Update May 2013: We no longer recommend fcgid ever since Ubuntu Server 12.04 was released. This is because that version has PHP-FPM, which provides every benefit that fcgid has, with the added advantage of a shared opcode cache for all processes. We will be writing a full article on PHP-FPM with Drupal in the near future (soon to appear at High Performance Drupal with Apache MPM Worker Threaded Server and PHP-FPM).

Most sites that serve large Drupal instances use Apache with mod_php. Although this is often the easiest and fastest option, it may not be the ideal situation in some cases. This article explains fcgid, a way to run PHP other than mod_php, how to get it configured, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of it.

Apache's mod_php

Apache's mod_php is the most widely used mode for PHP with Apache. mod_php itself is the entire PHP interpreter embedded in each Apache process that gets spawned. This provides performance and stability benefits, e.g.

  • No need to call an external process (e.g. CGI).
  • No need to communicate with another process via sockets (e.g. Fast CGI).
  • The APC cache is shared by all Apache processes.

It also has some disadvantages

  • The memory footprint per Apache process is large, specially when sites indulge in contributed modules.
  • If Apache is serving static content, e.g. images and CSS files, it still has to spawn large processes because of the embedded PHP interpreter.


CGI (Common Gateway Interface) is the legacy way of runing applications on the web from the mid 1990s or so. It was too inefficient for anything but small sites. CGI spawns a new process for every incoming request to execute a PHP script, a very resource intensive and inefficient way of doing things. No wonder it faded away over time as web applications became more complex.


FastCGI was introduced to avoid some of the issues with running languages, including PHP, inside the Apache process, as well as avoiding the inefficiency of CGI.

A FastCGI application is executed outside of the web server (Apache or other wise), and waits for requests from the web server using a socket. The web server and the FastCGI application can even be on separate physical machines and communicate over the network.

Because the web server adn the application processes are separate better isolation is possible.

In reality, running PHP as mod_fastcgi with Apache has proved to be problematic. Mainly with stability. Even on Drupal.org we tried it for a while, but switched back to mod_php after some time.


mod_fcgid was introduced to be binary compatible with FastCGI, but with better control over spawning processes. The benefits of process isolation are still there.

Installing fcgid

The article assumes you are using Ubuntu/Debian. For Red Hat or Centos, use the equivalent packages and yum to achieve the same results.

First we install the required Apache components, with Apache threaded server (MPM Worker), to save memory.

aptitude install apache2-mpm-worker libapache2-mod-fcgid

Then we enable the Apache fcgid module.

a2enmod fcgid 

And install PHP CGI, and the a few other PHP components, if they are not already on your system.

aptitude install php5-cgi php5-curl php5-gd php5-mysql

Configuring fcgid

To configure fcgid, you have to do two things:

1. Create a new file in /etc/apache2/conf.d/php-fcgid.conf and put the following in it:

  AddHandler fcgid-script .fcgi .php
  # Where to look for the php.ini file?
  DefaultInitEnv PHPRC        "/etc/php5/cgi"
  # Maximum requests a process handles before it is terminated
  MaxRequestsPerProcess       1000
  # Maximum number of PHP processes
  MaxProcessCount             10
  # Number of seconds of idle time before a process is terminated
  IPCCommTimeout              240
  IdleTimeout                 240
  #Or use this if you use the file above
  FCGIWrapper /usr/bin/php-cgi .php

  ServerLimit           500
  StartServers            3
  MinSpareThreads         3
  MaxSpareThreads        10
  ThreadsPerChild        10
  MaxClients            300
  MaxRequestsPerChild  1000

For a large site with a server with more memory and CPUs we can use this:

  AddHandler fcgid-script .fcgi .php
  # Where to look for the php.ini file?
  DefaultInitEnv PHPRC  "/etc/php5/cgi"
  # Where is the PHP executable
  FCGIWrapper /usr/bin/php-cgi .php
  # Maximum requests a process handles before it is terminated
  MaxRequestsPerProcess 1500
  # Maximum number of PHP processes.
  MaxProcessCount       45
  # Number of seconds of idle time before a process is terminated
  IPCCommTimeout        240
  IdleTimeout           240

# Large site

  ServerLimit          2048
  ThreadLimit           100
  StartServers           10
  MinSpareThreads        30
  MaxSpareThreads       100
  ThreadsPerChild        64
  MaxClients           2048
  MaxRequestsPerChild  5000

2. Add ExecCGI to the Options line in the vhosts you want to use PHP and or fcgid on, for example. 

Order Allow,Deny
Allow From All
Allow Override All
Options MultiViews Indexes Includes FollowSymLinks ExecCGI

Now you should restart Apache, and fcgid should be active.

