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Poor Man's Guide: Monitoring a Website Using Python.

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In one of the projects I am working on there was a problem with Apache server. It went down almost on a daily basis, and we were reading the logs to get the bottom of the root cause. But until we got our solution we needed to monitor the server's accessibility through the web, and get alerted if it went down, and ultimately restart it when this happened.

So I fired up my console and text editor and started hacking a little script to do the above mentioned side goals.

  1. Monitoring the Apache server's accessibility from a different server.
  2. SSH the linux box running the server and restarting Apache.
  3. Alerting the DevOps team about the issue.
  4. Putting it all together
  5. Setting up a cron job to run the script

I am assuming you are running an Ubuntu machine.

Monitoring the Apache Server

I was confused between two Python 2.x libraries (note that they are dramatically changed in Python 3.x and choosing between them is subject to different criteria).

The first library was python-httplib and the second was urllib. After a quick reading through both library's manual and a quick reading on StackOverflow I have decided to go for urllib.

Basically what I had in mind was to send a GET request to the website served by Apache and check the HTTP response code I got.

If it is 200 -which is the SUCCESS response code according to HTTP standards- then everything is fine.

You can try this in a python interactive shell :

>>> import urllib response_code =
>>> urllib.urlopen("").getcode() print response_code

If the printed value is 200 then the website is up and running, if it has a different value or raises an Exception then the site is likely down (Assuming you have internet connectivity, no firewalls blocking your way, etc).

Time to put it together in a script :

1import urllib
4 response_code = urllib.urlopen("").getcode()
5 if response_code != 200:
6 raise ValueError
8 pass # Here write code to do whatever you want to do when the website is down.

Restart the Apache server remotely

There is a wonderful Python library and a command-line tool called Fabric that helps you streamlining the use of SSH for application deployment or systems administration tasks. It is ideally used to automate tedious error prone tasks in an easy way.

You can read about more about it in their documentation.

Install it by running the following command:

sudo apt-get install fabric

We now need to create a new python file that I will name, you can name it anything, but let's just follow the common name you will see in Fabric's documentation.

1from fabric.api import env, sudo
3env.hosts = ['user@server'] env.passwords = {'user@server' : 'password'}
5def restart_apache():
6 sudo("apache2ctl restart")

We start by importing what we need from Fabric. Then we tell it some information about the server we want to restart Apache on by setting the env.hosts and env.passwords variables.

Then we define a restart_apache function that we will call later to do the actual restart.

There are three main functions that are used the most, local() that runs local commands, run() that runs commands on the remote server and sudo() that runs commands on the remote server using sudo. Since Apache restart requires a root user or sudo privileges we used the sudo() function.

To run a Fabric script open up your terminal and run the following command:

fabric restart_apache

If you want to run it from a different directory than the then you need to use the -f option like this :

fabric -f /path/to/your/ function_name

Alerting the DevOps team about the issue.

We can re-use the email function from the previous post on this blog Installing Gdata Python Client on Dreamhost:

import smtplib
from email.MIMEMultipart import MIMEMultipart
from email.MIMEBase import MIMEBase
from email.MIMEText import MIMEText
from email import Encoders

subject = 'Your website is down' email_body = 'Your website is down'
gmail_user = 'YOUR-GMAIL-ADDRESS' gmail_pwd = 'YOUR-GMAIL-PASSWORD'
recipient = 'DEVOPS-EMAIL'

def mail(to, subject, text, gmail_user, gmail_pwd):
    '''Sends mail using gmail'''
    msg = MIMEMultipart()

    # Setting up message data
    msg['From'] = 'DEVOPS-EMAIL'
    msg['To'] = to
    msg['Subject'] = subject msg.attach(MIMEText(text))

    # Opening the connection with Gmail SMTP server
    mailServer = smtplib.SMTP("", 587)
    mailServer.login(gmail_user, gmail_pwd)

    # Actual sending of the email
    mailServer.sendmail(gmail_user, to, msg.as_string())

    # Closing the connection # Should be mailServer.quit(), but that crashes

Putting it all together

I have combined all the snippets mentioned above, modified them and added some logging functionality to it.

I have it installed on /opt/ and I have created a /opt/fab_logs folder to hold the log files.

Here is a gist with the complete script:

Setting up a cron job to run the script

Now we have a great script, and we know how to run it manually. But it would be inconvenient to run it manually all the time. We need to setup a cron job to do it periodically for us.

Run the following command in the terminal to edit your crontab file:

crontab -e

Then add the following line to the file to run the script every hour:

0 * * * * /usr/bin/fab -f /path/to/your/ restart_apache

Happy website monitoring.