Canaries: They’re Not Just for Coal Mines Anymore

Not too long ago, canaries were used to help coal miners detect the presence of carbon monoxide and methane gases in mines. The small birds were more sensitive to small amounts of the gases than their larger miner counterparts. Fortunately this practice has mostly been replaced thanks to the use of more modern detection devices, but the canary’s sacrifice is honored through the web service BinaryCanary.

What it does

Like canaries for your website, BinaryCanary keeps track of the status of your website and notifies you if it can’t make a connection to your site (i.e. your site is down). It’s as simple as that. You can receive notifications via either text or email. When your website goes down, you’ll be notified that BinaryCanary was unable to connect; when the site becomes available again BinaryCanary will send another notification.

email showing that the server is not responding

An email will be sent when the website appears to be down.

email showing that server is back online

A follow-up email will be sent when service is restored.

Obviously not all of us are managing websites, but this service could still be beneficial to those who are not. Libraries provide access to numerous online resources, and we need to be fairly diligent about making sure these resources are always available to our patrons. BinaryCanary could be used to monitor the availability of your OPAC or databases that your students use frequently.

As an example, Towson uses WorldCat Local for the book search function on the library website’s home page. I can monitor the availability of our WorldCat Local site by clicking Add Monitor in BinaryCanary and providing the URL for our instance of WorldCat Local* (http://towsonuniversity.worldcat.org).

a screenshot of the web page for creating a new monitor

Adding websites to monitor is simple. Just click 'Add Monitor' in the menu on the left and enter the URL for the site you wish to monitor.

While there may or may not be something you can do to bring the site back up, it is helpful to at least know that it’s down without one of your patrons having to tell you.

Other Features

There are several different fee-based plans for BinaryCanary, but a free account gets you quite a bit. You can monitor up to five sites (depending on how you set things up). You can add contact information for multiple individuals so several people who might be responsible for a particular website can be contacted. A workflow called an Escalation Profile can be created to determine who gets called when. BinaryCanary also keeps track of the website’s history, so you can analyze when and how often it failed to load during a particular period of time.

screenshot of a chart showing downtime

The reporting features in BinaryCanary can help you analyze your server's/website's availability history.

So, continue the legend of the canary and give BinaryCanary a try. If you use another program to monitor the status of servers/websites, I’d be interested to know how it’s worked for you. Leave a comment on this post!


This page has some nice info and photos about the use of canaries in coal mines: http://www.msha.gov/century/canary/canary.asp.

*OCLC will be happy to know that in the month we have been monitoring WorldCat Local they have 100% up-time.

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