How to start tracing with OpenTelemetry in NodeJS?

07 Apr 2020 · Seven minute read · on Gianluca's blog

News! Tech related notes are NOW published to ShippingBytes. See you there! I always felt this was not the right place for me to write consistently about tech and tools. So if you want to read more about that see you at the other side

This post is to celebrate the first beta release for the OpenTelemetry NodeJS application

Recently I developed a workshop about code instrumentation and application monitoring. It is an 8 hours full immersion on logs, metrics, tracing and so on. I developed it last year and I gave it twice. Let me know if you are looking for something like that.

Almost all of it is opensource but I didn’t figure out a good way to make it usable without my brain for now. This year I updated it to use OpenTelemetry and InfluxDB v2.

Anyway the application is called ShopMany. This application does not return any useful information about its state. It is an e-commerce made of a bunch of services in various languages. Obviously one of them is in NodeJS and that’s the one I am gonna show you today.

Discaimer: I can not define myself as a NodeJS developer. I wrote a bunch of AngularJS single page application back in the day, I wrote some Cordova mobile applications ages ago. I am not writing any JS production code since 2015 more or less.

First approach

I concluded the application instrumentation it was the day the maintainers tagged the first beta release. Overnight I had to update libraries and test code. Very luckily.

The way I learned about how to properly instrument discount required a lot of digging in the actual opentelemery-js but luckily for us it has a lot of examples and the library is designed to load a bunch of useful modules that are able to instrument the application by itself. The community is very helpful and you can chat via Gitter.

Getting Started

I am using ExpressJS and OpenTelemetry has a plugin for it that you can load, and it instruments the app by itself, same for MongoDB that is the packaged I am using.

Those are the dependencies I installed in my applications, all of them are provided by the repository I linked above:

"@opentelemetry/api": "^0.5.0",
"@opentelemetry/exporter-jaeger": "^0.5.0",
"@opentelemetry/node": "^0.5.0",
"@opentelemetry/plugin-http": "^0.5.0",
"@opentelemetry/plugin-mongodb": "^0.5.0",
"@opentelemetry/tracing": "^0.5.0",
"@opentelemetry/plugin-express": "^0.5.0",

I created a ./tracer.js file that initialize the tracer, I have added inline documentation to explain the crucial part of it:

'use strict';

const opentelemetry = require('@opentelemetry/api');
const { NodeTracerProvider } = require('@opentelemetry/node');
const { SimpleSpanProcessor } = require('@opentelemetry/tracing');
// I am using Jaeger as exporter
const { JaegerExporter } = require('@opentelemetry/exporter-jaeger');

// This is not mandatory, by default httptrace propagation is used
// but it is not well supported by the PHP ecosystem and I have
// a PHP service to instrument. I discovered B3 is supported
// form all the languages I where intrumenting
const { B3Propagator } = require('@opentelemetry/core');

module.exports = (serviceName, jaegerHost, logger) => {
  // A lot of those plugins are automatically loaded when you install them
  // So if you do not use express for example you do not have to enable all
  // those plugins manually. But Express is not auto enabled so I had to add them
  // all
  const provider = new NodeTracerProvider({
    plugins: {
      mongodb: {
        enabled: true,
        path: '@opentelemetry/plugin-mongodb',
      http: {
        enabled: true,
        path: '@opentelemetry/plugin-http',
          // I didn't do it in my example but it is a good idea to ignore health
          // endpoint or others if you do not need to trace them.
          ignoreIncomingPaths: [
      express: {
        enabled: true,
        path: '@opentelemetry/plugin-express',

  // Here is where I configured the exporter, setting the service name
  // and the jaeger host. The logger is helpful to track errors from the
  // exporter itself
  let exporter = new JaegerExporter({
    logger: logger,
    serviceName: serviceName,
    host: jaegerHost

  provider.addSpanProcessor(new SimpleSpanProcessor(exporter));
    propagator: new B3Propagator(),
  // Set the global tracer so you can retrieve it from everywhere else in the
  // app
  return opentelemetry.trace.getTracer("discount");

You will be thinking, that’s too easy! You are right, the nature of NodeJS makes tracing very code agnostic. With this configuration you get a lot “for free”.

