Tag Archives: Apache

PHP APC config syntax causes [apc-error] apc_mmap: mmap failed: Invalid argument

After upgrading Ubuntu server from 9.10 to 10.04LTS PHP’s APC cache wasn’t functioning.  Apache wouldn’t start, it hung in the process list and printed this error to /var/log/apache2/error.log

[apc-error] apc_mmap: mmap failed: Invalid argument

The apache process would show up in the process like this:

apc@hostaname# ps aux | grep apache
www-data 6958 104 0.0 139044 3624 ? R 12:47 0:19 /usr/sbin/apache2 -k start

This process would then have to be killed, APC commented out, and then the web server restarted just to continue on without APC until a solution was found.

The PHP manual states this regarding MMAP support in APC:


When APC is compiled with mmap support (Memory Mapping), it will use only one memory segment, unlike when APC is built with SHM (SysV Shared Memory) support that uses multiple memory segments. MMAP does not have a maximum limit like SHM does in /proc/sys/kernel/shmmax. In general MMAP support is recommeded because it will reclaim the memory faster when the webserver is restarted and all in all reduces memory allocation impact at startup.

APC was made to run by commenting out all lines from the PHP config file except for:

apc.enabled = 1

This config can exist in a number of places. In 9.10 APC had been compiled by PECL so it was in our /etc/php5/apache2/php.ini file. However, in 10.04 APC is a package so we removed the PECL version, installed the version using apt-get install php-apc and moved the configuration to /etc/php5/conf.d/apc.ini for better consistency.

pear uninstall apc
apt-get install php-apc

As I began to uncomment lines one by one, it turned out the culprit was in the apc.shm_size directive. The default size is 30M, but as soon as the directive was uncommented it crashed Apache. I was unable to specify any value at all, even the same or lesser value. I even tried with quotes and removing quotes. That’s when I started thinking syntax may be a problem because it works when using the default value (shm_size commented out) but fails with an “invalid argument” error. That makes me think APC is sending an invalid argument to MMAP. In which case I find this post that confirms my suspicion.


It turns out that the “M” for Megabytes cannot be specified in the shm_size directive for APC in Ubuntu server 10.04 because it is using APC version 3.1.3p1. However, on 9.10 APC wasn’t included as a package so it was installed with PEAR PECL which installed a more recent version of APC (3.1.9) which did allow specifying the “M” in the shm_size directive.

If you wish this to work in your config file, it should read like this in older versions of APC:

apc.shm_size = 100

This would specify 100M shared memory segments, and would be equivalent to this in newer versions:

apc.shm_size = 100M

And you can also put quotees around the “100M” if you like.

After these changes I had Apache up and running again, the APC cache helping PHP along, and some of the quickest loading pages I’ve seen in a while.

Forcing Redirect to a www URL with Apache Rewrite for SEO

Redirecting requests for the non www version of your domain to the www version only can help to boost your SEO, eliminate duplicate search engine entries and improve your ranking. And it is easy to do with Apache and mod_rewrite.

I registered a new domain about a week ago and then posted my new social networking style project to go live. I was still fiddling with server upgrades so I didn’t tell anybody about it. Sure enough Google comes crawling and takes all pages. Excellent.

I went to Google and performed a:


…and it returned all my pages. Excellent again, fully indexed in less than a week (but not showing in search results). Wait a minute. I forgot the www. I try it again with:


And Google returns one page – the doorway for my web host! Sometime after I registered the domain and pointed the DNS to my machine Google crawled the www. version of the URL. I don’t know how or where it got the link. Probably from a list of recently registered domains. Then after that week was up and I posted the full site, Google crawled the non-www version of the URL, and indexed both.

Anyone see a problem there? Well first, I’ve got a doorway page for my host showing up for the www version of my URL! Second, if Google crawls both versions on their own without any links on the net, sooner or later they are going to see duplicate content. Both versions will eventually be the same I hope. Third, they are crawling the two versions at different rates, giving out of date results for one of them. Last, they are splitting up the results for the domain, and I don’t see that being good.

