Tracing asynchronously

This guide shows how to add asynchronous tracing to your code.


Before you begin, make sure you have completed the following:

Add asynchronous tracing

There's a set of asynchronous tracing functions that are used when the operation spans multiple threads.

For example, in a multi-threaded server, a request is handled by one thread, and then put back on a queue while the operation is in progress. Some time later, another thread receives notification that the operation has completed, and "picks up" the processing of that request. The goal of asynchronous tracing is to allow the correlation of these disjoint trace events.

Asynchronous tracing takes into consideration that the same code path is used for multiple different flows of processing. In the previous examples, we were interested in seeing how long a particular function ran, or what a certain value was at a given point in time. With asynchronous tracing, we're interested in tracking the same data, but for a logical processing flow, rather than a program location based flow.

In the queue processing example, the code that receives requests would tag each request with a "nonce" — a unique value that follows the request around. This nonce can be generated with TRACE_NONCE(), which simply increments a global counter.

Let's see how this works. First, you declare a place to hold the nonce. This is usually in a context structure for the request itself:

typedef struct {
    // add the nonce to your context structure
    trace_async_id_t async_id;
} my_request_context_t;

When the request arrives, you fetch a nonce and begin the asynchronous tracing flow:

// a new request; start asynchronous tracing
ctx->async_id = TRACE_NONCE();
TRACE_ASYNC_BEGIN("category", "name", ctx->async_id, "key", TA_STRING("value"));

You can log trace events periodically using the TRACE_ASYNC_INSTANT() macro (similar to what we did with the TRACE_INSTANT() macro above):

TRACE_ASYNC_INSTANT("category", "name", ctx->async_id, "state", TA_STRING("phase2"));

And clean up via TRACE_ASYNC_END():

TRACE_ASYNC_END("category", "name", ctx->async_id);

Don't confuse this use of "async" with the async loop that's running in your process; they aren't related.

Flow tracing

Asynchronous tracing is intended for tracing within the same process, but perhaps by way of different threads.

There's a higher-level tracing mechanism, called "flow" tracing, that's intended for use between processes or abstraction layers.

You call TRACE_FLOW_BEGIN() to mark the start of a "flow". Just like TRACE_ASYNC_BEGIN(), you pass in a nonce to identify this particular flow. The flow ID is an unsigned 64-bit integer.

Then, you (optionally) call TRACE_FLOW_STEP() to indicate trace operations within that flow.

When you're done, you end the flow with TRACE_FLOW_END().

A flow could be used, for example, between a client and server for tracking a request end-to-end from the client, through the server, and back to the client.