Scaling PHP Applications (2014)

Case Study: Benchmarking and Load Testing Web Services

Benchmarking and load-testing is ultimitely one of the most important parts of Scaling. Why? It’s where the rubber meets the road. Where you can see how the changes you make in your architecture or code improve your overall performance. A way to figure out where the weak parts of your application are, and what’s likely to crumble first under heavy load.


If you don’t want to mess around with setting up a benchmarking environment, you can get started really quickly with a service like Blitz or LoadImpact. These services allow you to send anywhere from 100 - 1,000,000 computer-generated visitors to your site to browse around and generate load.

In some ways, this should have been the first chapter of the book. Benchmarking isn’t glamorous, but having hard numbers to compare your changes with is a great advantage instead of just going in blind and assuming that this-or-that config change will make your stack better. Plus— bosses love hard numbers. Saying, “My changes improved site response time by 18%” is much more valuable than “I changed some settings and it should be faster”.

Setting up a Test Environment

If you’ve already launched, it’s important that you do your benchmarking and load testing on separate servers from your production ones— we’re going to be breaking things, really pushing the limits of the app and it’s a bad idea to do that in production.

This is one area where I really recommend using pay-by-the-hour cloud hosting. With Amazon EC2Rackspace CloudDigitalOcean, or SoftLayer Cloud you can create an almost exact replica of your production servers for a couple of bucks. No hardware investment, no “test” servers that sit idle 99% of the time.

The famous ab (Apache Benchmark)

The most common high-level benchmarking tool has got to be the ab tool that comes with Apache. It’s a pretty good tool, really great for just starting out because it’s so easy to use.

The basic idea behind ab is that it given a HTTP URL, a number of concurrent visits, and a number of total requests, it will make lots of requests for that page from your webserver(s).

Of course, requesting the same page over-and-over again hardly represents real-world traffic, but it’s a good starting point, especially if you can have it hit page that touches all parts of your stack. Think of it as brute-force benchmarking. Obviously, if you only use it to test static or non-database pages, you’re going to get unrealistic results.


Watch out, if you’re using Mac OS X, the packaged version of ab is buggy- you’ll see the error apr_socket_recv: Connection reset by peer (54) 9 out of 10 times (but, it works sometimes, more often with lower levels of concurrency.) To fix the bug with homebrew:

brew install

Installing ab on Ubuntu is easy— apt-get install apache2-utils.

To get started, let’s run a really small test with 10 concurrent connections and 100 requests. The -c flag is for the amount of concurrency (number of simultaneous requests) and the -n flag is for total number of requests.

 1 > ab -c 10 -n 100 ""


 3 This is ApacheBench, Version 2.3 <$Revision: 655654 $>

 4 Copyright 1996 Adam Twiss, Zeus Technology Ltd,

 5 Licensed to The Apache Software Foundation,


 7 Benchmarking (be patient).....done



10 Server Software:        WEBrick/1.3.1

11 Server Hostname:

12 Server Port:            9292


14 Document Path:          /

15 Document Length:        16571 bytes


17 Concurrency Level:      10

18 Time taken for tests:   4.768 seconds

19 Complete requests:      100

20 Failed requests:        70

21    (Connect: 0, Receive: 0, Length: 70, Exceptions: 0)

22 Write errors:           0

23 Keep-Alive requests:    100

24 Total transferred:      1678245 bytes

25 HTML transferred:       1657029 bytes

26 Requests per second:    20.97 [#/sec] (mean)

27 Time per request:       476.843 [ms] (mean)

28 Time per request:       47.684 [ms] (mean, across all concurrent requests)

29 Transfer rate:          343.70 [Kbytes/sec] received


31 Connection Times (ms)

32               min  mean[+/-sd] median   max

33 Connect:        0   20  99.0      0     503

34 Processing:    87  422 156.2    416    1014

35 Waiting:       68  370 143.7    367     830

36 Total:         87  442 207.6    416    1517


38 Percentage of the requests served within a certain time (ms)

39   50%    416

40   66%    491

41   75%    526

42   80%    555

43   90%    669

44   95%    747

45   98%   1106

46   99%   1517

47  100%   1517 (longest request)

