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Custom EVM tracer

Last edited on May 24, 2024

In addition to the default opcode tracer and the built-in tracers, Geth offers the possibility to write custom code that hook to events in the EVM to process and return the data in a consumable format. Custom tracers can be written either in Javascript or Go. JS tracers are good for quick prototyping and experimentation as well as for less intensive applications. Go tracers are performant but require the tracer to be compiled together with the Geth source code.

Custom Go tracing

Custom tracers can also be made more performant by writing them in Go. The gain in performance mostly comes from the fact that Geth doesn't need to interpret JS code and can execute native functions. Geth comes with several built-in native tracers which can serve as examples. Please note that unlike JS tracers, Go tracing scripts cannot be simply passed as an argument to the API. They will need to be added to and compiled with the rest of the Geth source code.

In this section a simple native tracer that counts the number of opcodes will be covered. First follow the instructions to clone and build Geth from source code. Next save the following snippet as a .go file and add it to eth/tracers/native:

package native

import (


func init() {
	tracers.DefaultDirectory.Register("opcounter", newOpcounter, false)

type opcounter struct {
	counts    map[string]int
	interrupt uint32
	reason    error

// newOpcounter returns a new opcode counting tracer.
func newOpcounter(ctx *tracers.Context, _ json.RawMessage) (*tracers.Tracer, error) {
	t := &opcounter{counts: make(map[string]int)}
	return &tracers.Tracer{
		Hooks: &tracing.Hooks{
			OnOpcode: t.onOpcode,
		GetResult: t.getResult,
		Stop:      t.stop,
	}, nil

func (t *opcounter) onOpcode(pc uint64, op byte, gas, cost uint64, scope tracing.OpContext, rData []byte, depth int, err error) {
	// Skip if tracing was interrupted
	if atomic.LoadUint32(&t.interrupt) > 0 {
	name := vm.OpCode(op).String()
	if _, ok := t.counts[name]; !ok {
		t.counts[name] = 0

func (t *opcounter) getResult() (json.RawMessage, error) {
	res, err := json.Marshal(t.counts)
	if err != nil {
		return nil, err
	return res, t.reason

func (t *opcounter) stop(err error) {
	t.reason = err
	atomic.StoreUint32(&t.interrupt, 1)

Now let's walk through the different parts. First and foremost, the tracer will have to be registered with Geth as part of module initialization (init() function). This will give the tracer a name which can be used to invoke it later on through the API. What the API also needs is a way to fetch the final result from the tracer. This is done through the GetResult hook. The result should be JSON encoded. The Stop hook is used to signal the tracer to stop tracing. This will be done e.g. on a timeout. And finally, OnOpcode will be called for every opcode executed. This hook is used to do the tracing logic by tallying the count of each instruction.

The full set of hooks available to tracers are documented here. Additionally, note that the tracer constructor takes in a cfg json.RawMessage. This will be filled with a JSON object that user provides to the tracer to pass in optional config fields.

To test out this tracer the source is first compiled with make geth. Then in the console it can be invoked through the usual API methods by passing in the name it was registered under:

> debug.traceTransaction('0x7ae446a7897c056023a8104d254237a8d97783a92900a7b0f7db668a9432f384', { tracer: 'opcounter' })
    ADD: 4,
    AND: 3,

Custom Javascript tracing

Transaction traces include the complete status of the EVM at every point during the transaction execution, which can be a very large amount of data. Often, users are only interested in a small subset of that data. Javascript trace filters are available to isolate the useful information.

Specifying the tracer option in one of the tracing methods (see list in reference) enables JavaScript-based tracing. In this mode, tracer is interpreted as a JavaScript expression that is expected to evaluate an object which must expose the result and fault methods. There exist 4 additional methods, namely: setup, step, enter, and exit. enter and exit must be present or omitted together.


setup is invoked once, in the beginning when the tracer is being constructed by Geth for a given transaction. It takes in one argument config. config is tracer-specific and allows users to pass in options to the tracer. config is to be JSON-decoded for usage and its default value is "{}".

The config in the following example is the onlyTopCall option available in the callTracer:

debug.traceTransaction('<txhash>, { tracer: 'callTracer', tracerConfig: { onlyTopCall: true } })

The config in the following example is the diffMode option available in the prestateTracer:

debug.traceTransaction('<txhash>, { tracer: 'prestateTracer': tracerConfig: { diffMode: true } })


step is a function that takes two arguments, log and db, and is called for each step of the EVM, or when an error occurs, as the specified transaction is traced.

log has the following fields:

  • op: Object, an OpCode object representing the current opcode
  • stack: Object, a structure representing the EVM execution stack
  • memory: Object, a structure representing the contract's memory space
  • contract: Object, an object representing the account executing the current operation

and the following methods:

  • getPC() - returns a Number with the current program counter
  • getGas() - returns a Number with the amount of gas remaining
  • getCost() - returns the cost of the opcode as a Number
  • getDepth() - returns the execution depth as a Number
  • getRefund() - returns the amount to be refunded as a Number
  • getError() - returns information about the error if one occurred, otherwise returns undefined

If error is non-empty, all other fields should be ignored.

