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OpenTelemetry vs. OpenTracing: Key Differences & How to Migrate

What Is OpenTracing? 

OpenTracing is an open-source project that provides an API (Application Programming Interface) that allows developers to add distributed tracing to their applications. Distributed tracing is the process of tracking and monitoring the lifecycle of a request or transaction as it flows through the various components of a distributed system.

OpenTracing was a big step forward in providing visibility into distributed systems but had significant limitations. The API provided by OpenTracing defines a set of interfaces and classes but does not provide any implementation. This means that developers have to choose an appropriate tracing system that supports the OpenTracing API and integrate it with their application. Eventually, the OpenTracing project was deprecated and replaced by OpenTelemetry.

What Is OpenTelemetry? 

OpenTelemetry is the modern replacement for OpenTracing. It resulted from the merging of OpenTracing with another important observability project, OpenCensus, taking the best aspects of both and adding some new features. 

OpenTelemetry (OTel for short) aims to provide a single, unified framework for observability. It combines aspects of distributed tracing, metrics, and logging into a single API, simplifying the process of adding observability to applications.

Like OpenTracing, OpenTelemetry provides an API for developers to add instrumentation to their applications. However, unlike OpenTracing, OpenTelemetry also provides an implementation, eliminating the need for developers to integrate a separate tracing system. This can significantly simplify the setup and operation of distributed tracing.

Moreover, in addition to distributed tracing, OpenTelemetry supports metrics and logs. This comprehensive approach to observability means that developers can get a complete picture of system performance and behavior, without having to integrate multiple systems.

Learn more in our detailed guide to OpenTelemetry architecture.

OpenTracing Limitations 

Let’s cover some of the limitations of OpenTracing that led to the development of the OpenTelemetry project:

  • OpenTracing does not provide any implementation: This means developers need to integrate a separate tracing system that supports the OpenTracing API. This can lead to complexities in terms of both setup and operation.
  • Lack of support for metrics and logs: Metrics and logs are crucial components of any observability solution, providing information on system performance and events. Without these, understanding system behavior and troubleshooting issues can become significantly more challenging.
  • Limited API capabilities: The OpenTracing API lacks features like context propagation and flexible sampling. Developers often need to write additional code or use third-party libraries to achieve these functionalities, increasing the complexity of their applications.

Why Migrate from OpenTracing to OpenTelemetry: Key Features and Capabilities 

Here are some of the key capabilities added in OpenTelemetry compared to OpenTracing. If you are still using OpenTracing, this should make the case for migration.

Unified APIs

One of the most compelling reasons for migrating from OpenTracing to OpenTelemetry is its unified APIs. With OpenTracing, users had to implement different APIs for metrics, logs, and traces, which was a complex and cumbersome process. However, OpenTelemetry has streamlined this process by providing a single set of APIs that can handle all these tasks.

Having a unified API simplifies the development process and reduces the learning curve for developers. Instead of having to learn and manage multiple APIs, they can focus on a single one, which increases efficiency and productivity.

Furthermore, the unified APIs in OpenTelemetry also support backward compatibility with OpenTracing. This means that you can migrate your existing OpenTracing instrumentation to OpenTelemetry without making any significant changes.

Enhanced Instrumentation Capabilities

Another significant advantage of OpenTelemetry over OpenTracing is its enhanced instrumentation capabilities. OpenTelemetry provides automatic instrumentation for various popular libraries and frameworks, which can significantly reduce the effort required to instrument your applications.

Automatic instrumentation is a powerful feature that can save developers a lot of time and effort. Instead of manually adding instrumentation code to every part of your application, you can simply use the automatic instrumentation provided by OpenTelemetry, which can handle this task for you. This not only makes the instrumentation process easier but also ensures that your application is instrumented consistently, which can improve the accuracy and reliability of your data.

Community Support and Ongoing Development

OpenTelemetry offers wider community support, which makes it a more reliable and future-proof choice than OpenTracing. OpenTelemetry is a collaborative project that is backed by some of the biggest names in the industry, including Google, Microsoft, and IBM. This means that it has a large and active community of developers who are constantly working on improving the tool and adding new features.

