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Sending trace data to Honeycomb

Your events must contain tracing metadata for Honeycomb to reconstruct and visualize traces for you. There are several ways to generate trace data and send it to Honeycomb:

You can combine multiple types of tracing instrumentation as long as your trace and span IDs are unique. The following sections describe how to use these methods.

Honeycomb Beelines  🔗

Beelines are an easy way to get basic tracing for a single service. Beelines automatically track trace and span relationships using the following fields:

Field Description
name The name of the function or method where the span was created
service_name The name of the Beeline-instrumented service
duration_ms How much time the span took, in milliseconds
trace.span_id The unique ID for each span
trace.trace_id The ID of the trace this span belongs to
trace.parent_id The ID of this span’s parent span, the call location the current span was called from

For more information on installing and configuring Beelines, see Honeycomb Beelines.

OpenTelemetry  🔗

OpenTelemetry is a vendor-agnostic effort to combine distributed tracing, metrics and logging into a single set of system components and language-specific libraries.

Refer to the instructions on using the OpenTelemetry Collector.

A note on Istio  🔗

Tracing data emitted by the service mesh Istio can be forwarded to Honeycomb using the OpenTelemetry Collector.

Istio has configuration options that can be set using the Kubernetes package manager Helm, which generates the final Kubernetes resource definitions used to deploy or update the service mesh. Some of these options are relevant to tracing.

To use Istio with Honeycomb, you should first install the OpenTelemetry Collector Then, you will configure Istio to send the tracing data it generates to the Collector, which will forward those spans along to Honeycomb. The OpenTelemetry Collector supports ingesting multiple tracing formats such as Zipkin or Jaeger, so either can be used. Jaeger format is a popular choice.

The helm template command accepts Istio configuration options as arguments to the --set flag, so you want to use a command like this to generate the new configuration:

helm template --set tracing.enabled=true \
              --set tracing.provider=zipkin \
              --set global.tracer.zipkin.address=opentelemetry-collector.default.svc.cluster.local:9411 \
              <usual remaining args>

Once this has been re-generated, kubectl apply the new resulting YAML.

To properly trace all services in your system, you will need to ensure that you are forwarding tracing headers from your apps so that Istio/Envoy can inject the correct tracing information as requests are made and received. See this section on trace context propagation in the Istio docs for details on how to do this.

Manual tracing  🔗

If you have structured logging but aren’t using an OpenTracing-compatible library, add tracing metadata to your existing structured logs. Honeycomb reconstructs your traces from the metadata you provide in your events.

To manually construct tracing metadata, generate unique trace and span IDs and thread them through your applications. Your span, parent span, and trace IDs must accurately reflect the relationships between all the spans that make up a trace. For distributed services, downstream services need trace and span IDs from the services that called them.

Include the following key/value pairs in your log events:

Field Description
name The specific call location (like a function or method name)
trace.span_id A unique ID for each span
trace.parent_id The ID of this span’s parent span, the call location the current span was called from
trace.trace_id The ID of the trace this span belongs to
service_name The name of the service that generated this span
duration_ms How much time the span took, in milliseconds

The trace_id, span_id, and parent_id must come through to Honeycomb as strings. (The strings may be all numeric, but the JSON package should enclose them in quotes.) The root span of a trace is defined by having its parent_id omitted.

Honeycomb also expects all events to contain a timestamp field; if one is not provided, the server will associate the current time of ingest with the given payload. With tracing, this will result in nonsensical waterfall diagrams, with parent spans appearing to start after their child spans have completed.

A root span, the first span in a trace, does not have a parent. As you instrument your code, make sure every span propagates its trace.trace_id and trace.span_id to any child spans it calls, so that the child span can use those values as its trace.trace_id and trace.parent_id. Honeycomb uses these relationships to determine the order spans execute and construct the waterfall diagram.

Send each complete instrumented event after its unit of work finishes. You can do this with honeytail or a Honeycomb SDK. The Honeycomb examples repository on GitHub has instrumentation examples for several languages.

To see an example of manual tracing with Golang in action, try out the Golang-Wiki-Tracing Example App.

To see an example of manual tracing with Ruby in action, try out the Ruby-Wiki-Tracing Example App.

Changing the trace schema  🔗

If you are a team owner and are configuring tracing data sent via Secure Tenancy or need to update the trace schema for a dataset because the data you’re sending has changed field names, you can do this from the Definitions tab for that dataset’s details:

dataset configuration tracing tab

When you’ve updated the field name(s) as desired, click Update. The tracing configuration is updated.

Span Annotations  🔗

Span Annotations are a special kind of event used with tracing data. Span Annotations are visualized differently in Honeycomb, they are not shown in the Waterfall graph. Instead, when you click on a Span that has Annotations, they appear as tabbed entries in the tracing sidebar for that Span.

Honeycomb supports two types of Span Annotations: Span Events and Links.

Span Events  🔗

Span Events are timestamped structured logs (aka events), without a duration. They occur during the course of a Span and can be thought of as annotations on the Span. For example, you might have a Span that represents a specific operation in your service. That operation could have a loop, in which a non-fatal error can occur. If you write the error to an error field on the Span, you’ll overwrite any previous errors (from previous loop iterations) recorded in that field. This is a perfect use case for Span Events, the error events can be attached as Span Event Annotations and you capture all the errors.

For Honeycomb to recognize Span Events, you must tag these events with meta.annotation_type: span_event.

To use Span Events, include the following key/value pairs in your event.

Field Description
meta.annotation_type: "span_event" This combination of key:value is required and allows us to correctly render span events
trace.parent_id The span ID this span event will be attached to
trace.trace_id The ID of the trace this span event belongs to
Timestamp The timestamp at which the span event occurred
name The name of the span event
service_name The name of the service in which the span event occurred (optional)

The field used to tell Honeycomb which field represent Span Annotations can be configured in your dataset’s settings page on the Definitions tab.

A span may be linked to zero or more other spans or traces that are causally related. They can point to another span within the same trace or a span in a different trace. The tracing data model focuses on the parent-child relationship between spans, and most spans can be adequately described with just a span id, a parent span id, and a trace ID. However, in some special cases, it may be useful to describe a less direct causal relationship between spans. Links are optional, but can be useful for expressing a causal relationship to one or more spans or traces elsewhere in your dataset. Links can be used to represent batched operations where a span was initiated by multiple initiating spans, each representing a single incoming item being processed in the batch.

For Honeycomb to recognize Link Annotations, you must tag these events with meta.annotation_type: link.

To use links, include the following key/value pairs in your link event.

Field Description
trace.link.span_id The span ID you wish to link to
trace.link.trace_id The trace ID you wish to link to
meta.annotation_type: "link" This combination of key:value is required and allows us to correctly render links
trace.parent_id The span ID this link will be attached to
trace.trace_id The ID of the trace this link belongs to

You can tell Honeycomb which fields you would like used for these in you dataset’s settings on the Definitions tab.

Next steps  🔗

Now that you are generating tracing data, view your traces and spans in Honeycomb. See Exploring trace data to learn more about how to query your tracing data.