Apache HTrace is an Apache Incubator project. To add HTrace to your project, see detail on how to add it as a dependency. Formerly, HTrace was available at org.htrace.

  • htrace-4.0.0-incubating published September 15th, 2015. Download it!
  • htrace-3.2.0-incubating published June 2nd, 2015. Download it!
  • We made our first release from Apache Incubator, htrace-3.1.0-incubating, January 20th, 2015. Download it!


Using HTrace requires adding some instrumentation to your application. Before we get into the details, lets 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. Spans are identified by a unique 128-bit ID. Spans also have other data, such as descriptions, key-value annotations, the ID of the span that caused them, and tracer IDs.

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.

TracerId: Identifies the Tracer object which created a specific Span. The TracerId should identify the source of the Span. “” is a typical TracerID.

SpanReceiver: SpanReceivers handle spans once they have been created. Typically, Span Receivers send spans to an external data store to be analyzed. HTrace comes with several standard span receivers, such as LocalFileSpanReceiver.

Sampler: Samplers determine when tracing should be enabled, and when it should be disabled. The goal of HTrace is to trace an entire request.

How to add tracing to your application

To instrument your system you must:

Create a Tracer object

You can create a Tracer object via the Tracer#Builder.

Tracer tracer = new Tracer#Builder(conf).setName("MyApp").build();

The Tracer#Builder will take care of creating the appropriate Sampler and SpanReceiver objects, as well as the Tracer itself. If a SpanReceiver was created, we will install a shutdown hook to close it when the JVM shuts down.

Attach additional information to your RPCs

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 RPCs is the 128-bit span ID. If tracing is enabled when you send an RPC, attach the ID of the current span to the message. On the receiving end of the RPC, check to see if the message has a span ID attached. If it does, start a new trace scope with that span as a parent.

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.

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 = tracer.newScope("Expensive computation.");
try {
    //expensive computation here
} finally {

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


scope.addAnnotation("faultyRecordCounter".getBytes(), "1".getBytes());

Generating test spans

The test that creates a sample trace (TestHTrace) takes a command line argument telling it where to write span information. Run mvn test -DargLine="-DspanFile=FILE\_PATH" to write span information to FILE_PATH. If no file is specified, span information will be written to standard out.


htrace-zipkin provides the SpanReceiver implementation which sends spans to Zipkin collector. You can build the uber-jar (htrace-zipkin-*-jar-withdependency.jar) for manual setup as shown below. This uber-jar contains all dependencies except htrace-core and its dependencies.

$ cd htrace-zipkin
$ mvn compile assembly:single


See htrace-hbase for an Span Receiver implementation that writes HBase.