Tutorial: Instrumenting Single Container Java Apps

Real world Observability can be full of edge cases. While we want all important systems to be continuously built as microservices from a monorepo, sometimes important systems are not that way. Luckily, we do not have to go without Observability of important edge cases! In this tutorial, we will look at two ways to instrument a stand alone Java Docker application running on Amazon Elastic Compute nodes. With no `docker-compose1 or any orchestration system, we will enable tracing of that application.

Best Practice Method

In order to ensure reliable telemetry collection, we want to put the collection components into a separate container which is run alongside the application. We will do this with a shared Docker network bridge for your Java application and the OpenTelemetry (OTel) Collector Exporter container.

Create a Shared Docker Network Bridge

Create a Docker network bridge named otelnetwork to allow communication between your Java application container and the OTel Collector Exporter container.

docker network create -d bridge otelnetwork

Create the OTel Collector Exporter Configuration

Create a configuration file for the OTel Collector Exporter container. This file will define how the collector receives, processes, and exports telemetry data.

Save the following configuration as otel-collector-config.yaml:

        endpoint: # This will accept traffic on all interfaces


    endpoint: "https://{OBSERVE_CUSTOMER}.collect.observeinc.com/v2/otel"
      authorization: "Bearer {OBSERVE_TOKEN}"

      receivers: [otlp]
      processors: [batch]
      exporters: [otlphttp]
      receivers: [otlp]
      processors: [batch]
      exporters: [otlphttp]
      receivers: [otlp]
      processors: [batch]
      exporters: [otlphttp]

Alternative: Use an Observe Agent Container

Observe also packages the OTel collector as a container image. See the documentation for configuration details.

Deploy the OTel Collector Exporter Container

Deploy the OTel Collector Exporter container using the otel-collector-config.yaml configuration file. Ensure that the command is run from the directory containing the OTel-collector-config.yaml file, or adjust the path as needed.

docker run -v $(pwd)/otel-collector-config.yaml:/etc/otel-collector-config.yaml -v /var/logs:/tmp --network=otelnetwork --name OTelcol -p 4318:4318 -p 4317:4317 otel/opentelemetry-collector-contrib --config /etc/otel-collector-config.yaml

Deploy or Connect to the Application Container

Finally, we need to let the Java application container know about the bridge. This is done by deploying it on the same otelnetwork bridge network to enable communication with OTel Collector Exporter. If your application container is already running, you can simply connect it to the otelnetwork bridge.

Deploying a New Application Container

To deploy a new Java application container on the otelnetwork bridge:

docker run --network=otelnetwork -p 8080:8080 my_app

Connect to a Running Application Container

If your Java application container is already running, connect it to the otelnetwork bridge:

  1. Stop the existing container (if needed, to avoid downtime):

docker stop <existing_container_name>
  1. Connect the stopped container to the otelnetwork bridge:

docker network connect otelnetwork <existing_container_name>
  1. Restart the container:

docker start <existing_container_name>

Submit a Test Span through the OpenTelemetry Collector

To validate your Observe setup, send a test span through the OpenTelemetry Collector to confirm the configuration and connection to the Observe backend.

  1. Create a Test Span:

Save the following JSON in a file named span.json:

  "resourceSpans": [
      "resource": {
        "attributes": [
            "key": "service.name",
            "value": {
              "stringValue": "test-service"
      "scopeSpans": [
          "scope": {
            "name": "manual-test"
          "spans": [
              "traceId": "71699b6fe85982c7c8995ea3d9c95df2",
              "spanId": "3c191d03fa8be065",
              "name": "spanitron",
              "kind": 2,
              "droppedAttributesCount": 0,
              "events": [],
              "droppedEventsCount": 0,
              "status": {
                "code": 1
  1. Send the Test Span:

Use the following curl command to send the test span to the OpenTelemetry Collector:

curl -i http://localhost:4318/v1/traces -X POST -H "Content-Type: application/json" -d @span.json


  • -i: include the headers in the output, for troubleshooting

  • http://localhost:4318/v1/traces: The URL and port where the OTel collector container can receive OTLP/HTTP traces

  • -X POST: The type of HTTP action to use

  • -H "Content-Type: application/json": Informing the OTel collector that this is JSON data

  • -d @span.json: Sends the data from the span.json file.

  1. Verify in the Observe instance:

Log in to your Observe instance and navigate to the data.

Alternative Method

A single-container Java application’s administrator may not be willing to set up a separate collector or network bridge. We can simplify telemetry collection in this case, by instrumenting the application with the OpenTelemetry Java agent. This method will directly ship traces from the Java agent (SDK) to Observe. However, this approach has some limitations:

  • In environments with multiple Java applications in separate containers, there’s a risk of dropping payloads due to the absence of an intermediary agent to batch and flush traces. Network issues or endpoint unavailability can prevent successful trace collection.

  • Each application instance sends its own data, which can cause increased network traffic.

  • Managing individual telemetry configurations and ensuring reliable delivery from each container can become complex and error-prone for large-scale deployments.

To instrument the application, we will make the following changes to its Dockerfile:

# Copy the built application from the build stage
COPY --from=build /app/build/libs/java-app.jar /app/java-app.jar

# Download the OpenTelemetry Java agent and save it to the /app directory 
RUN wget https://github.com/open-telemetry/opentelemetry-java-instrumentation/releases/latest/download/opentelemetry-javaagent.jar -O /app/opentelemetry-javaagent.jar

# Update the package lists from APK (Alpine Linux package manager)  
RUN apk update

# Install curl, a command-line tool for transferring data with URLs
RUN apk add curl

# Expose port 8080 to allow outside access to application

# Set environment variables for OpenTelemetry
# OTEL_SERVICE_NAME: Name of the service for traces 

# OTEL_TRACES_EXPORTER: Exporter for traces, set to use OTLP

# OTEL_METRICS_EXPORTER: Exporter for metrics, set to use OTLP

# OTEL_LOGS_EXPORTER: Exporter for logs, set to use OTLP

# OTEL_EXPORTER_OTLP_ENDPOINT: Endpoint for sending telemetry
# Note: Replace OBSERVE_CUSTOMER with your Observe Customer ID
ENV OTEL_EXPORTER_OTLP_ENDPOINT=https://{OBSERVE_CUSTOMER}.collect.observeinc.com/v2/otel

# OTEL_EXPORTER_OTLP_PROTOCOL: Protocol to use for OTLP (HTTP with protocol buffer encoding)

# OTEL_EXPORTER_OTLP_TRACES_HEADERS: Authorization header for OTLP traces export 
# Note: The value includes special characters that need to be in URL encoded. 
# For example: 
# - A space should be encoded as %20
# - A colon (:) should be encoded as %3A
# The example below shows the Authorization header with these encodings. 
ENV OTEL_EXPORTER_OTLP_TRACES_HEADERS="Authorization=Bearer%20ds1LHhHGf9YsAjODYuCq%3ABDnB88ZbMRsnj-g6Mw23w45Nr22b3vJG"

# Command to run the application with OpenTelemetry Java agent
CMD ["java", "-javaagent:/app/opentelemetry-javaagent.jar", "-jar", "/app/java-app.jar"]

Edit the command line as needed, and test thoroughly. For more information on this approach, you may find the Observe OTEL Instrumentation Tutorial useful, or OpenTelemetry’s Java documentation.