New Tracing APIs

Learn about new Tracing APIs in Sentry JavaScript SDK 8.x

The SDK 8.x release introduces new APIs for performance monitoring. These APIs are designed to provide more control over how performance data is collected and reported to Sentry.

These APIs are also available in 7.x so you can incrementally move over to the new APIs before upgrading to 8.x.

Previously, there were two key APIs for adding manual performance instrumentation to your applications:

  • startTransaction()
  • span.startChild()

Those APIs were based on the original data model of Sentry. This model was based on a root Transaction that could contain a nested tree of Spans.

In the new model, transactions are conceptually gone. Now, operations are always performed on spans, regardless of their position in the tree. Note that spans may still be grouped into a transaction for the Sentry UI. However, this happens in the background and, from the SDK's point of view, all you need to be concerned about are spans.

The new model does not differentiate between a transaction or a span when manually starting or ending them. Instead, you always use the same APIs to start a new span. This will automatically create either a new Root Span (a regular span without a parent, conceptually similar to a transaction) or a Child Span, depending on what is the currently active span.

There are three key APIs available to start spans:

  • startSpan()
  • startSpanManual()
  • startInactiveSpan()

All three span APIs take StartSpanOptions as a first argument, which has the following shape:

interface StartSpanOptions {
  // The only required field - the name of the span
  name: string;
  attributes?: SpanAttributes;
  op?: string;
  scope?: Scope;
  forceTransaction?: boolean;

This is the most common API that should be used in most circumstances. It will start a new span, making it the active span for the duration of a given callback, and automatically ends it when the callback ends. You can use it like this:

    name: "my-span",
    attributes: {
      attr1: "my-attribute",
      attr2: 123,
  (span) => {
    // do something that you want to measure
    // once this is done, the span is automatically ended

You can also pass an async function:

    name: "my-span",
    attributes: {},
  async (span) => {
    // do something that you want to measure
    await waitOnSomething();
    // once this is done, the span is automatically ended

Since startSpan() will make the created span the active span, any automatic or manual instrumentation that creates spans inside of the callback will attach new spans as children of the span we just started.

Note that if an error is thrown inside of the callback, the span status will automatically be set to be errored.

This is a variation of startSpan() with the only difference that it does not automatically end the span when the callback ends. When using this, you have to call span.end() yourself:

    name: "my-span",
  (span) => {
    // do something that you want to measure

    // Now manually end the span ourselves

In most cases, startSpan() should be all you need for manual instrumentation. But if you find yourself in a place where the automatic ending of spans, for whatever reason, does not work for you, you can use startSpanManual() instead.

This function will also set the created span as the active span for the duration of the callback, and will also update the span status to be errored if there is an error thrown inside of the callback.

In contrast to the other two methods, this does not take a callback and this does not make the created span the active span. You can use this method if you want to create loose spans that do not need to have any children:

Sentry.startSpan({ name: "outer" }, () => {
  const inner1 = Sentry.startInactiveSpan({ name: "inner1" });
  const inner2 = Sentry.startInactiveSpan({ name: "inner2" });

  // do something

  // manually end the spans

No span will ever be created as a child span of an inactive span.

You can use the withActiveSpan helper to create a span as a child of a specific span:

Sentry.withActiveSpan(parentSpan, () => {
  Sentry.startSpan({ name: "my-span" }, (span) => {
    // span will be a direct child of parentSpan

While in most cases, you shouldn't have to think about creating a span vs. a transaction (just call startSpan() and we'll do the appropriate thing under the hood), there may still be times where you need to ensure you create a transaction (for example, if you need to see it as a transaction in the Sentry UI). For these cases, you can pass forceTransaction: true to the start-span APIs, e.g.:

const transaction = Sentry.startInactiveSpan({
  name: "transaction",
  forceTransaction: true,

Previously, spans & transactions had a bunch of properties and methods to be used. Most of these have been removed in favor of a slimmer, more straightforward API, which is also aligned with OpenTelemetry Spans. You can refer to the table below to see which things used to exist, and how they can/should be mapped going forward:

The spanToJSON, getRootSpan, setHttpStatus, spanToTraceHeader, and spanToTraceContext are all exported by the SDK to be used.

Old nameReplace with
span.startTimestampspan.startTime - note that this has a different format!
span.tagsuse attributes, or set tags on the scope
span.setTag()span.setAttribute(), or set tags on the scope
span.setStatus()span.setStatus - note that this has a different signature
span.setHttpStatus()setHttpStatus(span, status)
span.startChild()Call Sentry.startSpan() independently
span.isSuccess()spanToJSON(span).status === 'ok'

In addition, a transaction has this API:

Old nameReplace with
parentSampledspanIsSampled(span) & spanContext().isRemote
metadataUse attributes instead or set on scope
setContext()Set context on scope instead
setMetadata()Use attributes instead or set on scope

Previously, the model had the concepts of Data, Tags, and Context, which could be used for different things. However, this had two main downsides: Firstly, it was not always clear which concept should be used in a given situation. Secondly, these concepts were not displayed the same way for transactions or spans.

To address these issues, the new model only has Attributes that can be set on spans. Broadly speaking, they map to what was formerly known as Data.

If you still really need to set tags or context, you can do so on the scope before starting a span:

Sentry.withScope((scope) => {
  scope.setTag("my-tag", "tag-value");
  Sentry.startSpan({ name: "my-span" }, (span) => {
    // do something here
    // span will have the tags from the containing scope

In addition to generally changing the performance APIs, there are also some smaller changes that this brings with it.

Currently, tracesSampler() can receive an arbitrary SamplingContext passed as argument. While this is not defined anywhere in detail, the shape of this context will change in v8. Going forward, this will mostly receive the attributes of the span, as well as some other relevant data of the span. Some properties we used to (sometimes) pass there, like req for node-based SDKs or location for browser tracing, will not be passed anymore.

In v7, the performance APIs startSpan() / startInactiveSpan() / startSpanManual() would receive an undefined span if tracing was disabled or the span was not sampled.

In v8, aligning with OpenTelemetry, these will always return a span - but the span may be a Noop-Span, meaning a span that is never sent. This means you don't have to guard everywhere in your code anymore for the span to exist:

Sentry.startSpan((span: Span | undefined) => {
  // previously, in order to be type safe, you had to use optional chaining or similar
  span?.setAttribute("attr", 1);

// In v8, the signature changes to:
Sentry.startSpan((span: Span) => {
  // no need to guard anymore!
  span.setAttribute("attr", 1);

Previously in v7, you could force a positive or negative sampling decision when calling startTransaction by setting the sampled option. This would effectively override your sampling configuration for the specific transaction. In v8, the sampled option was removed to align with OpenTelemetry. You can still force a decision by defining a tracesSampler callback in Sentry.init and returning 1 or 0 for specific spans:

// v7
Sentry.startTransition({op: 'function.myFunction', sampled: true});

// v8
// 1. define a tracesSampler
  tracesSampler: (samplingContext) => {
    // force a positive sampling decision for a specific span
    if (samplingContext.op === 'function.myFunction') {
      return 1;
    // force a negative sampling decision for a specific span
    if (samplingContext.op === 'function.healthCheck') {
      return 0;
    // return 0.1 as a default sample rate for all other spans
    return 0.1;

// 2. start the span
Sentry.startSpan({op: 'function.myFunction'}, {/*...*/});
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