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Working with Splunk Metrics Indexes (Part Two)


Written by: Jim Baxter | Last Updated:

September 15, 2023

Originally Published:

September 15, 2023

Part 1 of this series of articles about working with Splunk metrics indexes covered what metrics indexes are, how to create one, and how to use the mcollect command to save data extracted from event logs into a metrics index.

In this segment, I will outline how to inspect and become familiar with metrics indexes and how to extract data from them using the mcatalog, mpreview, and mstats commands. Let’s get started!

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Investigating metric indexes

Once you have data stored in a metrics index, you’ll obviously want to use it for operational or security monitoring, alerting, and visualizations. If you are building these solutions, you’ll want to search and inspect the content and format of the metrics data so you know what you have to work with.

The format of the data stored in metrics indexes is different than with events indexes, so the commands for retrieving that data differ as well. Splunk provides a number of specific utilities for extracting metrics data, and many of the search commands that work with events data will not work with metrics data.

All of the metrics-specific commands start with the letter ‘m’, must follow a pipe (‘|’) character and must be the first line in a SPL series (in most cases). The following examples should be helpful, and you can get more detail from the Splunk docs – search the Internet for ‘splunk <command> command spec’.


We’ll start with the mpreview command since it allows viewing individual metrics events in a similar fashion as you’re accustomed to doing with events indexes, provides a decent mental bridge from events to metrics convention, and can be used to get an idea of the kinds of fields and data points that are stored in your metrics indexes or for troubleshooting your metrics data and sources:

| mpreview target_per_timeseries=0 index=app_statistics_metrics
Working with Splunk Metrics Indexes (Part Two): Graphic 1

There are several items of note in the above results:

  • The ‘target_per_timeseries=0’ argument to the mpreview command is used to specify the number of metric data points to retrieve per metric time series. Setting this argument to zero retrieves all of the data points, instead of the default of 5, which is useful for small investigative searches such as the above but is not a good idea with high-volume data sources.

Working with Splunk Metrics Indexes (Part Two): Graphic 2

  • Clicking the down arrow next to an event (in List view) reveals all of the fields contained in that event (as seen above). The standard host, source, sourcetype, and _time fields are present, along with the app and extracted_host dimensions and the metrics names and numeric values.
    Once you see and become familiar with the fact that metrics events are just a few standard fields, one or more metric_name measurements, and a handful of dimensions it gets easier.
  • A dimension prefixed with ‘extracted_’ indicates that the field name conflicted with a standard Splunk field name. For example, in this case the ‘host’ field is labeled ‘extracted_host’. You can avoid this by renaming the field – for example: | rename host AS hostname.
  • Numeric measurement fields have a ‘metric_name:’ prefix + the field name.
  • Dimension names with dot-syntax will be converted to underscores – Ex: would become run_time_group.
  • Data retrieved from a metrics index is presented as JSON for viewing in raw format in Splunk Web. You can see this by selecting ‘Raw’ from the drop-down above the events table – example below:

Working with Splunk Metrics Indexes (Part Two): Graphic 3


The mcatalog command displays the metric_names and dimensions in metric indexes. Examples of using the mcatalog command against our ‘app_statistics_metrics’ index are as follows:

| mcatalog values(_dims) AS dimension WHERE index=app_statistics_metrics by host, index, sourcetype, source, metric_name

The results display all of the metric_names and the dimensions for those metrics across the app_statistics_metrics index:

Working with Splunk Metrics Indexes (Part Two): Graphic 4A shortened version is:

Working with Splunk Metrics Indexes (Part Two): Graphic 5

You can also use mcatalog to display just the metric_names for a given metrics index:

| mcatalog values(metric_name) AS metric_name WHERE index=app_statistics_metrics by host, index, sourcetype, source
Working with Splunk Metrics Indexes (Part Two): graphic 6


The mstats command is used to aggregate and analyze metrics – you will use this a lot. This command can perform statistical summarization on the measurement (_value), metric_name, and dimension fields in metric indexes. You can use mstats in both historical searches and real-time searches; when used in a real-time search with a time window, a historical search runs first to backfill the data.

