Blog Feed Post

Application Insights – 15 things every developer needs to know

Application Insights is Microsoft’s lightweight application performance monitoring service. I have collected a nice list of things that every developer should know. Including tips, key features, and limitations.

1. Make sure your app targets .NET 4.6, and .NET 2.0 is not supported

There are some changes in the 4.6 version of the .NET framework that enable some additional data collection abilities for Application Insights. Be sure to update your app and redeploy it. App Insights will work with 4.5 or newer but 4.6 is preferred.

I know it sounds crazy, but you wouldn’t believe how many people have older apps written in 2.0 that they still have to support and have never been upgraded. App Insights does not support 2.0 and they don’t have any plans to do so.

2. Warning! Sensitive data is not scrubbed from dynamic SQL queries

If your code uses dynamic SQL, Application Insights will collect the full query and upload it to Azure. This means if the query contained personal information, credit card numbers, or anything else that could be sensitive, it is getting uploaded from your server to Microsoft.

Another thing to know on this topic, App Insights never collect SQL parameters.

3. Key limitation: Finding slow SQL queries

Application insights provides reporting down to the server and database name being accessed. There is no to see how long individual queries take, which are the slowest, or being called the most often. There is also no way to setup monitoring for a specific SQL query.

To get a list of slow SQL queries, you would need to query SQL Server’s DMVs or use a different APM solution. If you are using SQL Azure it is has some built in tuning advisor functions for this too.

4. Azure App Services require a site extension for all features

You can add Application Insights to your project and deploy it to Azure as an App Service. App Insights will seem to work, but there are some things that don’t work until you install the site extension. You can install it via the Azure Portal. I specifically noticed full SQL queries were not collected without it.

5. View top exceptions in your application

Application insights has good reporting to group application exceptions so you can uniquely see which ones are occurring and how often.

application insights exceptionshttp://1piygz303e2p3ze2nt2kfhla.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploa... 300w, http://1piygz303e2p3ze2nt2kfhla.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploa... 768w, http://1piygz303e2p3ze2nt2kfhla.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploa... 1350w" sizes="(max-width: 600px) 100vw, 600px" />

How to send exceptions to App Insights

To ensure that all of your exceptions are collected you must install their SDK and make some code and config changes.

  1. Modify code to collect unhandled exceptions for MVC, global.asax, etc.
  2. If you use log4net, NLog, etc you can configure it to send your exceptions
  3. Manually report exceptions via their SDK if needed

Limitations and missing exceptions features

App Insights is missing some key features around exceptions. If you are having SQL timeouts for example, odds are they impact multiple applications. App Insights has no reporting across apps to easily see this.

  1. No way to see exceptions across all applications
  2. Some other APM solutions don’t require any code or config changes to collect unhandled exceptions
  3. No way to collect all “first chance” exceptions

Retrace can collect all exceptions, including first chance exceptions, with no code changes.

6. Asynchronous HttpClient calls are not supported

Almost all new ASP.NET development is now done in async and uses the common async/await pattern. Unfortunately, Application Insights does not support the recommended way to make HTTP calls with ASP.NET.

        public async Task HttpClientAsync()
            log.Debug("Starting HttpClient.GetStringAsync()");
            string data;
            using (HttpClient hc = new HttpClient())
                data = await hc.GetStringAsync("http://microsoft.com");

            log.Debug("Completed HttpClient.GetStringAsync()");

            return Request.CreateResponse(HttpStatusCode.OK, data);

App Insights does pick up the 2 logging messages via log4net, but doesn’t show anything for dependency calls.

http://1piygz303e2p3ze2nt2kfhla.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploa... 300w, http://1piygz303e2p3ze2nt2kfhla.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploa... 768w, http://1piygz303e2p3ze2nt2kfhla.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploa... 1024w" sizes="(max-width: 600px) 100vw, 600px" />

It does see it, it just doesn’t associate it with the ASP.NET web request.

http://1piygz303e2p3ze2nt2kfhla.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploa... 300w, http://1piygz303e2p3ze2nt2kfhla.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploa... 768w, http://1piygz303e2p3ze2nt2kfhla.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploa... 1024w" sizes="(max-width: 600px) 100vw, 600px" />

7. Tracking application dependencies

App Insights supports tracking dependency calls in your code. Microsoft’s documentation says SQL databases, HTTP calls, and Azure storage libraries are supported. Anything else requires using their SDK to manually track each dependency call.


