PHP is one of the most popular server-side scripting languages used for web development. It powers a significant portion of the web, with websites like Facebook and Wikipedia built using PHP. When developing PHP applications, choosing the right hosting environment is critical for performance, security, and scalability. This article will provide best practices and recommendations for PHP hosting to ensure your PHP apps run optimally.
Use a Dedicated PHP Hosting Provider
Using a hosting provider that specializes in PHP hosting is highly recommended over general-purpose shared hosting plans. Dedicated PHP hosts optimize their infrastructure and stacks specifically for PHP applications. This includes web servers like Apache and Nginx fine-tuned for PHP, the latest stable versions of PHP, optimized PHP settings and configurations, and PHP accelerators and caches.
Dedicated PHP hosting plans also provide higher resource allotments for busy apps. The additional CPU cores, memory, and SSD storage capacity help PHP apps handle more concurrent users and requests. Managed PHP hosts may also offer proprietary optimizations at the server level for faster PHP performance.
Ensure Your Web Server is Optimized for PHP
The web server that handles the PHP processing and delivery of web pages is one of the most critical components. Apache and Nginx are the most common web servers used by PHP hosting providers. Ensure that the web server is properly optimized for PHP applications:
- Use the latest stable version of the web server software and keep it updated
- Enable key modules required by PHP apps like mod_rewrite
- Tweak configurations for optimal PHP performance and security
- Set appropriate PHP memory limits and max execution times
- Enable Gzip compression and caching for faster page loads
- Monitor web server load and optimize or scale when needed
Properly optimizing your web server for PHP is essential for application performance and handling visitor traffic.
Run PHP 7.4 or Greater
Always use the latest stable version of the PHP programming language itself. As of 2023, PHP 8.1 is the ideal version to run for new development. However, many hosting providers still run PHP 7.4 which is a strong minimum version to use. Avoid outdated end-of-life versions like PHP 5.x or 7.2 and earlier.
Upgrading to newer PHP 8+ versions brings noticeable performance and security improvements. The engine is faster and more efficient. You gain access to newer PHP features and modern language capabilities. Your code will also be more secure and resilient against vulnerabilities that have been patched in recent PHP versions.
Enable Caching and Performance Extensions
To boost the speed and responsiveness of PHP applications, enable caching and performance-enhancing extensions:
- APCu caches and optimizes PHP opcode
- Redis provides an in-memory data store for object caching
- Memcached speeds up databases and external services access
- Opcache stores precompiled bytecode to reduce parsing
- Xdebug analyzes code performance for optimizations
These extensions and tools all serve to make PHP code faster and more efficient. Use profiling to identify and optimize slow code paths. Caching avoids having to repeat expensive operations like database queries or API calls. The result is much faster loading and execution times for a more responsive user experience.
Scale PHP-FPM Processes Based on Load
PHP-FPM (FastCGI Process Manager) is the mechanism that handles incoming PHP requests and manages the process pool. Configure PHP-FPM with an optimized number of child processes based on your average and peak traffic load. Set appropriate memory limits and max children settings to ensure it scales smoothly.
By tweaking the PHP-FPM configurations, you can strike the right balance between utilization levels and idle processes. Monitor queue lengths, slow requests, and memory usage as you refine the process management. Adaptively scaling PHP-FPM is key to preventing resource exhaustion and maintaining performance.
Separate read/write database connections
It is best practice to separate database read and write operations when designing your PHP application. Queries that only read data should connect to database replica/slaves, while writes occur on the master database. This improves overall request throughput and reduces load on the master database.
Configure PHP’s database connections to utilize separate creds and endpoints for reads vs writes. The application logic should funnel the appropriate queries to the read or write connection. This database separation pattern enables much higher scalability and performance.
Implement Caching Strategies
Adding caching to your PHP application speeds up response times and reduces strain on the backend infrastructure. Consider caching strategies like:
- Page caching – Cache full page outputs with Memcached
- Object caching – Store frequently accessed objects in Redis or APCu
- Query caching – Cache results of database queries that rarely change
- Browser caching – Set proper cache headers so browsers cache static assets
The goal is to avoid repeating expensive operations like database queries, external API calls, and heavy PHP processing. Take advantage of in-memory caches and browser caching for dynamic and static content respectively.
Use a PHP Accelerator
PHP accelerators like OPcache speed up applications by caching compiled bytecode in memory. This eliminates the need to continually re-parse and compile PHP code on each request. OPcache is included with PHP distributions but often needs explicitly enabling on hosted environments.
Accelerators can boost PHP performance by 2x to 10x times. They reduce CPU usage, allow more concurrent requests per server, and provide faster response times. Given the substantial gains, using an accelerator like OPcache is strongly recommended.
Tune Database Performance
Slow database interactions are one of the most common PHP application bottlenecks. Ensure your database is properly indexed, uses performant storage engine, and is configured for optimal queries:
- Add indexes on columns used for filtering or sorting
- Tweak table engine parameters for InnoDB or MyISAM
- Set proper cache and buffer sizes based on usage patterns
- Isolate database server onto dedicated resources
You can significantly improve database throughput by optimizing queries, adding memory, using read replicas, and separating database servers from web servers. Faster queries results in faster PHP application performance.
Monitor Application Performance
Continuously monitor your live PHP application to detect issues before they impact users. Look at key metrics like:
- Web server load and traffic
- PHP memory usage and process counts
- Database load and query throughput
- Caching hit rates and contention
- Request queues and response times
Set up alerts for key PHP application metrics and log important performance data. By keeping a close eye on your app in production, you can optimize configurations and scale resources proactively.
Use a CDN for Static Assets
Offload static assets like images, CSS, and JS files to a content delivery network (CDN). This speeds up page loads by distributing static files across edge locations around the globe. It also reduces strain on the application servers.
For WordPress sites, optimized CDN setups serve static files directly from the CDN while dynamic PHP pages are served by the web servers. This improves cache hit rates and provides huge performance gains.
Secure Your PHP App
Security is crucial for any production PHP application. Follow these best practices:
- Run the latest PHP version for vulnerability patches
- Disable unused modules and limit file system access
- Sanitize and validate all user-provided input data
- Use prepared statements for database queries
- Hash and salt stored passwords properly
- Review code for vulnerabilities and misconfigurations
- Implement role-based access control (RBAC)
- Enforce HTTPS and implement security headers
Adopting security best practices will help reduce risks and prevent exploits. Schedule regular security audits and penetration tests as well. For added protection, use a web application firewall (WAF).
Optimizing your PHP hosting and following these performance best practices will allow your applications to handle more traffic while delivering faster response times. Take advantage of the many PHP hosting options available that are tuned for PHP apps specifically. Then leverage caching, accelerators, CDNs, and database optimizations to boost speeds. Keep a close eye on metrics to catch any issues before they impact users. By following these tips, you can achieve excellent performance and scalability for your PHP applications.