PHP as FastCGI backend and Lighttpd

15 Jun 2009 20:59

Wikidot + Lighttpd + PHP5

At Wikidot we use PHP5 as FastCGI backend to Lighttpd light-and-fast webserver. It works like this:

  • there are a few hundreds of php5-cgi processes (name is cgi, but they also support FastCGI mode) running and waiting to be used
  • lighttpd (only one needed!) process manages the network connections to all the clients and once the request is ready serves a static file or forwards the request to one of PHP backends processes.

We used to use internal Lighttpd FastCGI process manager, meaning the lighttpd processes actually used to start the PHPs.


We encountered some known problems of 500 (server side) errors appearing after some random time, especially under a high traffic. The typical message appearing at the Lighttpd's error.log was:

<some date>: (mod_fastcgi.c.2494) unexpected end-of-file (perhaps the fastcgi process died): pid: ...

There are plenty of reports on this in both Lighttpd's and PHP's forums, bug trackers and even some blogs.


We managed to write some hacky scripts that detected the situation and restarted the backends when needed. The reaction was so quick, that almost no-one noticed the error, but damn, this is not how WE solve problems.

A blind try

We decided to give spawn-fcgi a shot. What is it? It is a program that spawns FastCGI backends (independently from Lighttpd server). Why trying it? I've read somewhere, that it works more reliably than the internal Lighttpd spawner. What's interesting is that this program comes from lighttpd package, so we're in family anyway. It's mainly intended to run the FastCGI backends from different user than the webserver user or to run them on different machine(s) than the webserver machine. This can be used naturally for some smart load-balancing.

The only problem of this solution we encountered was internal limit of number of processes to spawn by a single process which was 256 (hardcoded, fixed in next versions). But at the same time, we decided to build a few FastCGI bridges (each spawning ~200 PHPs) anyway so that was no longer a problem for us.

What was quite surprising (but honestly, I deeply believed in this), our problems with 500 server errors and PHP disappeared. This configuration works for about 2 weeks now with absolutely no hacky scripts involved and no restarting needed. Cool.

Why I wrote this

I wrote this short note just for the record and to let other people know, that using spawn-fcgi instead of the internal Lighttpd's FastCGI spawner might solve their problems with PHP (FastCGI) and 500 internal server errors.

Hope this helps someone.

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