Decoding Distributed Tracing: A Must-Have Tool for Microservices Debugging published 9/24/2023 | 4 min read

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Microservices architecture has gained immense popularity in recent years, thanks to its scalability and flexibility. However, with the power of distributed systems comes the challenge of debugging. That's where distributed tracing steps in.

In this post, we will explore the concept of distributed tracing, understand its role in microservices debugging, and discover popular tools in this domain.

What is Distributed Tracing?

Distributed tracing is a method used in debugging to monitor applications, especially those built using a microservices architecture. This diagnostic technique enables developers to track a request's path through various microservices and infrastructure components.

For example, with a monolithic system, a single logging file would suffice to trace an error. However, in a microservices architecture, tracing errors can be like finding a needle in a haystack due to the distributed nature of the system.

Why Do We Need Distributed Tracing?

When working with microservices, you might be dealing with hundreds or even thousands of services. Manually logging into each service or instance to troubleshoot issues is not just tedious, but near impossible.

Distributed Tracing eliminates this problem by providing insights into how requests propagate within the system. Specifically, it aids in:

Popular Distributed Tracing Tools

There's an array of tools available to implement distributed tracing. Some of the popular ones include:

  1. Jaeger: Developed by Uber and now part of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, Jaeger is an open-source, end-to-end distributed tracing system that helps gather timing data for your system's work across all services.

  2. Zipkin: An open-source tool compatible with several programming languages and frameworks. It visualizes the traces and provides functionality for latency analysis.

  3. AWS X-Ray: A managed service from Amazon Web Services used for analyzing and debugging distributed applications, such as those built using a microservices architecture.

A Peek into Sample Code

Here's an example of how to create and propogate a trace with Jaeger in a Node.js application:

const initJaegerTracer = require('jaeger-client').initTracer;

// Setup configuration
let config = {
  serviceName: 'my-awesome-service',
  reporter: {
    logSpans: true,
    agentHost: 'localhost',
    agentPort: 6832
  sampler: {
    type: 'const',
    param: 1
let options = {
  logger: {
    info: function logInfo(msg) {
      console.log('INFO ', msg);
    error: function logError(msg) {
      console.log('ERROR', msg);

// Initialize tracer
let tracer = initJaegerTracer(config, options);

// Create a new span
const span = tracer.startSpan('say-hello');
  'event': 'format-string',
  'value': 'hello'

// Ensure everything is flushed to disk before the application exits.

Wrapping Up

Distributed tracing is a non-negotiable tool when it comes to managing, debugging, and improving microservices infrastructures. As applications continue to grow and become more distributed, the culture of observability will continue advancing - and distributed tracing unquestionably forms a cornerstone of that culture.

Discovering the ideal tracing tool for your project will entail careful consideration of your system's needs, as well as your team's familiarity with the tool's ecosystems.

Start small, experiment, and gradually build up your tracing capabilities. You'll soon find that distributed tracing is not that intimidating after all, and can indeed become your trusted companion in demystifying your distributed applications.

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