GraalVM Insight

GraalVM Insight is a multipurpose, flexible tool for writing reliable microservices solutions that traces program runtime behavior and gathers insights.

The dynamic nature of the tool helps users to selectively apply tracing pointcuts on already running applications with no loss of performance. Insight also provides detailed access to runtime behavior of a program, allowing users to inspect values and types at invocation or allocation sites. GraalVM Insight further permits users to modify computed values, interrupt execution, and quickly experiment with behavioral changes without modifying the application code.

This page provides information on GraalVM Insight as of the 20.1 version. To learn about Insight on versions 20.0 and 19.3, proceed here.

Note: the GraalVM Insight tool is offered as a technology preview and requires the user to pass the --experimental-options option in order to enable the --insight instrument.

Start Using GraalVM Insight #

  1. Create a simple source-tracing.js script with the following content:
    insight.on('source', function(ev) {
     print(`Loading ${ev.characters.length} characters from ${}`);
  2. Having set JAVA_HOME to the GraalVM home directory, start the node launcher with the --insight tool and observe what scripts are being loaded and evaluated:
    $JAVA_HOME/bin/node --experimental-options --insight=source-tracing.js --js.print -e "print('The result: ' + 6 * 7)" | tail -n 10
    Loading 29938 characters from url.js
    Loading 345 characters from internal/idna.js
    Loading 12642 characters from punycode.js
    Loading 33678 characters from internal/modules/cjs/loader.js
    Loading 13058 characters from vm.js
    Loading 52408 characters from fs.js
    Loading 15920 characters from internal/fs/utils.js
    Loading 505 characters from [eval]-wrapper
    Loading 29 characters from [eval]
    The result: 42

    The source-tracing.js script used the provided insight object to attach a source listener to the runtime. Whenever the script was loaded, the listener got notified of it and could take an action – printing the length and name of the processed script.

The Insight information can be collected to a print statement or a histogram. The following function-histogram-tracing.js script counts all method invocations and dumps the most frequent ones when the execution of a program is over:

var map = new Map();

function dumpHistogram() {
    print("==== Histogram ====");
    var digits = 3;
    Array.from(map.entries()).sort((one, two) => two[1] - one[1]).forEach(function (entry) {
        var number = entry[1].toString();
        if (number.length >= digits) {
            digits = number.length;
        } else {
            number = Array(digits - number.length + 1).join(' ') + number;
        if (number > 10) print(`${number} calls to ${entry[0]}`);

insight.on('enter', function(ev) {
    var cnt = map.get(;
    if (cnt) {
        cnt = cnt + 1;
    } else {
        cnt = 1;
    map.set(, cnt);
}, {
    roots: true

insight.on('close', dumpHistogram);

The map is a global variable shared inside of the Insight script that allows the code to share data between the insight.on('enter') function and the dumpHistogram function. The latter is executed when the node process execution is over (registered via insight.on('close', dumpHistogram). Invoke it as:

$JAVA_HOME/bin/node --experimental-options --insight=function-histogram-tracing.js --js.print -e "print('The result: ' + 6 * 7)"
The result: 42
=== Histogram ===
543 calls to isPosixPathSeparator
211 calls to E
211 calls to makeNodeErrorWithCode
205 calls to NativeModule
198 calls to uncurryThis
154 calls to :=>
147 calls to nativeModuleRequire
145 calls to NativeModule.compile
 55 calls to internalBinding
 53 calls to :anonymous
 49 calls to :program
 37 calls to getOptionValue
 24 calls to copyProps
 18 calls to validateString
 13 calls to copyPrototype
 13 calls to hideStackFrames
 13 calls to addReadOnlyProcessAlias

Polyglot Tracing #

The previous examples were written in JavaScript, but due to GraalVM’s polyglot nature, you can take the same instrument and use it in a program written in, e.g., the Ruby language.

  1. Create the source-trace.js file:
    insight.on('source', function(ev) {
    if (ev.uri.indexOf('gems') === -1) {
      let n = ev.uri.substring(ev.uri.lastIndexOf('/') + 1);
      print('JavaScript instrument observed load of ' + n);
  2. Prepare the helloworld.rb Ruby file:
    puts 'Hello from GraalVM Ruby!'
  3. Apply the JavaScript instrument to the Ruby program:
    $JAVA_HOME/bin/ruby --jvm --polyglot --experimental-options --insight=source-trace.js helloworld.rb
    JavaScript instrument observed load of helloworld.rb
    Hello from GraalVM Ruby!

    It is necessary to start the Ruby launcher with the --polyglot parameter, as the source-tracing.js script remains written in JavaScript.

A user can instrument any language on top of GraalVM, but also the Insight scripts can be written in any of the GraalVM supported languages (implemented with the Truffle language implementation framework).

  1. Create the source-tracing.rb Ruby file:
    puts "Ruby: Initializing GraalVM Insight script"
    insight.on('source', ->(ev) {
     name = ev[:name]
     puts "Ruby: observed loading of #{name}"
    puts 'Ruby: Hooks are ready!'
  2. Launch a Node.js application and instrument it with the Ruby script:
    $JAVA_HOME/bin/node --jvm  --polyglot --experimental-options --insight=source-tracing.rb --js.print -e "print('With Ruby: ' + 6 * 7)" | grep Ruby
    Ruby: Initializing GraalVM Insight script
    Ruby: Hooks are ready!
    Ruby: observed loading of internal/per_context/primordials.js
    Ruby: observed loading of internal/per_context/setup.js
    Ruby: observed loading of internal/per_context/domexception.js
    Ruby: observed loading of internal/modules/cjs/loader.js
    Ruby: observed loading of vm.js
    Ruby: observed loading of fs.js
    Ruby: observed loading of internal/fs/utils.js
    Ruby: observed loading of [eval]-wrapper
    Ruby: observed loading of [eval]
    With Ruby: 42

Inspecting Values #

GraalVM Insight not only allows one to trace where the program execution is happening, it also offers access to values of local variables and function arguments during program execution. You can, for example, write an instrument that shows the value of argument n in the function fib:

insight.on('enter', function(ctx, frame) {
   print('fib for ' + frame.n);
}, {
   roots: true,
   rootNameFilter: (name) => 'fib' === name

This instrument uses the second function argument, frame, to get access to values of local variables inside every instrumented function. The above script also uses rootNameFilter to apply its hook only to the function named fib:

function fib(n) {
  if (n < 1) return 0;
  if (n < 2) return 1;
  else return fib(n - 1) + fib(n - 2);
print("Two is the result " + fib(3));

When the instrument is stored in a fib-trace.js file and the actual code is in fib.js, invoking the following command yields detailed information about the program execution and parameters passed between function invocations:

$JAVA_HOME/bin/node --experimental-options --insight=fib-trace.js --js.print fib.js
fib for 3
fib for 2
fib for 1
fib for 0
fib for 1
Two is the result 2

To learn more about GraalVM Insight, go to Insight Manual.

Documentation on the insight object properties and functions is available as part of the Javadoc.