One of the problems debugging Android apps in the field is that the system error messages are quite generic and meaningless - e.g. Application not responding or application has stopped unexpectedly. All the interesting details like the java exception stack trace in the case of crashing apps are logged to the system log. This log can be looked at by running the "logcat" command from the background debug shell, usually by connecting over USB via the "adb" command from the Android SDK.
But what to do if a problem occurs in the field, when you don't have a computer handy with USB cable and Android SDK installed? I recently came across a few apps on the market which address this issue by running logcat in the background from the application, capture the output and bringing up an email message with the output to be sent to somebody - either yourself or the developer of the crashing app, who had been desperately asked to see the logs.
The source of one of the Log Collector apps is available online, and I was obviously curious how this is done. I had always wanted to add a log viewer to NetMeter, since seeing the logs is very essential to trouble-shooting anything going on with an Android device. Looking at the source-code for logcat, it seemed challenging to re-implement something similar in java as an Android application.
What I didn't know, is that it seem to be possible to run any native unix commands from within and Android Java application - even on regular production devices, assuming the application task has the necessary permissions to execute the particular command. Simply running the logcat command seems indeed to be the easiest way to get the system log from within an application. If I can find some time, maybe I'll add the logviewer to NetMeter after all.