For efficiency, the same log object is reused on each execution step, updated with current values; make sure to copy values you want to preserve beyond the current call. For instance, this step function will not work:

function(log) {

But this step function will:

function(log) {
  this.logs.append({gas: log.getGas(), pc: log.getPC(), ...});

log.op has the following methods:

  • isPush() - returns true if the opcode is a PUSHn
  • toString() - returns the string representation of the opcode
  • toNumber() - returns the opcode's number

log.memory has the following methods:

  • slice(start, stop) - returns the specified segment of memory as a byte slice
  • getUint(offset) - returns the 32 bytes at the given offset
  • length() - returns the memory size

log.stack has the following methods:

  • peek(idx) - returns the idx-th element from the top of the stack (0 is the topmost element) as a big.Int
  • length() - returns the number of elements in the stack

log.contract has the following methods:

  • getCaller() - returns the address of the caller
  • getAddress() - returns the address of the current contract
  • getValue() - returns the amount of value sent from caller to contract as a big.Int
  • getInput() - returns the input data passed to the contract

db has the following methods:

  • getBalance(address) - returns a big.Int with the specified account's balance
  • getNonce(address) - returns a Number with the specified account's nonce
  • getCode(address) - returns a byte slice with the code for the specified account
  • getState(address, hash) - returns the state value for the specified account and the specified hash
  • exists(address) - returns true if the specified address exists

If the step function throws an exception or executes an illegal operation at any point, it will not be called on any further VM steps, and the error will be returned to the caller.


result is a function that takes two arguments ctx and db, and is expected to return a JSON-serializable value to return to the RPC caller.

ctx is the context in which the transaction is executing and has the following fields:

  • type - String, one of the two values CALL and CREATE
  • from - Address, sender of the transaction
  • to - Address, target of the transaction
  • input - Buffer, input transaction data
  • gas - Number, gas budget of the transaction
  • gasUsed - Number, amount of gas used in executing the transaction (excludes txdata costs)
  • gasPrice - Number, gas price configured in the transaction being executed
  • value - big.Int, amount to be transferred in wei
  • block - Number, block number
  • output - Buffer, value returned from EVM
  • error - String, non-empty if there was an EVM error

And these fields are only available for tracing mined transactions (i.e. not available when doing debug_traceCall):

  • blockHash - Buffer, hash of the block that holds the transaction being executed
  • txIndex - Number, index of the transaction being executed in the block
  • txHash - Buffer, hash of the transaction being executed


fault is a function that takes two arguments, log and db, just like step and is invoked when an error happens during the execution of an opcode which wasn't reported in step. The method log.getError() has information about the error.

Enter & Exit

enter and exit are respectively invoked on stepping in and out of an internal call. More specifically they are invoked on the CALL variants, CREATE variants and also for the transfer implied by a SELFDESTRUCT.

enter takes a callFrame object as argument which has the following methods:

  • getType() - returns a string which has the type of the call frame
  • getFrom() - returns the address of the call frame sender
  • getTo() - returns the address of the call frame target
  • getInput() - returns the input as a buffer
  • getGas() - returns a Number which has the amount of gas provided for the frame
  • getValue() - returns a big.Int with the amount to be transferred only if available, otherwise undefined

exit takes in a frameResult object which has the following methods:

  • getGasUsed() - returns amount of gas used throughout the frame as a Number
  • getOutput() - returns the output as a buffer
  • getError() - returns an error if one occurred during execution and undefined otherwise


Note that several values are Golang big.Int objects, not JavaScript numbers or JS bigints. As such, they have the same interface as described in the godocs. Their default serialization to JSON is as a Javascript number; to serialize large numbers accurately call .String() on them. For convenience, big.NewInt(x) is provided, and will convert a uint to a Go BigInt.

Here is an example, returns the top element of the stack at each CALL opcode only:

debug.traceTransaction(txhash, {
    '{data: [], fault: function(log) {}, step: function(log) { if(log.op.toString() == "CALL") this.data.push(log.stack.peek(0)); }, result: function() { return this.data; }}'

Other traces

This tutorial has focused on debug_traceTransaction() which reports information about individual transactions. There are also RPC endpoints that provide different information, including tracing the EVM execution within a block, between two blocks, for specific eth_calls or rejected blocks. The full list of trace functions can be explored in the reference documentation.


This page described how to write custom tracers for Geth. Custom tracers can be written in Javascript or Go.


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