Always Get Better

Archive for November, 2010

Use a PHP Accelerator to Speed Up Your Website

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

I like PHP because it makes it really easy to quickly build a website and add functionality, and is generally lightning fast when executed without needing to wait for compilation as with ASP.NET or Java (Yes, we always pre-compile those languages prior to putting our applications into production, but with PHP we don’t even have to do that).

Even though compilation is very fast, it still has a resource and time cost, especially on high-traffic servers. We can improve our response times by more than 5x by pre-caching our compiled opcode for direct execution later. There are a few PHP accelerators which accomplish this for us:

Xcache is my favourite and is the one I use in my own configurations. It works by caching the compiled PHP opcode in memory so PHP can be directly executed by the web server without expensive disk reads and processing time. Many caching schemes also use Xcache to store the results of PHP rendering so individual pages don’t need to be re-processed.

APC (Alternative PHP Cache)
APC is a very similar product to XCache – in fact XCache was released partially as a response to the perceived lag APC’s support for newer PHP versions. APC is essentially the standard PHP Accelerator – in fact, it will be included by default in PHP 6. As much as I like XCache, it will be hard to compete with built-in caching.

Turck MMCache is one of the original PHP Accelerators. Although it is no longer in development, it is still widely used. An impressive feature of MMCache is its exporter which allows you to distribute compiled versions of your PHP applications without the source code. This is useful for those companies that feel they need to protect their program code when hosting in client environments.

eAccelerator picked up where MMCache left off, and added a number of features to increase its usability as a content cache. Over time, the content caching features have been removed as more efficient and scalable solutions like memcache have allowed caches to be shared across web servers.

Keep Optimizing
One major consideration that often goes forgotten when optimizing website speeds that not all of your visitors will be using a high-speed connection; some users will be using mobile or worse connections, even for non-mobile sites. Every ounce of speed will reflect favourably on you and improve your retention rates – and ultimately get more visitors to your ‘call to action’ goals. I’ll go into more detail about bigger speed improvements we can make in a later post.

Cheap File Replication: Synchronizing Web Assets with fsniper

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

Awhile ago I wrote about how I was using nginx to serve static files rather than letting the more memory-intensive Apache handle the load for files that don’t need its processing capabilities. The basic premise is that nginx is the web-facing daemon and handles static files directly from the file system, while shipping any other request off to Apache on another port.

What if Apache is on a different server entirely? Unless you have the luxury of an NAS device, your options are:

1. Maintain a copy of the site’s assets separate from the web site
There are two problems with this approach: maintainability, and synchronization. You’ll have to remember to deploy any content changes separately to the rest of the site, which is counter-intuitive and opens up your process to human error. User-generated content stays on the Apache server and would be inaccessible to nginx.

2. Use a replicating network file system like GlusterFS
Network-based replication systems are advanced and provide amazing redundancy. Any changes you make to one server can be replicated to the others very quickly, so any user generated content will be available to your content servers, and you only have to deploy your web site once.

The downside is that many NFS solutions are optimized for larger (>50Mb) filesizes. If you rely on your content server for small files (images, css, js), the read performance may decline when your traffic numbers increase. For high availability systems where it is critical for each server to have a full set of up-to-date files, this is probably the best solution.

3. Use an rsync-based solution
This is the method I’ve chosen to look at here. It’s important that my content server is updated as fast as possible, and I would like to know that when I perform disaster recovery or make backups of my web site the files will be reasonably up to date. If a single file takes a few seconds to appear on any of my servers, it isn’t a huge deal (I’m just running WordPress).

The Delivery Mechanism
rsync is fast and installed by default on most servers. Pair it with ssh and use password-less login keys, and you have an easy solution for script-able file replication. The only missing piece is the “trigger” – whenever the filesystem is updated, we need to run our update script in order to replicate to our content server.

Icrond is one possible solution – whenever a directory is updated icrond can run our update script. The problem here is that service does not act upon file updates recursively. fsniper is our solution.

The process flow should look like this.
1. When the content directory is updated (via site upload or user file upload), fsniper initiates our update script.
2. Update script connects to the content server via ssh, and issues an rsync command between our content directory and the server’s content directory.
3. Hourly (or whatever), initiate an rsync command from the content server to any web servers – this will keep all the nodes fairly up-to-date for backup and disaster recovery purposes.