practicing techie

tech oriented notes to self and lessons learned

Daemonizing JVM-based applications

Deployment architecture design is a vital part of any custom-built server-side application development project. Due to it’s significance, deployment architecture design should commence early and proceed in tandem with other development activities. The complexity of deployment architecture design depends on many aspects, including scalability and availability targets of the provided service, rollout processes as well as technical properties of the system architecture.

Serviceability and operational concerns, such as deployment security, monitoring, backup/restore etc., relate to the broader topic of deployment architecture design. These concerns are cross-cutting in nature and may need to be addressed on different levels ranging from service rollout processes to the practical system management details.

On the system management detail level the following challenges often arise when using a pure JVM-based application deployment model (on Unix-like platforms):

  • how to securely shut down the app server or application? Often, a TCP listener thread listening for shutdown requests is used. If you have many instances of the same app server deployed on the same host, it’s sometimes easy to confuse the instances and shutdown the wrong one. Also, you’ll have to prevent unauthorized access to the shutdown listener.
  • creating init scripts that integrate seamlessly with system startup and shutdown mechanisms (e.g. Sys-V init, systemd, Upstart etc.)
  • how to automatically restart the application if it dies?
  • log file management. Application logs can be managed (e.g. rotate, compress, delete) by a log library. App server or platform logs can sometimes be also managed using a log library, but occasionally integration with OS level tools (e.g. logrotate) may be necessary.

There’s a couple of solutions to these problems that enable tighter integration between the operating system and application / application server. One widely used and generic solution is the Java Service Wrapper. The Java Service Wrapper is good at addressing the above challenges and is released under a proprietary license. GPL v2 based community licensing option is available as well.

Apache commons daemon is another option. It has its roots in Apache Tomcat and integrates well with the app server, but it’s much more generic than that, and in addition to Java, commons daemon can be used with also other JVM-based languages such as Scala. As the name implies, commons daemon is Apache licensed.

Commons daemon includes the following features:

  • automatically restart JVM if it dies
  • enable secure shutdown of JVM process using standard OS mechanisms (Tomcat TCP based shutdown mechanism is error-prone and unsecure)
  • redirect STDERR/STDOUT and set JVM process name
  • allow integration with OS init script mechanisms (record JVM process pid)
  • detach JVM process from parent process and console
  • run JVM and application with reduced OS privileges
  • allow coordinating log file management with OS tools such as logrotate (reopen log files with SIGUSR1 signal)

 

Deploying commons daemon

From an application developer point of view commons daemon consists of two parts: the jsvc binary used for starting applications and commons daemon Java API. During startup, jsvc binary bootstraps the application through lifecycle methods implemented by the application and defined by commons daemon Java API. Jsvc creates a control process for monitoring and restarting the application upon abnormal termination. Here’s an outline for deploying commons daemon with your application:

  1. implement commons daemon API lifecycle methods in an application bootstrap class (see Using jsvc directly).
  2. compile and install jsvc. (Note that it’s usually not good practice to install compiler toolchain on production or QA servers).
  3. place commons-daemon API in application classpath
  4. figure out command line arguments for running your app through jsvc. Check out bin/daemon.sh in Tomcat distribution for reference.
  5. create a proper init script based on previous step. Tomcat can be installed via package manager on many Linux distributions and the package typically come with an init script that can be used as a reference.

 

Practical experiences

Tomcat distribution includes “daemon.sh”, a generic wrapper shell script that can be used as a basis for creating a system specific init script variant. One of the issues that I encountered was the wait configuration parameter default value couldn’t be overridden by the invoker of the wrapper script. In some cases Tomcat random number generator initialization could exceed the maximum wait time, resulting in the initialization script reporting a failure, even if the app server would eventually get started. This seems to be fixed now.

Another issue was that the wrapper script doesn’t allow passing JVM-parameters with spaces in them. This can be handy e.g. in conjunction with the JVM “-XX:OnOutOfMemoryError” & co. parameters. Using the wrapper script is optional, and it can also be changed easily, but since it includes some pieces of useful functionality, I’d rather reuse instead of duplicating it, so I created a feature request and proposed tiny patch for this #55104.

While figuring out the correct command line arguments for getting jsvc to bootstrap your application, the “-debug” argument can be quite useful for troubleshooting purposes. Also, by default the jsvc changes working directory to /, in which case absolute paths should typically be used with other options. The “-cwd” option can be used for overriding the default working directory value.

 

Daemonizing Jetty

In addition to Tomcat, Jetty is another servlet container I often use. Using commons daemon with Tomcat poses no challenge since the integration already exists, so I decided to see how things would work with an app server that doesn’t support commons daemon out-of-the-box.

To implement the necessary changes in Jetty, I cloned the Jetty source code repository, added jsvc lifecycle methods in the Jetty bootstrap class and built Jetty. After that, I started experimenting with jsvc command line arguments for bootstrapping Jetty. Jetty comes with jetty.sh startup script that has an option called “check” for outputting various pieces of information related to the installation. Among other things it outputs the command line arguments that would be used with the JVM. This provided quite a good starting point for the jsvc command line.

These are the command lines I ended up with:

export JH=$HOME/jetty-9.2.2-SNAPSHOT
export JAVA_HOME=`/usr/libexec/java_home -v 1.8`
jsvc -debug -pidfile $JH/jetty.pid -outfile $JH/std.out -errfile $JH/std.err -Djetty.logs=$JH/logs -Djetty.home=$JH -Djetty.base=$JH -Djava.io.tmpdir=/var/folders/g6/zmr61rsj11q5zjmgf96rhvy0sm047k/T/ -classpath $JH/commons-daemon-1.0.15.jar:$JH/start.jar org.eclipse.jetty.start.Main jetty.state=$JH/jetty.state jetty-logging.xml jetty-started.xml

This could be used as a starting point for a proper production grade init script for starting and shutting down Jetty.

I submitted my code changes as issue #439672 in the Jetty project issue tracker and just received word that the change has been merged with the upstream code base, so you should be able to daemonize Jetty with Apache commons daemon jsvc in the future out-of-the-box.

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