Let’s dig into the important parts from the results:

1 `Requests per second:    20.97 [#/sec] (mean)`

2 `Time per request:       47.684 [ms] (mean, across all concurrent requests)`

3 `Transfer rate:          343.70 [Kbytes/sec] received`

We see above the requests per second, the mean time per request, and the transfer rate in Kbytes. These are good metrics to track and benchmark as you improve your stack and code— the more requests and lower mean time per request, the better.


ab doesn’t have many settings besides -c and -r. One useful, but overlooked, setting is -k which turns on KeepAlive requests. I really like using this simultaneously while running another instance of ab without -k on. Why? Because it allows me to test the load balancer network settings discussed in Chapter 4— how many connections stay in TIME_WAIT, etc.

Siege, a more modern ab

I find apache benchmark to be kind of limiting and outdated. A great, modern alternative is siege. You can install it with apt-get install siege on Ubuntu. The command line flags are similar to ab, -c sets the number of concurrent users and -t sets the number of seconds to run the test for.

 1 siege -c50 -t10s

 2 ** SIEGE 3.0.1

 3 ** Preparing 50 concurrent users for battle.

 4 The server is now under siege...

 5 Lifting the server siege...      done.


 7 Transactions:            992 hits

 8 Availability:            100.00 %

 9 Elapsed time:            9.56 secs

10 Data transferred:        0.36 MB

11 Response time:           0.00 secs

12 Transaction rate:        103.77 trans/sec

13 Throughput:              0.04 MB/sec

14 Concurrency:             0.06

15 Successful transactions: 992

16 Failed transactions:     0

17 Longest transaction:     0.01

18 Shortest transaction:    0.00

Easy! 50 concurrent connections in 10 seconds. I generally like the output and and format of siege better. You can clearly see the Transaction rate (number of requests per second) and other valuable metrics that you may want to track.

Another cool feature? It can hit multiple URLs in a single test to simulate real traffic. Make a file and put a bunch of URLs in it and siege will hit them all. It’s an easy way to simulate real world traffic.

1 $ vim urls.txt





6 $ siege -c50 -t10s -i -f urls.txt

Bees with machine guns

Sometimes you want a REALLY massive test and running a single siege process just won’t cut it. Bees with machine guns will launch a mini EC2 cluster to hammer your server(s) with as many clients as you want! The install is slightly more complex:

 1 $ apt-get install python-dev python-pip

 2 $ pip install beeswithmachineguns





 7 # You will need to put in your private SSH Key that you use for Amazon EC2

 8 # into this file. It must have the same name as your SSH Key uploaded to Amazo\

 9 n.

10 $ vim ~/.ssh/key_name.pem

Next, you’ll have to go into your EC2 management console and create a security group (if you don’t already have one) that allows SSH connections on port 22. I made one called public— it’s what you have to pass to the -g parameter below.

After configuring the security group, bees is ready to bring up your test cluster. I’m going to start an attack cluster of 4 instances. The default type of instance is the micro instance (t1.micro) which is very cheap ($0.020/hour). You can change the instance type with the -t flag.

 1 $ bees up -s 4 -g public -k key_name -z us-east-1b


 3   Connecting to the hive.

 4   Attempting to call up 4 bees.

 5   Waiting for bees to load their machine guns...

 6   Bee i-c941cfe8 is ready for the attack.

 7   Bee i-c841cfe9 is ready for the attack.

 8   Bee i-0b5ed02a is ready for the attack.

 9   Bee i-0a5ed02b is ready for the attack.

10   The swarm has assembled 4 bees.

Now that they’re up, we’re ready to attack! We’ll send 100,000 HTTP requests with a concurrency of 250 simultaneous clients.