App Insights does not support some other notable key Azure dependencies include Service Bus and redis.

Some other APM solutions also support MongoDB, RavenDB, Elasticsearch, Redis, Memcached, AppFabric, MSMQ, NServiceBus, AWS services and more.

8. View all details for a single web request (transaction trace)

One of the key features to help track down what a request does is seeing the complete picture of logging, dependency calls, and other key events associated with a single web request.

The best way to do this in Application Insights is to click “All available telemetry for this operation”.

http://1piygz303e2p3ze2nt2kfhla.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploa... 285w, http://1piygz303e2p3ze2nt2kfhla.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploa... 768w, http://1piygz303e2p3ze2nt2kfhla.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploa... 974w" sizes="(max-width: 600px) 100vw, 600px" />


9. How to Identify why a request or entire application is slow

One suggestion is to customize the chart that you see when filter for a specific operation to add the “dependency duration”. This will help you see how that compares to overall server response time.

http://1piygz303e2p3ze2nt2kfhla.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploa... 300w, http://1piygz303e2p3ze2nt2kfhla.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploa... 768w, http://1piygz303e2p3ze2nt2kfhla.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploa... 1024w" sizes="(max-width: 1797px) 100vw, 1797px" />

Application Insights’ map feature can be useful for trying to identify the performance of dependencies. It will tell you the average time and % of failures.

http://1piygz303e2p3ze2nt2kfhla.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploa... 300w, http://1piygz303e2p3ze2nt2kfhla.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploa... 768w, http://1piygz303e2p3ze2nt2kfhla.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploa... 1024w" sizes="(max-width: 1082px) 100vw, 1082px" />

I would also suggest going to “Failures” from the menu to look for dependency failures and exceptions.

One thing that would be nice is a visual way to see how each dependency impacts overall performance. When there is a problem with one it is usually easy to see it spike.

http://1piygz303e2p3ze2nt2kfhla.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploa... 300w, http://1piygz303e2p3ze2nt2kfhla.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploa... 768w, http://1piygz303e2p3ze2nt2kfhla.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploa... 1024w" sizes="(max-width: 1379px) 100vw, 1379px" />
Screenshot from Retrace

10. Monitoring & Alerts features and limitations

Application Insights supports configuring alerts for a lot of different conditions. Including alerting on metrics like Server Exceptions, Request Rate, Process CPU, etc.

Monitoring limitations

  • No way to monitor a specific request (URL/action)
  • No way to monitor a specific SQL query
  • No way to monitor % of requests having errors
  • Can only monitor averages

Alerting limitations

  • Email or webhooks only
  • Can use a Logic App to send to SMS, Slack, and others
  • No built in concept of alert “escalation”
  • No concept of alert severity like warning vs critical
  • Alerts go to everyone or a hard coded list of emails. No good way to manage distribution lists unless done outside via email groups.

11. Reporting across applications

In Azure Application Insights, each app is more or less a “bucket” that all the diagnostics about each app gets reported to. There is no easy way to see exceptions, slow SQL queries, slow web requests and etc across all of your apps. The only workaround that can provide some very minimal visibility is making a custom dashboard and selecting some widgets across multiple apps.

12. Application Insights does support the concept of multiple “environments” (QA, Prod, etc)

Within an individual application, there is no high level way to separate out and report data by environment (i.e. Dev, QA, Prod). Microsoft has a couple workarounds that they recommend:

  1. Configure a unique “application” via separate instrumentation keys. This works but then there is no reporting across them. They are completely isolated.
  2. Use a custom field for the environement. You would then need to probably make your own dashboards and widgets in App Insights filtered down by that custom field.

