Build Queries in Honeycomb | Honeycomb

Build Queries in Honeycomb

When working with a dataset or environment, the primary control for constructing queries is the Query Builder. Below is an example of the Builder, ready for you to make changes to the query’s clauses and run it over your data by applying those changes.

The Query Builder

A query in Honeycomb consists of six clauses:

  • Visualize: visualize specific statistics across events.
  • Where: choose events based on some additional criteria.
  • Group By: split events into groups based on the value of some attribute.
  • Order By: sort the results.
  • Limit: specify a limit on the number of results to return.
  • Having: filter results based on aggregate criteria.

The default output for most queries will be a time series and a summary table, though the precise composition will depend on the composition of your query:

  • Specifying a Visualize clause will cause a time series to be drawn representing that calculated value over time; multiple Visualize clauses will result in multiple graphs, one for each calculation.
  • Specifying a Group By clause will result in the time series drawing multiple lines, one for each group. The summary table will contain a single row for each unique group.
  • Leaving Visualize blank will result in raw event data being returned without any summarization.

Let us take a closer look at how to use each of these clauses, and cases in which each of them can be particularly useful. When we discuss the effects of each of these operations, events are inputs to the query (the series of raw payloads you sent that match a set of criteria). Results, on the other hand, refer to the output of a query after any applicable processing or aggregation.

Working With The Query Builder 

Click on any box in the query builder to edit the clauses there. In this shot, the user has set Visualize to be COUNT and has Grouped By hostname. Now, they are adding a new Where clause on app.status_code. Honeycomb autocomplete helps construct the query.

Screenshot illustrating editing the Query Builder

Honeycomb supports keyboard shortcuts! See a list of supported actions by typing ? while on the Query Builder page.

Query Assistant 

Query Assistant is an experimental feature that generates Honeycomb queries based on your natural language query (NLQ) input. To learn more, refer to Query Assistant documentation.

Using Query Assistant 

You can access Query Assistant underneath the Query Builder. To use Query Assistant, enter your prompt in the search box and select Get Query, or select one of the suggested questions below the search box. Based on your entry or selection, Query Assistant creates and runs a query in the Query Builder. Results appear after the screen refreshes.

Screenshot of Query Assistant with search box and three suggested queries

Viewing Query Assistant 

You can expand and collapse the Query Assistant display. Any changes you make will persist. You can also control your team’s ability to use Query Assistant in Team Settings.


Honeycomb supports a wide range of calculations to provide insight into your events. When a grouping is provided, calculations occur within each group; otherwise, anything calculated is done so over all matching events.

For example, say you have collected the following events from your web server logs:

Timestamp uri status_code response_time_ms
2016-08-01 07:30 /about 500 126
2016-08-01 07:45 /about 200 57
2016-08-01 07:57 /docs 200 82
2016-08-01 08:03 /docs 200 23

Specifying a visualization for a particular attribute (P95(response_time_ms)for example) means to apply the aggregation function (in this case, P95, or taking the 95th percentile) over the values for the attribute (response_time_ms) across all input events.

Defining multiple Visualize clauses is common and can be useful, especially when comparing their outputs to each other. For example, it can be useful to see both the COUNT and the P95(duration) for a set of events to understand whether latency changes follow volume changes.

While most Visualize queries return a line graph, the HEATMAP visualization allows you see the distribution of data in a rich and interactive way. Heatmaps also allow you to use BubbleUp.

Visualize: Basic Case 

Scenario: we want to capture overall statistics for our web server. Given our four-event dataset described above, consider a query which contains:

  • Visualize the overall COUNT
  • Visualize the AVG of response_time_ms values
  • Visualize the P95 of response_time_ms values

These calculations would return statistics across the entirety of our dataset:

COUNT AVG(response_time_ms) P95(response_time_ms)
4 72 119.4

Visualize Operations 

Most visualize operations take a single argument, with the exception of COUNT and CONCURRENCY, which take no arguments. Events that do not have a relevant attribute are ignored, and will not be counted in aggregations.

Aggregate Meaning
COUNT The number of events
COUNT_DISTINCT(<field_name>) The number of different values
SUM(<numeric_field_name>) The sum of the field value
AVG(<numeric_field_name>) The average value of the field
MAX(<numeric_field_name>) The maximum value of the field
MIN(<numeric_field_name>) The minimum value of the field
PXX(<numeric_field_name>) The XXth percentile of the field
HEATMAP(<numeric_field_name>) A heatmap of the distribution of that field
CONCURRENCY The concurrency of the current query, for tracing-enabled datasets only. This is a complex operation; please see the detailed explanatory page on it.
RATE_XXX(<numeric_field_name>) The difference between subsequent field values after applying the XXX operator. Learn more about the RATE operators.

The <numeric_field_name> argument refers to a float or integer field.

The Summary Table 

The Visualize clause returns both a time series graph and a column of values in the result summary table. Note that in the graph, the values shown are aggregated for each interval at the current granularity. Conversely, the values shown in the summary table are calculated across the entire time range for that query.