 1 $ bees attack -n 100000 -c 250 -u http://ec2-54-204-61-43.compute-1.amazonaws.\

 2 com/


 4   Read 4 bees from the roster.

 5   Connecting to the hive.

 6   Assembling bees.

 7   Each of 4 bees will fire 25000 rounds, 62 at a time.

 8   Stinging URL so it will be cached for the attack.

 9   Organizing the swarm.

10   Bee 0 is joining the swarm.

11   Bee 1 is joining the swarm.

12   Bee 2 is joining the swarm.

13   Bee 3 is joining the swarm.

14   Bee 2 is firing his machine gun. Bang bang!

15   Bee 3 is firing his machine gun. Bang bang!

16   Bee 0 is firing his machine gun. Bang bang!

17   Bee 1 is firing his machine gun. Bang bang!

18   Bee 3 lost sight of the target (connection timed out).

19   Bee 1 is out of ammo.

20   Bee 0 is out of ammo.

21   Bee 2 is out of ammo.

22   Offensive complete.

23        Target timed out without fully responding to 1 bees.

24        Complete requests:         75000

25        Requests per second:       616.110000 [#/sec] (mean)

26        Time per request:          302.431333 [ms] (mean)

27        50% response time:         2.000000 [ms] (mean)

28        90% response time:         6.333333 [ms] (mean)

29   Mission Assessment: Target crushed bee offensive.

30   The swarm is awaiting new orders.

Just like ab and siege, we can see the number of requests per second that we were able to serve and the average time per request.

You’ll notice I lost one of my bees— the default instance, t1.micro, is very underpowered and its CPU gets throttled by Amazon. For a real test, I’d recommend using a larger instance type. When we’re all done with the test, just run bees down and it’ll shutdown your instances.


The last benchmarking tool I’ll cover is sysbench. It’s really useful for testing raw hardware (cpu, memory, disk), but also has a really nice mysql benchmarking suite built in that makes it really straightforward to benchmark mysql configurations as you change settings and test different hardware setups.

1 $ apt-get install sysbench

Next, we have to prepare our test:

1 $ sysbench --test=oltp --oltp-table-size=1000 --mysql-user=root --mysql-host=l\

2 ocalhost \

3   --mysql-password= prepare

You should see some output about creating the table and records. Lastly, we run the test.

 1 $ sysbench --test=oltp --oltp-table-size=1000 --mysql-user=root --mysql-host=l\

 2 ocalhost \

 3   --mysql-password= run


 5   Doing OLTP test.

 6   Running mixed OLTP test

 7   Using Special distribution (12 iterations,  1 pct of values are returned in \

 8 75 pct cases)

 9   Using "BEGIN" for starting transactions

10   Using auto_inc on the id column

11   Maximum number of requests for OLTP test is limited to 10000

12   Threads started!

13   Done.


15   OLTP test statistics:

16       queries performed:

17           read:                            140000

18           write:                           50000

19           other:                           20000

20           total:                           210000

21       transactions:                        10000  (110.61 per sec.)

22       deadlocks:                           0      (0.00 per sec.)

23       read/write requests:                 190000 (2101.54 per sec.)

24       other operations:                    20000  (221.21 per sec.)


26   Test execution summary:

27       total time:                          90.4101s

28       total number of events:              10000

29       total time taken by event execution: 90.3572

30       per-request statistics:

31            min:                                  4.88ms

32            avg:                                  9.04ms

33            max:                                532.42ms

34            approx.  95 percentile:              13.68ms


36   Threads fairness:

37       events (avg/stddev):           10000.0000/0.00

38       execution time (avg/stddev):   90.3572/0.00

This output shows us various information about the performance of MySQL read queries, write queries, and number of transactions. You can tweak some settings and re-run the benchmark to see how the changes influenced the overall query speed and performance of MySQL.

The other test suites that come with sysbench are fileio, cpu, memory, threads, and mutex. I find that the fileio test is great for benchmarking different types of drives.

You may also want to check out the amazing Phoronix Test Suite for an even more comprehensive server benchmark suite.