Labels in Prometheus Alerts: Think Twice Before Using Them

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Labels in Prometheus Alerts: Think Twice Before Using Them

Learn how to write alerting rules and configure the Prometheus alertmanager to send concise, easy-to-understand notifications.

· Performance Zone ·
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In this post, we will look at how to write alerting rules and how to configure the Prometheus alertmanager to send concise and easy to understand notifications.

Some alerts may contain labels and others may not. For example, here is an Instance Down alert with the labels ({{ $labels.instance }} and {{ $labels.job }}) and another one without labels:

- name: example
  - alert: InstanceDownLabels
    expr: up
    for: 5m
      severity: page
      summary: "Instance {{ $labels.instance }} down"
      description: "{{ $labels.instance }} of job {{ $labels.job }} has been down for more than 5 minutes."
  - alert: InstanceDownNoLabels
    expr: up
    for: 5m
      severity: critical
      summary: "Instance down"
      description: "Something has been down for more than 5 minutes."

Let's create a Slack receiver. We can do this by using an example from the Prometheus documentation:

- name: 'team-x'
  - channel: '#alerts'
    text: "<!channel> \nsummary: {{ .CommonAnnotations.summary }}\ndescription: {{ .CommonAnnotations.description }}"

This receiver config says we want to get a notification with a common summary and common description.

But with these settings, our Slack notifications looks like this:

The first alert, InstanceDownNoLabels, looks good. But why are the summary and description empty for InstanceDownLabels?

This happens because every time series is uniquely identified by its metric name and a set of labels and every unique combination of key-value label pairs represents a new alert for this time series.

We used variables like {{ $labels.instance }} and {{ $labels.job }} in our description and summary, and as a result, there is no common value for them.

We can try ranging over all received alerts (see example):

- name: 'default-receiver'
  - channel: '#alerts'
    title: "{{ range .Alerts }}{{ .Annotations.summary }}\n{{ end }}"
    text: "{{ range .Alerts }}{{ .Annotations.description }}\n{{ end }}"

But with this config, our Slack notifications look like this:

Now the alerts are not blank, but the first one contains duplicates in the Slack title and text.

One solution is checking both cases. For example, we can create our own template and save it in a file, my.tmpl:

{{ define "slack.my.title" -}}
    {{- if .CommonAnnotations.summary -}}
        {{- .CommonAnnotations.summary -}}
    {{- else -}}
        {{- with index .Alerts 0 -}}
            {{- .Annotations.summary -}}
        {{- end -}}
    {{- end -}}
{{- end }}
{{ define "slack.my.text" -}}
    {{- if .CommonAnnotations.description -}}
        {{- .CommonAnnotations.description -}}
    {{- else -}}
        {{- range $i, $alert := .Alerts }}
            {{- "\n" -}} {{- .Annotations.description -}}
        {{- end -}}
    {{- end -}}
{{- end }}

And if we use this custom template for Slack notifications:

- name: 'default-receiver'
  - channel: '#alerts'
    title: '{{ template "slack.my.title" . }}'
    text: '{{ template "slack.my.text" . }}'
- 'my.tmpl'

Our Slack messages look like this now:

Now we have all needed information without duplicates. To make our template look nice, we use minuses - before and after left and right delimiters {{ and }}. See go text/template documentation. For new lines we use {{"\n"}}.

For the title, we check if there is a common summary and use it; otherwise, we use the summary from the first alert to keep a summary short.

For the text, we use the common description if one exists (not empty) or we range over all alerts and print the description for each of them. But there might be a lot of different values for labels and a lot of different descriptions. It is a good idea to add some limit for them, for example, only the first 10 descriptions:

{{- range $i, $alert := .Alerts -}}
    {{- if lt $i 10 -}}
        {{- "\n" -}} {{- index $alert.Annotations "description" -}}
    {{- end -}}
{{- end -}}

The same applies to alerting rules with {{$value}} inside an annotation.


To get proper notifications, we need to make sure that our metrics, alerts, and receiver match each other. In particular, if we use labels or values in a field, we should expect to have different values of this field, and our templates need to deal with that. By contrast, if a field is static (doesn't contain any labels, value), there is a common value across all alerts for this rule.

Of course, we can use the same approach for other receivers like email, PagerDuty, OpsGenie, etc. For example, an email message for the same alert as above with a custom template looks like this:

See the configs for receivers with the < tmpl_string> format.

Happy monitoring!

alerting, monitoring, performance, prometheus, tutorial

Published at DZone with permission of Elena Morozova , DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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