A solution that has been proposed by others in the past, and one that I would recommend again, is to redirect all traffic from non-www requests to the the www host version of your domain, if that is the version you are using. If you are using Apache and have mod_rewrite you can do the following:

<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>

RewriteEngine on
Rewritecond %{HTTP_HOST} !^www\.example\.com
RewriteRule ^/(.*) http://www.example.com/$1 [R=301,L]

I did this in my http-vhosts.conf file but I believe it should work equally well in .htaccess . See note at the bottom of the page for the differences.

The first Rewritecond line says for every entry where the HTTP_HOST DOES NOT EQUAL www.example.com …. then redirect them to www.example.com. This won’t work if you subdomains like subdomain.example.com because it will redirect those requests to www.example.com as well.

Very important, don’t forget the R=301 which is a seamless HTTP redirect using the status code 301. According to W3.org:

301 Moved Permanently

The requested resource has been assigned a new permanent URI and any future references to this resource SHOULD use one of the returned URIs.

So Google SHOULD remove old references to the non-www domain and all your future results should look the way you like.

Proponents of SEO will tell you this automatic redirect to the www version of your domain using Apache and mod_rewrite is good for ranking, elimination of duplicate entries and boosting your visibility. Give it a try if you haven’t yet and see how it works for you.

UPDATE: If you put this in your root Apache configs instead of .htaccess make sure you write ^/(.*) instead of (.*) or you may get a double slash between your domain name and pages which Google will also consider duplicate content.

PHP’s APC cache and how it relates to Apache Bloat

You just finished your install of Apache, PHP and APC cache on a VPS and you’re beat. You spent about a day going over every configuration and compile option trying to eek performance out of your VPS machine and web server. Then you take a look at the output of top or ps and notice, hey, my Apache process is 150 Megs! Well isn’t that grand. Compiling the Big Apache on a limited resource VPS can be a challenge for those of us who like to tinker. On the last VPS I got I scrapped the packaged stuff and started on compiling an Apache for the machine. The problem is trying to meet your needs with the limited memory you usually get on these machines. Although I like lighttpd, I’m not ready to give it a go on a production server that is being monitored by the media all the time. I need something as guaranteed as I can get. Although lighttpd may be such a beast, I’m not going to test it out on this site at this time!

I sat down and started to go over all configuration option for Apache, PHP and APC to get a nice small package to do the job. I was surprised how much junk PHP has compiled in by default. Compile it once and execute a phpinfo() and you’ll see. Just start with the “–disable” switches for anything you don’t want.

After about a day of thinning out the size of my stack I slipped into TOP and used the SHIFT-A toggle to see the alternate views. I noticed something odd…..

 24140  0.1 78592  69m 7228  504 2124 2952    6    0 S  16   0    0 httpd
 11329  0.1 78408  69m 6908  504 1964 2736    2    0 S  16   0    0 httpd
 24141  0.1 78564  70m 6752  504 2120 2492    0    0 S  16   0    0 httpd
 24142  0.1 78564  70m 6732  504 2120 2476    0    0 S  16   0    0 httpd
 27813  0.1 78560  70m 6684  504 2116 2432    0    0 S  16   0    0 httpd

Doesn’t that seem like a lot of VIRT and SWAP for Apache2? Yes, it is. If you used the suggested 128 for apc.shm_size it will be a lot bigger too! I used 64M and you can see that at 78592 minus the 64M shared mem for the APC cache, the actual size is around 13M for apache with a 6.7M RES. That makes me feel better! I was so worried I had gotten something horribly wrong.

If you happen to run across this kind of thing in testing, simply set your apc.enabled in php.ini to ‘0’ to disable it, restart Apache and check ‘top’ again. Likely nothing to worry about.

