• 11/10/2003

Apache Performance Notes

Author: Dean Gaudet

Introduction

Apache is a general webserver, which is designed to be correct first, and fast second. Even so, its performance is quite satisfactory. Most sites have less than 10Mbits of outgoing bandwidth, which Apache can fill using only a low end Pentium-based webserver. In practice sites with more bandwidth require more than one machine to fill the bandwidth due to other constraints (such as CGI or database transaction overhead). For these reasons the development focus has been mostly on correctness and configurability.

Unfortunately many folks overlook these facts and cite raw performance numbers as if they are some indication of the quality of a web server product. There is a bare minimum performance that is acceptable, beyond that extra speed only caters to a much smaller segment of the market. But in order to avoid this hurdle to the acceptance of Apache in some markets, effort was put into Apache 1.3 to bring performance up to a point where the difference with other high-end webservers is minimal.

Finally there are the folks who just plain want to see how fast something can go. The author falls into this category. The rest of this document is dedicated to these folks who want to squeeze every last bit of performance out of Apache’s current model, and want to understand why it does some things which slow it down.

Note that this is tailored towards Apache 1.3 on Unix. Some of it applies to Apache on NT. Apache on NT has not been tuned for performance yet; in fact it probably performs very poorly because NT performance requires a different programming model.

Hardware and Operating System Issues

The single biggest hardware issue affecting webserver performance is RAM. A webserver should never ever have to swap, swapping increases the latency of each request beyond a point that users consider “fast enough”. This causes users to hit stop and reload, further increasing the load. You can, and should, control the MaxClients setting so that your server does not spawn so many children it starts swapping.

Beyond that the rest is mundane: get a fast enough CPU, a fast enough network card, and fast enough disks, where “fast enough” is something that needs to be determined by experimentation.

Operating system choice is largely a matter of local concerns. But a general guideline is to always apply the latest vendor TCP/IP patches. HTTP serving completely breaks many of the assumptions built into Unix kernels up through 1994 and even 1995. Good choices include recent FreeBSD, and Linux.

Run-Time Configuration Issues

HostnameLookups

Prior to Apache 1.3, HostnameLookups defaulted to On. This adds latency to every request because it requires a DNS lookup to complete before the request is finished. In Apache 1.3 this setting defaults to Off. However (1.3 or later), if you use any Allow from domain or Deny from domain directives then you will pay for a double reverse DNS lookup (a reverse, followed by a forward to make sure that the reverse is not being spoofed). So for the highest performance avoid using these directives (it’s fine to use IP addresses rather than domain names).

Note that it’s possible to scope the directives, such as within a section. In this case the DNS lookups are only performed on requests matching the criteria. Here’s an example which disables lookups except for .html and .cgi files:

HostnameLookups off

    HostnameLookups on

But even still, if you just need DNS names in some CGIs you could consider doing the gethostbyname call in the specific CGIs that need it.

FollowSymLinks and SymLinksIfOwnerMatch

Wherever in your URL-space you do not have an Options FollowSymLinks, or you do have an Options SymLinksIfOwnerMatch Apache will have to issue extra system calls to check up on symlinks. One extra call per filename component. For example, if you had:

DocumentRoot /www/htdocs

    Options SymLinksIfOwnerMatch

and a request is made for the URI /index.html. Then Apache will perform lstat(2) on /www, /www/htdocs, and /www/htdocs/index.html. The results of these lstats are never cached, so they will occur on every single request. If you really desire the symlinks security checking you can do something like this:

DocumentRoot /www/htdocs

    Options FollowSymLinks


    Options -FollowSymLinks +SymLinksIfOwnerMatch

This at least avoids the extra checks for the DocumentRoot path. Note that you’ll need to add similar sections if you have any Alias or RewriteRule paths outside of your document root. For highest performance, and no symlink protection, set FollowSymLinks everywhere, and never set SymLinksIfOwnerMatch.

AllowOverride

Wherever in your URL-space you allow overrides (typically .htaccess files) Apache will attempt to open .htaccess for each filename component. For example,

DocumentRoot /www/htdocs

    AllowOverride all

and a request is made for the URI /index.html. Then Apache will attempt to open /.htaccess, /www/.htaccess, and /www/htdocs/.htaccess. The solutions are similar to the previous case of Options FollowSymLinks. For highest performance use AllowOverride None everywhere in your filesystem.

Negotiation

If at all possible, avoid content-negotiation if you’re really interested in every last ounce of performance. In practice the benefits of negotiation outweigh the performance penalties. There’s one case where you can speed up the server. Instead of using a wildcard such as:

DirectoryIndex index

Use a complete list of options:

DirectoryIndex index.cgi index.pl index.shtml index.html

where you list the most common choice first.

Process Creation

Prior to Apache 1.3 the MinSpareServers, MaxSpareServers, and StartServers settings all had drastic effects on benchmark results. In particular, Apache required a “ramp-up” period in order to reach a number of children sufficient to serve the load being applied. After the initial spawning of StartServers children, only one child per second would be created to satisfy the MinSpareServers setting. So a server being accessed by 100 simultaneous clients, using the default StartServers of 5 would take on the order 95 seconds to spawn enough children to handle the load. This works fine in practice on real-life servers, because they aren’t restarted frequently. But does really poorly on benchmarks which might only run for ten minutes.

The one-per-second rule was implemented in an effort to avoid swamping the machine with the startup of new children. If the machine is busy spawning children it can’t service requests. But it has such a drastic effect on the perceived performance of Apache that it had to be replaced. As of Apache 1.3, the code will relax the one-per-second rule. It will spawn one, wait a second, then spawn two, wait a second, then spawn four, and it will continue exponentially until it is spawning 32 children per second. It will stop whenever it satisfies the MinSpareServers setting.

This appears to be responsive enough that it’s almost unnecessary to twiddle the MinSpareServers, MaxSpareServers and StartServers knobs. When more than 4 children are spawned per second, a message will be emitted to the ErrorLog. If you see a lot of these errors then consider tuning these settings. Use the mod_status output as a guide.

Related to process creation is process death induced by the MaxRequestsPerChild setting. By default this is 0, which means that there is no limit to the number of requests handled per child. If your configuration currently has this set to some very low number, such as 30, you may want to bump this up significantly. If you are running SunOS or an old version of Solaris, limit this to 10000 or so because of memory leaks.

When keep-alives are in use, children will be kept busy doing nothing waiting for more requests on the already open connection. The default KeepAliveTimeout of 15 seconds attempts to minimize this effect. The tradeoff here is between network bandwidth and server resources. In no event should you raise this above about 60 seconds, as most of the benefits are lost.

Compile-Time Configuration Issues

mod_status and ExtendedStatus On

If you include mod_status and you also set ExtendedStatus On when building and running Apache, then on every request Apache will perform two calls to gettimeofday(2) (or times(2) depending on your operating system), and (pre-1.3) several extra calls to time(2). This is all done so that the status report contains timing indications. For highest performance, set ExtendedStatus off (which is the default).

accept Serialization – multiple sockets

This discusses a shortcoming in the Unix socket API. Suppose your web server uses multiple Listen statements to listen on either multiple ports or multiple addresses. In order to test each socket to see if a connection is ready Apache uses select(2). select(2) indicates that a socket has zero or at least one connection waiting on it. Apache’s model includes multiple children, and all the idle ones test for new connections at the same time. A naive implementation looks something like this (these examples do not match the code, they’re contrived for pedagogical purposes):

    for (;;) {
        for (;;) {
            fd_set accept_fds;

            FD_ZERO (&accept_fds);
            for (i = first_socket; i