What is Synthetic Monitoring? Challenges & Best Practices

Optimizing the performance and reliability of your websites and applications is crucial for ensuring your customers enjoy a seamless and flawless digital journey. Synthetic monitoring, which is also known as synthetic testing, has emerged as a process for organizations to proactively monitor their applications to ensure they’re working as intended and to identify potential issues if things aren’t working properly. In this article, we’ll dive into the realm of synthetic monitoring, exploring what it is, the functionality of synthetic monitoring, the different types of synthetic monitoring, and some tools used for synthetic monitoring. We’ll also discuss the challenges associated with synthetic monitoring and present some of our best practices.

What is Synthetic Monitoring?

Synthetic monitoring is the process of continually monitoring your application performance, whether proactive or active. This practice involves simulating real user interactions with your web applications, APIs, network services, and streaming services from various geographical locations worldwide. Through automated scripts and bots, synthetic transactions can replicate real user journeys, offering valuable insights into your application’s performance, availability, and functionality. This method allows you to test predetermined scenarios across various device types, geographical areas, and other parameters. By continuously executing predefined test scenarios, your organization can detect issues such as downtime, latency, errors, and broken functionalities before they impact end users.

  • Downtime Detection: Synthetic monitoring instantly alerts IT teams upon detecting service unavailability, ensuring rapid response, and minimizing revenue loss.
  • Latency Monitoring: Synthetic monitoring measures response times and identifies latency issues, enabling optimization efforts to improve overall performance.
  • Error Identification: Synthetic monitoring captures error messages and HTTP status codes, facilitating troubleshooting and leading to faster resolution of issues.
  • Application Functionality Verification: Synthetic monitoring validates critical user interactions, detecting issues such as broken links or faulty workflows, and ensuring a seamless user experience.

By leveraging synthetic monitoring to detect these issues in advance, your organization can maintain the performance, reliability, and functionality expectations of your customers, ultimately enhancing your user experience and fueling business success.

How Does Synthetic Monitoring Work?

Synthetic monitoring operates by deploying synthetic monitoring tools or services that execute scripted scenarios to emulate user behavior across different platforms, devices, and network conditions. These scripted scenarios, also known as synthetic transactions, are created carefully to replicate real user behaviors, encompassing actions like logging in, browsing a website, making transactions, or interacting with your APIs.

The first step for synthetic monitoring starts with the process of developing synthetic scripts tailored to the specific functionalities and usage patterns of your monitored systems. These scripts are designed to cover various scenarios and user journeys, allowing for comprehensive testing of your performance and functionality across different aspects of the digital platform.

Once your synthetic scripts are created, you will use a synthetic monitoring tool to execute them at regular intervals from diverse geographical locations and device types. This execution generates synthetic transactions that closely mimic real user interactions, providing valuable insights into the performance and availability of the monitored systems under various conditions.

As the synthetic transactions are executed, key metrics such as response times, error rates, transaction completion rates, and many more are measured and recorded. These performance metrics serve as critical indicators of the health and reliability of your monitored systems, enabling your teams to identify any deviations or potential bottlenecks that need to be addressed. When there are performance issues or anomalies, your synthetic monitoring tools typically trigger alerts to notify you. These alerts provide you with timely notifications for any detected issues allowing you and your teams to take proactive measures to address them before they impact real users.

In addition to real-time alerting, synthetic monitoring tools provide comprehensive reporting and analysis capabilities. When you’re using a tool, the performance data collected from synthetic transactions is aggregated and presented in intuitive dashboards and reports, allowing your teams to gain insights into trends, patterns, and areas for improvement. Synthetic monitoring also allows for scenario customization and iteration, empowering your organization to tailor your monitoring efforts to their specific needs. You can refine and optimize synthetic scripts based on real-world usage patterns and feedback to ensure that your monitoring efforts remain aligned with the business objectives and user expectations.

