Anatomy of a Bug - Part I

Posted on September 1, 2017  |  

Recently, I came across a production issue where a Zuul (Spring Cloud Brixton.SR3) edge service became unresponsive to HTTP requests. Even the health REST endpoint, which provides basic health information, of the affected service failed to respond. The Eureka registry service also advertised the unresponsive service as up. It was a Spring Boot (1.3.4.RELEASE) application with an embedded Jetty (9.3.0.v20150612 ) web container running on Red Hat Linux VM with Oracle JVM (1.8.0_31).


The affected service showed up as running while checking the status of the application using the following command:

service zuul status

Also, no error message was found in any of the application log files. However, VisualVM was able to connect with the affected JVM. VisualVM is a tool for monitoring real time JVM statistics including CPU, memory, and thread usage.

The heap dump, which was collected with VisualVM, didn’t show anything out of the ordinary. The CPU and memory usage were normal and on the lower side. A separate heap dump was also collected using the jmap tool by executing the following command:

sudo jmap -F -dump:format=b,file=/tmp/zuul_heapdump <pid>

It was a different story when the thread usage was investigated. There were 285 live and 68 daemon threads and most of the Jetty QTP threads were in parked state. Upon close inspection of the thread dumps, it was observed that 198 of the Jetty threads were in waiting state. All were waiting for the same thread id 455344ba. The following command was used to count the number of threads:

cat threaddump_1_pre-restart.log | grep '<455344ba>' | wc -l

Yet, no information on the thread with id 455344ba was found in the thread dumps. Note, the thread dumps were captured using VisualVM and jstack tool. Here is an example of a jstack command for obtaining a thread dump:

sudo jstack -l -F <pid> > ~/2017_08_30.tdump

The thread ids in the thread dump collected with jstack were mangled. Fortunately, the VisualVM thread dump had all the ids present. Here is a partial stack trace from the thread dump collected with VisualVM:

"qtp84113073-285" - Thread t@285
   java.lang.Thread.State: WAITING
	at sun.misc.Unsafe.park(Native Method)
	- parking to wait for <455344ba> (a java.util.concurrent.locks.AbstractQueuedSynchronizer$ConditionObject)
	at java.util.concurrent.locks.LockSupport.park(
	at java.util.concurrent.locks.AbstractQueuedSynchronizer$ConditionObject.await(
	at java.util.concurrent.ArrayBlockingQueue.put(
	at org.apache.logging.log4j.core.appender.AsyncAppender.append(
	at org.apache.logging.log4j.core.config.AppenderControl.tryCallAppender(
	at org.apache.logging.log4j.core.config.AppenderControl.callAppender0(
	at org.apache.logging.log4j.core.config.AppenderControl.callAppenderPreventRecursion(
	at org.apache.logging.log4j.core.config.AppenderControl.callAppender(
	at org.apache.logging.log4j.core.config.LoggerConfig.callAppenders(
	at org.apache.logging.log4j.core.config.LoggerConfig.processLogEvent(
	at org.apache.logging.log4j.core.config.LoggerConfig.log(
	at org.apache.logging.log4j.core.config.LoggerConfig.log(
	at org.apache.logging.log4j.core.config.AwaitCompletionReliabilityStrategy.log(
	at org.apache.logging.log4j.core.Logger.logMessage(
	at org.apache.logging.log4j.spi.AbstractLogger.logMessage(
	at org.apache.logging.log4j.spi.AbstractLogger.logIfEnabled(

While comparing the thread usage of the unresponsive service with an unaffected Zuul service, it was noticed that the live thread usage of the latter was substantially lower. The unaffected service had 88 live and 63 daemon threads compared to 285 live and 68 daemon threads for the unresponsive one.


The offending line (line 16 in the code sample below) in the Java code was easily identified by looking at the stack trace in the thread dump. The affected piece of code writes HTTP response to a log file. One of the custom Zuul post filters writes every HTTP request and response to their respective logs. The post filter is executed once the Zuul service receives a response back from an internal service. A Zuul service is responsible for routing HTTP requests to one of the internal REST services. A Jetty thread used for processing a request and response is also responsible for writing the logs. This thread was blocked while trying to log a response.

When a thread tries to write to an asynchronous Log4J logger, the log message is serialized and inserted into a BlockingQueue. A blocking queue is a bounded (fixed size) queue where a new message is inserted at the tail. Any attempt to insert a message in a queue, when it is full, will result in a thread being blocked until there is adequate space available in the queue. In the case of a Zuul service, one of the Jetty threads is responsible for inserting a message in the blocking queue. A second Log4J logger thread AsyncThread is responsible for dequeuing the message and writing it to a log file. There is one thread for each asynchronous Log4J appender. The version of Log4J library used in the Zuul application was 2.4.1.

It was suspected that the Jetty threads were in waiting state due to the Log4J response queue being full. To prove the initial assumption, the request log appender MBean (e.g., org.apache.logging.log4j2:type=4144933788,component=AsyncAppenders,name=asyncResponseLog) was inspected in the VisualVM. The queue capacity attribute QueueCapacity was found to be 128 while the remaining capacity attribute QueueRemaingCapacity was 0. The suspicion that the queue was full turned out to be true. Note, the name of the asyncResponseLog MBean comes from the response appender name declared in the Log4J configuration file shown below.

