Context propagation for the PHP API

Propagation is the mechanism that moves data between services and processes. Although not limited to tracing, it is what allows traces to build causal information about a system across services that are arbitrarily distributed across process and network boundaries.

OpenTelemetry provides a text-based approach to propagate context to remote services using the W3C Trace Context HTTP headers.

Context propagation with frameworks and libraries

Auto-instrumentation exists for some popular PHP frameworks (eg Symfony, Laravel, Slim) and HTTP libraries propagate context for incoming and outgoing HTTP requests.

We highly recommend that you use auto-instrumentation or instrumentation libraries to propagate context. Although it is possible to propagate context manually, the PHP auto-instrumentation and instrumentation libraries are well-tested and easier to use.


Auto-instrumentation for frameworks which implement the PSR-15 RequestHandlerInterface will automatically extract W3C tracecontext headers, create a root span, and set a remote parent for the root span.

composer require open-telemetry/opentelemetry-auto-psr15


PSR-18 auto-instrumentation will automatically apply W3C tracecontext headers to outgoing HTTP requests for any library which implements the PSR-18 interface.


Manual W3C Trace Context Propagation

In some cases, it is not possible to propagate context with an instrumentation library. There may not be an instrumentation library that matches a library you’re using to have services communicate with one another. Or you many have requirements that instrumentation libraries cannot fulfill, even if they exist.

When you must propagate context manually, you can use the context api.

The following presents an example of an outgoing HTTP request:

$request = new Request('GET', 'http://localhost:8080/resource');
$outgoing = $tracer->spanBuilder('/resource')->setSpanKind(SpanKind::CLIENT)->startSpan();
$outgoing->setAttribute(TraceAttributes::HTTP_METHOD, $request->getMethod());
$outgoing->setAttribute(TraceAttributes::HTTP_URL, (string) $request->getUri());

$carrier = [];
foreach ($carrier as $name => $value) {
    $request = $request->withAddedHeader($name, $value);
try {
    $response = $client->send($request);
} finally {

Similarly, the text-based approach can be used to read the W3C Trace Context from incoming requests. The following presents an example of processing an incoming HTTP request:

$request = ServerRequestCreator::createFromGlobals();
$context = TraceContextPropagator::getInstance()->extract($request->getHeaders());
$root = $tracer->spanBuilder('HTTP ' . $request->getMethod())
    ->setStartTimestamp((int) ($request->getServerParams()['REQUEST_TIME_FLOAT'] * 1e9))
$scope = $root->activate();
try {
    /* do stuff */
} finally {