Memory consumption

The first thing you observe is that the memory size of the fcgi process is considerably larger (40MB) than when PHP is running as a mod_php within Apache (31MB). However, when using fcgi, Apache (pre-fork) is only 3.3 to 2.4 MB per process so you can have more of them to serve static files. The savings are even more if you use the threaded server. For example, an Apache process on a large site would be 20 to 25 MB, and the total number needed for thousands of threads would be 10 to 15 processes total. You also normally have less CGI processes in total than Apache.

For example:

Apache pre-fork
fcgi 15 processes * (40 MB - 21 MB shared) + 21 MB shared + (20 Apache procs * 6 MB) = 426 MB
mod_php 26 processes * (26 MB - 13 MB shared) + 13 MB shared = 351 MB

Apache threaded MPM Worker
fcgi 15 processes * (40 MB - 21 MB shared) + 21 MB shared + (10 Apache procs * 25 MB) = 290 MB
mod_php 26 processes * (26 MB - 13 MB shared) + 13 MB shared = 351 MB

The exact figures will vary for your site, depending on how you configured Apache and what modules you have enabled on your Drupal site.

Maximum number of processes

Setting the upper limit for the number php-cgi processes is possible but tricky. Normally MaxProcessCount should be the parameter to set to prevent creation of PHP processes above the number set for that parameter. I had to dig in the mod_fcgid source to find that parameter.

Make sure that you set this figure to a reasonable one. Setting it too low will cause an error to be logged in your web servers error log, for example:

[Sun Jul 25 17:06:23 2010] [notice] mod_fcgid: /home/example.com/www/index.php total process count 25 >= 25, skip the spawn request

On a 512MB VPS for example, a value of 7 to 10 seems to be adequate. For an 8GB dedicated server, a value of 45 or even higher will do. The exact figures will depend on how many modules you have, and how memory they consume.

Also, make sure that you do not set PHP_FCGI_CHILDREN at all. What happens is that fcgid uses it as a multiplier, not an upper maximum, and PHP will kept on breeding like rabbits, and the server will thrash and swap very quickly.

Performance benchmarking

We conducted performance benchmarks comparing mod_php and mod_fcgid. The conclusion is that mod_php is a bit faster than fcgid, but not by much.

Our benchmarks how the following at different concurrency levels:

With 4 concurrent users
Transactions:                    826 hits
Response time:                  0.58 secs
Transaction rate:               6.90 trans/sec
Successful transactions:         826
Longest transaction:            2.13
Shortest transaction:           0.26
Apache mod_php
Transactions:                    853 hits
Response time:                  0.56 secs
Transaction rate:               7.12 trans/sec
Successful transactions:         853
Longest transaction:            0.95
Shortest transaction:           0.26
With 15 concurrent users:
Transactions:                    674 hits
Elapsed time:                 120.35 secs
Response time:                  2.65 secs
Transaction rate:               5.60 trans/sec
Concurrency:                   14.83
Successful transactions:         674
Longest transaction:            7.28
Shortest transaction:           2.23
Apache mod_php
Transactions:                    748 hits
Elapsed time:                 120.42 secs
Response time:                  2.40 secs
Transaction rate:               6.21 trans/sec
Concurrency:                   14.90
Successful transactions:         748
Longest transaction:            4.19
Shortest transaction:           1.80 

Hunter Scott Newman  confirmed the benchmarks independently, and sent us the following results. Note that he is using the threded Apache server with fcgid.