However, the remaining queue capacity of the request log appender MBean was 128. In other words, the request queue was empty. The last response log entry was 2017-08-30 09:25:30 which was slightly older than the request log entry 2017-08-30 09:27:21.

According to Log4j documentation on AsyncAppender, the default size of the blocking queue is 128 which matched the size in the MBean.

This led to a couple of initial hypothesis as to why the offending thread with id 455344ba was not returning:

1. Waiting for a Lock

The offending thread was waiting to acquire a write lock to the response log file. To confirm that the response log file descriptor (handle) was still open, lsof tool was used to obtain a of open files in the unresponsive Zuul server. Here is an usage of lsof command:

sudo lsof -i | grep java | grep -v TCP

Since application name was known, the following command was executed to narrow down the list of open files. The output was piped to a file for further evaluation.

pgrep -f 'java.*zuul' | xargs -i sudo lsof -p {} > /tmp/zuul.lsof.$( date +%Y%m%d_%H%M%S ).out

Once the output file was created, it was grepped to find out the status of response log file using the command shown below:

cat /tmp/zuul.lsof.20170830_*.out | grep 'response.log'

The output shown below confirmed that the response log file was open and a Java process with PID 30667 owned the write lock.

COMMAND   PID    USER    FD      TYPE             DEVICE   SIZE/OFF       NODE NAME
java    30667    zuul   18w      REG               253,2     4935360    34894563 /var/log/abc/zuul/response.log

The thread dumps were inspected again to confirm there were no deadlocks. Luckily, the jstack thread dump, shown below, stated no deadlocks were detected. However, no such information was available in the VisualVM thread dump. This ruled out the wait for a lock hypothesis.

Attaching to process ID 30667, please wait...
Debugger attached successfully.
Server compiler detected.
JVM version is 25.131-b11
Deadlock Detection:

No deadlocks found.

2. Death of a Thread

The offending thread died upon encountering an exception. First, the threads of both responsive and unresponsive Zuul services were compared in the VisualVM. Other than the obvious difference in the thread count, a thread named AsyncAppender-asyncResponseLog was found missing in the unresponsive Zuul JVM. The thread suffix, asyncResponseLog, matched the asynchronous name of log appender in the Log4J configuration file. It led to the conclusion that the response log blocking queue was filled due to the death of AsyncAppender-asyncResponseLog thread. It also confirmed the death thread hypothesis.

Now that one of the initial hypothesis was confirmed, the system logs were investigated for error messages. Remember, no error messages were found earlier in the application logs. Lo and behold, something interesting turned up in the system logs. The AsyncAppender-asyncResponseLog thread encountered a java.lang.OutOfMemoryError at Aug 30 09:25:33. It approximately matched the last entry in the response log at 2017-08-30 09:25:30. This confirmed that the Log4J AsyncAppender-asyncResponseLog thread died at Aug 30 09:25:33 due to memory starvation.

Here was the exception entry in the system log:

Aug 30 09:25:33 pdxzuul02 java[30667]: Exception in thread "AsyncAppender-asyncResponseLog" java.lang.OutOfMemoryError: Java heap space
Aug 30 09:25:33 pdxzuul02 java[30667]: at java.util.Arrays.copyOf(
Aug 30 09:25:33 pdxzuul02 java[30667]: at java.lang.AbstractStringBuilder.ensureCapacityInternal(
Aug 30 09:25:33 pdxzuul02 java[30667]: at java.lang.AbstractStringBuilder.append(
Aug 30 09:25:33 pdxzuul02 java[30667]: at java.lang.StringBuilder.append(

The system log entry was detected using the journalctl utility:

sudo journalctl -u zuul -n1000 | grep -A30 'java.lang.OutOfMemoryError'

Note -A30 prints 30 lines of trailing context after the matching line.


The Log4J AsyncAppender-asyncResponseLog thread died approximately at Aug 30 09:25:33 due to memory starvation. As the dead thread was responsible for dequeuing, it resulted in the response blocking queue to fill up. Once the response blocking queue was full, all subsequent Jetty HTTP request threads were blocked and were put in waiting state. It resulted in the Zuul service becoming unresponsive. The version of Log4J library having the issue was 2.4.1. Overall, the Zuul service failed to respond to 198 client requests.

In most cases, a java.lang.OutOfMemoryError will not kill a JVM. It usually occurs when a JVM fails to allocate memory blocks with the available heap resource. A JVM may recover from an out of memory exception if enough memory space is available after the next garbage collection. However, there is no guarantee that a JVM will recover after an out of memory exception. In the case of unresponsive Zuul service, it recovered from the memory exception which killed the Log4J asynchronous log appender thread.

Even after the Zuul service became unresponsive, it was still able to accept incoming HTTP requests and route them to internal services. It was still able to communicate with the Eureka server. It broadcasted the UP status without being aware of the response logging thread’s demise.

To be continued…