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Servers and deployment in PHP

PHP applications can be deployed and run on production web servers in a number of ways.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

PaaS provides the system and network architecture necessary to run PHP applications on the web. This means little to no configuration for launching PHP applications or PHP frameworks.

Recently PaaS has become a popular method for deploying, hosting, and scaling PHP applications of all sizes. You can find a list of PHP PaaS “Platform as a Service” providers in our resources section.

Virtual or Dedicated Servers

If you are comfortable with systems administration, or are interested in learning it, virtual or dedicated servers give you complete control of your application’s production environment.

nginx and PHP-FPM

PHP, via PHP’s built-in FastCGI Process Manager (FPM), pairs really nicely with nginx, which is a lightweight, high-performance web server. It uses less memory than Apache and can better handle more concurrent requests. This is especially important on virtual servers that don’t have much memory to spare.

Apache and PHP

PHP and Apache have a long history together. Apache is wildly configurable and has many available modules to extend functionality. It is a popular choice for shared servers and an easy setup for PHP frameworks and open source apps like WordPress. Unfortunately, Apache uses more resources than nginx by default and cannot handle as many visitors at the same time.

Apache has several possible configurations for running PHP. The most common and easiest to setup is the prefork MPM with mod_php5. While it isn’t the most memory efficient, it is the simplest to get working and to use. This is probably the best choice if you don’t want to dig too deeply into the server administration aspects. Note that if you use mod_php5 you MUST use the prefork MPM.

Alternatively, if you want to squeeze more performance and stability out of Apache then you can take advantage of the same FPM system as nginx and run the worker MPM or event MPM with mod_fastcgi or mod_fcgid. This configuration will be significantly more memory efficient and much faster but it is more work to set up.

If you are running Apache 2.4 or later, you can use mod_proxy_fcgi to get great performance that is easy to setup.

Shared Servers

PHP has shared servers to thank for its popularity. It is hard to find a host without PHP installed, but be sure it’s the latest version. Shared servers allow you and other developers to deploy websites to a single machine. The upside to this is that it has become a cheap commodity. The downside is that you never know what kind of a ruckus your neighboring tenants are going to create; loading down the server or opening up security holes are the main concerns. If your project’s budget can afford to avoid shared servers, you should.

To make sure your shared servers are offering the latest versions of PHP, check out PHP Versions.

Building and Deploying your Application

If you find yourself doing manual database schema changes or running your tests manually before updating your files (manually), think twice! With every additional manual task needed to deploy a new version of your app, the chances for potentially fatal mistakes increase. Whether you’re dealing with a simple update, a comprehensive build process or even a continuous integration strategy, build automation is your friend.

Among the tasks you might want to automate are:

  • Dependency management
  • Compilation, minification of your assets
  • Running tests
  • Creation of documentation
  • Packaging
  • Deployment

Deployment Tools

Deployment tools can be described as a collection of scripts that handle common tasks of software deployment. The deployment tool is not a part of your software, it acts on your software from ‘outside’.

There are many open source tools available to help you with build automation and deployment, some are written in PHP others aren’t. This shouldn’t hold you back from using them, if they’re better suited for the specific job. Here are a few examples:

Phing can control your packaging, deployment or testing process from within a XML build file. Phing (which is based on Apache Ant) provides a rich set of tasks usually needed to install or update a web application and can be extended with additional custom tasks, written in PHP. It’s a solid and robust tool and has been around for a long time, however the tool could be perceived as a bit old fashioned because of the way it deals with configuration (XML files).

Capistrano is a system for intermediate-to-advanced programmers to execute commands in a structured, repeatable way on one or more remote machines. It is pre-configured for deploying Ruby on Rails applications, however you can successfully deploy PHP systems with it. Successful use of Capistrano depends on a working knowledge of Ruby and Rake.

Ansistrano is a couple of Ansible roles to easily manage the deployment process (deploy and rollback) for scripting applications such as PHP, Python and Ruby. It’s an Ansible port for Capistrano. It’s been used by quite a lot of PHP companies already.

Rocketeer gets its inspiration and philosophy from the Laravel framework. Its goal is to be fast, elegant and easy to use with smart defaults. It features multiple servers, multiple stages, atomic deploys and deployment can be performed in parallel. Everything in the tool can be hot swapped or extended, and everything is written in PHP.

Deployer is a deployment tool written in PHP. It’s simple and functional. Features include running tasks in parallel, atomic deployment and keeping consistency between servers. Recipes of common tasks for Symfony, Laravel, Zend Framework and Yii are available. Younes Rafie’s article Easy Deployment of PHP Applications with Deployeris a great tutorial for deploying your application with the tool.

Magallanes is another tool written in PHP with simple configuration done in YAML files. It has support for multiple servers and environments, atomic deployment, and has some built in tasks that you can leverage for common tools and frameworks.

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