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Distributed tracing for the PHP agent

New Relic's PHP agent supports distributed tracing (including W3C Trace Context, as of PHP Agent version 9.8), which lets you see the path that requests take as they travel through a distributed system. This document contains PHP-specific tips to enable distributed tracing for a PHP application or service.

Enable distributed tracing for PHP


When distributed tracing is enabled, it implicitly disables cross application tracing. The PHP agent will ignore the cross application tracing configuration value, and act as though this value is set to false.

To enable or disable distributed tracing for the PHP agent:

  1. If applicable, update your PHP agent to support distributed tracing (version 8.4 or higher, although we recommend version 9.8 or higher for the most complete functionality).

  2. Make sure that the transaction tracer configuration option is enabled (default is true):

    newrelic.transaction_tracer.enabled = true
  3. Enable (or disable) distributed tracing for the PHP agent with the distributed_tracing_enabled configuration option:

    newrelic.distributed_tracing_enabled = true
  4. Set the transaction tracer threshold value to a suitable value. Recommendation:

    • If you want to make all transactions eligible for a distributed trace, set this value to 0 seconds.
    • If you are only interested in traces for longer running transactions, or if generating a trace for every transaction creates unacceptable application performance, set this value higher than 0 seconds.

    For example:

    newrelic.transaction_tracer.threshold = 0
  5. Optionally, if only W3C Trace Context tracing is desired, the New Relic Distributed Tracing headers can be disabled with the newrelic.distributed_tracing_exclude_newrelic_header configuration option:

    newrelic.distributed_tracing_exclude_newrelic_header = 1

  6. Enable spans with the configuration setting:

    newrelic.span_events_enabled = true

  7. Be sure to restart your web server (or other PHP SAPI) so the agent will pick up the newly configured values.

Enable Infinite Tracing

Infinite Tracing (PHP agent version 9.12 or later) extends distributed tracing to collect your span data in a trace observer, which runs in a cluster of services in AWS called New Relic Edge. The PHP agent sends all your spans to the trace observer so they can be assembled into traces for you to view in New Relic.

To turn on Infinite Tracing, enable distributed tracing and configure the additional settings below:

newrelic.span_events_enabled = true
newrelic.infinite_tracing.trace_observer.host= "YOUR_TRACE_OBSERVER_HOST"

Leverage automatic distributed tracing instrumentation

The PHP agent automatically will instrument a number of native PHP functions, as well as some third party HTTP clients, with distributed trace information. These include:

Set trace detail level

Distributed tracing support depends on the PHP agent's transaction tracer. When distributed tracing is enabled, a span is created for each segment seen by the transaction tracer.

As spans are sampled, the PHP agent will prioritize spans related to external calls above other spans, which are then recorded in descending order of their duration.

If you find that there are too many unimportant spans being reported for PHP function calls, you can reduce the detail of the transaction tracer by setting newrelic.transaction_tracer.detail to 0. You may then use the newrelic.transaction_tracer.custom configuration setting or the newrelic_add_custom_tracer API method to add trace segments and spans for the specific PHP function or methods you want to add to your traces.


For PHP agent versions 8.4 to 8.7: When distributed tracing is enabled, these versions behave as if newrelic.transaction_tracer.detail is set to 0 (as described above), which results in PHP function calls not generating spans. To get spans related to PHP function calls, update to version 9.0 or higher.

Examine logs for trace details

You can bring your logs and application's data together to make troubleshooting easier and faster. With logs in context, you can see log messages related to your errors and traces directly in your app's UI.

  1. From the Transactions page, click on a trace to go to the Trace details page.
  2. From the trace details page, click See logs.
  3. To view details related to an individual log message, click directly on the message.

Logs in context of APM trace details

With logs in context, you can examine log data directly within your trace details.

You can also see logs in context of your infrastructure data, such as Kubernetes clusters. No need to switch to another UI page in New Relic One.

Manually instrument applications and services


W3C Trace Context support was added in version 9.8. With this, the API for manually instrumenting applications has changed from the JSON payload related functions

newrelic_create_distributed_trace_payload() and newrelic_accept_distributed_trace_payload($payload),

to the header array forms newrelic_insert_distributed_trace_headers($outbound_headers) and newrelic_accept_distributed_trace_headers($inbound_headers).

The JSON functions are now considered deprecated, and will be removed in a future release.

If you're using an unsupported library, or have a non-HTTP based distributed system component (such as messaging queues), you can use the PHP agent API to manually identify transactions to be included in a distributed trace. This is a two step process:

  1. Modify your service or application to create or insert the distributed tracing data
  2. Modify your service or application to accept distributed trace data created by other transactions or requests.

The following example uses a generic message/job queue. While the actual details will vary depending on what sort of system you're trying to add to a distributed trace, the core concepts are the same. Also, while we've used a job queue as an example, you can use these methods with any distributed system component.


When you create a payload or insert headers, you're telling New Relic you want this request or transaction or request to participate in a distributed trace. When you accept them, you're linking the current request or transaction with its parent request or transaction.

For more information about using manual instrumentation to get more detail or to see connections between services, see the documentation about distributed tracing APIs.

Header API

Payload API (deprecated)

Command line PHP programs

PHP programs run from the PHP command line are always sampled by the agent's distributed tracer. Depending on the programs you run, these processes could see an over-representation in your collection of distributed traces. In these situations, you can opt to disable command line instrumentation by using the per-directory newrelic.enabled setting in your newrelic.ini files.

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