Types of Synthetic Monitoring

Synthetic monitoring encompasses various types tailored to specific use cases and objectives:

  • Basic Availability Monitoring: This type of synthetic monitoring is used to verify the accessibility and uptime of web applications and services. You want to use this type of monitoring when you want to confirm that your application is available or can respond to requests from your users.
  • Transactional Monitoring: This type of synthetic monitoring evaluates the performance and functionality of critical user transactions. This can include transactions such as logging in, checkout workflows, and form submissions.
  • Web Performance Monitoring: This type focuses solely on your web metrics which include page load speed and the performance of elements on the page. For example, this can be used to monitor any errors or slow response times for web elements.
  • API Monitoring: Validates the availability and responsiveness of APIs by sending requests and analyzing the responses. This is like basic availability monitoring for APIs.
  • Network Monitoring: This monitoring focuses on assessing the performance and availability of your network services such as servers, routers, and switches. You would use a synthetic monitoring tool to simulate network traffic to identify latency issues, packet loss, or other network-related issues.
  • Streaming Service Monitoring: Monitoring the performance of these services is critical with the rise of streaming platforms through video, audio, and other media content. This type of synthetic monitoring involves simulating user sessions to assess the video quality, buffer times, and overall streaming experience.
  • Third-Party Service Monitoring: This type monitors the performance of third-party services such as payment gateways, content delivery networks (CDNs), and cloud providers to ensure seamless integrations.

Synthetic monitoring encompasses various types tailored to monitor different aspects of your application and network performance. By leveraging a synthetic monitoring tool like Dotcom-Monitor, businesses can proactively identify and address performance issues to ensure that you’re delivering an optimal user experience for your customers and driving business success.

Synthetic Monitoring vs. Real User Monitoring (RUM)

Two main methodologies are used today to monitor applications: Synthetic and Real User Monitoring (RUM). Synthetic monitoring is usually called active monitoring while real user monitoring is called passive monitoring. Both are crucial in ensuring optimal performance and user satisfaction of your web applications and services. However, they operate on different principles, and we’ll dive into the nuances of synthetic monitoring and real user monitoring to understand the difference.

Synthetic Monitoring: Simulating User Actions

Synthetic Monitoring involves creating and simulating artificial transactions or user journeys through your website or application. These transactions are scripted to mimic and replicate common user actions such as logging in, browsing, filling out a form, or completing a checkout process. By executing these scripts from different geographical locations and on different devices, synthetic monitoring provides a comprehensive overview of your application’s performance under controlled conditions.

The advantage of using synthetic monitoring is that it provides the ability to proactively detect any performance issues before they impact your real users. You can implement synthetic monitoring earlier on in your development phase so that you can identify and fix any issues such as slow response times or functionality errors before deploying to your production environment. This proactive approach enables you to maintain a high service availability and prevent potential revenue loss due to downtime. By measuring your response times, availability, and functionality, you’re also able to assess your digital performance relative to your competitors and can identify areas for improvement in your application.

Real User Monitoring: Gaining Insight from Actual User Actions

In contrast, real user monitoring (RUM) involves capturing data from your actual user actions with your website or application in real time. Real user monitoring does not simulate user interactions. RUM tools collect granular performance data directly from the user’s browsers such as page load times, transaction completion rates, and device-specific data. This type of monitoring provides valuable insights into the end-user experience across different geographic locations, devices, and browsers.

The advantage of using real user monitoring is that it captures the complete user journey. This allows you to analyze each user’s behavior and interaction patterns so that you can identify pain points or areas of friction within your website or application’s workflow. This is ideally used to enable you to target your optimization efforts to improve the usability of your application and enhance the overall experience for your end users.