Apache Worker + fcgid
4 users
Requests per second:    391.59 [#/sec] (mean)
Time per request:       10.215 [ms] (mean)
Time per request:       2.554 [ms] (mean, across all concurrent requests)
10 users
Requests per second:    585.91 [#/sec] (mean)
Time per request:       17.067 [ms] (mean)
Time per request:       1.707 [ms] (mean, across all concurrent requests)
50 users
Requests per second:    647.78 [#/sec] (mean)
Time per request:       77.187 [ms] (mean)
Time per request:       1.544 [ms] (mean, across all concurrent requests)
Apache Prefork + mod_php
4 users
Requests per second:    445.88 [#/sec] (mean)
Time per request:       8.971 [ms] (mean)
Time per request:       2.243 [ms] (mean, across all concurrent requests)
10 users
Requests per second:    655.13 [#/sec] (mean)
Time per request:       15.264 [ms] (mean)
Time per request:       1.526 [ms] (mean, across all concurrent requests)
50 users
Requests per second:    670.00 [#/sec] (mean)
Time per request:       74.627 [ms] (mean)
Time per request:       1.493 [ms] (mean, across all concurrent requests) 

Benefits and advantages

There are several advantages for using fcgid. Performance is not one of them, but the penalty may be well worth it for the following advantages:

  • Less memory consumption. Apache processes that serve static files are very small (3MB or less). So we can have more of those in memory.
  • Less network connections active, since there are less PHP process
  • Less database connections active, since there are less PHP processes. This is a very important point, since MySQL performance drops as the number of connections increase.

Case study: Large site with fcgid

In order to show what fcgid can help with, consider the following graphs. See the before and after comparison.

Memory usage by day, before and after.

Memory usage fcgid - day

The same was true over a week too.

Memory usage fcgid - by week

And the number of MySQL threads went down dramatically, because only PHP processes will connect to it, and not every Apache process.

fcgid MySQL threads

And also the number of network connections inside the server.

fcgid - Network connections

And just to make our lives easier, we wrote a monitoring script that will plot the number of php-cgi processes on a graph. We can know what is going on and what was going on too.

Munin php-cgi monitor

Caveats and precautions

Not everything is rosy though. There has to be some drawback.

APC still stores the op-code caches for Drupal and its modules. It has to do the parsing more often though, unlike on mod_php.

Because of that, you may on occasions see errors such as "Fatal error: Allowed memory size of nnnnnn bytes exhausted (tried to allocate nnnn bytes)". Reloading the page causes it to load normally.

Although we have not dug too deep into it, we have found is that APC is not shared among the processes. And because the php-cgi processes are killed and new ones spawned, the persistence of APC's user/data cache cannot be relied upon. This is not important for most users, but if you are using things like the Drupal cache router module or the performance logging module, this will impact you.


If pure speed is what you are after, then stay with mod_php.

However, for better resource usage and efficiency, consider moving to fcgid.


Here are some other links on fcgid. Note that some of the configurations mentioned recommend the use the PHP_FCGI_CHILDREN and other settings that proved disastrous. They also do not mention the MaxProcessCount parameter which we found from the source code.

Update: Article updated to use Apache threaded server (MPM Worker) instead of the pre-fork server. This provides lots of memory savings.


Tue, 2011/12/13 - 17:03


It seems that the server (hardware configuration) itself isn't specifically relevant.. Its more to do with the number of sites running on the server.. It would appear that each site (apache virtual host) is its own "class" as defined by fcgid and so a new fcgid/php process is spawned for each site..

I have tested your theory about keepalive holding on and can confirm that even waiting a long time and closing the browser doesn't allow the different sites to use the same php process.. It still creates a new one if one isn't already running for that site..

As regards APC, its simply not an option for smaller servers that aren't running mod_php.. I am investigating xcache which it seems might share memory across processes spawned for the same site.. I doubt there will be any sharing between processes spawned for different sites..

A lot of this may be the reason that the majority of articles about Drupal optimisation are centred around mod_php as the php handler so that APC is viable and with the claimed performance gains the apache resource utilisation and blocking factors when running mod_php are negated..

Tue, 2011/12/13 - 17:12

We've run this configuration on 512MB VPS with 4 sites on it, and never saw that issue you are facing.

Again, we don't use any class parameters.

Here is the configuration used, on Ubuntu Server 8.04 LTS:

  AddHandler fcgid-script .fcgi .php
  DefaultInitEnv PHPRC        "/etc/php5/cgi"
  MaxRequestsPerProcess       1000
  MaxProcessCount             5
  IPCCommTimeout              600
  IdleTimeout                 600
  FCGIWrapper /usr/bin/php-cgi .php

We run a different setup for several high traffic sites that get up to 3 million page views a day, with no issues. But these large sites are one site per server anyway due to the traffic levels.

