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HTrace is a tracing framework intended for use with distributed systems written in java.

The project is hosted at
The project is available in Maven Central with groupId: org.htrace, and name: htrace.
(It was formally at groupId: org.cloudera.htrace, and name: htrace).


Using HTrace requires some instrumentation to your application.
Before we get into that we have to review our terminology. HTrace borrows Dapper's terminology.

Span: The basic unit of work. For example, sending an RPC is a new span, as is sending a response to an RPC.
Span's are identified by a unique 64-bit ID for the span and another 64-bit ID for the trace the span is a part of. Spans also have other data, such as descriptions, key-value annotations, the ID of the span that caused them, and process ID's (normally IP address).

Spans are started and stopped, and they keep track of their timing information. Once you create a span, you must stop it at some point in the future.

Trace: A set of spans forming a tree-like structure. For example, if you are running a distributed big-data store, a trace might be formed by a put request.

To instrument your system you must:

1. Attach additional information to your RPC's.
In order to create the causal links necessary for a trace, HTrace needs to know about the causal relationships between spans. The only information you need to add to your RPC's is two 64-bit longs. If tracing is enabled (Trace.isTracing() returns true) when you send an RPC, attach the ID of the current span and the ID of the current trace to the message.
On the receiving end of the RPC, check to see if the message has the additional tracing information above. If it does, start a new span with the information given (more on that in a bit).

2. Wrap your thread changes.
HTrace stores span information in java's ThreadLocals, which causes the trace to be "lost" on thread changes. The only way to prevent this is to "wrap" your thread changes. For example, if your code looks like this:

    Thread t1 = new Thread(new MyRunnable());

Just change it to look this:

    Thread t1 = new Thread(Trace.wrap(new MyRunnable()));

That's it! Trace.wrap() takes a single argument (a runnable or a callable) and if the current thread is a part of a trace, returns a wrapped version of the argument. The wrapped version of a callable and runnable just knows about the span that created it and will start a new span in the new thread that is the child of the span that created the runnable/callable. There may be situations in which a simple Trace.wrap() does not suffice. In these cases all you need to do is keep a reference to the "parent span" (the span before the thread change) and once you're in the new thread start a new span that is the "child" of the parent span you stored.

For example:

Say you have some object representing a "put" operation. When the client does a "put," the put is first added to a list so another thread can batch together the puts. In this situation, you might want to add another field to the Put class that could store the current span at the time the put was created. Then when the put is pulled out of the list to be processed, you can start a new span as the child of the span stored in the Put.

3. Add custom spans and annotations.
Once you've augmented your RPC's and wrapped the necessary thread changes, you can add more spans and annotations wherever you want.
For example, you might do some expensive computation that you want to see on your traces. In this case, you could start a new span before the computation that you then stop after the computation has finished. It might look like this:

    Span computationSpan = Trace.startSpan("Expensive computation.");  
    try {  
        //expensive computation here  
    } finally {  

HTrace also supports key-value annotations on a per-trace basis.


    Trace.currentTrace().addAnnotation("faultyRecordCounter".getBytes(), "1".getBytes());

Trace.currentTrace() will not return null if the current thread is not tracing, but instead it will return a NullSpan, which does nothing on any of its method calls. The takeaway here is you can call methods on the currentTrace() without fear of NullPointerExceptions.


Sampler is an interface that defines one function:

    boolean next(T info);

All of the Trace.startSpan() methods can take an optional sampler.
A new span is only created if the sampler's next function returns true. If the Sampler returns false, the NullSpan is returned from startSpan(), so it's safe to call stop() or addAnnotation() on it. As you may have noticed from the next() method signature, Sampler is parameterized. The argument to next() is whatever piece of information you might need for sampling. See for an example of this. If you do not require any additional information, then just ignore the parameter.
HTrace includes a sampler that always returns true, a sampler that always returns false and a sampler returns true some percentage of the time (you pass in the percentage as a decimal at construction).


There is a single method to create and start spans: startSpan().
For the startSpan() methods that do not take an explicit Sampler, the default Sampler is used. The default sampler returns true if and only if tracing is already on in the current thread. That means that calling startSpan() with no explicit Sampler is a good idea when you have information that you would like to add to a trace if it's already occurring, but is not something you would want to start a whole new trace for.

If you are using a sampler that makes use of the T info parameter to next(), just pass in the object as the last argument. If you leave it out, HTrace will pass null for you (so make sure your Samplers can handle null).

Aside from whether or not you pass in an explicit Sampler, there are other options you have when calling startSpan().
For the next section I am assuming you are familiar with the options for passing in Samplers and info parameters, so when I say "no arguments," I mean no additional arguments other than whatever Sampler/info parameters you deem necessary.

You can call startSpan() with no additional arguments. In this case, will start a span if the sampler (explicit or default) returns true. If the current span is not the NullSpan, the span returned will be a child of the current span, otherwise it will start a new trace in the current thread (it will be a ProcessRootMilliSpan). All of the other startSpan() methods take some parameter describing the parent span of the span to be created. The versions that take a TraceInfo or a long traceId and long parentId will mostly be used when continuing a trace over RPC. The receiver of the RPC will check the message for the additional two longs and will call startSpan() if they are attached. The last startSpan() takes a Span parent. The result of parent.child() will be used for the new span. Span.child() simply returns a span that is a child of this.

Testing Information

The test that creates a sample trace (TestHTrace) takes a command line argument telling it where to write span information. Run mvn test -DspanFile="FILE_PATH" to write span information to FILE_PATH. If no file is specified, span information will be written to standard out. If span information is written to a file, you can use the included graphDrawer python script in tools/ to create a simple visualization of the trace. Or you could write some javascript to make a better visualization, and send a pull request if you do :).