecting anything but they are still errors regardless of the outcome.
Errors going unnoticed
Errors can go unnoticed for some time. For a production website you want to have no errors what so ever and also within a production environment you want to hide any unwanted errors from users for security reasons. This means the only place they will be visible or recorded is within the logs and without the presence of a website disabling error, the error could continue until someone checks the error logs.
Catching errors before someone else does
If you have been tasked with maintaining a website then you’ve probably been in a situation where the owner will find a performance affecting issue before you do and somehow place the blame firmly on your shoulders. Well before they had been made aware of the issue it was mostly likely reported in the error logs the minute it started, which would have allowed you to deal with the error and maintained control.
SEO and user experience
A common entry in an Apache error log is missing image files, its a common situation and very easy to cause. On first glance a missing image doesn’t seem so bad but when looked at from an SEO perspective it’s a real problem but extremely easy to fix as the error log will highlight it for you.
Websites have evolved very quickly over the years with the introduction and growth of supporting technologies like PHP and MySQL. As I’ve explained the consequence of an error from PHP or MySQL can be very minimal and unimportant but in reality its not completing its task and failing regardless. The websites performance and the user experience will be affected leading to poor conversion rates and falling repeat traffic.
So when should they be checked?
From my own personal experience checking the error logs when first launching a site is imperative. They can throw up unexpected errors every time or if you have just taken over a site, check the logs and start correcting every error. Once those have been dealt with and you start seeing clear logs you can check them from daily to weekly then monthly. I wouldn’t go any longer than a month because the unexpected normally happens and you want to be the first to know.
I’m not going to go on but there so many more reasons to keep checking the error logs I could be here all night but give it a try and check the error logs of a recent website and I’m sure you’ll find something which needs fixing.