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OpenTracing

Background

OpenTracing is a semi-standard being adopted by a number of distributed tracing platforms. It is a common api for facilitating vendor-agnostic tracing instrumentation. That is, we can use the OpenTracing api and select one of a number of tracer implementations to do the heavy lifting in the background. Our current selected implementation is Jaeger.

OpenTracing is a tool which gives an insight into the causal relationship of work done in and between servers. The servers each track events and report them to a centralised server - in Synapse's case: Jaeger. The basic unit used to represent events is the span. The span roughly represents a single piece of work that was done and the time at which it occurred. A span can have child spans, meaning that the work of the child had to be completed for the parent span to complete, or it can have follow-on spans which represent work that is undertaken as a result of the parent but is not depended on by the parent to in order to finish.

Since this is undertaken in a distributed environment a request to another server, such as an RPC or a simple GET, can be considered a span (a unit or work) for the local server. This causal link is what OpenTracing aims to capture and visualise. In order to do this metadata about the local server's span, i.e the 'span context', needs to be included with the request to the remote.

It is up to the remote server to decide what it does with the spans it creates. This is called the sampling policy and it can be configured through Jaeger's settings.

For OpenTracing concepts see https://opentracing.io/docs/overview/what-is-tracing/.

For more information about Jaeger's implementation see https://www.jaegertracing.io/docs/

Seting up OpenTracing

To receive OpenTracing spans, start up a Jaeger server. This can be done using docker like so:

docker run -d --name jaeger
  -p 6831:6831/udp \
  -p 6832:6832/udp \
  -p 5778:5778 \
  -p 16686:16686 \
  -p 14268:14268 \
  jaegertracing/all-in-one:1.13

Latest documentation is probably at https://www.jaegertracing.io/docs/1.13/getting-started/

Enable OpenTracing in Synapse

OpenTracing is not enabled by default. It must be enabled in the homeserver config by uncommenting the config options under opentracing as shown in the sample config. For example:

opentracing:
  tracer_enabled: true
  homeserver_whitelist:
    - "mytrustedhomeserver.org"
    - "*.myotherhomeservers.com"

Homeserver whitelisting

The homeserver whitelist is configured using regular expressions. A list of regular expressions can be given and their union will be compared when propagating any spans contexts to another homeserver.

Though it's mostly safe to send and receive span contexts to and from untrusted users since span contexts are usually opaque ids it can lead to two problems, namely:

  • If the span context is marked as sampled by the sending homeserver the receiver will sample it. Therefore two homeservers with wildly different sampling policies could incur higher sampling counts than intended.
  • Sending servers can attach arbitrary data to spans, known as 'baggage'. For safety this has been disabled in Synapse but that doesn't prevent another server sending you baggage which will be logged to OpenTracing's logs.

Configuring Jaeger

Sampling strategies can be set as in this document: https://www.jaegertracing.io/docs/1.13/sampling/

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