13. App Insights is not a code profiler

Most application performance management (APM) solutions use code profiling to do data collection. Microsoft Application Insights does not use profiling. Instead it relies on collecting data via the .NET framework via ETW and other sources.

Because App Insights does not the CLR profiler, it causes a few limitations:

  • Lack of dependency support – The reason Microsoft Application Insights does not support a wide array of 3rd party dependencies is primarily because they don’t do code profiling that would let them instrument the libraries.
  • No custom profiling – One of the very useful features of APM solutions is being able to profile custom methods in your code to track their usage and performance. App Insights doesn’t support this. You would instead need to use their SDK and modify your code to report it.

14. Application Insights has a robust API, and you will likely need it

If you like instrumenting your apps manually to report performance data, you will love Application Insights. They have a robust API and SDKs for several programming languages  (.NET, java, node.js) that let’s you report requests, pages views, dependency calls, trace (log) messages, exceptions and more via their TelemetryClient.

Microsoft’s own description highlights it as being “extensible” as it relies on a lot of custom SDK usages to get rich data.

Application Insights is an extensible Application Performance Management (APM) service for web developers.

If your app uses Elasticsearch, mongodb, redis, or any other dependency and you would like to see it show up in Application Insights on Azure, you will need to change your code and manually report it.

15. How to use Application Insights with Windows Services

If you have a Windows Service type application that you want to track with App Insights, you will have to integrate their API in to your app. Every single place you make a database call, you can simply add a couple lines of code to report the query via their SDK.

As an example, check out this article about using Azure Worker Roles with Application Insights.

Need more than Application Insights?

Application Insights is awesome. However, like any application, it has its limitations and best use cases. I would describe App Insights as a “light APM” solution. If you want to take the time to use their SDK, you can make it do a lot of different things.

However, if you want the best APM available for ASP.NET developers with the entire goal of finding and fixing application problems as fast as possible, checkout Retrace. It is actually written in ASP.NET and is hosted on Azure. Monitoring Azure is our expertise!

Key differences:

  • All major application dependencies supported
  • Excellent reporting across apps and environments
  • Industry leading transaction trace views for developers
  • 100% support for async and .NET Core
  • Included and advanced logging functionality
  • No code or config changes required

The post Application Insights – 15 things every developer needs to know appeared first on Stackify.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Stackify Blog

Stackify offers the only developers-friendly solution that fully integrates error and log management with application performance monitoring and management. Allowing you to easily isolate issues, identify what needs to be fixed quicker and focus your efforts – Support less, Code more. Stackify provides software developers, operations and support managers with an innovative cloud based solution that gives them DevOps insight and allows them to monitor, detect and resolve application issues before they affect the business to ensure a better end user experience. Start your free trial now stackify.com

