OpenTelemetry supports multiple data sources as defined below. More data sources may be added in the future.
Traces track the progression of a single request, called a
trace, as it is
handled by services that make up an application. The request may be initiated
by a user or an application. Distributed tracing is a form of tracing that
traverses process, network and security boundaries. Each unit of work in a
trace is called a
trace is a tree of
spans. Spans are objects
that represent the work being done by individual services or components
involved in a request as it flows through a system. A
span contains a span
context, which is a set of globally unique identifiers that represent the
unique request that each
span is a part of. A
span provides Request, Error
and Duration (RED) metrics that can be used to debug availability as
well as performance issues.
trace contains a single root span which encapsulates the end-to-end latency
for the entire request. You can think of this as a single logical operation,
such as clicking a button in a web application to add a product to a shopping
cart. The root span would measure the time it took from an end-user clicking
that button to the operation being completed or failing (so, the item is added
to the cart or some error occurs) and the result being displayed to the user. A
trace is comprised of the single root span and any number of child spans,
which represent operations taking place as part of the request. Each
contains metadata about the operation, such as its name, start and end
timestamps, attributes, events, and status.
To create and manage spans in OpenTelemetry, the OpenTelemetry API provides the
interface. This object is responsible for tracking the active
span in your
process, and allows you to access the current
span in order to perform
operations on it such as adding attributes, events, and finishing it when the
work it tracks is complete. One or more
tracer objects can be created in a
process through the tracer provider, a factory interface that allows for
multiple tracers to be instantiated in a single process with different options.
Generally, the lifecycle of a span resembles the following:
- A request is received by a service. The span context is extracted from the request headers, if it exists.
- A new span is created as a child of the extracted span context; if none exists, a new root span is created.
- The service handles the request. Additional attributes and events are added to the span that are useful for understanding the context of the request, such as the hostname of the machine handling the request, or customer identifiers.
- New spans may be created to represent work being done by sub-components of the service.
- When the service makes a remote call to another service, the current span context is serialized and forwarded to the next service by injecting the span context into the headers or message envelope.
- The work being done by the service completes, successfully or not. The span status is appropriately set, and the span is marked finished.
For more information, see the traces specification, which covers concepts including: trace, span, parent/child relationship, span context, attributes, events and links.
metric is a measurement about a service, captured at runtime. Logically,
the moment of capturing one of these measurements is known as a metric event
which consists not only of the measurement itself, but the time that it was
captured and associated metadata.
Application and request metrics are important indicators of availability and performance. Custom metrics can provide insights into how availability indicators impact user experience or the business. Collected data can be used to alert of an outage or trigger scheduling decisions to scale up a deployment automatically upon high demand.
OpenTelemetry defines three metric instruments today:
counter: a value that is summed over time – you can think of this like an odometer on a car; it only ever goes up.
measure: a value that is aggregated over time. This is more akin to the trip odometer on a car, it represents a value over some defined range.
observer: captures a current set of values at a particular point in time, like a fuel gauge in a vehicle.
In addition to the three metric instruments, the concept of aggregations is an important one to understand. An aggregation is a technique whereby a large number of measurements are combined into either exact or estimated statistics about metric events that took place during a time window. The OpenTelemetry API itself does not allow you to specify these aggregations, but provides some default ones. Please see the specification for more details. In general, the OpenTelemetry SDK provides for common aggregations (such as sum, count, last value, and histograms) that are supported by visualizers and telemetry backends.
Unlike request tracing, which is intended to capture request lifecycles and provide context to the individual pieces of a request, metrics are intended to provide statistical information in aggregate. Some examples of use cases for metrics include:
- Reporting the total number of bytes read by a service, per protocol type.
- Reporting the total number of bytes read and the bytes per request.
- Reporting the duration of a system call.
- Reporting request sizes in order to determine a trend.
- Reporting CPU or memory usage of a process.
- Reporting average balance values from an account.
- Reporting current active requests being handled.
For more information, see the metrics specification, which covers topics including: measure, measurement, metric, data, data point and labels.
log is a timestamped text record, either structured (recommended) or unstructured,
with metadata. While logs are an independent data source, they may also be
attached to spans. In OpenTelemetry, any data that is not part of a distributed trace or a metric
is a log. For example, events are a specific type of log. Logs are often used
to determine the root cause of an issue and typically contain information about
who changed what as well as the result of the change.
For more information, see the logs specification, which covers topics including: log, defined fields, trace context fields and severity fields.