Say you run a website or a few, maybe even as a part of your business. It’s naturally in your interest to minimize the amount of downtime your site(s) experience. In case you run your own (virtual) servers, you wanna be notified as soon as possible if there’s some abnormalities with your sites’ operation.
Have a credit-card sized computer (RaspberryPi) running a script at certain intervals (say, every 5min) that requests the desired URL(s) and checks that
- the HTTP server responded/didn’t time out and
- the response received contained some predefined text
The predefined text searched for in #2 should be unlikely to change by content modifications and should also be unlikely to exist in possible error messages issued by the HTTP server.
If both of the above conditions are met, let’s consider the URL/site in question to be operating as expected.
What you’ll need
Hardware and software
- RaspberryPi with ethernet
- either RPi1 model B/B+ or RPi2
- these are probably available at your local dealer
- At least a 4GB SD card with the Raspbian operating system on it
- with RPi2 you’ll need to use a microSD card
- Instructions for writing Raspbian to SD card
- An Internet connection to connect the RPi to
It’s possible to use other hardware than the RaspberryPi (for example BananaPi, Beaglebone, your old laptop, a virtual server different than the ones you’re monitoring) and another OS than Raspbian, but for the sake of this article, we’ll stick with RPi and Raspbian.
- SMTP server settings of your Internet Service Provider
- and possibly username/password for the SMTP server
Due to Gmail nowadays requiring OAuth2 for using Gmail SMTP, and since using plain password-based SMTP was more straight-forward for me to implement in a short time, the solution presented here will not work with Gmail’s SMTP servers.
A RaspberryPi, depending on the model, will run you roughly a maximum of around 50 euros/dollars. Add a 4GB or larger (micro) SD card and you’re in the 55 euros/dollars ballpark.
Building our home-grown solution
Boot up your RaspberryPi and hook it with a monitor and keyboard or alternatively log into it using SSH. If you’re running Windows on your laptop/desktop that you’re reading this on, use PuTTY for the SSH connection. The default Raspbian username and password can be seen on the Raspbian download page.
Changing your RaspberryPi password
You SHOULD NOT be running your RaspberryPi with the default username and password. Change your password now by running:
Now that you’ve got your RaspberryPi “under your fingertips”, either with monitor+keyboard or over SSH, issue the following command at the shell (the black screen with white text):
If you received no errors, you’re ready to move forward.
The monitoring script
Here’s the Python script that will do most of the job. This is a Python2 script and will not work with Python3:
Saving the script to your RPi
Method 1: Copy and paste
To get a copy of the script to your RaspberryPi, either run the following command on the RPi
and then paste the code in and hit Ctrl+X followed by Y.
Method 2: Download the script
Make sure your RPi is connected to the Internet and run the following command on it:
Making the script file executable
Next, make the script executable by running the following on the RPi:
This will set the read (4), write (2) and execute (1) permission (4+2+1 = 7) for script owner (you) and no permissions (0) for group and world.
The reason for revoking permissions from group and all was since the script contains our SMTP username and password.
More info on Linux file permissions.
Running the script manually
Ok, we’re almost done. Currently we can run the above script manually by typing:
You can try purposefully setting the script so that it looks for text the corresponding URL does not contain in order to make sure it’s working and sending you the expected notification email. This will simulate a situation where your website is running some CMS (like WordPress) and for example WordPress has lost it’s connection to its database.
On the other hand, if you have the technical possibility of shutting down the server running the URL, you can try this as well to see what happens when the server is entirely unreachable.
Running the script automatically at desired intervals
For the actual implementation, we don’t want to be running the monitoring script manually. We want our RPi to run it for us, for example every 5 minutes.
To make that happen, we need a standard Linux tool called Cron.
Finding script’s absolute path
To use Cron, we need to know the full path of our script. To find this out, run the following command:
Most likely the output will be /home/pi which would mean that the full path of your script is /home/pi/monitor-websites.py.
Setting Cron to run our script
Cron has its own syntax for defining which a script/program gets run. Possibilities are vast, for example “every day at time X” or “every first monday of the month” etc. To edit Cron settings, run:
Now use the arrow keys to move all the way down below the commented-out lines (lines starting with #) and enter the following line:
Now press Ctrl+X followed by Y to save. (I’m assuming here that Nano is being used as Cron editor, which is the default in Raspbian.)
What this does is define our script to run every 5 minutes around the clock all year long. If you want some other kind of interval, study the Cron syntax.
2>&1 | logger at the end of the command redirects both STDOUT and STDERR to the
logger command which as a result writes output from the script to system log.
To view all latest system log entries, run this:
cat /var/log/syslog. As that’s likely to produce a lot of output, you might want to use
tail /var/log/syslog to view (by default only) the latest 10 entries. Finally, you can run
cat /var/log/syslog | grep 'Monitor websites' to only view entries produced by the monitoring script.
Hooray! You’ve now created your own system to monitor your website(s) and get notified by email if some problems are detected.
The solution is by no means perfect but provided some peace-of-mind compared to simply manually checking every now and then that your sites are running as they’re supposed to.
Comments / questions?
If you have any comments, questions, spotted some errors or have some improvement ideas, leave a comment below :)