Always Get Better

Archive for January, 2012

Setting up WordPress with nginx and FastCGI

Monday, January 30th, 2012

All web site owners should feel a burning need to speed. Studies have shown that viewers waiting more than 2 or 3 seconds for content to load online are likely to leave without allowing the page to fully load. This is particularly bad if you’re trying to run a web site that relies on visitors to generate some kind of income – content is king but speed keeps the king’s coffers flowing.

If your website isn’t the fastest it can be, you can take some comfort in the fact that the majority of the “top” web sites also suffer from page load times pushing up into the 10 second range (have you BEEN to Amazon lately?). But do take the time to download YSlow today and use its suggestions to start making radical improvements.

I’ve been very interested in web server performance because it is the first leg of the web page’s journey to the end user. The speed of execution at the server level is capable of making or breaking the user’s experience by controlling the amount of ‘lag time’ between the web page request and visible activity in the web browser. We want our server to send page data as immediately as possible so the browser can begin rendering it and downloading supporting files.

Not long ago, I described my web stack and explained why I moved away from the “safe” Apache server solution in favour of nginx. Since nginx doesn’t have a PHP module I had to use PHP’s FastCGI (PHP FPM) server with nginx as a reverse proxy. Additionally, I used memcached to store sessions rather than writing to disk.

Here are the configuration steps I took to realize this stack:

1. Memcached Sessions
Using memcached for sessions gives me slightly better performance on my Rackspace VM because in-memory reading&writing is hugely faster than reading&writing to a virtualized disk. I went into a lot more detail about this last April when I wrote about how to use memcached as a session handler in PHP.

The newest Ubuntu distributions have a package php5-fpm that installs PHP5 FastCGI and an init.d script for it. Once installed, you can tweak your php.ini settings to suit, depending on your system’s configuration. (Maybe we can get into this another time.)

3. Nginx
Once PHP FPM was installed, I created a site entry that would pass PHP requests forward to the FastCGI server, while serving other files directly. Since the majority of my static content (css, javascript, images) have already been moved to a content delivery network, nginx has very little actual work to do.

server {
listen 80;
access_log /var/log/nginx/sitename-access.log;
error_log /var/log/nginx/sitename-error.log;
# serve static files
location / {
root /www/;
index index.php index.html index.htm;

# this serves static files that exists without
# running other rewrite tests
if (-f $request_filename) {
expires 30d;

# this sends all-non-existing file or directory requests to index.php
if (!-e $request_filename) {
rewrite ^(.+)$ /index.php?q=$1 last;

location ~ \.php$ {
fastcgi_index index.php;
fastcgi_param SCRIPT_FILENAME /www/$fastcgi_script_name;
include fastcgi_params;

The fastcgi_param setting controls which script is executed, based upon the root path of the site being accessed. All of the requests parameters are passed through to PHP, and once the configuration is started up I didn’t miss Apache one little bit.

My next step will be to put a varnish server in front of nginx. Since the majority of my site traffic comes from search engine results where a user has not yet been registered to the site or needs refreshed content, Varnish can step in and serve a fully cached version of my pages from memory far faster than FastCGI can render the WordPress code. I’ll experiment with this setup in the coming months and post my results.

HP Releases Enyo 2.0

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Now that WebOS is being made open source, HP has released a new version of the Enyo JavaScript framework. Whereas the first version of the framework only supported Webkit-based environments (like the HP Touchpad, or Safari or Chrome), the newer version has expanded support for Firefox and IE9 as well. Developers who created apps with the old framework will have to wait a little while longer before all of the widgets and controls from Enyo 1.0 are ported over.

What does this mean for app developers? Now that Enyo is open-source, it means applications built on the platform will run on Android and iOS. But it’s not a disruptive technology – both Android and iOS have supported HTML5 applications for quite awhile; HP will be competing against mature frameworks like jQuery Mobile.

As a WebOS enthusiast I am definitely going to put some time into continuing my explorations of Enyo, but it’s getting harder and harder to justify the investment. My Pre is getting pretty old at this point, and hardware manufacturers have yet to express interest in making new devices to take advantage of WebOS. If I end up switching to Android with my next hardware purchase, it’s going to shift my priorities away from Enyo and its brethren.

4 Year Blogiversary

Monday, January 16th, 2012

It’s hard to believe but this site is four years old. Wow! Time has flown, and I’ve learned a lot – hopefully these years have been helpful for you too!

Humans.txt – the Anti-Robots.txt

Saturday, January 14th, 2012
Mimbo - A Friendly Robot
Creative Commons License photo credit: langfordw

If you don’t want a search engine to read some or all of the files on your site, you can create a robots.txt file. (Looking through the blog archive, I realize I’ve never gone through the construction and contents of that important file, so this is a promise to one day return and fix that!)

When you want the opposite – accessible pages and author credit, create a humans.txt file. Although not an “official” standard, it is a fun way to acknowledge the (sometimes many) hardworking individuals behind the creation of a web site.

An example is:

/* TEAM */
Leader: Mike Wilson
Twitter: HawkWilson
Location: Ottawa, ON

/* THANKS */
Seth Godin:
Steve Pavlina:
Phil Haack:

/* SITE */
Last Update: Jan 14, 2012
Standards: HTML5, CSS3
Software: WordPress

In most cases, you would want to include at least a TEAM and SITE section. Clearly the exact fields are left to your imagination, but it’s a very simple way to acknowledge the people who helps (directly or in spirit) a site to get to fruition.

For more information about humans.txt, check out the initiative’s home page at