Liveblogging at Confoo: [not just] PHP Performance by Rasmus Lerdorf

Most of this stuff is not PHP specific, and Python or Ruby or Java or .NET developers can use the tools in this talk.

The session on, with user comments/feedback, is at

Slides are at

“My name is Rasmus, I’ve been around for a long time. I’ve been doing this web stuff since 1992/1993.”

“Generally performance is not a PHP problem.” Webservers not config’d, no expire headers on images, no favicon.

Tools: Firefox/Firebug extension called YSlow (developed by yahoo) gives you a grade on your site.

Google has developed the Firefox/Firebug pagespeed tool.

Today Rasmus will pick on wordpress. He checks out the code, then uses Siege to do a baseline benchmark — see the slide for the results.

Before you do anything else install an opcode cache like APC. WordPress really likes this type of caching, see this slide for the results. Set the timezone, to make sure conversions aren’t being done all the time.

Make sure you are cpu-bound, NOT I/O bound. Otherwise, speed up the I/O.

Then strace your webserver processs. There are common config issues that you can spot in your strace code. grep for ENOENT which shows you “No such file or directory” errors.

AllowOverride None to turn off .htaccess for every directory, just read settings once from your config file….(unless you’re an ISP).

Make sure DirectoryIndex is set appropriately, watch your include_path. All this low-hanging fruit has examples on the common config issues slide.

Install pecl/inclued and generate a graph – here is the graph image (I have linked it because you really want to zoom in to the graph…)

In strace output check the open() calls. Conditional includes, function calls that include files, etc. need runtime context before knowing what to open. In the example, every request checks to see if we have the config file, once we have config’d we can get rid of that stuff. Get rid of all the conditionals and hard-code “include wp-config.php”. Examples are on the slide.

His tips to change:
Conditional config include in wp-load.php (as just mentioned)
Conditional did-header check in wp-blog-header.php
Don’t call require_wp_db() from wp-settings.php
Remove conditional require logic from wp_start_object_cache

Then check strace again, now all Rasmus sees is theming and translations, which he decided to keep, because that’s the good benefit of WordPress – Performance is all about costs vs. flexibility. You don’t want to get rid of all of your flexibility, but you want to be fast.

Set error_reporting(-1) in wp-settings.php to catch all warnings — warnings slow you down, so get rid of all errors. PHP error handling is very slow, so getting rid of errors will make you faster.

The slide of warnings that wordpress throws.

Look at all C-level calls made, using callgrind, which sits under valgrind, a CPU emulator used for debugging. See the image of what callgrind shows.

Now dive into the PHP executor, by installing XDebug.

Check xhprofFacebook open sourced this about a year ago, it’s a PECL extension. The output is pretty cool, try it on your own site, Rasmus does show you how to use it. It shows you functions sorted by the most expensive to the least expensive.

For example, use $_SERVER[REQUEST_TIME] instead of time(). Use pconnect() if MySQL can handle the amount of webserver connections that will be persistent, etc.

After you have changed a lot of the stuff above, benchmark again with siege to see how much faster you are. In this case there is not much gained so far.

So keep going….the blogroll is very slow — Rasmus gets rid of it by commenting out in the sidebar.php file. I’d like to see something to make it “semi-dynamic” — that is, make it a static file that can be re-generated, since you might want the blogroll but links are not changed every second…..

At this point we’re out of low-hanging fruit.

HipHop is a PHP to C++ converter & compiler, including a threaded, event-driven server that replaces apache. Rasmus’ slide says “WordPress is well-suited for HipHop because it doesn’t have a lot of dynamic runtime code. This is using the standard WordPress-svn checkout with a few tweaks.”

Then, of course, benchmark again.

The first time you compile WordPress with HipHop, you give it a list of files to add to the binary, it will complain about php code that generate file names, so you do have to fix that kind of stuff. There’s a huge mess of errors the first time you run it (”pages and pages”), and Rasmus had to patch HipHop (and WordPress) but the changes in HipHop have been put back into HipHop, so you should be good for the most part.

Check out the errors, lots of them show logical errors like $foo.”bar” instead of $foo.=”bar” and $foo=”bar” instead of $foo==”bar” in an if statement. Which of course is nice for your own code, to find those logical errors.

(WordPress takes in a $user_ID argument and immediately initializes a global $user_ID variable, which overwrites the argument passed in, so you can change the name of the argument passed in….)

You can also get rid of some code, things that check for existence of the same thing more than once. So it will take a bit of tweaking, but it’s worth it.

There are limitations to HipHop, for example:

  • It doesn’t support any of the new PHP 5.3 language features
  • Private properties don’t really exist under HipHop. They are treated as if they are protected instead.
  • You can’t unset variables. unset will clear the variable, but it will still be in the symbol table.
  • eval and create_function are limited
  • Variable variables $$var are not supported
  • Dynamic defines won’t work: define($name,$value)
  • get_loaded_extensions(), get_extension_funcs(), phpinfo(), debug_backtrace() don’t work
  • Conditional and dynamically created include filenames don’t work as you might expect
  • Default unix-domain socket filename isn’t set for MySQL so connecting to localhost doesn’t work

and HipHop does not support all extensions — see the list Rasmus has of extensions HipHop supports.

Then Rasmus showed an example using Twit (which he wrote) including the benchmarks. He shows that you can see what’s going on, like 5 MySQL calls on the home page and what happens when you don’t have a favicon.ico (in yellow).

In summary, “performance is all about architecture”, “know your costs”.

Be careful, because some tools (like valgrind and xdebug) you don’t want to put it on production systems, you could capture production traffic and replay it on a dev/testing box, but “you just have to minimize the differences and do your best”.

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