Latest Stories
Modern software design has fundamentally changed how we manage applications, causing many to turn to containers as the new virtual machine for resource management. As container adoption grows beyond stateless applications to stateful workloads, the need for persistent storage is foundational - something customers routinely cite as a top pain point. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 21st Cloud Expo, Bill Borsari, Head of Systems Engineering at Datera, explored how organizations can reap the bene...
In his Opening Keynote at 21st Cloud Expo, John Considine, General Manager of IBM Cloud Infrastructure, led attendees through the exciting evolution of the cloud. He looked at this major disruption from the perspective of technology, business models, and what this means for enterprises of all sizes. John Considine is General Manager of Cloud Infrastructure Services at IBM. In that role he is responsible for leading IBM’s public cloud infrastructure including strategy, development, and offering m...
Kubernetes is an open source system for automating deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications. Kubernetes was originally built by Google, leveraging years of experience with managing container workloads, and is now a Cloud Native Compute Foundation (CNCF) project. Kubernetes has been widely adopted by the community, supported on all major public and private cloud providers, and is gaining rapid adoption in enterprises. However, Kubernetes may seem intimidating and complex ...
In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Michael Burley, a Senior Business Development Executive in IT Services at NetApp, described how NetApp designed a three-year program of work to migrate 25PB of a major telco's enterprise data to a new STaaS platform, and then secured a long-term contract to manage and operate the platform. This significant program blended the best of NetApp’s solutions and services capabilities to enable this telco’s successful adoption of private cloud storage and launching ...
In a recent survey, Sumo Logic surveyed 1,500 customers who employ cloud services such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). According to the survey, a quarter of the respondents have already deployed Docker containers and nearly as many (23 percent) are employing the AWS Lambda serverless computing framework. It’s clear: serverless is here to stay. The adoption does come with some needed changes, within both application development and operations. Tha...
In his general session at 21st Cloud Expo, Greg Dumas, Calligo’s Vice President and G.M. of US operations, discussed the new Global Data Protection Regulation and how Calligo can help business stay compliant in digitally globalized world. Greg Dumas is Calligo's Vice President and G.M. of US operations. Calligo is an established service provider that provides an innovative platform for trusted cloud solutions. Calligo’s customers are typically most concerned about GDPR compliance, application p...
Digital transformation is about embracing digital technologies into a company's culture to better connect with its customers, automate processes, create better tools, enter new markets, etc. Such a transformation requires continuous orchestration across teams and an environment based on open collaboration and daily experiments. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Alex Casalboni, Technical (Cloud) Evangelist at Cloud Academy, explored and discussed the most urgent unsolved challenges to achieve f...
You know you need the cloud, but you’re hesitant to simply dump everything at Amazon since you know that not all workloads are suitable for cloud. You know that you want the kind of ease of use and scalability that you get with public cloud, but your applications are architected in a way that makes the public cloud a non-starter. You’re looking at private cloud solutions based on hyperconverged infrastructure, but you’re concerned with the limits inherent in those technologies.
With tough new regulations coming to Europe on data privacy in May 2018, Calligo will explain why in reality the effect is global and transforms how you consider critical data. EU GDPR fundamentally rewrites the rules for cloud, Big Data and IoT. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Adam Ryan, Vice President and General Manager EMEA at Calligo, examined the regulations and provided insight on how it affects technology, challenges the established rules and will usher in new levels of diligence arou...
Smart cities have the potential to change our lives at so many levels for citizens: less pollution, reduced parking obstacles, better health, education and more energy savings. Real-time data streaming and the Internet of Things (IoT) possess the power to turn this vision into a reality. However, most organizations today are building their data infrastructure to focus solely on addressing immediate business needs vs. a platform capable of quickly adapting emerging technologies to address future ...
Most technology leaders, contemporary and from the hardware era, are reshaping their businesses to do software. They hope to capture value from emerging technologies such as IoT, SDN, and AI. Ultimately, irrespective of the vertical, it is about deriving value from independent software applications participating in an ecosystem as one comprehensive solution. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Kausik Sridhar, founder and CTO of Pulzze Systems, discussed how given the magnitude of today's application ...
The dynamic nature of the cloud means that change is a constant when it comes to modern cloud-based infrastructure. Delivering modern applications to end users, therefore, is a constantly shifting challenge. Delivery automation helps IT Ops teams ensure that apps are providing an optimal end user experience over hybrid-cloud and multi-cloud environments, no matter what the current state of the infrastructure is. To employ a delivery automation strategy that reflects your business rules, making r...
As you move to the cloud, your network should be efficient, secure, and easy to manage. An enterprise adopting a hybrid or public cloud needs systems and tools that provide: Agility: ability to deliver applications and services faster, even in complex hybrid environments Easier manageability: enable reliable connectivity with complete oversight as the data center network evolves Greater efficiency: eliminate wasted effort while reducing errors and optimize asset utilization Security: imple...
The 22nd International Cloud Expo | 1st DXWorld Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo | DXWorld Expo, to be held June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York, NY, brings together Cloud Computing, Digital Transformation, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Machine Learning and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding busin...
Blockchain is a shared, secure record of exchange that establishes trust, accountability and transparency across business networks. Supported by the Linux Foundation's open source, open-standards based Hyperledger Project, Blockchain has the potential to improve regulatory compliance, reduce cost as well as advance trade. Are you curious about how Blockchain is built for business? In her session at 21st Cloud Expo, René Bostic, Technical VP of the IBM Cloud Unit in North America, discussed the b...