Comparing Synthetics and RUM

While synthetic monitoring focuses on emulating user interactions through predefined scripts, real user monitoring (RUM) gathers data from actual user sessions. Here’s a comparison between the two approaches in a table format:

Synthetic Monitoring Real User Monitoring (RUM)
Proactively simulates user journeys to detect issues before they impact real users Passively monitoring actual user interactions in real time
Simulating user journeys requires scripting, either manually or with a tool Performance metrics are captured only by real user behavior
Provides consistent and controlled testing conditions for accurate performance metrics Captures the variability in your user’s actual behavior, devices, and network environments
Provides insight into your established baseline performance and availability Offers insight into the actual user experience including navigation and device patterns
Does not reflect any diverse behaviors and conditions of your real users Do not detect issues until they affect a significant portion of your users
Typically used for performance and uptime monitoring Typically used to gather user analytics

While synthetic and real user monitoring offers different insights into your website or application’s digital performance, they’re best when used in conjunction with each other. Synthetic monitoring takes a proactive approach to provide you with metrics and alerts that enable your teams to identify issues early. On the other hand, real user monitoring offers insights into the actual user experience to enable your teams to target optimization efforts and drive continuous improvement. By leveraging both methodologies, your IT organizations can achieve comprehensive monitoring coverage and deliver the best experience for your users.

Synthetic Monitoring Tools

Synthetic monitoring tools are essential components of modern IT operations and website management. These tools simulate user interactions with websites, applications, or services to test and monitor performance and availability from different geographic locations. Synthetic monitoring often uses agents or bots deployed across various geographic locations to simulate users from different regions. This helps in understanding how location impacts user experience and detecting region-specific issues.

Unlike real user monitoring (RUM), which depends on actual user interactions to collect data, synthetic monitoring actively tests web services by approximating user behavior. It mimics essential processes such as page loads, transactions, API calls or other functions that real users would experience.

Synthetic monitoring tools offer comprehensive insights into performance bottlenecks and help pinpoint issues related to third-party services, network latency, and CDN performance. They allow IT teams to test new features or updates in a controlled environment before full deployment, empowering them with detailed information to make informed decisions.

Here are ten leading vendors in the synthetic monitoring space, each offering robust tools to help businesses monitor and optimize their applications and services:

  1. Dotcom-Monitor – Offers synthetic monitoring to test websites, web applications, and online services from various global locations. It focuses on simulating user interactions to proactively identify and resolve performance issues before they impact users.
  2. Dynatrace – Known for its advanced AI capabilities, Dynatrace provides comprehensive synthetic and full-stack monitoring, including user experience and application performance insights.
    New Relic – Offers synthetic monitoring as part of its observability platform, which helps organizations track application health and user experiences across global locations.
  3. Datadog – While primarily known for infrastructure monitoring, Datadog also includes synthetic monitoring features that help test APIs and web applications from various locations.
  4. AppDynamics (part of Cisco) – Offers synthetic transaction monitoring alongside real user monitoring to provide a complete view of application performance and user experiences.
  5. SolarWinds – Known for its network and IT management solutions, SolarWinds also provides synthetic monitoring through its Pingdom service, which focuses on website performance and availability.
  6. Splunk is now part of Cisco (via Splunk Synthetics) – Splunk offers synthetic monitoring capabilities, which are particularly useful for analyzing and visualizing data on application performance and uptime.
  7. Akamai (mPulse) – As part of its web performance solutions, Akamai’s mPulse tool offers real user and synthetic monitoring to optimize user experiences and detect performance issues.
  8. Uptrends – Specializes in both real user monitoring and synthetic monitoring, providing detailed insights into website performance, server health, and transaction paths.
  9. Site24x7 – Offers a suite of internet monitoring tools, including synthetic monitoring of websites, online applications, and internet infrastructure.
  10. Catchpoint – Known for its emphasis on end-user experience monitoring, Catchpoint provides synthetic monitoring to help enterprises improve the reliability and performance of their digital services.

These vendors offer a variety of tools and features tailored to different business needs, helping ensure that applications are performing optimally and providing excellent user experiences.