These results can be a little surprising for some calculations. The P95(duration_ms) across the entire time range may not look quite like the P95 value at any given point of the curve, because there may be spikes and bumps in the underlying data that are hidden in the time intervals.

The summary table for a HEATMAP shows a histogram of values of that field across the full time range.


Sometimes you want to constrain the events by some attribute besides time: ignoring an outlier case, for example, or isolating events triggered by a particular actor or circumstance.

For example, say you have collected the following events from your web server logs:

Timestamp uri status_code
2016-08-01 08:15 /about 500
2016-08-01 08:22 /about 200
2016-08-01 08:27 /docs 403

You can define any number of arbitrary constraints based on event values. Where clauses work in concert with the specified time range to define the events that are ultimately considered by any Group By or Visualize clauses.

Note that the Where clause does not require string delimiters or escape characters; to match a URI of /docs, enter uri = /docs.

Where: Basic Case 

Scenario: we want to understand the frequency of unsuccessful web requests. Given our three-event dataset described above, consider a query which contains:

  • Visualize the overall COUNT
  • Where status_code != 200

The Where clause removes the successful event (our /about web request returning a 200) from consideration, and only counts the first and third events towards our Visualize clause:


Where: Multiple Clauses 

Scenario: we want to refine our constraints further, to span multiple attributes for each event. Combining where clauses returns events that satisfy either the intersection of all specified Where clauses, or the union. Given our three-event dataset described above, consider a query which contains:

  • Where uri = "/about"
  • AND status_code != 200

As all three events are considered by the Where clauses, only the first one satisfies both:

Timestamp uri status_code
2016-08-01 08:55 /about 500

Honeycomb also allows you to look at the union of clauses by setting to an OR.

  • Where status_code = 500
  • OR status_code = 403
Timestamp uri status_code
2016-08-01 08:55 /about 500
2016-08-01 08:27 /docs 403

Where Operations 

WHERE operations may take one or more attributes. Events are only counted if they have a relevant attribute, except in the case of the does-not-exist operation.

Operation Opposite Arguments Meaning
= != 1 Exact numerical or string match
starts-with does-not-start-with 1 String start match
exists does-not-exist 0 Checks for non-null values
>, >= <, <= 1 numerical comparison
contains does-not-contain 1 string inclusion: checks whether the attribute matches a substring of the value
in not-in 1+ list inclusion: checks whether the attribute matches any item in the list

The syntax for the in operator does not use parentheses: request_method in GET,POST

Group By 

Being able to separate a series of events into groups by attribute is a powerful way to compare segments of your dataset against each other.

For example, say you have collected the following events from your web server logs:

Timestamp uri status_code
2016-08-01 07:30 /about 500
2016-08-01 07:45 /about 200
2016-08-01 07:57 /docs 200

You might want to analyze your web traffic in groups based on the uri ("/about" vs “/docs”) or the status_code (500 vs 200). Choosing to group by uri would return two result rows: one representing events in which uri="/about" and another representing events in which uri="/docs". Each of these grouped results rows will be represented by a single line on a graph.

Grouping by more than one attribute will consider each unique combination of values as a single group. Here, choosing to group by both uri and status_code will return three groups: /about+500, /about+200, and /docs+200.

Grouping, paired with calculation, can often reveal interesting patterns in your underlying events—grouping by uri, for example, and calculating response time stats will show you the slowest (or fastest) uris.

TIP: Honeycomb supports grouping your data based on any attribute in an event, though you will likely receive the clearest results by choosing an attribute with an uneven distribution within your data.

The Group By dropdown list also has a shortcut to create a derived column.

Grouping and Visualizing: Better Together 

Scenario: we want to examine performance of our web server by endpoint. Given our four-event dataset described above, consider a query which contains:

  • Group by uri
  • Visualize the overall COUNT
  • Visualize the AVG of response_time_ms values

Pairing a Grouping clause with a Visualize clause results in events being grouped by uri; Honeycomb draws one line for each group, and calculates statistics within each group:

uri COUNT AVG(response_time_ms)
/about 2 91.5
/docs 2 52.5

This technique is particularly powerful when paired with an Order By and a Limit to return “Top K”-style results.

In this figure, the user has a VISUALIZE by COUNT, GROUP BY eventtype. The two curves, in purple and orange, show the two groups. The popup shows that the user is hovering the trace_span eventtype, which has a count of 405 in that 15-second time range.

Query Builder with two result rows

When you move your cursor over the results table at the bottom of the page, each row is highlighted in turn. In the image below, the user has highlighted request and sees the orange line highlighted, and the purple line dimmed.

Query Builder highlighting the request row

Rollover for heatmaps is slightly different, as described on the Heatmaps page.

Order By 

Order By clauses define how rows will be sorted in the results table.

