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Both OpenTelemetry and OpenTracing are observability tools used to collect data and send information to compatible end-users or backends. But what are the differences between these two systems? 

Continue reading the rest of the article to take a deeper dive into this topic. 

OpenTelemetry

At first, you might be wondering, ‘what is OpenTelemetry?’ This observability system, which is from the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), aims to reduce developer confusion by gathering robust yet portable data using built-in, cloud-native software. 

OpenTelemetry works with various telemetry backends, including Jaeger, Prometheus, and Zipkin. The users of this tool may also use it for any open-source backend. 

This tool also has several extensibility points, such as:

  • Data collectors communicating with different backends through different out-of-process Exporters. 
  • Data aggregation, batching, and processing is configurable within the Collector.
  • The built-in Exporter sends data to the Collector.
  • Users may add processing extensions (e.g., enrichments, filtering, and sampling) through the SDK (Software Development Kit). 
  • Users may replace the OpenTelemetry SDK with an alternative implementation.

As for OpenTelemetry’s real-life applications, its uses may include, but not limited to, the following:

  • Monitor long-running tasks with Tracer APIs and a new Span.
  • Filter artificial traffic with the help of a custom Sampler. 
  • Defining global attributes (e.g., app name, environment name, and version) to segment data using resource APIs.
  • Customizable attributes to make it easy for systems to gather, query, and send telemetry data. 

OpenTracing

Like OpenTelemetry, OpenTracing is also a project from the CNCH. This observability tool aims to be an open, vendor-neutral tool for distributed systems to trace various requests. 

The traces in OpenTracing refers to ‘stories’ of transactions or workflows through distributed systems. In context, one trace is a directed acyclic graph (DAG)–a query that stages different parts of a process from a definitive start to a specific end. Moreover, one trace consists of various Spans, named and timed operations, which are connecting segments of work. 

From its birth, OpenTracing adoption grew as many companies in different industries adopted the technology to gather relevant data. For example, auto insurance firms may use this tool to trace different information to provide better car insurance

Another example when OpenTracing is in use is by browsing the web using a browser. In particular, Mozilla Firefox allows users to open the Browser Console by pressing Ctrl + Shift + J on their keyboards. Here, you can see each component executed in the cache as well as their current operating status. 

Other common uses of OpenTracing may include, but not limited to, the following:

  • Microservices
  • Caching
  • Arbitration
  • Message bus monitoring

Differences Between OpenTelemetry and OpenTracing

Now that you know more about OpenTelemetry and OpenTracing, it’s time to learn about their differences. 

First, you should know that OpenTelemetry came after the release of OpenTracing. Furthermore, OpenTelemetry is a combination of two other data-gathering tools: OpenTracing and OpenCensus. Hence, you can say that OpenTelemetry is OpenTracing and OpenCensus in one application. This means that you can see OpenTracing’s features in OpenTelemetry, but you can’t see all features and functionalities of OpenTelemetry in OpenTracing. 

Also, it’s important to note the primary objectives and principles of the reason behind the combination of OpenTracing and OpenCensus to form OpenTelemetry. These goals are:

  • To create unified libraries and specifications for cloud-based observability telemetry. Also, the information should be compatible with various operations support systems (OSSs) and backends. 
  • To provide straightforward migration paths that originate from different current root projects. Users can create these paths through backward compatibility connections or bridges that support existing OpenTracing and OpenCensus arrangements.
  • Project leaders want developers to see and use OpenTelemetry as ‘the next major version of OpenTracing and OpenCensus.’

Moreover, OpenTelemetry provides two essential specifications to users, which might not be available in either OpenTracing or OpenCensus. These specifications are:

  • Cross-Language Specification: A coherent system groundwork that works regardless of the programming language used. 
  • Data Specification: The common tracing format and metrics data, regardless of the method used to generate telemetry data. For instance, this specification may include a data structure for a tracing model in the Cross-Language Specification. 

However, OpenTelemetry and OpenTracing don’t only have differences as these two observability tools also have similarities. For example, writing code in both systems tends to yield the same results. This is because both tools have a one-to-one mapping to produce the same results. 

But the differences in both tools may make users encounter compatibility issues. For example, you may use a particular code in OpenTelemetry and OpenTracing, but a certain OpenTelemetry code might not be compatible with OpenTracing. 

Conclusion

Both OpenTelemetry and OpenTracing serve to gather and send telemetry data from various sources to different end-users or backends. However, to ensure complete compatibility for different applications, users should keep the differences of both tools in mind.

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