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An Introduction to the Java Logging API
Pages: 1, 2

Logger Levels and Handlers

When we created our Logger, we specified the name of our class (logging.example4.HelloWorld) as the Logger name, but didn't specify anything else. Each Logger has its own Level, used to screen out any record which doesn't have a high enough level (this is part of what makes logging inexpensive at runtime when not turned up). By default, the threshold is set to Level.INFO. This means that records we log through our Logger will only get printed if they are at least has high as Level.INFO.

To get finer-grained records to be logged, we need to set the logging level for our class to something more verbose. But that isn't quite enough, because when a record is logged to a Logger, that Logger actually delegates the output of the record to a subclass of the Handler class, like this:


And each Handler has its own Level, in additon to the one for the Logger. So even if we turn up the log level of our Logger, when the logger hands the record to its handler(s), the handler(s) would ignore a Level.FINE record. To get the handler(s) to actually output the record, we need to turn up their level(s), like this:

package logging.example5;
import java.util.logging.Handler;
import java.util.logging.Level;
import java.util.logging.Logger;
import java.util.logging.LogManager;
 * A simple Java Hello World program, in the tradition of
 * Kernighan and Ritchie.
public class HelloWorld {
  private static Logger theLogger =

  public static void main( String[] args ) {

    // The root logger's handlers default to INFO. We have to
    // crank them up. We could crank up only some of them
    // if we wanted, but we will turn them all up.
    Handler[] handlers =
      Logger.getLogger( "" ).getHandlers();
    for ( int index = 0; index < handlers.length; index++ ) {
      handlers[index].setLevel( Level.FINE );

    // We also have to set our logger to log finer-grained
    // messages
    HelloWorld hello =
      new HelloWorld("Hello world!");

    private String theMessage;

    public HelloWorld(String message) {
      theMessage = message;

    public void sayHello() {
      theLogger.fine("Hello logging!");

This will produce output on the console like this:

FINE; 992190676635ms; 5213611;# 1; logging.example5.HelloWorld; sayHello; Hello logging!
Hello world!

The Logging Hierarchy and Record Forwarding

This might lead you to wonder what handler is actually producing this output. After all, our test program didn't create any handler. The answer lies in the tree structure of loggers. Once a particular Logger decides to log a LogRecord, the Logger not only passes it to any Handler(s) attached to it, but it also forwards the record to its parent Logger. The parent Logger does not perform a level or Filter check, but instead forwards it to any attached Handler(s) and forwards it to its parent Logger. Eventually, the record reaches the root Logger. The root Logger has a ConsoleHandler that produces the output we see. Note that this forwarding behavior be controlled via the setUseParentHandlers(boolean) method in the Logger class.

There is much more that can be done with the provided handlers. It is also possible to create your own custom handlers. Space won't allow us to discuss them in more detail here; see the references below for places to learn more about handlers.

The LogManager

The LogManager is, in many ways, the central class of the logging library. It provides much of the control over what gets logged and where it gets logged, including control over initialization of logging. In terms of logging levels, it allows us to set different logging levels for different "areas" of the program. To understand this, we need to think of our program as being broken down into different areas based on the package prefix of the classes involved. So our program areas are organized in a tree structure, like this (only some of the tree is shown, to simplify the discussion):


But the LogManager will allow us to control things at more than just the class level. We could set the logging level for a package, or even a set of packages, by calling the LogManager.setLevel(String name, Level level) method. So, for example, we could set the logging level of all loggers for this article to Level.FINE by making this call:

LogManager.getLogManager().setLevel("logging", Level.FINE);

This would make every Logger with the package prefix of "logging" have a level of Level.FINE, unless that particular Logger already had a Level explicitly set:


We would still need to turn up the levels of the root handlers as before, but would not have to set the individual loggers one at a time.

In addition to providing this ability to control log levels en masse, the LogManager provides:

  • The means to manage and alter a set of global handlers (as described above).
  • The ability to create new named Loggers (seen above).
  • The ability to create anonymous Loggers (useful to applets running in a more constrained security environment).
  • Get/Set the log Level of a given package prefix or class.

There is one thing to keep in mind when setting the level for a package and everything below it: any Logger for a class or package below the one being set that has had its Level explicitly set will keep that Level, as will any Logger whose Level is set subsequent to setting the package's Level. To get a Logger to pick up the setting for the package, you can set its Level to null.

About Filters

While space won't permit us to go into a description of Filters, the logging API provides them as a means to further control what records get logged. So, if you are using logging and find that you want use more than the log Level of the record when deciding whether to log it, Filters are there. They can be attached to both Loggers and Handlers, and can be thought of like this:


In this situation, the record must pass the Logger's level check, the Logger's Filter, the Handler's level check, and the Handler's Filter before it would actually be sent to the outside world. This allows things to start out simple (with no filters) and become more sophisticated as needed. In situations where you're trying to get at just the right information without altering the behavior of the program too much (and without overwhelming someone reading the output), the ability to create more sophisticated filters can be key to learning what needs to be known.

About Logger Names

This article demonstrates using the fully qualified class name of your class as the name of your Logger. This is the approach recommended by the Logging API documentation. However, the LogManager and Loggers really only care that the names used are made up of strings separated by period characters. So if you need to organize the logging of your software in some other manner, you can -- as long as your scheme fits into a tree hierarchy.

In addition, it is possible to use anonymous loggers, which don't have a name or affect any other loggers. These are good for applets running in a browser, as well as other high-security situations. They can also be used to keep classes relatively self-contained. However, when using anonymous loggers, you don't get many of the benefits of a named logger (the ability to have records forwarded to the global handlers, the ability to alter logging levels of groups of loggers by their common prefix, etc.).


The Logging API seems to strike a good balance between simplicity and power. As the examples above show, it is possible to get started with the Logging API very quickly, yet it is designed to be extensible so that it can be tailored to your needs. This article has really just scratched the surface of what can be done with logging. In particular, topics that we didn't discuss, which the API allows for, include:

  • Use of Filters.
  • Custom Filters.
  • The SocketHandler.
  • Writing your own Handlers.
  • Altering the configuration of logging via custom config files.
  • Internationalization.
  • J2EE integration.

For more information about logging, the best sources of information are the JDK 1.4 documentation on logging and JSR 47. There is also Javadoc for the java.util.logging package, which provides details about the classes.


Brian R. Gilstrap is an experienced Java developer, Mac user, Tai Chi practitioner and more.

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