performance | Chris Page

Apache Low Memory Settings + PHP + APC

Apr 03

In addition to moving my servers to save costs, I ran into a two part issue that I lumped into: “I need to tune memory usage a bit”.

Part 1: Apache

Since I moved my Apache servers to lower memory instances, I was running into swap space usage that I could easily avoid, ie:

free -m
                      total       used       free     shared    buffers     cached
Mem:               268        245         22          0         71         53
-/+ buffers/cache:        120        147
Swap:               511         29        482

Some of the reasoning behind this was that, by default, Apache expects a bit more memory to be available than what I provided to it in the move. The fix was to introduce a few settings to lower child processes and limit concurrent connections to something more reasonable to the type of traffic my site really gets – which is near nothing most days.

The settings I dropped into apache were:


    #Low Memory Settings
    StartServers 1
    MinSpareServers 4
    MaxSpareServers 2
    ServerLimit 6
    MaxClients 6
    MaxRequestsPerChild 3000

I made the adjustments, cleared out the swap space with:

swapoff -a
swapon -a

Then restarted apache:

/etc/init.d/apache2 stop
/etc/init.d/apache2 start

And all was well in the world.

free -m
                       total       used       free     shared    buffers     cached
Mem:                268        207         60          0         31         79
-/+ buffers/cache:           97        170
Swap:                 511          0        511

Part 2-1: PHP

A bit simpler, my blog site was running into max memory allocation limits. I had left the default php.ini in place in the upgrade, so I needed to do a once over of configs and change memory_limit from 16M to something more reasonable for my site.


memory_limit = 64M      ; Maximum amount of memory a script may consume (16MB)

Part 2-2: APC

Having Apache settings set for lower memory usage also allowed me more room to increase my APC cache limit a bit higher to keep more pages faster. From 30 MB to 50 MB.


Other obvious solutions in consideration, switch to Rackspace to invert my memory/cpu requirement/cost ratios. Any other tips are welcome 🙂

Mysql: Force Localhost to Use TCP, Not a Unix Socket File

Apr 03

So, recently I decided I was paying too much for my server because I was not maximizing performance across all the various daemons. So I decided to split my larger server into a handful of smaller servers to be able to fine tune each one to dedicated purposes. All went well, but I had some trouble for a few evenings figuring out how I could port forward localhost:3306 to the, now remote, database server. This should have been dirt simple with an iptables rule – but after digging in, I discovered MySQL treats localhost “special” by sending connections through the unix socket file, which is absolutely faster, but only works if the database daemon is on the same host as the connecting application.

After doing some research, I found it is possible to use a tool like socat and autossh to wrap an ssh tunnel to forward connections through the socket file to a remote IP over TCP. This however, was more complex and one off than I cared to explore for my simple problem. I finally resorted to using DNS and to stop using localhost as the host name. However, a few tid bits for the weary traveler:

  • The mysql client library is responsible for selecting the protocol.
  • PHP’s internal mysql libraries, unfortunately, as far as I could discover ( please correct me if I am wrong here ), do not allow you to select the protocol.
  • So if you’re using “localhost” as your host name in a PHP mysql_connect, you’re forced to go through the socket file, however, you can use instead of localhost to force TCP.
  • The linux mysql-client package command line tool offers a –protocol=tcp flag if you want to force TCP. You can also set this as a default inside /etc/mysql/my.cnf under the [client] heading


port            = 3306
socket          = /var/run/mysqld/mysqld.sock
protocol        = TCP

Again, this appears to work fine if you’re not using PHP as your client.

I hope this lesson learned ( use DNS ) comes as a helping hand to others out there. If anybody has some other suggestions, please do leave a comment!

Simple Performance Testing with Apache Benchmark

Jan 03
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I’ve been knee deep in performance and scalability for some time now, and have used and learned of many useful tools and techniques to help out. One of my favorite command line tools for seeing how well a single Apache server is churning out pages in development comes stock on Ubuntu, and Mac OS X: Apache Benchmark.

A simple performance test against the homepage of one of my client site’s using AB at the command line:

ab -t5 -n100

The results:

This is ApacheBench, Version 2.3 <$Revision: 655654 $>
Copyright 1996 Adam Twiss, Zeus Technology Ltd,
Licensed to The Apache Software Foundation,

Benchmarking (be patient)
Finished 664 requests

Server Software:        Apache/2.2.8
Server Hostname:
Server Port:            80

Document Path:          /
Document Length:        306 bytes

Concurrency Level:      100
Time taken for tests:   5.054 seconds
Complete requests:      664
Failed requests:        0
Write errors:           0
Total transferred:      465003 bytes
HTML transferred:       205326 bytes
Requests per second:    131.38 [#/sec] (mean)
Time per request:       761.143 [ms] (mean)
Time per request:       7.611 [ms] (mean, across all concurrent requests)
Transfer rate:          89.85 [Kbytes/sec] received

Connection Times (ms)
min  mean[+/-sd] median   max
Connect:       38   78  48.7     64     994
Processing:   114  540 226.2    493    1690
Waiting:      114  531 205.6    493    1485
Total:        191  618 236.0    558    1808

Percentage of the requests served within a certain time (ms)
50%    558
66%    587
75%    598
80%    617
90%    845
95%   1163
98%   1402
99%   1746
100%   1808 (longest request)

There is quite a bit of useful information here that can help you tune your code and server. It’s important to note however, that when working on a larger site, that expects quite a bit more traffic, you might want to investigate some more thorough solutions outside of just a single machine and ab. It is, however, a nice starting point into useful information.

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One rather funny pitfall you can run into however, is if the host you are sending requests to is smartly secured – these types of tests become a bit useless, as they may have security settings to limit or delay requests – providing you with timeouts and/or inaccurate information. Best to run these types of things in a semi-developmental mode with those types of security settings turned down, and rely on bigger guns or fleets of boxes and scripts to hit a production secure site.

In addition to hitting just a landing page, you can use AB to send COOKIE or POST data too! This is very useful if you want to see how pages perform but need credentials to get in first. This is a little trickier to do using the -c, -T, -p, and -v flags. I noticed there are under-useful resources online to figuring it out with AB, so it would seem worthwhile to write it – as it took me some trickery to figuring it out as well:

Sending POST data to a login form:

First we create a file that contains our URL encoded post data. Note, AB expects the values to be URL encoded, but not the equal (=) or ampersands (&).


Capturing a cookie:

Here, we use the verbosity (-v) flag so we can see the response headers that come back — many sites will send back a cookie once authenticated, we’ll want to capture that cookie here. Though, some sites will not require it, I demonstrate it for the sake of example:

ab -v4 -n1 -T 'application/x-www-form-urlencoded' -p post_data.txt

The returned response header will fly by quick, you’re looking for something like the following:

Set-cookie somesession=somerandomsessiondata...;

The session data may come back encrypted, unencrypted, a serialization, or just a number. That varies by site. The point here is you have a key/value pair for the cookie. All you need is the part up to the semi-colon ( not including the semi-colon ). Copy that “key=val” string, and use it when hitting other pages on the site you are testing, ie:

Using a cookie to test a page that requires a cookie:

ab -t10 -n100 -c 'somessession=somerandomsessiondata'

This can become a lot of fun once you get the hang of it. Now you have the know how, go enjoy creating an arsenal of these scripts and start performance tuning your sites – or script hacking your favorite social network ( or obnoxious Blizzard clan website hahaha… drum roll for D3 – 2010? Please???! ).