I’ve been experimenting quite a bit lately with various neat things you can do using just nginx, redis, and syslog-ng. Most recently I wrote about how to use dynamic log formats in nginx. Before that I wrote about an interesting way to implement realtime pixel tracking. I’ve decided to put some of these things together into a simple site that someone might find interesting.

Introducing: Hitcount.me

The idea is pretty basic. Just include the following HTML somewhere on your page:

<img style="display:none;" src="https://hitcount.me/hit.gif" />

What and Why

This is an experiment that I started out implementing for my own blog posts. Like a lot of people, I get a fair amount of traffic from the typical news aggregator sites (Hacker News, Reddit, etc), but the “upvotes” never seem to even remotely reflect the actual number of visitors I see in my access logs. This is probably because my posts are lame. But even on non-lame posts I’ve seen stuff like 200 visitors, and 2 upvotes. The reason is easy: most people don’t engage by upvoting, sharing, commenting, etc. They’re still there, and still reading, but they’re not contributing to my post’s popularity at all because they’re just “lurking”.

Hitcount.me is an experiment in implicit “upvoting”. Just by including the hidden image on your page you automatically get “submitted” to Hitcount.me and “upvoted” whenever you get a visitor. The top ranked pages daily are simply those that had the most visitors. There is a small algorithm on the backend that tries to ensure that fraudulent “upvotes” (for instance by crafting your own referer and then pounding hit.gif a million times) aren’t counted. I’m sure you can still figure out ways to break it, though.

Technical details

When your page is loaded and this image is requested, it generates a specially formatted access_log message in nginx that gets sent to syslog-ng:

log_format hitlog "$msec,$http_referer"
location = /hit.gif {
    expires -1d;
    access_log syslog:server=,facility=local3,tag=hitlog,severity=info hitlog;

Then in syslog-ng, we create a custom destination to send these messages to redis:

filter f_hitlog {
  facility(local3) and level(info) and program("hitlog");

destination d_hitlog {
    command("LPUSH", "$PROGRAM", "$MESSAGE")

log {
$ redis-cli LRANGE hitlog 0 -1
1) "1441004287.742,http://benwilber.github.io/"
2) "1441004287.742,http://benwilber.github.io/"
3) "1441004287.729,http://benwilber.github.io/"
4) "1441004287.720,http://benwilber.github.io/"
5) "1441004287.692,http://benwilber.github.io/"
6) "1441004287.639,http://benwilber.github.io/"
7) "1441004287.639,http://benwilber.github.io/"
8) "1441004287.615,http://benwilber.github.io/"
9) "1441004287.590,http://benwilber.github.io/"
10) "1441004287.590,http://benwilber.github.io/"

And finally there is a Python script that aggregates the referers and renders a simple web page ranked by most popular.

import redis

def main():

  r = redis.Redis()
  while True:
    _, event = r.brpop("hitlog")
    timestamp, referer = event.split(",", 1)

    # rank referer counts, render template

if __name__ == '__main__':