Introduction to distributed tracing

New Relic offers distributed tracing for monitoring and analyzing modern distributed systems. This document explains:

To use this feature, make sure you have an APM Pro subscription and that your APM agent version supports distributed tracing.

What is distributed tracing?

Modern applications and sites increasingly use many interconnected services. An application architecture that relies on many services or microservices is often referred to as a distributed system.

Distributed tracing is the process of tracking the activity resulting from a request to an application. With this feature, you can:

  • Trace the path of a request as it travels across a complex system
  • Discover the latency of the components along that path
  • Know which component in the path is creating a bottleneck

New Relic's distributed tracing

New Relic APM distributed tracing main UI page
rpm.newrelic.com/apm > (select an application) > Distributed tracing: The Distributed tracing UI page shows a scatter plot diagram of traces, which lets you easily see outlier traces. You can use the filter to show certain types of traces, or group traces by different characteristics. To see the details for a trace, select one from the chart or table. For more screenshots of the UI, see the UI documentation.

Distributed tracing lets you see the path that a request takes as it travels through a distributed system. A distributed trace is composed of multiple spans, which represent time spent in services or resources of those services.

New Relic's distributed tracing features and benefits include:

  • A dedicated UI page with visual tools that help you analyze and troubleshoot traces.
  • Anomalous span detection: spans that are slow compared to their typical durations are marked as anomalous, with charts comparing timing with similar spans.
  • You can filter trace charts by different data points to see your trace data from different angles.
  • Run Insights queries and create dashboards with your distributed tracing data.
  • Cross-account context: for New Relic accounts with the same master account or under the same customer partnership, you can see trace data from those accounts.
  • New Relic product context: speed up issue resolution by seeing how distributed trace data is related to your other New Relic-monitored data.

You can easily enable distributed tracing by updating your New Relic agents and turning on a configuration setting. For more information, see Enable distributed tracing.

For some examples of solving problems with distributed tracing, see the example use cases. For more about the UI features and how data is reported, see Understand and use data.

Enable distributed tracing

Enabling distributed tracing will affect some existing New Relic APM features. If you are accustomed to using APM without distributed tracing, read the transition guide before you enable this feature.

Relationship to cross application tracing

New Relic's distributed tracing replaces the previous cross application tracing feature. Compared to cross application tracing, distributed tracing gives more detail about cross-service activity and provides more complete end-to-end visibility.

For more help

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