What is Synthetic Monitoring?

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Last updated on: June 2, 2024

Synthetic Monitoring Explained

Synthetic monitoring, also known as directed monitoring, is a strategic approach to evaluating your application’s performance by mimicking user interactions. This technique involves creating predefined pathways through an application to test and measure the availability and responsiveness of key business processes.

How does synthetic monitoring work?

Synthetic monitoring employs automated bots—set up on browsers, devices, or computers—to perform scripted interactions with your application, mimicking the actions a real user might take as they navigate through its critical sections. These bots execute a sequence of actions or “transactions” that replicate a typical user journey, usually every 15 minutes, though this frequency can be adjusted or triggered by specific events.

After executing these actions, the bots report the outcomes back to the synthetic monitoring system. If an error is identified during these tests, the system prompts a retest to verify the issue. A repeated error triggers an alert within the organization, prompting further investigation or resolution efforts.

Synthetic monitoring is very flexible, so it allows users to tailor their setups to meet specific needs. For example, bots can be stationed within a secure network to assess internal system performance or placed externally to evaluate public-facing application efficiency. 

Pros and cons of synthetic monitoring

PROS

By simulating real user journeys within a controlled environment, synthetic monitoring offers a proactive approach to maintaining and enhancing system performance. This method provides invaluable insights into:

  • Early detection of issues: Synthetic monitoring plays a crucial role in identifying errors before they impact the end-user experience, especially vital within environments focused on continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD).
  • System availability and speed: It assesses whether your site is accessible, how swiftly it loads, and verifies that crucial transactions are executed correctly, pinpointing any potential bottlenecks or failures.
  • Benchmarking performance: Over time, it establishes performance standards, identifying areas ripe for enhancement and streamlining.
  • Enhancing system resilience: It aids in preparing your system for high-traffic periods and adjusting to the demands of new markets or regions.

Additionally, synthetic monitoring is essential to help companies adhere to service level agreements (SLAs) and ensures accountability from third-party providers, in the case of issues coming up.

CONS

  • It might not work for everybody: Today’s applications are intricate, catering to users from diverse locations and under various conditions, which synthetic monitoring alone might not fully capture.  
  • It’s not always easy to use: Setting up an effective synthetic monitoring system requires specific technical expertise, making it a daunting task for those without such skills. Even for knowledgeable team members, the process can be labor-intensive and time-consuming.
  • It’s very sensitive to changes: Synthetic tests are known for their lack of adaptability to minor changes within the application’s interface. Simple updates, like altering a button, can cause tests to fail, leading to a flood of alerts.  
  • It lacks contextual insight: A significant drawback of many synthetic monitoring tools is their inability to provide detailed explanations for failures or to assess the business impact of such issues. This deficiency can extend the time needed to resolve problems and complicate the prioritization of performance enhancements.

Because of the mix of positive and negative factors, it’s important to look for a balanced monitoring strategy that incorporates both synthetic and real-user monitoring to achieve a comprehensive view of application health and performance.

Why use synthetic monitoring?

Ensuring your application delivers a smooth user experience is crucial for your business — otherwise, dissatisfied customers may quickly turn to competitors.  

If your website or application is slow to respond, users are likely to leave, and you’ll see that reflected in increased bounce rates. This is key to your business because your platform might be underperforming compared to competitors without you even realizing it — something that should be easy to fix for long-term success.

Synthetic monitoring allows you to streamline troubleshooting processes. IT teams, often stretched thin across multiple projects, may struggle to pinpoint the root cause of performance problems promptly. But by adopting synthetic monitoring, businesses can proactively simulate user interactions, identifying potential performance issues before they impact real users. 

This preemptive approach allows for the optimization of application performance, ensuring your digital services meet or exceed user expectations and remain competitive. 

Types of synthetic monitoring

Synthetic monitoring encompasses a range of techniques designed to test and ensure the smooth operation of websites and applications by simulating user behavior. This approach is divided into three primary types: availability, web performance, and transaction monitoring, each serving a unique purpose.

Availability monitoring: This type focuses on ensuring that a website or application is accessible and responsive. It not only verifies the overall availability but can also drill down into more specific checks. For example, it might verify the presence of certain content on a page or the successful execution of particular API calls, ensuring every critical component is functioning correctly.

Web performance monitoring: This method zeroes in on how well a webpage performs, examining metrics like page loading times and the behavior of individual page elements. It scrutinizes the delivery of web content, identifies errors, and detects any delays in response times, providing a clear picture of user experience quality.

Transaction monitoring: Here, the goal is to mimic and complete actions a user might take, such as logging into an account, filling out forms, or making a purchase. This type of monitoring is crucial for ensuring complex processes work seamlessly from start to finish.

Beyond these, synthetic monitoring can be categorized based on the nature of the tests conducted:

Test TypeDescription
Browser TestsAutomated clients (bots) simulate user activities like making a purchase to assess the end-to-end process.
API TestsFocus on monitoring specific network and application infrastructure endpoints.
HTTP TestsAssess the uptime and responsiveness of applications.
SSL TestsEnsure secure completion of transactions by verifying the validity and trustworthiness of the site’s SSL certificates.
DNS TestsEvaluate the site’s domain name system resolution and lookup speeds to ensure performance meets expectations.
Multistep API TestsSimulate and monitor complex workflows, ensuring each step in the application infrastructure functions correctly.

API monitoring often involves multistep API tests, which simulate and monitor complex workflows to confirm every step functions correctly across the application infrastructure.

Synthetic monitoring or real user monitoring

Synthetic monitoring and real user monitoring (RUM) are two key strategies in application performance management, each serving distinct purposes.

Synthetic monitoring involves simulating user actions to test an application’s performance in a controlled environment. It’s particularly valuable for spotting immediate or short-term issues that could affect the user experience, even before the application is fully released. 

📍Synthetic monitoring shines in scenarios such as regression testing and ongoing surveillance of live sites, offering insights into how updates or changes might impact user interactions.

In contrast, Real User Monitoring (RUM) focuses on capturing and analyzing the interactions of actual users with a website or application. This is typically achieved by embedding JavaScript code into a webpage, which then silently gathers data on user experience in real time. 

Unlike its synthetic counterpart, RUM provides a window into the long-term performance trends and user behavior patterns post-deployment. This real-world feedback is invaluable for understanding how various factors, including different devices, browsers, and network conditions, affect the user experience over time.

In simple words, synthetic monitoring helps in pre-launch testing and immediate problem detection, RUM offers deep insights into user engagement and performance trends, making both approaches complementary tools in the arsenal of application performance management.

Conclusion

Understanding and implementing both synthetic and real user monitoring can significantly impact your ability to deliver high-quality digital services. By staying ahead of potential issues and continuously optimizing performance, businesses can not only meet but exceed user expectations.

Diana Bocco

Written by

Diana Bocco

Diana Bocco combines her expertise to offer in-depth perspectives on uptime monitoring and website performance. Her articles are grounded in practical experience and a deep understanding of how robust monitoring can drive business success online. Diana's commitment to explaining complex technical concepts in accessible language has made her a favorite among readers seeking reliable uptime solutions.