7 min read

Triggers are things that “fire”. They are the ones that look at item data and raise a flag when the data does not fit whatever condition is defined. As we discussed before, simply gathering data is nice, but awfully inadequate. If you want anything past historical data gathering, including notifications—there would have to be a person looking at all the data all the time, so we have to define thresholds at which we want the condition to be considered worth looking into. Triggers provide a way to define what those conditions are.

Earlier, we created a single trigger that was checking the system load on “A Test Host”. It checks whether the returned value is larger than a defined threshold. Now, let’s check for some other possible problems with a server—for example, when a service is down. The SMTP service going down can be significant, so we will try to look for such an event now. Navigate to Configuration | Hosts, choose Triggers in the first dropdown and click on the Create Trigger button. In the form that opens, we will fill in some values.

  1. Name: The contents of this field will be used to identify the trigger in most places, so it should be human-readable. This time, enter SMTP service is down. Notice how we are describing what the problem actually is. As opposed to an item, which is gathering statuses, a trigger has a specific condition to check, thus the name reflects it. If we had a host that should not ever have a running SMTP service, we could create a trigger named “SMTP service should not be running”.
  2. Expression: This is probably the most important factor of a trigger. What is being checked, and for what conditions, will be specified here. Trigger expressions can vary from very simple to complex ones. This time we will create a simple one, and we will also use some help with that. Click the Select button next to the Expression fi eld to open expression building dialog. It has several fields to fill as well, so let’s look at what those are.
    • Item: Here, we can specify which item data should be checked. To do that click on the Select button. Another pop up opens. Select Linux servers in the Group dropdown, then select Another Host in the Host dropdown. We are interested in the SMTP service, so click on SMTP server status in the Description column. Pop up will close, and Item field will be populated with the chosen name.
    • Function: Here we can choose the actual check to be performed. Maybe we can try remembering what the SMTP server status item values were—right, “1” was for server running, and “0” was for server down. If we want to check whenever the last value is 0, the default function seems to fit quite nicely, so we won’t change it.
    • N: This field allows us to set the constant used in the function above. We want to find out whenever server goes down (or status is “0”), so here the default fits as well.

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      With the values set as above, click the Insert button. Expression field is now populated with a trigger expression {Another Host:smtp.last(0)}=0.

    • Severity: There are five severity levels in Zabbix, and an additional “Not classified” severity.

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      We will consider this problem to be of an average severity, so choose Average from the dropdown

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Before continuing, make sure the SMTP server is running on “Another Host”, then click Save. Let’s find out how it looks in the overview now—open Monitoring | Overview and make sure Type dropdown has Triggers selected.

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Great, we can see both hosts now have a trigger defined. As the triggers differ, we also have two unused cells. A newly added trigger will be flashing, thus indicating a recent change.

Let’s look at the trigger expression in more detail. It starts with an opening curly brace, and the first parameter is the hostname. Separated with a colon is the item key—smtp here. After the dot comes the more interesting and trigger specific thing—the trigger function. Used here is one of the most common functions, last. It always returns single value from the item history. Here it also has a parameter passed, 0, enclosed in parenthesis. For this particular function, a parameter passed with such syntax is ignored, while it could mean seconds, that would not make much sense (the function returns a single value only). Still, a parameter has to be provided even for functions that ignore it.

But that’s not the only parameter syntax this function supports—if the value is prefixed with a hash, it is not ignored. In that case it works like an Nth value  specifier. For example, last(#9) would retrieve the 9th most recent value. As wecan see, last(#1) is equal to last(0). Another overlapping function is prev. As the name might suggest, it returns the previous value, thus prev(0) is the same as last(#2).

Continuing with the trigger expression, curly braces close to represent a string that retrieves some value. Then we have an operator, which in this case is a simple equal sign. Comparison is done with a constant number, zero.

Trigger dependencies

We now have one service being watched. Though there are some more monitored and now we can try to create a trigger for a HTTP server. Go to Configuration | Hosts, click on Triggers next to Another Host, then click on Create Trigger. Fill in the following values:

  • Name: Enter WEB service is down.
  • Expression: Click on Select, then again on Select next to the Item field. Make sure Linux servers is selected in the Group field and Another Host in the host field, then click on WEB server status in the Description column. Both function and its parameter are fine, so click on Insert.

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    That inserts the expression {Another Host:net.tcp.service[http,,80]. last(0)}=0.

  • The trigger depends on: Our host runs software that is a bit weird—the web service is a web e-mail frontend, and it goes down whenever the SMTP server is unavailable. This means the web service depends on SMTP service. To configure that, click on Add next to the New dependency. In the resulting window, make sure Linux servers is selected in the Group dropdown and Another Host is selected in the Host dropdown, then click on the only entry in the Description column—SMTP service is down.
  • Severity: Select Average.
  • Comments: Trigger expressions can get very complex. Sometimes the complexity can make it impossible to understand what a trigger is supposed to do without serious dissection. Comments provide a way to help somebody else, or yourself, to understand the thinking behind such complex triggers later. While our trigger still is very simple, we might want to explain the reason for the dependency, so enter something like Web service goes down if SMTP is inaccessible.

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When you are done, click Save. Notice how, in the trigger list, trigger dependencies are listed in the Name column. This allows for a quick overview of any dependent triggers without opening the details of each trigger individually.

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With the dependency set up, let’s find out whether it changes anything in the frontend. Navigate to Monitoring | Overview.

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Indeed, the difference is visible immediately. Triggers involved in the dependency have arrows drawn over them. So an upwards arrow means something depends on this trigger or was it the other way around? Luckily, you don’t have to memorize that. Move the mouse cursor over the SMTP service is down trigger for Another Host, the upper cell with the arrow.

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A pop up appears, informing you that there are other triggers dependent on this one. Dependent triggers are listed in the pop up. Now move the mouse cursor one cell below, over the downwards pointing arrow.

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Let’s see what effect other than the arrows does this provide. Open Monitoring | Triggers and make sure both Host and Group dropdowns say all, then bring down web server on “Another Host”. Wait for the trigger to fire, look at the entry. Notice how an arrow indicating dependency is displayed here as well. Move the mouse cursor over it again, and the dependency details are displayed in a pop up.

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Hey, what’s up with the Show link in the Comments column? Let’s find out—click on it. As can be seen, the comment we provided when creating the trigger is displayed. This allows for easy access to comments from the trigger list both for finding out more information about the trigger and updating the comment as well. Click on Cancel to return to the trigger list. Now, stop the SMTP service on the “Another Host”.


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