12 June, 2012

fcgi, haskell, cpanel, php, drupal

I played with fastcgi, which is like CGI but doesn't have to spawn a new process each time.

The initial motivation for this was a server which has a bunch of drupal websites. It was previously running in plain CGI mode, which forks a PHP process for every page request (about 15 spawns per second on this server), with each site's PHP running under a different user account. (The other mode we've tried with this is using mod_php, which runs things much faster but doesn't provide as much isolation between web sites as using CGI as everything runs as the www-data unix user, rather than as a per-site user).

I thought I'd have to do more compiling, but it turns out fastcgi support for both apache and for PHP was already available. On my dev server I needed to apt-get the fastcgi apache module; on the production server, which uses cpanel, fastcgi support was already installed and switching it on was a single mouse click.

Here's a plot of the server CPU load before and after the switch:

There's a clearly visible daily cycle, using up almost 8 cores worth of CPU before the change. At the end of the 30th, I switched on fastcgi, and woo, the load drops right down and stays down. That's just what I wanted.

Reading more, cpanel disrecommends using fastcgi, and recommends somethign else - ruid2 - which looks like it does something similar but different. That recommendation seems mostly because fastcgi has a lot of tweakables that are hard to get right. see this thread.


I discovered a few interesting things during deployment:

Firstly, a potential attack on directories that have the ExecCGI option enabled - this is discussed in the context of the nginx web server here.

Another was a bug with a specific version of mod_fcgid and the specific configuration I set up, which resulted in a new PHP process being spawned for every page request, and then staying resident (!). Other people have experienced this and it was straightforward to tweak it so that it didn't happen.


I have a few apps for my own use written in Haskell, and one (a photo ranking app) struggles when called through the regular CGI interface, due to loading the vote/photo database each time. I've considered putting that into snap, a haskell framework, but it seemed interesting to see if I could get fastcgi running under Haskell.

apt-get install libcfgi-dev; cabal install fcgi got me the modules installed. I had some trouble running the hello-world app here

that came down to me not compiling with the -threaded option.

(I also tried the haskell direct-fastcgi module, but the home page for it is gone, and there is no example code so I rapidly gave up)


I made an fcgi-bin directory available to all barwen.ch users, running FastCGI code under user accounts. There isn't much CGI going on on barwen.ch, but it seemed easy enough to deploy and make available, and is one more feature for the feature list.

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