print-ing to UDP sockets: not so good

We’ve been rolling out more and more metrics at work using Graphite and StatsD. I am in heaven. I’m not very good at doing data analysis, but fortunately there are some very, very obvious things I can pick out from our current visualizations, and I’m finding all kinds of things to improve based on these.

I’m using Net::Statsd::Client, as it looked convenient. Under the hood, for now, it uses Etsy::StatsD. I found a very confusing bug and when I told the author of Net::Statsd::Client, he confirmed that he’d seen it. I’ve worked out the details, and it has made me grumpy! The moral of this story will be: don’t use print to send to a UDP socket. (I doubt I’ll print to a socket again, after this.)

As a rule, I was sending very simple measurements to StatsD. They’d look like this:|1c

This means: increment the counter with the given name.

StatsD listens for UDP. In theory, you can send a bunch of these in one datagram, and they’re separated by newlines. In practice, though, I was sending exactly one measurement per datagram. Sometimes, though, the server was receiving mangled data. The metric names would be wrong, or the whole string would be mangled. I fired up a network sniffer and saw things like this:|1c␤|1c␤

Okay, it’s a bunch of +1 operations run together… but what’s up with the first one being truncated? And, more importantly, what was sending them in one datagram!? A review of the StatsD libraries will show that they don’t do any buffering. All that Etsy::StatsD does is open a UDP socket and print to it. You can send multiple metrics at once, if you want, but you have to go out of your way to do it, and I wasn’t.

Further, sockets don’t buffer their output in Perl! When you connect to a socket, it’s set to auto-flush. Why was there buffering happening? Andrew Rodland, author of Net::Statsd::Client said that it only happened while the StatsD server was local and unavailable. Immediately, things fell into place.

If you’re running Linux, you can try this fun experiment. First, run this server:

my $sock = IO::Socket::INET->new(
  Proto      => 'udp',
  LocalHost  => 0,
  LocalPort  => 3030,
  MultiHomed => 1,

while (1) {
  my $data;
  my $addr = $sock->recv($data, 1024);

  print "<<$data>>\n";

Then, run this client:

  use IO::Socket::INET;
  use Time::HiRes qw(sleep);

  my $sock = IO::Socket::INET->new(
    Proto    => 'udp',
    PeerHost => 'localhost',
    PeerPort => 3030,

  for (1 .. 20) {
    print $sock "1234567890";
    sleep 0.5;

You’ll see the server print out the datagrams it’s receiving. It all looks good.

If you start the server after the client, though, or kill it and restart it during the client’s run, you’ll see the server receive datagrams with the number sequence more than once. This is bad enough. My belief, which I haven’t put hard to the test, is that when the buffer to send is full, data is lost from the left. Even if your data were capable of being safely concatenated, it wouldn’t be safe.

This is, at least in part, a product of the fact that Linux tries much harder to deliver UDP datagrams to the local interface. They are, to some extent, guaranteed. I’m not yet sure whether the behavior of print in Perl with such a socket is a bug, or merely a horrible behavior emerging from the circumstances around it. Fortunately, no matter which, it’s easy to avoid: just replace print with send:

  send $sock, "0123456789", 0;

With Etsy::StatsD patched to do that, my problems have gone away.

Written on June 28, 2013
network   perl   programming