I recently had a need to create separate traces for each item in a batch. This introduced me to ‘root’ activities.

The Problem

One of the background tasks in a C# application I support is responsible for processing batches of items. The batch is retrieved from the database and then each item is processed sequentially. I wanted to understand how it behaves in production so I added activities using the .NET Diagnostics API:

private static readonly ActivitySource ActivitySource = new("tracing-root-traces");

private async Task ProcessBatchAsync(CancellationToken stoppingToken)
    using var batchActivity = ActivitySource.StartActivity("ProcessBatch");

    var batch = await GetBatchAsync(stoppingToken);

    foreach (var item in batch.Items)
        using var itemActivity = ActivitySource.StartActivity("ProcessItem");

        await ProcessItemAsync(item, stoppingToken);

I added an ActivityListener that wrote to the console some details of each activity:

logger.LogInformation("Activity stopped: {OperationName} {ParentId} {TraceId} {SpanId}",
    activity.OperationName, activity.Parent?.TraceId, activity.TraceId, activity.SpanId);

Here’s what it produced:

Activity stopped: ProcessItem 79b3b07085973d9b2e7933ab12b5c07b 79b3b07085973d9b2e7933ab12b5c07b 0cb209819cd2b59d
Activity stopped: ProcessItem 79b3b07085973d9b2e7933ab12b5c07b 79b3b07085973d9b2e7933ab12b5c07b b0d7664bda92411a
Activity stopped: ProcessItem 79b3b07085973d9b2e7933ab12b5c07b 79b3b07085973d9b2e7933ab12b5c07b c08cf72264646f2a
Activity stopped: ProcessBatch (null) 79b3b07085973d9b2e7933ab12b5c07b cbce20d22ee75b08

As you can see, each “ProcessItem” activity shares the same TraceId as the parent “ProcessBatch” activity (i.e. 79b3b07085973d9b2e7933ab12b5c07b).

It’s helpful, but what I really was hoping for was a separate trace for each item being processed. I want to know how much time it takes to process the entire batch. But for each item being processed, there are several child spans that I would like to link together in order to view all logs for a given item. For that I needed to use root activities.

Root Activities

A root activity is one whose parent is either null or itself. It isn’t a child of a parent activity, and therefore has its own unique TraceId.

When starting a new activity, the Diagnostics API determines if there is an existing activity context to use as a parent. What we need to do is explicitly tell the API to ignore the current context and use a custom one that we provide.

To create a context you need to create a TraceId and a SpanId. There are functions that provide these for you:

var traceId = ActivityTraceId.CreateRandom();
var spanId = ActivitySpanId.CreateRandom();

One additional property we require is a TraceFlag. This is part of the W3C tracing standard (https://www.w3.org/TR/trace-context/). It indicates if the activity is recorded or not. We can use the flag that is set for the current context: Activity.Current.ActivityTraceFlags.

With these 3 values we can construct a new context for our activity:

var rootContext = new ActivityContext(

To make it easier to integrate into the code I created a simple extension method:

using System.Diagnostics;

internal static class ActivitySourceExtensions
    public static Activity? StartRootActivity(this ActivitySource source, string name)
        if (Activity.Current is null)
            return null;

        var rootContext = new ActivityContext(

        return source.StartActivity(name, ActivityKind.Internal, rootContext);

We can swap out the “StartActivity” call with our new method:

using var itemActivity = ActivitySource.StartRootActivity("ProcessItem");

And here are the results:

Activity stopped: ProcessItem (null) 49b8db00da0559738fe6a769f5690d55 321c128842c0beb0
Activity stopped: ProcessItem (null) 948002a01a0c77016e6fe82a5eb9424e 5deb34539bec28e2
Activity stopped: ProcessItem (null) 639263d0776f1209f5db72d132e08873 fd428f6eaf4b6ebc
Activity stopped: ProcessBatch (null) 1b410a4fa883695cd18f0734c542fa55 b52c81d6d0e3d7db

As you can see each activity has its own unique TraceId, as we desired. All the child activities under each “ProcessItem” activity will all share the same TraceId and can be filtered to view all the logs for a given item. And for the batch I can still record how long it took to process.


When the situation arises to break the chain of activities being recorded, create root activities, which don’t have a parent. The Diagnostics API makes this possible by providing the ability to create an explicit context for your activity with unique trace and span ids.