OpenTelemetry for Java Apps: A Beginner’s Guide to Automatic Instrumentation

In the world of software development, monitoring, and observability have become crucial aspects for ensuring the performance, reliability, and efficiency of applications. To achieve this, developers rely on instrumentation tools that help them gather metrics, logs, and traces. OpenTelemetry, an open-source project, has emerged as a powerful solution for distributed systems, allowing developers to seamlessly instrument their applications and gain valuable insights. In this blog post, we will explore it for Java apps, focusing specifically on automatic instrumentation.

Understanding OpenTelemetry

Before diving into the specifics of OpenTelemetry’s automatic instrumentation for Java apps, let’s take a brief look at what is and how it works.

What is OpenTelemetry?

OpenTelemetry is a set of APIs, libraries, agents, and instrumentation that allows developers to capture telemetry data from applications. It provides a standardized approach to instrumenting applications for observability purposes, including metrics, logs, and distributed traces.

Key Components of OpenTelemetry

It consists of several key components that work together to enable observability:

  1. APIs: OpenTelemetry provides a set of language-specific APIs that developers can use to instrument their applications. These APIs define the contracts and methods for capturing telemetry data.
  2. SDKs: Software Development Kits (SDKs) implement APIs and provide the necessary functionality to capture and export telemetry data. SDKs handle the complexity of telemetry data collection and management.
  3. Instrumentation Libraries: Offers pre-built instrumentation libraries for popular frameworks, libraries, and technologies. These libraries allow developers to easily instrument their applications without writing custom code.
  4. Exporters: Exporters are responsible for sending telemetry data to observability platforms or backend systems for analysis and visualization. It supports various exporters for different platforms, such as Prometheus, Jaeger, and Zipkin.

Open Telemetry – Stack:

Otel SDK – collects traces, logs, and metrics and exports them.

Otel Collector – Receives telemetry data processes it and exports it.

DB – to store Telemetry data.

Benefits of OpenTelemetry

OpenTelemetry brings several benefits to Java application developers:

  • Standardization: It provides a unified approach to instrumentation across different languages and frameworks. This standardization ensures consistency in capturing telemetry data and simplifies troubleshooting in distributed systems.
  • Flexibility: Developers have the flexibility to choose their preferred observability platform or backend system. It supports various exporters, allowing seamless integration with platforms like Grafana, Elasticsearch, and more.
  • Automatic Instrumentation: One of the key features of OpenTelemetry. This feature reduces the manual effort required to instrument applications and provides out-of-the-box instrumentation for popular frameworks.

Automatic Instrumentation for Java Apps

In this section, we will explore how OpenTelemetry enables it for Java applications. It saves developers time and effort by automatically instrumenting various components of their applications without the need for manual code changes.

How Does it Work?

Leverages bytecode manipulation techniques to automatically instrument Java applications at runtime. This approach allows to capture of telemetry data without requiring developers to modify their application code explicitly.

When an application starts, the OpenTelemetry agent intercepts the loading of classes and dynamically modifies them to include instrumentation code. This process injects hooks that capture relevant telemetry data such as method invocations, HTTP calls, database queries, and more.

Supported Frameworks and Libraries

It provides automatic instrumentation support for a wide range of Java frameworks and libraries. Some of the popular ones include:

  • Spring Boot: Spring Boot allows capturing data from Spring MVC endpoints, database queries using Spring Data JPA, and more.
  • Servlet API: Servlet API instrumentation captures HTTP request information, including attributes, headers, and response codes.
  • JDBC: JDBC instrumentation captures database queries and provides insights into query execution times, parameters, and more.
  • gRPC: gRPC instrumentation captures RPC calls made using the gRPC framework.
  • Apache HttpClient: Instrumentation for Apache HttpClient captures HTTP client calls and provides information about requests and responses.

Customizing Automatic Instrumentation

While OpenTelemetry offers great out-of-the-box functionality, there may be cases where customizations are required. It provides options for developers to customize based on their specific needs.

Developers can define custom spans, add attributes or tags to spans, and control the sampling rate of captured traces. Additionally, OpenTelemetry allows developers to create their own custom instrumentation for frameworks or libraries that are not supported out-of-the-box.

