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Distributed tracing with Proto.Actor



In concurrent and distributed system development, observability is an essential feature. One way to improve observability is to use some form of distributed tracing. Distributed tracing is generally a good tool that can help find the cause and localize various bugs, to find the parts of the program that are slow, to track the workflow of the program, to measure the speed of execution of queries to the database,to better understand how different services interact with each other. In complex multi-threaded applications, it is very important to keep track of the order in which various actions are performed. The use of a tracer helps developers to significantly reduce the time and effort for detecting and fixing problem areas in the code.

Actor systems in general, due to their concurrent and distributed nature can sometimes be hard to debug. In this case, it is convenient to use a distributed tracing system. Proto.OpenTracing has been developed for this purpose. In this article, we will take a look at what Proto.OpenTelemetry is and how to use it for Proto.Actor.

What is OpenTelemetry

OpenTelemetry is a set of APIs that offer developers a standardized approach to tracing, metrics and logs. Implementation is vendor-agnostic and might be configured to send data to the backed that is needed. More details might be found here.

What is Proto.OpenTelemetry

Proto.OpenTelemetry is a set of middlewares for Proto.Actor, these middlewares integrate the Proto.Actor message receive pipeline with OpenTelemetry.

Examples of using distributed tracing

  • Monitoring the effectiveness of the application. When an application uses many services, using tracing, you can easily find out how long each service takes and where an exception is thrown.
  • Tracing allows you to know how fast requests are transmitted between different applications.
  • Tracking the history of the work of one process, which is simultaneously accessed by several services.
  • Tracking the history of request execution from start to finish.

We have covered the benefits of using an OpenTelemetry and its basic concept and terminology. Now let’s see how to use Proto.OpenTelemetry for Proto.Actor.

Getting started with Proto.OpenTelemetry

Realtime map is using Proto.OpenTelemetry and might be used as a working example.

First thing that needs to be done is registration of TracerProvider. We can use extension placed in the package OpenTelemetry.Extensions.Hosting. This helps us to register TracerProvider with configured instance of TracerProviderBuilder. In this place we can put some common instrumentation that is applied to all Spans. It is also possible to setup OpenTelemetry Protocol exporter depending which backend is used. In order to reuse below example, OpenTelemetry.Exporter.OpenTelemetryProtocol nuget package is needed.

Little remark, C# OpenTelemetry implementation is based on System.Diagnostics.Activity. Naming convention placed there is not equivalent with OpenTelemetry specification. From that reason, in the C# implementation Span is named as Activity.

AddProtoActorInstrumentation() extension from Proto.OpenTelemetry package, is adding Proto.Actor activity source into instrumentation.

static void ConfigureTracing(WebApplicationBuilder builder) =>
    builder.Services.AddOpenTelemetryTracing(b =>
                .AddAttributes(new KeyValuePair<string, object>[]
                    new("someCommonTag", builder.Configuration["SomeCommonTag"]),
                    new("env", builder.Environment.EnvironmentName)
            .AddOtlpExporter(opt => { opt.Endpoint = new Uri(builder.Configuration["Otlp:Endpoint"]); }));

Setup tracing for Proto.Actor

In order to use Proto.OpenTelemetry with Proto.Actor first you need to create actor’s Props and call extension method WithTracing().

By default it adds three tags to each send and receive Spans: proto.actortype, proto.actorpid, proto.senderpid. It also adds tracing headers to each message envelope to be able to properly setup remote span during remote receive.

var props = Props
    .FromProducer(() => new MyActor())

This method has optional parameters: sendActivitySetup, receiveActivitySetup. The sendActivitySetup is a delegate that is used for building scope for send, request, and forward methods. The receiveActivitySetup is used for building the scope for receive method. If you do not pass these parameters, then in both cases the DefaultSetupActivity will be used.

An example of a function that creates an activity setup:

    private static void SendActivitySetup(Activity? span, object message)
            .AddBaggage("messageType", message.GetType().Name)
            .SetTag("IsSend", true);

In this example, we first check if the Span is null. If not, then add baggage item, in which we write the message type that was passed to the function, and also add a tag that indicates that the Span belongs to the send function.

Using Proto.OpenTelemetry for Root Context

A context is a tool that allows you to create, run and communicate with actors. The Root Context creates actors and is responsible for the interactions between them.

Proto.OpenTelemetry allows use of distributed tracing for IRootContext. To do this you need to call the extension methods rootContext.WithTracing().

Example of distributed tracing root context setup might be found in the realtime map.

Using Jaeger to view the tracing logs

OpenTelemetry in itself does not provide a way to view the tracing logs. But it is compatible with many distributed tracing systems. They offer a user-friendly UI for viewing tracing logs.

Let’s take a look at how to view the tracing logs generated using OpenTelemetry in Jaeger. Jaeger image jaegertracing/opentelemetry-all-in-one has built-in OpenTelemetry collector so there is no need to setup OLTP exporter separately.

version: '3.7'

    image: jaegertracing/opentelemetry-all-in-one
      - 16686:16686
      - 4317:55680 

Port description:

  • 4317 - port used for OpenTelemetry Protocol receiver
  • 16686 -port where Jaeger UI is available

To access the Jaeger UI go to http://localhost:16686. In the Jaeger UI on the left side of the screen, you can select the service for which you want to view the tracing logs and click the Find Tracers button. After that Jaeger will show a list of all tracers that were made on the backend for selected service.


In this article, we examined what Proto.OpenTelemetry is, the main advantages of its usage, how to apply it to Proto.Actor, and how to view the tracing logs in Jaeger. Try Proto.OpenTelemetry for your applications and debug and monitor complex distributed programs easily and fast.