Posted on

Multi-thread awareness for default writer in trace.zig 0.3.0

trace.zig is a small and simple tracing client library for Zig. It aims to fill the gap until std provides a better and more sophisticated implementation. It is also a learning Zig project for myself. You can find the basic usage and concepts of trace.zig in the 0.1.0 announcement article

I recently released version 0.3.0 of this library that tackled the issue No. 5 Consider multi-threading for default writer.

The default writer, writes the trace points to std.log.info but it did not consider or was aware of multi-threading.

The problem

Imagine you have some application that handles requests (maybe a simple server) as they come and go by using one thread per request. Some requests take longer to process, some shorter. Some requests are processed in parallel. All of them are processed by the same function. Assume you're using trace.zig to trace your application. You may have collected a trace as shown below:

info: ;tp;5406903957614;0;processRequest # this is a span open
info: ;tp;5406929313234;0;processRequest # this is a span open
info: ;tp;5406954247671;1;processRequest # this is a span close
info: ;tp;5406979588282;1;processRequest # this is a span close
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

This means two requests are processed in parallel. What is not clear from this trace is, which request is finished first, which one is finished last. Also it is not clear if the first request (the one with timestamp 5406903957614) is
the one that finishes before the second. This means one of the two situations may have occurred:

  • Request 1 takes longer than request 2:

Request 1 takes longer than request 2

  • Request 1 finishes first:

Request 1 finishes first

It is impossible to know what is the situation out of the trace points that were logged. The data contained in a logged trace point is not enough for such situations.

The solution

In 0.3.0 I introduced the concept of "context". A "context" in the context of trace.zig (pun intended) can be understood as an execution context of a function. I primarily think of threads at the moment, this means a particular thread that executes a function. However, in order to keep it simple, trace.zig does only consider context with an identifier, more precisely an u64. See below how TracePoint now also requires a context_id:

// context.zig
pub const TracePoint = struct {
    id: []const u8,
    timestamp: u64,
    trace_type: TraceType,
    // this field is new
    context_id: u64
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

If a span is open or closed, getContextId is called to get the context_id to create the TracePoint. The default implementation uses std.Thread.getCurrentId. As usual in trace.zig it is possible to override the default implementation. This may help in set-ups which are not multi-
threading or freestanding targets like embedded systems, see the source code sample of context.zig below:

// context.zig
pub inline fn getContextId() u64 {
    if (@hasDecl(root, "getTraceContextId")) {
        return root.getTraceContextId();
    } else {
        return getDefaultContextId();

inline fn getDefaultContextId() u64 {
    return std.Thread.getCurrentId();
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

But how does this solve the aforementioned problem? If we run the program from above another time, but this time with the updated trace.zig library, we get a trace like below:

info: ;tp;10813966523729;0;processRequest;16161 # this is a span open
info: ;tp;10813991640338;0;processRequest;16162 # this is a span open
info: ;tp;10814016747457;1;processRequest;16161 # this is a span close
info: ;tp;10814041897272;1;processRequest;16162 # this is a span close
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

With this additional information (the context id, resp. thread id) we can see that the first request does also finish first.

Async functions

Although context and context ids solve the multi-threading problem, I believe that the context cannot be relied on in an async environment. My line of thinking is, that an async function, when can be executed by multiple threads until it is completed. This means each trace point created during the execution could be with a different context id, which makes it close to impossible to analyze. A solution for async needs to be found, see GitLab issue #18.


You can find the tagged version in the gitlab repository. Checkout CONTRIBUTING.md if you want to contribute to this project. Let me know if I have made some mistakes in my article.

Thank you for reading.

Top comments (0)