Go: Instrumenting the HTTP service with Elastic APM

Elastic APM is an application performance monitoring product Elastic, the makers of Elasticsearch, and most notably the ELK stack (Elasticsearch, Logstash, Kibana). APM is another plug and play product of theirs, that hooks up to your existing ELK installation and provides endpoints for application agents to receive performance metrics data.

Elastic APM provides a Go agent, which we will use to instrument various parts of our code. The instrumentation will help us not only with performance metrics, but with debugging and optimization of our applications as well.

Wrapping our existing handler

We already wrapped the HTTP handler with our own, that adds IP information into the request context. APM works in the same way, providing their own wrapper for a http.Handler. Since we can reasonably assume that we will need other wrapers in the future, we will create another function under internal/wrap.go to keep main() cleaner:

import (



// WrapAll wraps a http.Handler with all needed handlers for our service
func WrapAll(h http.Handler) http.Handler {
	h = WrapWithIP(h)
	h = apmhttp.Wrap(h)
	return h


The code imports the APM module with the HTTP handler wrapper. There are also routing framework specific wrappers available, notably: httprouter, gorilla, cgi, gin, echo, beego,… The full list is quite extensive, you can review them on elastic/apm-agent-go.

So, as we have WrapAll defined now, we can fix our generator for main.go:

--- a/templates/cmd_main.go.tpl
+++ b/templates/cmd_main.go.tpl
@@ -48,5 +48,5 @@ func main() {
        twirpHandler := ${SERVICE}.New${SERVICE_CAMEL}ServiceServer(srv, nil)
        log.Println("Starting service on port :3000")
-       http.ListenAndServe(":3000", internal.WrapWithIP(twirpHandler))
+       http.ListenAndServe(":3000", internal.WrapAll(twirpHandler))

Run make to rebuild your app with HTTP server instrumentation.

The wrapper takes care of creating what is called a “Transaction”. A transaction in our case consists of the incoming request to our handler, all the way until the completion of that request. For each request, various data is logged to Elastic APM, the most obvious one of which is the request duration.

Logging errors too

Any request coming to your service may error out. When creating twirpHandler, we omit the second parameter to the NewXXXServiceServer call, a parameter of *twirp.ServerHooks type. This structure defines various hooks implemented by the Twirp RPC server handler. We are especially interested in the Error hook:

type ServerHooks struct {
	// Error hook is called when an error occurs while handling a request. The
	// Error is passed as argument to the hook.
	Error func(context.Context, Error) context.Context

Particularly, we want to log the error with another Elastic APM API call, CaptureError. Let’s prepare a function that will construct an instance of *twirp.ServerHooks in our internal package with a defined error logger, under internal/twirp.go:

package internal

import (


func NewServerHooks() *twirp.ServerHooks {
	return &twirp.ServerHooks{
		Error: func(ctx context.Context, err twirp.Error) context.Context {
			apm.CaptureError(ctx, err).Send()
			return ctx

The function apm.CaptureError takes the second parameter of the type error. As the interface twirp.Error is a superset of the standard error type, it’s already compatible with this parameter.

In our cmd_main.tpl we just replace the nil parameter with internal.NewServerHooks().

-       twirpHandler := ${SERVICE}.New${SERVICE_CAMEL}ServiceServer(srv, nil)
+       twirpHandler := ${SERVICE}.New${SERVICE_CAMEL}ServiceServer(srv, internal.NewServerHooks())

Setting up ELK

There’s an utility docker image that provides a bundled ELK installation:

The container supports ELK up to version 7.4.0. It should be easy enough to add it into our development docker-compose.yml file. Append the following under services:

    image: sebp/elk

And run the following in order:

sysctl vm.max_map_count=512000
docker-compose up -d

It possibly takes a few minutes in order for ELK to be reachable. When it completes, you can open http://localhost:5601 in your browser, and you’ll find yourself on the ELK console. Now we need to add APM.

Setting up APM

Turns out, we don’t really need much for APM, just a small config file that tells it where the elasticsearch instance is where it wants to send data to. Let’s create docker/elk, and inside apm-server.yml:

  host: ""

  hosts: ["elk:9200"]

And the Dockerfile (we could avoid this with a volume mount, but it’s trivial):

FROM docker.elastic.co/apm/apm-server:7.4.0

USER root
COPY apm-server.yml /usr/share/apm-server/apm-server.yml
RUN chown root:apm-server /usr/share/apm-server/apm-server.yml

USER apm-server

And finally, add APM to our docker-compose.yml file:

    build: docker/apm

Re-run docker-compose up -d to start the APM service.

Configuring our sender

We have configured ELK and APM, now we need to configure our service to send data to APM. This is done with two environment variables, which we can add to our service, just after DB_DSN:

       DB_DSN: "stats:stats@tcp(db:3306)/stats"
+      ELASTIC_APM_SERVER_URL: "http://apm:8200"
     command: [

Run docker-compose up -d to reload the changed services.

Now we can re-run the curl request which we used for testing:

  "property": "news",
  "section": 1,
  "id": 1

curl -s -X POST -H 'Content-Type: application/json' \
     -H "X-Real-IP:" \ \
     -d "$payload" | jq .

Be sure to update the IP of the service by running docker inspect microservice_stats_1 and finding the actual IPAddress of the service. Run the curl request a couple of times, so it will generate/feed some data into APM.

If you don’t see any requests to APM from Kibana, make sure your service build is up to date (run make docker.stats), and then run docker-compose up -d again to recreate it.

Reviewing ELK data

As we started collecting ELK data for our service, it’s a good time to review a few key features. After opening up the APM menu from the left side-bar, we get a listing of every service that we are logging, along with basic metrics like average response time, transactions/minute, and errors/minute.

APM: The list of registered service

After this, we can drill down into our service. Set an interval for the last 15 minutes, so you get some usable graphs on the next screen. The graphs show the overall request rate and durations for your service, and at the end of the page - individual transactions.

APM: Service details

Drilling down into transactions gives us observability beyond the simple access log line. APM aggregates our requests and provides a distribution graph, so you can figure out which requests took an extraordinary amount of time. After all, we should be optimizing the 95th or 99th percentile, and not just the overall average case. The low hanging fruit usually comes from edge cases which aren’t optimized well.

APM: Transaction details

There are two important things to note below:

  • Timeline
  • Metadata

The timeline currently contains only our transaction, but we will enrich this with spans. For example, a span would be an SQL query, and the time it took to execute it. We can then subdivide the transaction into implementation details and answer questions like:

  • How many queries against the database did the request perform?
  • What was the longest database query inside the RPC?
  • How many HTTP requests did we make?
  • What was the longest HTTP request inside the RPC?
  • How long does connecting to a database take?

The metadata contains the complete HTTP request data, information about the host/container where our service is running, which Go version our service was built with, which arguments our service was run with, and we can extend this data with our own custom fields.

Our next step will be to instrument our database, so we can see our database queries and things like connect latency. With that, we will have enough data about our service, so that we can optimize and improve it.

This article is part of a Advent of Go Microservices book. I’ll be publishing one article each day leading up to christmas. Please consider buying the ebook to support my writing, and reach out to me with feedback which can make the articles more useful for you.

All the articles from the series are listed on the advent2019 tag.

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