Friday, November 20, 2015

When Immutability Gets In The Way

Here's a recent hack that I perpetrated:

(defn- redact-headers-from-exception-info
  (if-not (get-in (ex-data ei) [:request :headers])

  (let [orig-trace (.getStackTrace ei)]
    (doto (ex-info (.getMessage ei)
                   (update-in (ex-data ei) [:request :headers] dissoc "Authorization")
                   (.getCause ei))
          (.setStackTrace orig-trace))))

Clojure provides the ex-info function, which creates a RuntimeException that has an attached map of data. This is quite useful, as you can provide detailed information at the exception site without creating your own exception subclass.

However, it can provide too much information. In this case, the exception was being thrown from a web-service call, and, to assist debugging, contained the entire request. Including the Authorization header, which contains client credentials. Not something that you want to write to a logfile.

And here's how immutability got in our way. Clojure maps are immutable: you can't update them in-place. And the ExceptionInfo object doesn't provide any way to replace the map. So we were faced with a choice: either pass the exception to the logger and have sensitive data end up in the log; or extract the map from the exception, redact the sensitive data, but lose the stack trace. I don't know about you, but I consider stack traces to be one of the most important clues to debugging errors; we make web-service calls all over the place, and need to know which one is failing.

Fortunately, java.lang.Throwable is not immutable: it provides methods to get and set the stack trace. And thus the hack: I extract the stack trace and data map from the existing exception, remove the fields that I don't want to log, and create a new exception from those components. Then I explicitly replace the stack trace in the new exception. It's ugly, but it works: we log the information we need to debug the problem, but not the sensitive information that was present in the original info map.

This post is not intended as a slam on Clojure, or on immutability in general. Instead, it's a reminder that a rigid adherence to immutability can have unintended consequences.

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