Having a large community also means that you can get help and support more easily when you encounter problems or have questions. You can reach out to the community through various channels, such as GitHub, Slack, and mailing lists, and you can usually get a response in a timely manner.

Simplified Setup and Configurations

Last but not least, OpenTelemetry offers a simplified setup and configuration process compared to OpenTracing. With OpenTracing, setting up and configuring the tool could be a complex and time-consuming process, especially for large and complex systems. However, OpenTelemetry has made this process much simpler and more straightforward.

OpenTelemetry provides a centralized configuration system that allows you to manage all your configuration settings in one place. This not only makes the configuration process easier but also helps you maintain consistency across your system.

How to Migrate From OpenTracing to OpenTelemetry 

OpenTelemetry places great emphasis on being backward compatible with OpenTracing, its predecessor project. To aid users in migrating, OpenTelemetry is backward compatible with OpenTracing APIs, enabling data collection from OpenTracing applications using OpenTelemetry SDKs.

To make this possible, OpenTelemetry SDKs come equipped with an OpenTracing shim—a connector that bridges the two APIs. However, it is important to note that the OpenTracing shims are not turned on by default.


The general steps for the transition to OpenTelemetry are as follows:

  • Replace the installed OpenTracing implementation with OpenTelemetry SDK(s).
  • Remove the OpenTracing libraries and instead, incorporate OpenTelemetry instrumentation libraries.
  • Update alerts, dashboards, etc., to align with new OpenTelemetry data.
  • When coding new parts of your application, use the OpenTelemetry API for all new instrumentation.
  • Gradually re-instrument your application with the OpenTelemetry API. You don’t need to remove OpenTracing API calls within your application, as they will continue to function.


Follow this procedure to add the OpenTelemetry SDK to your application:

  1. Replace the OpenTracing Tracer implementation currently in use with the OpenTelemetry SDK. For instance, if you’re using Jaeger, uninstall the Jaeger client and implement the equivalent OpenTelemetry client.
  2. Set up the OpenTracing Shim. This lets the OpenTelemetry SDK interpret OpenTracing instrumentation.
  3. Configure the OpenTelemetry SDK to export data using the same protocol and format as your previous OpenTracing client. For example, if your OpenTracing client exported data in Zipkin format, adjust the OpenTelemetry client accordingly. Alternatively, you can instruct the OpenTelemetry SDK to generate OTLP, and direct the data to a Collector, which can manage data exports in various formats.
  4. After adding the OpenTelemetry SDK, ensure that the application can be deployed and still provide the same OpenTracing telemetry. From this point onwards, all future instrumentation can be written using the OpenTelemetry API, without modifying previous instrumentation.


For existing instrumentation, you can follow this process:

  1. Substitute one OpenTracing instrumentation at a time with the corresponding OpenTelemetry instrumentation.
  2. Monitor how this transition impacts the telemetry produced by your application.
  3. Implement new dashboards, alerts, etc., that can interpret this fresh telemetry. Implement these dashboards before deploying the new OpenTelemetry library to a production environment.
  4. Optionally, you can incorporate processing rules to the Collector that convert the new telemetry back into the old. The Collector can then be configured to both versions of telemetry, to ensure data consistency. This would allow new dashboards to populate while the older ones are still in use.

For more details, see the official migration documentation.

Microservices Monitoring with Lumigo

Lumigo is cloud native observability tool that provides automated distributed tracing of microservice applications and supports OpenTelemetry for reporting of tracing data and resources. With Lumigo, users can:

  • See the end-to-end path of a transaction and full system map of applications
  • Monitor and debug third party APIs and managed services (ex. Amazon DynamoDB, Twilio, Stripe)
  • Go from alert to root cause analysis in one click
  • Understand system behavior and explore performance and cost issues 
  • Group services into business contexts

Get started with a free trial of Lumigo for your microservice applications