Getting Started

Welcome to the OpenTelemetry for Erlang/Elixir getting started guide! This guide will walk you through the basic steps in installing, configuring, and exporting data from OpenTelemetry.


OpenTelemetry packages for Erlang/Elixir are available on There are two packages you might want to install, depending on what you are trying to accomplish.


If you are developing a library or OTP Application that someone else would include into their deployed code and you want to provide OpenTelemetry instrumentation for them, you’ll want to add the dependency opentelemetry_api. This package contains only the API of OpenTelemetry. It will not start any processes and all API calls (such as starting a span) will be a no-op that creates no data, unless the opentelemetry SDK package is also installed.


If you are developing an Application that will actually be deployed and export OpenTelemetry data, whether from instrumented dependencies or your code itself, you’ll want to add the opentelemetry package. This is the implementation of the API and will start a Supervision tree, handling the necessary components for recording and exporting OpenTelemetry signals. This is the package where you would configure the destination(s) for your OpenTelemetry data, whether it be to an OpenTelemetry Collector instance, or directly to a vendor’s data ingestion API.

To get started with this guide, create a new project with rebar3 or mix:

$ rebar3 new release otel_getting_started
$ mix new --sup otel_getting_started

Then, in the project you just created, add both opentelemetry_api and opentelemetry as dependencies. We add both because this is a project we will run as a Release and export spans from.

{deps, [{opentelemetry_api, "~> 0.6"}, 
        {opentelemetry, "~> 0.6"}]}.
def deps do
    {:opentelemetry_api, "~> 0.6"},
    {:opentelemetry, "~> 0.6"}

In the case of Erlang, the Applications will also need to be added to src/ In an Elixir project, a releases section needs to be added to mix.exs:

{applications, [kernel,
releases: [
  otel_getting_started: [
    version: "0.0.1",
    applications: [otel_getting_started: :permanent]

Initialization and Configuration

Configuration is done through the Application environment or OS Environment Variables. The opentelemetry Application uses the configuration to initialize a Tracer Provider, its Span Processors and the Exporter.

Using the Console Exporter

Exporters are packages that allow telemetry data to be emitted somewhere - either to the console (which is what we’re doing here), or to a remote system or collector for further analysis and/or enrichment. OpenTelemetry supports a variety of exporters through its ecosystem, including popular open-source tools like Jaeger and Zipkin.

To configure OpenTelemetry to use a particular exporter, in this case otel_exporter_stdout, the Application environment for opentelemetry must set the exporter for the span processor otel_batch_processor, a type of span processor that batches up multiple spans over a period of time:

%% config/sys.config.src
  [{processors, [{otel_batch_processor,
                  #{exporter => {otel_exporter_stdout, []}}
# config/runtime.exs
config :opentelemetry, :processors,
  otel_batch_processor: %{
    exporter: {:otel_exporter_stdout, []}

Working with Spans

Now that the dependencies and configuration are set up, we can create a module with a function hello/0 that starts some spans:

%% apps/otel_getting_started/src/otel_getting_started.erl



hello() ->
    %% start an active span and run a local function
    ?with_span(<<"operation">>, #{}, fun nice_operation/1).

nice_operation(_SpanCtx) ->
    ?add_event(<<"Nice operation!">>, [{<<"bogons">>, 100}]),
    ?set_attributes([{another_key, <<"yes">>}]),

    %% start an active span and run an anonymous function
    ?with_span(<<"Sub operation...">>, #{},
               fun(_ChildSpanCtx) ->
                       ?set_attributes([{lemons_key, <<"five">>}]),
                       ?add_event(<<"Sub span event!">>, [])
# lib/otel_getting_started.ex
defmodule OtelGettingStarted do
  require OpenTelemetry.Tracer, as: Tracer

  def hello do
    Tracer.with_span "operation" do
      Tracer.add_event("Nice operation!", [{"bogons", 100}])
      Tracer.set_attributes([{:another_key, "yes"}])

      Tracer.with_span "Sub operation..." do
        Tracer.set_attributes([{:lemons_key, "five"}])
        Tracer.add_event("Sub span event!", [])

In this example, we’re using macros that use the process dictionary for context propagation and for getting the tracer.

Inside our function, we’re creating a new span named operation with the with_span macro. The macro sets the new span as active in the current context – stored in the process dictionary, since we aren’t passing a context as a variable.

Spans can have attributes and events, which are metadata and log statements that help you interpret traces after-the-fact. The first span has an event Nice operation!, with attributes on the event, as well as an attribute set on the span itself.

Finally, in this code snippet, we can see an example of creating a child span of the currently-active span. When the with_span macro starts a new span, it uses the active span of the current context as the parent. So when you run this program, you’ll see that the Sub operation... span has been created as a child of the operation span.

To test out this project and see the spans created, you can run with rebar3 shell or iex -S mix, each will pick up the corresponding configuration for the release, resulting in the tracer and exporter to started.

$ rebar3 shell
===> Compiling otel_getting_started
Erlang/OTP 23 [erts-11.1] [source] [64-bit] [smp:8:8] [ds:8:8:10] [async-threads:1] [hipe]

Eshell V11.1  (abort with ^G)
1> otel_getting_started:hello().
      13736713257910636645,<<"Sub operation...">>,internal,
      [{event,-576460750077786044,<<"Sub span event!">>,[]}],
      [{event,-576460750077877345,<<"Nice operation!">>,[{<<"bogons">>,100}]}],
$ iex -S mix
Erlang/OTP 23 [erts-11.1] [source] [64-bit] [smp:8:8] [ds:8:8:10] [async-threads:1] [hipe]

Compiling 1 file (.ex)
Interactive Elixir (1.11.0) - press Ctrl+C to exit (type h() ENTER for help)
iex(1)> OtelGettingStarted.hello()
      14276444653144535440,<<"Sub operation...">>,'INTERNAL',
      [{event,-576460741349414157,<<"Sub span event!">>,[]}],
      [{event,-576460741349446725,<<"Nice operation!">>,[{<<"bogons">>,100}]}],