The machine I am running is only hosting 4 sites so 64M is a good starting point, but what you should do is copy the file ‘apc.php’ from your APC source directory into a folder on your webserver and visit it frequently to see how it behaves. Depending on your other settings like the cache lifetime and garbage collection, if you have a large portion of FREE and a small USED then you can probably set the apc.shm_size lower. If it makes you feel better :)

Apache, Postgres and Drupal on a VPS

I really would prefer to have my own server but sticking a box in colo is expensive. Where I live, getting access to the physical colo space would be nearly impossible too. As a result I run on a VPS. Unfortunately VPS has some horrible limitations depending on who is on the box with you.

Recently I decided to move my personal blog off of b2evolution and stick it on Drupal. Too bad drupal is such a resource hog. Most CMS and blog software is though and it is really hard to find a minimalized, optimized blog software that uses any form of caching. Today, it hit the skids and my patience hit the wall. Argh!

I was converting my personal blog by hand because I only have about 30 entries so it didn’t pay to write a conversion script. Everytime I hit the ‘post’ button in Drupal I wound up with a blank screen, could not connect or worse, the results of any command in SSH terminal window showed a “could not allocate memory”. As a result, I had to do some fast tuning of something because I had to reboot the server after every blog post!

I chose to tackle Apache first because they have an Apache Performance Tuning Guide that helps a bunch. Postgres, well I’m running an old version that I really need to upgrade before I tackle configuration and optimization of it. That’s not a 30 minute job.

VPS, Apache and Low Memory

VPS has a low memory for sure. Even though you can sometimes burst more, in general it is pretty low. The very first thing in the Apache performance tuning guide is tackling memory.

You can, and should, control the MaxClients setting so that your server does not spawn so many children it starts swapping. This procedure for doing this is simple: determine the size of your average Apache process, by looking at your process list via a tool such as top, and divide this into your total available memory, leaving some room for other processes.

Using top and sorting by thread using ‘h’ I am able to see that the average Apache processes is using WAY TOO MUCH memory at 25M a piece – and 10 processes running. I don’t have time to tune the size now so I’ll tune the number of servers using very simple configuration parameters. Since we are using MPM Prefork, the directives can be found in extra/httpd-mpm.conf file under mpm_prefork_module.

Since I am supposed to be guaranteed 256M memory burstable to 1G I’ll optimize to the lower number. 256M / 25M is 10. Not including room for other processes. The current setting is 150!


StartServers 5
MinSpareServers 5
MaxSpareServers 10
MaxClients 150
MaxRequestsPerChild 0


StartServers 2
MinSpareServers 2
MaxSpareServers 5
MaxClients 10
MaxRequestsPerChild 0

I also changed it to only start 2 servers, only keep 2 spare servers instead of 5, and only allow 10 clients instead of 150. This will essentially create a queue if anyone is waiting but it shouldn’t dip into swap space and it will save a bunch of memory usage. This will of course be monitored. Once time permits and I am able to minimize the size of each Apache2 process (the other factor) then I will revisit this and likely increase the MaxClients accordingly.

Drupal multisite configuration problems

Drupal multisite setup configuration

I’ve adopted Drupal for a majority of my online activities in the past year. It has enough of the things I like and is much faster and more stable than previous CMS or forum software I’ve used. However, some documentation seems to be lacking. Multisite configuration with Apache using a single Drupal codebase is one area.

I finally decided to try a project in which I would use a common codebase for Drupal across all of my websites. That is, rather than having a directory for each website that has a Drupal installation in it, I thought I would take advantage of Drupal’s multisite functionality by having one drupal installation (codebase) in a central directory and have all the project websites point to it.

Drupal multisite advantages

The advantages of Drupal’s multisite feature are easy to spot.

First, a common codebase means only one codebase to change during an update – even though drupal requires you to update each websites database separately.
Second, using an intermediary cache like APC for PHP means that you can use less server memory caching files across multiple websites because the core files are the same.