You get a bunch of spans for every http request that ExpressJS serves, plus a span for every MongoDB query. All of them with useful information like the status code, path, user agents, query statements and so on.

We have to include it in our ./server.js the entrypoint for our nodejs application:

'use strict';

const url = process.env.DISCOUNT_MONGODB_URL || 'mongodb://discountdb:27017';
const jaegerHost = process.env.JAEGER_HOST || 'jaeger';

const logger = require('pino')()

// Import and initialize the tracer
const tracer = require('./tracer')('discount', jaegerHost, logger);

var express = require("express");
var app = express();

const MongoClient = require('mongodb').MongoClient;
const dbName = 'shopmany';
const client = new MongoClient(url, { useNewUrlParser: true });

const expressPino = require('express-pino-logger')({
  logger: logger.child({"service": "httpd"})

As I told you, that’s it! With this code you have enough to make your NodeJS application to show up in your trace.

The instrumented version of the application is available here

understand the project

I tend to checkout projects when in the process of learning how they work. Documentation is useful but always incomplete for such a high moving projects.

I have to say that the scaffolding is clear even for an not fluent NodeJS developer like me.

$ tree -L 1
├── benchmark
├── codecov.yml
├── doc
├── examples
├── getting-started
├── karma.base.js
├── karma.webpack.js
├── lerna.json
├── package.json
├── packages
├── scripts
├── tslint.base.js
└── webpack.node-polyfills.js

I would like to define it as a monorepo, and it uses lerna to delivery multiple packages from the same repository.

examples contains workable example of how to use the different packages.

$ tree -L 1 ./examples/
├── basic-tracer-node
├── dns
├── express
├── grpc
├── grpc_dynamic_codegen
├── http
├── https
├── ioredis
├── metrics
├── mysql
├── opentracing-shim
├── postgres
├── prometheus
├── redis
└── tracer-web

$ tree -L 1 ./packages/
├── opentelemetry-api
├── opentelemetry-base
├── opentelemetry-context-async-hooks
├── opentelemetry-context-base
├── opentelemetry-context-zone
├── opentelemetry-context-zone-peer-dep
├── opentelemetry-core
├── opentelemetry-exporter-collector
├── opentelemetry-exporter-jaeger
├── opentelemetry-exporter-prometheus
├── opentelemetry-exporter-zipkin
├── opentelemetry-metrics
├── opentelemetry-node
├── opentelemetry-plugin-dns
├── opentelemetry-plugin-document-load
├── opentelemetry-plugin-express
├── opentelemetry-plugin-grpc
├── opentelemetry-plugin-http
├── opentelemetry-plugin-https
├── opentelemetry-plugin-ioredis
├── opentelemetry-plugin-mongodb
├── opentelemetry-plugin-mysql
├── opentelemetry-plugin-postgres
├── opentelemetry-plugin-redis
├── opentelemetry-plugin-user-interaction
├── opentelemetry-plugin-xml-http-request
├── opentelemetry-propagator-jaeger
├── opentelemetry-resources
├── opentelemetry-shim-opentracing
├── opentelemetry-test-utils
├── opentelemetry-tracing
├── opentelemetry-web
└── tsconfig.base.json

The suffix of the package helps you to figure out what they are:

Anyway, what I am trying to say is that it is very intuitive and looking here it is clear what you can get from this project.


NodeJS sounds very easy to instrument and on the right path to get automatic instrumentation right, because you can listen from the outside to function call, you do not need to specifically change your code where you do a request or where you get one, you can add tracing in a centralized location. That’s how the provided plugins work.

Shimmer is the library that simplify the trick. I recently had a chat with Walter because I know he works in NodeJS and during the experiments otel were easy enough to fit his use case. He is currently trying it and as he discovered that mongoose, the ORM library he uses does not use the officially provided mongodb driver so the otel-plugin-mongodb where not magically tracing his requests to mongodb, sadly. But he is currently writing a plugin for that, so it won’t be a problem pretty soon.

Something weird with this website? Let me know.