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Federated traces

How federated tracing works

One of the many benefits of using GraphQL as an API layer is that it enables fine-grained tracing of every API call. One of the features of the Apollo platform is support for consuming and aggregating those traces in order to provide detailed insights into your GraphQL layer's performance and usage. In order to support this same functionality, the Federation model includes support for sending a federated trace from the Apollo gateway, which is constructed from timing and error information that underlying services expose. These federated traces capture the service-level details in the shape of the query plan, which is sent to Apollo's metrics ingress by default, and aggregated into query-level stats and field-level stats. The overall flow of a federated trace is as follows:

  1. The Apollo gateway receives an operation from a client
  2. The Apollo gateway constructs a query plan for the operation, delegating sub-queries to underlying services
  3. For each fetch to an implementing service, a response is received
  4. In the extensions of the response, a trace from the sub-query is exposed
  5. The gateway collects the set of sub-query traces from implementing services, and arranges them in the shape of the query plan
  6. The Federated trace is sent to the Apollo metrics ingress for processing.

The model of federated metrics is that implementing services report timing and error information to the gateway, and the gateway is responsible for reporting those metrics.

Turning it on

Ensure that all dependencies on apollo-server are at version 2.7.0 or higher. Provide an API key to your gateway via the APOLLO_KEY environment variable for the gateway to report metrics to the default ingress. To ensure that implementing services do not report metrics as well, do not provide them with an APOLLO_KEY or install the ApolloServerPluginUsageReportingDisabled plugin in your ApolloServer.

These options will cause the Apollo gateway to collect tracing information from the underlying federated services and pass them on, along with the query plan, to the Apollo metrics ingress. Currently, only Apollo Server supports detailed metrics insights as an implementing service, but we would love to work with you to implement the protocol in other languages!

NOTE: By default, metrics will be reported to the current variant. To change the variant for reporting, set the APOLLO_GRAPH_VARIANT environment variable.

How tracing data is exposed from a federated service

NOTE: this section details how the gateway communicates with federated services around encoded tracing information and is not necessary to understand in order to enable federated tracing.

The Apollo gateway looks to the extensions field of all service responses for the presence of an ftv1 field. This field contains a representation of the tracing information for the sub-query that was executed against the service, sent as the Base64 encoding of the protobuf representation of the trace. In order to request this information of federated services, the gateway will send the header pair 'apollo-federation-include-trace': 'ftv1' on fetches if configured to collect metrics, as per above. By default a federated Apollo Server service will recognize this header pair and attach tracing information in extensions of the response.

How traces are constructed and aggregated

The Apollo gateway constructs traces in the shape of the query plan, embedding an individual Trace for each fetch that is performed in the query plan. This indicates the sub-query traces as well as which order they were fetched from the underlying services. The field-level statistics that the Apollo Platform aggregates from these traces are collected over the fields over which the operation was executed in the federated services. In other words, field stats are collected based on the operations the query planner makes rather than the operations that the clients make. On the other hand, operation-level statistics are aggregated over the operations executed by the client, which means that even if query-planning changes, statistics will still be corresponded to the same client-delivered operation.

How errors work

The Apollo Platform provides functionality to modify error details for the client, via the formatError option. Additionally, there is functionality to support modifying error details for the metrics ingress, via the rewriteError option to the inline trace plugin.

When modifying errors for the client, you might want to use this option to hide implementation details, like database errors, from your users. When modifying errors for reporting, you might want to obfuscate or redact personal information, like user IDs or emails.

Since federated metrics collection works by collecting latency and error information from a set of distributed implementing services, these options are respected from underlying services as well as from the gateway level. Federated services will embed errors in their ftv1 extension after the rewriteError method (passed to the inline trace plugin in the implementing service, not the usage reporting plugin in the gateway!) is applied, and the gateway will only report the errors that are sent via that extension, ignoring the format that downstream errors are reported to end users. This functionality enable service-implementors to determine how error information should be displayed to both users and in metrics without needing the gateway to contain any logic that might be service-specific.

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