Challenges in Synthetic Monitoring

Synthetic monitoring tools are crucial for maintaining optimal performance and availability of both web applications and services. However, deploying and managing these tools can present several challenges. Here are the top five challenges associated with successfully performing synthetic monitoring:

  • Scripting and Maintenance of Test Scenarios: Creating scripts that effectively simulate real user interactions can be complex, especially for dynamic applications. Maintaining and updating these scripts to keep up with changes in the application can be time-consuming and requires constant attention to detail. Using a tool like Dotcom-Monitor helps to create and execute these predefined scripts easily all in one synthetic monitoring platform.
  • Coverage and Scalability: A significant challenge is ensuring synthetic monitoring tests cover an application’s critical paths and functionalities. As applications grow and evolve, continually enhancing these test scripts to cover new features and ensuring they include all vital endpoints and functionalities becomes increasingly more challenging.
  • Geographic Accuracy: It is crucial to test from multiple locations to gauge global application performance across regions. However, setting up tests that accurately reflect your user base’s geographic distribution can be challenging and expensive, particularly if the tool needs more international coverage.
  • Cost Management: While synthetic monitoring may be considered essential, it can also be expensive, especially for comprehensive coverage with high-frequency intervals. Balancing the cost while ensuring adequate monitoring coverage requires strategic planning and can be a significant challenge for many organizations.
  • Correlation with Real User Data: Although synthetic monitoring is excellent for identifying potential issues before they affect users, it does not always correlate perfectly with real user experiences. Integrating synthetic monitoring data with real user monitoring (RUM) data to get a holistic view of performance and find discrepancies can be technically complex and resource intensive.

These challenges need a strategic approach to synthetic monitoring, combining it with other monitoring methods and continuously refining test scenarios to align with application changes and user behavior.

Synthetic Monitoring Best Practices

Effective synthetic monitoring ensures that web applications perform optimally and meet user expectations. Here are the top five best practices to enhance the effectiveness of synthetic monitoring:

  • Comprehensive Test Coverage: Ensure that your synthetic monitoring scripts cover all your application’s critical user paths and functionalities. Regularly updating these scripts to reflect application changes, such as new features or updates, is a practical way to maintain coverage and relevance.
  • Realistic User Simulation: Design your monitoring scripts to mimic real user behaviors as closely as possible. This behavior emulation includes simulating interactions across different devices, browsers, and operating systems. Also, consider the typical user journeys on your site or app, including transactions, to capture a realistic range of interactions.
  • Geographical Diversity: Deploy tests from multiple geographic locations to understand better how your application performs across different regions. This location diversity helps identify regional performance issues that could affect user experience in specific areas, which is especially important for globally distributed applications.
  • Balance Frequency and Cost: More frequent tests provide closer real-time insights but may also increase costs. Balance the frequency of your synthetic monitoring to ensure effective oversight without overspending. Determine the optimal frequency based on the application’s criticality and the typical pattern of user engagement.
  • Integrate with Other Monitoring Tools: Combine synthetic monitoring with real user monitoring (RUM) and other analytical tools to comprehensively view your application’s performance. Synthetic monitoring is excellent for proactive testing and spotting issues, while RUM provides insights based on actual user interactions. Integrating these tools can help correlate data and provide a more holistic understanding of performance and user experience.

By adhering to these best practices, organizations can maximize the benefits of synthetic monitoring and ensure that it provides meaningful, actionable insights that contribute to improved application performance and user satisfaction.


Synthetic monitoring lays the groundwork for delivering a smooth user experience while also allowing your teams to work together to improve your application’s digital performance. Synthetic monitoring doesn’t have to be complicated and when you use a best-in-industry tool like Dotcom-Monitor, you’ll get access to the myriad of features that help make your monitoring easier. Think of Dotcom-Monitor as your proactive sidekick that helps to mimic your user interactions and spot potential issues before they have a chance to impact your real users. With Dotcom-Monitor’s user-friendly and comprehensive synthetic monitoring solution, you’ll have everything you need to deliver a stellar experience for your users. From having the ability to easily create and execute scripts in one platform to delivering you detailed performance metrics, Dotcom-Monitor has your back so that you can focus on what’s best for your users and ultimately drive growth and revenue. Ready to see how synthetic monitoring can transform your development process? Sign up for a free trial today or schedule a demo to see it in action!

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