Full explanation of Papertrail’s search query syntax.
If you’ve used Google search, you’re familiar with 95% of Papertrail’s search syntax. Type what you have, whether it’s an IP address, an error string, the name of a program or system, a user’s session, or fragments of any of those things.
From there, build up sets of what you do and don’t want to see. Here’s a few examples for the Ruby on Rails framework to give you an idea.
This came from our experience using Papertrail for our logs, from watching early users try different syntaxes, and most importantly, from seeing what we and others actually wanted to find. By far the most common type of search was a set of desired program names or message strings (important things) combined with a few exclusions (noise).
This Boolean syntax makes queries like that fast to compose and easy to read/update.
Check out Linking to logs to quickly integrate Papertrail searches into your app’s internal admin interface.
These 6 searches demonstrate most of the syntax. The sender name, component/file name, and message are all searchable:
"Accepted password" sudo -CROND (www42 some.log) OR (nyc-db2 other.log) (message-id postfix/smtpd) OR -google.com 10.1.2 -("TTL exceeded" OR "1 packet")
Searches can also be constrained by an attribute, so Papertrail considers only that field:
program:(production.log staging.log) '"action"=>"index"' -("count(*)" OR abc)
While in the event viewer, choose Help > Search Tips to see these examples without leaving the viewer:
Here’s how to get the narrowest set of results as fast as possible.
Create groups that represent different sets of systems, then search those groups (instead of searching an all-encompassing group). Aside from making search faster, properly-scoped groups make the Dashboard easier to interpret, since searches are tied to the group they’re actually related to rather than being lumped together. As an example,
Production Web servers may be far fewer logs than
Production servers, and when a search is specific to Web logs, it probably logically belongs there.
Use attributes when searching only specific parts of a log message. For example,
abc sender:www42 will be faster than
Provide (or link with) a time/date or rough estimate. Papertrail will start searching from the time you seek to in the event viewer. Seek to a time at the end of or after the incident so that the search starts there.
Integrate contextual “Show related logs” links from your app’s admin dashboard. Your dashboard can generate links to logs with timestamps (such as a timestamp from a user’s last login or when a background job completed) and search queries. The additional search keywords (beyond what you would manually type) may return fewer unrelated matches and it saves time entering a search.
Papertrail supports 5 attributes: sender, program, message, severity, facility. All are used in
key:value fashion. Here’s an example search which incorporates attribute constraints:
("something bad" program:ssh -noise) OR severity:error
Here’s another, which includes two valid
program values. Messages matching either one are returned (OR):
Attributes and attribute-less constraints can be used together, as can negation.
severity support matching multiple values, so this matches any
facility value beginning with
As a result, they also support shorthand, like this. No need to type the full
For more examples, see Papertrail’s attribute announcement.
Papertrail supports combining terms and phrases using AND, OR, and exclusion operators, as well as order of operations (parentheses). The message text, program/sender name, and system name (as shown in Papertrail’s dashboard) are searched.
By default, terms in the same search are automatically ANDed. This search:
is equivalent to this search:
something AND somethingelse
To match one or more of multiple terms, use the
OR keyword. For example:
something OR somethingelse
OR must be capitalized.
Enclose phrases in single- or double-quotes. For example:
something OR "something else"
Single- and double-quotes are interchangeable, as long as the same type of quote is used to start and end the same phrase. To search for a phrase which contains a quote, use the other type of quote. For example, to match this punctuation-filled phrase:
enclose it in single-quotes, like this:
To indicate order of operations for matching, use parentheses. For example:
something ("something else" OR "a third thing")
says to match either of the 2 terms inside the parentheses, then
AND it with the term outside the parentheses.
Contrast that search with the same search without parentheses:
something "something else" OR "a third thing"
which is ambiguous about whether the
OR applies to just the middle term, or to both of the first 2 terms. (Without parentheses, terms are matched left to right).
OR can be freely used inside and outside of parentheses.
- to a term, quoted phrase, or parenthesized set. For example,
to show all logs except a certain word or quoted phrase:
Exclude all matches in a parenthesized set:
something -("but not" OR "something else")
Exclusions can be used anywhere in a query. For example:
something -("but not" OR "something else") "but this too"
Searches are case insensitive. This query:
is equivalent to this query:
Papertrail supports 5 attributes: sender, program, message, severity, and facility.
These attributes can be used nearly interchangeably with attribute-less operators. Negation and phrases work the same.
4 of the 5 attributes - all except message - can only have a single value per message, so AND is never relevant. Because of this, all attributes default to OR.
program:(a b) means
program:(a OR b).
Additionally, any of the attribute names
system function as an alias for
Other than quotes, no special adaptations should be needed to use punctuation in a term or phrase. For example, to see all occurrences of IP addresses within
10.20.30.255, use this query:
The periods are interpreted as part of the string. Other punctuation works the same way, and no adaptations or escaping is needed.
Similarly, the entire log message is considered for matching. The search:
will match lines containing any of these:
abcde 123bcd456 456bcd 456abcde
To search for a time or date, click the clock icon to the right of the search box and enter a time, date, or combination. The time or date can be in almost any format, and will be parsed and displayed in realtime. Here’s a screenshot:
This blog post has more.
When searching by time in the Web interface, the searched-for timestamp is interpreted in the timezone of the computer you’re accessing Papertrail from.
Also, Papertrail tracks the time when a log message was received and automatically converts it to your account timezone when displaying the message. Set an account timezone in your profile. Users can have different timezones within the same organization, so no one needs to perform mental timezone conversion.
While sender name and program name/filename can be used in searches, they aren’t part of the phrase that Papertrail matches against. For example, this log message:
www42 httpd: GET / HTTP/1.0
would be matched by any of these queries:
www42 GET httpd GET www42 httpd GET www42 httpd "GET /" www42 OR "GET /"
However, that message would not be matched by this phrase query because the program name and separating colon are not included in the phrase:
This document has moved to Linking to logs.