The mstats command has quite a few optional arguments, and several are required – here’s a minimum syntax example that includes an optional span argument applied to the app_statistics_metrics index:

| mstats span=15m max(_value) AS value WHERE index=app_statistics_metrics AND metric_name=* BY app, metric_name

And the results:

Working with Splunk Metrics Indexes (Part Two): graphic 7

Let’s walk through the mstats command syntax and significant arguments.

| mstats span=15m max(_value) AS value WHERE index=app_statistics_metrics AND metric_name=* BY app, metric_name

| mstats – aggregation command for metrics index data points.

span=15m – bin the data points into 15-minute buckets. Since the data was binned into 15-minute samples in the search that extracted the data from the _audit event index and stored it in our metrics index, this allows retrieval in the same increments.

Alternatively, you can summarize multiple samples by expanding the span timeframe, remembering that you’ll apply the max, avg, etc. function across all of the values in a given time range bucket. You’ll want to think through and experiment with the statistical function you apply to your data samples to make sure you’re getting the results you expected.

max(_value) AS value – apply an aggregating statistical function (max, avg, min, max, perc95, etc.) to the values of a set of data points in each metric_name, and rename the result field to ‘value’ instead of ‘max(_value)’. mstats supports many of the same functions as the ‘stats’ command – see the docs and the table below.

WHERE index=app_statistics_metrics – specify the index.

AND metric_name=* – you must specify at least one metric_name filter to obtain data point values from. You can specify one or more metric_names, or use wildcards.

BY app, metric_name – you can optionally provide a group-by argument to break out the results by dimensions and/or metric_name.

You’ll note that the term ‘metric_name’ seems to be a ‘pseudo-type’ in that you can use this term to perform grouping functions much the same as you would an individual field name such as host or source, etc., while still picking up multiple named metric fields such as metric_name:cpu.util.pct, metric_name:cpu.util.p95, etc. with the same ‘BY’ clause.

In summary, you can leverage the mstats command to perform a statistical function against a set of _values, WHERE index=<index>, AND any additional filters, AND a metric_name(s), grouped BY applicable dimensions and/or metric_names.

The supported aggregation and time functions for the mstats command include:

Working with Splunk Metrics Indexes (Part Two): Graphic 8

Retrieving data from metrics indexes

The example SPL provided in the mstats discussion above can be used to extract and perform aggregation and statistical analysis of multiple data points in a metrics index.

If you need to work with data points in specific metrics events, you can leverage the mpreview command to create an events-like data set, upon which you can apply additional commands for filtering and formatting:

| mpreview target_per_timeseries=0 index=app_statistics_metrics

| bin _time span=15m

| fields _time app host metric_name*

| fields – _raw

| rename metric_name:* AS *

| table _time host app *

Working with Splunk Metrics Indexes (Part Two) graphic 9

It should be noted that using mpreview will not be as performant as using mstats to retrieve and perform operations on metrics data, since mpreview will result in all events (after filtering) being sent to the user search head for further manipulation; mstats will perform statistical aggregation on the data set at the indexers (distributing the processing load) and return just those results to the search head. When dealing with high-volume data sets, this can make a huge difference in workloads and search times. I’ll suggest that mpreview is best utilized for investigations and troubleshooting only – use mstats for serious work. Examples of using mstats are provided in the section on visualizing metrics data.


Now that you’ve seen how to inspect and become familiar with metrics indexes and how to extract data from them using the mcatalog, mpreview, and mstats commands, you’re ready to put that data to work.

Part 3 wraps up the series with examples of how to analyze data from metrics indexes and use it in visualizations, as well as some notes on naming conventions and troubleshooting. See you there!

Subscribe to the Kinney Group blog to make sure you don’t miss out on part 3 as it is released in the coming weeks!

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