Getting Started with OpenTelemetry in Java

Now that we understand the concept of automatic instrumentation in OpenTelemetry for Java, let’s dive into how we can get started with integrating OpenTelemetry into our Java projects.

Step 1: Adding Dependencies

To start using OpenTelemetry in your Java application, you need to add the necessary dependencies to your project’s build configuration file (e.g., Maven or Gradle). The core dependencies required are

<!– OpenTelemetry Core –>







<!– OpenTelemetry SDK –>






Step 2: Configuring OpenTelemetry

After adding the necessary dependencies, you need to configure OpenTelemetry according to your application’s specific needs. Configuration typically involves setting up exporters (e.g., Jaeger or Prometheus) and configuring sampling rates.

OpenTelemetry provides a flexible configuration mechanism that allows you to define configuration properties either programmatically or through environment variables or configuration files.

Step 3: Automatic Instrumentation

Once you have configured OpenTelemetry, you can enable it for your Java application. Depending on the framework or library you are using, you may need to add additional dependencies specific to that framework/library (e.g., Spring Boot).

With enabled, you can run your application, and OpenTelemetry will automatically capture telemetry data based on the configured instrumentations.

Analyzing Telemetry Data with OpenTelemetry

In this section, we will explore how you can analyze the telemetry data captured by OpenTelemetry using various observability platforms and tools.

Exporting Telemetry Data

OpenTelemetry provides exporters that allow you to send captured telemetry data to popular observability platforms such as Jaeger, Prometheus, Zipkin, Elasticsearch, and more. You can configure these exporters as part of your application’s OpenTelemetry configuration.

Exporters ensure that your captured telemetry data is sent to the desired backend system for further analysis and visualization.

Visualizing Telemetry Data

Once your telemetry data is exported to an observability platform or backend system, you can leverage various tools to visualize and analyze the data. Some popular tools include:

  • Jaeger: Jaeger is a distributed tracing system that allows you to visualize traces captured by OpenTelemetry. You can analyze latency between services, identify performance bottlenecks, and troubleshoot issues using Jaeger’s user-friendly interface.
  • Prometheus: Prometheus is a monitoring system that collects metrics data from instrumented applications. You can create custom dashboards, set up alerts, and gain insights into your application’s performance using Prometheus.
  • Grafana: Grafana is a powerful visualization tool that integrates with various backend systems like Prometheus. You can create rich dashboards, visualize metrics in real time, and gain deep insights into your application’s behavior.

Custom Analysis and Monitoring

In addition to using observability platforms and tools, you can also leverage the power of OpenTelemetry’s APIs and SDKs to perform custom analysis on your captured telemetry data. This allows you to extract specific insights tailored to your application’s requirements.

Using APIs, you can programmatically query traces, analyze metrics data, and perform custom monitoring tasks based on your specific use cases.

Best Practices for Using OpenTelemetry with Java Apps

To ensure a successful integration with your Java applications, it is important to follow some best practices. Let’s explore a few key practices:

Start Small

When getting started with OpenTelemetry in your Java app, it’s recommended to start small and gradually expand its usage. Begin by instrumenting critical components or specific use cases before scaling them across your entire application.

Define Clear Objectives

Clearly define your objectives before implementing Open Telemetry. Identify what metrics or traces you want to capture and analyze. This will help you make informed decisions on which instrumentations to enable and what data to focus on.

Monitor Performance Impact

Monitor the performance impact of Open Telemetry on your application. While it is designed to have minimal impact on performance, it is still important to monitor resource usage and ensure that your application’s performance remains unaffected.

Version Compatibility

Ensure compatibility between the version of OpenTelemetry you are using and the version of your framework or library. Incompatibilities may lead to unexpected behavior or issues during runtime.

Regular Updates

Keep up with updates from the Open Telemetry project. Regularly updating your dependencies ensures you have access to the latest features, bug fixes, and performance improvements.


OpenTelemetry has revolutionized the way developers instrument their Java applications for observability purposes. With its automatic instrumentation capabilities, developers can easily integrate telemetry data collection into their applications without writing extensive custom code. By leveraging in combination with powerful observability platforms and tools, developers gain valuable insights into their application’s performance and behavior. By following best practices and staying up-to-date with the latest advancements in the OpenTelemetry ecosystem, developers can effectively leverage this powerful toolset for building robust and reliable Java applications.

If you have any questions, please ask below!