For example, say you have collected the following events from your web server logs:

Timestamp uri status_code response_time_ms
2016-08-01 09:17 /about 200 57
2016-08-01 09:18 /about 500 234
2016-08-01 09:20 /404 200 12
2016-08-01 09:25 /docs 200 82

You can define any number of Order By clauses in a query and they will be respected in the order they are specified.

The Order By clauses available to you for a particular query are influenced by whether any Group By or Visualize clauses are also specified. If none are, you may order by any of the attributes contained in the dataset. However, once a Group By or Visualize clause exists, you may only order by the values generated by those clauses.

Order By: Basic Case 

Scenario: we just want to get a sense of the slowest endpoints in our web server. Given our four-event dataset described above, consider a query which contains:

  • Order by response_time_ms in descending (DESC) order
  • Limit to 1 result

Remember that when no Visualize clauses are defined, we simply return raw events as the result rows:

Timestamp uri status_code response_time_ms
2016-08-01 09:18 /about 500 234

Order By, Paired with Visualize and Group By Clauses 

Scenario: we want to capture statistics for our web server and know what we are looking for (long response_time_mss). Given our four-event dataset described above, consider a query which contains:

  • Visualize the P95 of response_time_ms values
  • Group by uri
  • Order by P95(response_time_ms) in descending (DESC) order
  • Limit to the first 2 results

Our Group By and Visualize queries influence what will be returned as result rows (uri and the P95(response_time_ms) for events within each distinct uri group), while the Order by determines the sort order of those results (longest P95(response_time_ms) first) and the Limit throws away any results beyond the top 2:

uri P95(response_time_ms)
/about 225.15
/docs 82

As you can see, any results referencing the event with uri="/404" was excluded from our result set as a result of its relatively low response_time_ms.

This sort of Top K query is particularly valuable when working with high-cardinality data sets, where a Group by clause might split your dataset into a very large number of groups.


The Limit clause provides a maximum number of result rows to return. By default, queries return 100 result rows. The Limit clause allows you to specify up to 1000 rows.


The Having clause allows you to filter on the results table. This operation is distinct from the Where clause, which filters the underlying events. A Having filter can help further refine your query results when grouping on a high-cardinality attribute, which can result in many different rows in the result table. It can also work in tandem with an Order By clause. Order By allows you to order the results, and Having filters them.

Like Order By, Having selects its series from the results table.

For example, consider a query on Visualize COUNT, P95(duration_ms), Group By endpoint. This query would show how many times each endpoint ran, and how often it did so. The results table from this query might look something like this:

endpoint COUNT P95( duration_ms )
/add-to-cart 521 45
/remove-from-cart 1021 54
/unused-endpoint 2 1500
/empty-page 10 1700

You might want to ignore the rarest entries when they are least likely to be useful. One way to do that is to add a Having clause:

The clause HAVING COUNT > 100 will filter to only results with more than 100 hits on them. You can then ORDER BY P95( duration_ms ) to sort the results to find the slowest endpoints.

Having works by filtering specifically on aggregations across all results in the selected time range. It currently does not filter time periods that match the criteria. Take a look at the following example. Each event has counts ranging from 0 - 9 across the time range.

Query Builder showing the difference between total having across all results and ever having one specific result

You may want to filter specifically on counts greater than 5 in the example and add the clause HAVING COUNT > 5. This will still return all results in the image, since Having filters based off the total in the result table where all values are shown to have counts > 5.

Having Clause Options 

The Having clause always refers to one of the Visualize clauses. It then takes one or more numeric arguments.

Operator Opposite Arguments Meaning
= != 1 numerical equality
>, >= <, <= 1 comparison
in not-in 1+ existence in a list

The in operator compares where a value is one of a set: COUNT in 10, 20, 30 checks whether the COUNT is precisely one of those values.

Dataset Switcher 

The dataset switcher allows you to change the dataset you are working on without changing the query.

Screenshot illustrating using the Dataset Switcher

When you switch datasets, Honeycomb will load the existing query on that dataset, but it will not run it automatically. You can execute it by typing Shift + Enter or clicking the Run Query button. You can also clear the query by clicking the Clear link underneath the Run Query button.

This functionality is especially useful when switching between testing and production datasets, where much of the schema overlaps. It is also useful when you need to view a specific time range across multiple datasets, as the time range of the query is included when you switch datasets.

If there are fields in the query that do not exist in the new dataset, Honeycomb will display an informational notice letting you know that those fields were removed from the query.

Screenshot illustrating the informational message

Queries Against all Datasets 

Honeycomb supports running queries against multiple datasets in your environment. This may be useful if you need to see events that span across multiple services.

Time Comparison 

Honeycomb supports running queries across different periods of time, so you can compare results to see how your systems change.

You can run a Time Comparison query by toggling Compare to above your query results and selecting a time range. Honeycomb then will run a query as defined in the Query Builder and another query for the time comparison range selected.

Time comparison queries are currently only in the Query Builder UI and are not supported in the API.

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