Metrics Semantic Conventions

Status: Mixed

The following semantic conventions surrounding metrics are defined:

Apart from semantic conventions for metrics, traces, logs, and events, OpenTelemetry also defines the concept of overarching Resources with their own Resource Semantic Conventions.

General Guidelines

Status: Experimental

Metric names and attributes exist within a single universe and a single hierarchy. Metric names and attributes MUST be considered within the universe of all existing metric names. When defining new metric names and attributes, consider the prior art of existing standard metrics and metrics from frameworks/libraries.

Associated metrics SHOULD be nested together in a hierarchy based on their usage. Define a top-level hierarchy for common metric categories: for OS metrics, like CPU and network; for app runtimes, like GC internals. Libraries and frameworks should nest their metrics into a hierarchy as well. This aids in discovery and adhoc comparison. This allows a user to find similar metrics given a certain metric.

The hierarchical structure of metrics defines the namespacing. Supporting OpenTelemetry artifacts define the metric structures and hierarchies for some categories of metrics, and these can assist decisions when creating future metrics.

Common attributes SHOULD be consistently named. This aids in discoverability and disambiguates similar attributes to metric names.

“As a rule of thumb, aggregations over all the attributes of a given metric SHOULD be meaningful,” as Prometheus recommends.

Semantic ambiguity SHOULD be avoided. Use prefixed metric names in cases where similar metrics have significantly different implementations across the breadth of all existing metrics. For example, every garbage collected runtime has slightly different strategies and measures. Using a single set of metric names for GC, not divided by the runtime, could create dissimilar comparisons and confusion for end users. (For example, prefer* over process.runtime.gc.*.) Measures of many operating system metrics are similarly ambiguous.

Name Reuse Prohibition

A new metric MUST NOT be added with the same name as a metric that existed in the past but was renamed (with a corresponding schema file).

When introducing a new metric name check all existing schema files to make sure the name does not appear as a key of any “rename_metrics” section (keys denote old metric names in rename operations).

Metric attributes

Metric attributes SHOULD follow the general attribute naming rules. In particular, metric attributes SHOULD have a namespace.

Metric attributes SHOULD be added under the metric namespace when their usage and semantics are exclusive to the metric.


Attributes mode and mountpoint for metric system.filesystem.usage should be namespaced as system.filesystem.mode and system.filesystem.mountpoint.

Metrics can also have attributes outside of their namespace.


Metric http.server.request.duration uses attributes from the registry such as server.port, error.type.


Conventional metrics or metrics that have their units included in OpenTelemetry metadata (e.g. metric.WithUnit in Go) SHOULD NOT include the units in the metric name. Units may be included when it provides additional meaning to the metric name. Metrics MUST, above all, be understandable and usable.

When building components that interoperate between OpenTelemetry and a system using the OpenMetrics exposition format, use the OpenMetrics Guidelines.

Naming rules for Counters and UpDownCounters


Metric namespaces SHOULD NOT be pluralized.

Metric names SHOULD NOT be pluralized, unless the value being recorded represents discrete instances of a countable quantity. Generally, the name SHOULD be pluralized only if the unit of the metric in question is a non-unit (like {fault} or {operation}).


  • system.filesystem.utilization, http.server.request.duration, and system.cpu.time should not be pluralized, even if many data points are recorded.
  • system.paging.faults, system.disk.operations, and should be pluralized, even if only a single data point is recorded.

Use count Instead of Pluralization for UpDownCounters

If the value being recorded represents the count of concepts signified by the namespace then the metric should be named count (within its namespace).

For example if we have a namespace system.process which contains all metrics related to the processes then to represent the count of the processes we can have a metric named system.process.count.

Do not use total

UpDownCounters SHOULD NOT use _total because then they will look like monotonic sums.

Counters SHOULD NOT append _total either because then their meaning will be confusing in delta backends.

General Metric Semantic Conventions

Status: Mixed

The following semantic conventions aim to keep naming consistent. They provide guidelines for most of the cases in this specification and should be followed for other instruments not explicitly defined in this document.

Instrument Naming

Status: Experimental

  • limit - an instrument that measures the constant, known total amount of something should be called entity.limit. For example, system.memory.limit for the total amount of memory on a system.

  • usage - an instrument that measures an amount used out of a known total (limit) amount should be called entity.usage. For example, system.memory.usage with attribute state = used | cached | free | ... for the amount of memory in a each state. Where appropriate, the sum of usage over all attribute values SHOULD be equal to the limit.

    A measure of the amount consumed of an unlimited resource, or of a resource whose limit is unknowable, is differentiated from usage. For example, the maximum possible amount of virtual memory that a process may consume may fluctuate over time and is not typically known.

  • utilization - an instrument that measures the fraction of usage out of its limit should be called entity.utilization. For example, system.memory.utilization for the fraction of memory in use. Utilization can be with respect to a fixed limit or a soft limit. Utilization values are represended as a ratio and are typically in the range [0, 1], but may go above 1 in case of exceeding a soft limit.

  • time - an instrument that measures passage of time should be called entity.time. For example, system.cpu.time with attribute state = idle | user | system | .... time measurements are not necessarily wall time and can be less than or greater than the real wall time between measurements.

    time instruments are a special case of usage metrics, where the limit can usually be calculated as the sum of time over all attribute values. utilization for time instruments can be derived automatically using metric event timestamps. For example, system.cpu.utilization is defined as the difference in system.cpu.time measurements divided by the elapsed time and number of CPUs.

  • io - an instrument that measures bidirectional data flow should be called and have attributes for direction. For example,

  • Other instruments that do not fit the above descriptions may be named more freely. For example, system.paging.faults and Units do not need to be specified in the names since they are included during instrument creation, but can be added if there is ambiguity.

Instrument Units

Status: Stable

Units should follow the Unified Code for Units of Measure.

  • Instruments for utilization metrics (that measure the fraction out of a total) are dimensionless and SHOULD use the default unit 1 (the unity).
  • All non-units that use curly braces to annotate a quantity need to match the grammatical number of the quantity it represent. For example if measuring the number of individual requests to a process the unit would be {request}, not {requests}.
  • Instruments that measure an integer count of something SHOULD only use annotations with curly braces to give additional meaning without the leading default unit (1). For example, use {packet}, {error}, {fault}, etc.
  • Instrument units other than 1 and those that use annotations SHOULD be specified using the UCUM case sensitive (“c/s”) variant. For example, “Cel” for the unit with full name “degree Celsius”.
  • Instruments SHOULD use non-prefixed units (i.e. By instead of MiBy) unless there is good technical reason to not do so.
  • When instruments are measuring durations, seconds (i.e. s) SHOULD be used.

Instrument Types

Status: Stable

The semantic metric conventions specification is written to use the names of the synchronous instrument types, like Counter or UpDownCounter. However, compliant implementations MAY use the asynchronous equivalent instead, like Asynchronous Counter or Asynchronous UpDownCounter. Whether implementations choose the synchronous type or the asynchronous equivalent is considered to be an implementation detail. Both choices are compliant with this specification.

Consistent UpDownCounter timeseries

Status: Experimental

When recording UpDownCounter metrics, the same attribute values used to record an increment SHOULD be used to record any associated decrement, otherwise those increments and decrements will end up as different timeseries.

For example, if you are tracking active_requests with an UpDownCounter, and you are incrementing it each time a request starts and decrementing it each time a request ends, then any attributes which are not yet available when incrementing the counter at request start should not be used when decrementing the counter at request end.