Despite this great feature and its advantages, there is much confusion at the Drupal.org website from patrons as to what is the correct way to set this up. The Drupal install file goes into it pretty good, but leaves out one important detail – the web server configuration. Some purists say that is an Apache issue and we should leave that to the Apache mailing list but hey, PHP does a pretty good job of detailing the Apache configuration in their instructions so Drupal could too.

Most people who administer their own websites would follow a ritual in creating a new website. Create a directory for the new website, create the www subdirectory and then configure the Apache DirectoryRoot directive. With a single codebase used by multiple domains and websites you need a different approach.

The missing multisite ‘key’

The most important thing here is to make sure each website’s DocumentRoot in the Apache configuration points to the common drupal directory. This is an unusual configuration for most people but it works well.

The idea is that Drupal receives information from PHP (and Apache) to tell it which website it is supposed to serve. When it determines that, it will retrieve the correct configuration file (database passwords and URL base) from the Drupal ‘sites/’ subdirectory. That’s how it can determine which website to display.

Here is a quick breakdown.

Install Drupal in a common directory. Here I chose /var/lib/drupal-4.7.4


Some people use a symbolic link to point Drupal to the correct distribution. I’ve done this but I suggest not doing it. Instead install your Drupal installation in a single directory titled according to it’s version number. That is, use the same directory structure and names that Drupal gave when you extracted the zip or tarball.

Why? If you have a couple sites and it comes time to upgrade you can run into trouble. It is easy to just recreate a symbolic link pointing ‘drupal/’ to ‘drupal-4.7.4’ but unfortunately that affects ALL your websites instantly. Not good on a production server. If you have 50 websites this means that you have 50 sites using the new codebase and the same 50 websites awaiting your hand to manually update their databases using Drupal’s supplied script. If any of those 50 are accessed during this wait period you’ll be in trouble.

The other disadvantage of the symbolic link comes if you are using third-party supplied modules. You forgot that 5 out of your 50 websites are using a module that isn’t being maintained on the same schedule as the Drupal project and guess what? It breaks your website. I’ve found that frequently a misbehaving module or even an errant ‘files’ path in the Drupal settings will disable all other Drupal modules. Best to avoid this altogether.

You can save yourself from both of these negative scenarios by simply putting Drupal in the supplied directory name and then adjusting your Apache DocumentRoot directive as you update them. It is an extra step but very easy.

The final advantage of not using a symbolic link is that you can hold a stable website. That is, you can have a couple different versions of Drupal on your server used by different websites. Several hosting providers do this with PHP and that is a very good example. If you upgrade to PHP 6 for one project you’ll find it doesn’t work with Drupal so you need to keep an old version of PHP installed for non-compliant websites. With Drupal I’ve found that once in a while a website gets working just right and I don’t want to update it. Or I quit monitoring it. Or it is an informational content only website with no subscriptions allowed. Or a million other reasons. Basically I will ‘freeze’ that website and not allow anymore code updates. Or, say you have a module that you use but the author abandoned it long ago. It won’t work with Drupal 6 for example. Simply freeze the website and only update your other websites with the new Drupal codebase. Keeping a couple distributions around can be handy but it means that you can’t point them to the codebase with a symbolic link.

Unzip the new codebase in parallel to the old.

# tar zxvf drupal-4.7.x.tar.gz

Backup the database for the website you are about to update.
Exact commands vary with which database you are using.

Edit Apache config file to change one website at a time.

# vi extra/httpd-vhosts.conf


DocumentRoot /var/www/example.com/www
ServerName www.example.com


DocumentRoot /var/lib/drupal-4.7.4
ServerName www.example.com

Restart Apache so the config takes effect

# apachectl graceful

Visit the Drupal supplied database update URL for your website.


Watch for errors and check your logs. Visit the website and check the settings to make sure all modules still show up under the admin -> settings menu.

If successful, continue on with the next website on your server.