Tue, 2011/12/13 - 19:07

I changed my config to be exactly the same as what you have just posted but I am definitely still seeing a separate fcgid/php process per apache virtual host..

Also strangely with your config but with FcgidMaxProcesses 3, I was able to visit 5 sites and start 5 fcgid processes which seems to suggest the FcgidMaxProcesses is being ignored somewhere somehow..

I will setup a fresh Ubuntu 10.04 server tomorrow and configure it from scratch and see if I can repeat this behaviour on a new server..

Tue, 2011/12/13 - 19:22

We found differences between 10.04 and 8.04.

Here is the configuration on Ubuntu Server LTS 8.04, Xen VPS, 512MB, 4 sites.

  AddHandler fcgid-script .fcgi .php
  DefaultInitEnv PHPRC        "/etc/php5/cgi"
  FCGIWrapper /usr/bin/php-cgi .php
  MaxRequestsPerProcess       1000
  MaxProcessCount             5
  IPCCommTimeout              600
  IdleTimeout                 600

Here is the configuration on Ubuntu Server LTS 10.04, dedicated, 16GB, single site.

  AddHandler fcgid-script .fcgi .php
  FcgidInitialEnv PHPRC  "/etc/php5/cgi"
  FcgidWrapper /usr/bin/php-cgi .php
  FcgidMaxRequestsPerProcess 5000
  FcgidMaxProcesses            40
  FcgidIdleTimeout            300
  FcgidIOTimeout              300
  FcgidProcessLifeTime        600

You can see that we found differences on which parameters restrict the maximum number of processes so we don't overflow memories.

Note that one is a single site, and the other is multi-site though.

Wed, 2011/12/14 - 13:26

Thanks for the examples..

I have confirmed that each virtual host does in fact start a new fcgi process.. Also by reading the mod_fcgid page on apache.org it details the following..

Certain settings or other concepts that depend on the virtual host, such as FcgidInitialEnv or process classes, distinguish between virtual hosts only if they have distinct server names. (See the ServerName documentation for more information.) In the case of FcgidInitialEnv, if two virtual hosts have the same server name but different environments as defined by FcgidInitialEnv, the environment used for a particular request will be that defined for the virtual host of the request that caused the FastCGI process to be started.

So it appears that if running multiple virtual servers on the same box its a good idea to set FcgidMaxProcessesPerClass, FcgidMinProcessesPerClass and either FcgidProcessLifetime or FcgidIdleTimeout (not sure the difference between these two) to settings that work for your particular server.. This will avoid one site using up ALL available slots (defined by FcgidMaxProcesses) and will kill off fcgid processes that are idle to reduce memory usage..

These settings can be over ridden in the VirtualHost config to allow for some fine tuning..

i using MPM worker, i found better performance with worker
but when i checked the mem usage, i found that 1 apache process is using 200MB

Why this,

my worker module conf

StartServers 1
MaxClients 40
MinSpareThreads 10
MaxSpareThreads 40
ThreadsPerChild 20
MaxRequestsPerChild 1000

i installed apc also

check this link http://discusswire.com/problem.png

Fri, 2013/05/17 - 15:50

For your apache configuration, do you use Keealive?

What are the values you use for keepalivetimeout, and for apache timeout?

Thank you in advance.

Fri, 2013/05/17 - 16:00

We no longer recommend fcgid. Ever since Ubuntu 12.04 was released, we recommend PHP FPM, which is in the repositories. We will be writing an article on it in the near future.

For timeouts, the following works well for most sites:

KeepAlive On
MaxKeepAliveRequests 30
KeepAliveTimeout 3
Timeout 5

Sat, 2013/05/18 - 07:38

But, isn't php-fpm bad if i've for example a vps with 10 sites from different clients?

Wed, 2013/07/24 - 04:27


this is a great explained article but i have a question, when i try to enable fcgid it says it have already been enabled so that mean i already have that module, so should i continue with the rest of the process? also i looked in to vhost.conf and i can see

Options -Indexes +IncludesNOEXEC +SymLinksIfOwnerMatch +ExecCGI
allow from all
AllowOverride All Options=ExecCGI,Includes,IncludesNOEXEC,Indexes,MultiViews,SymLinksIfOwnerMatch
AddHandler fcgid-script .php
AddHandler fcgid-script .php5
FCGIWrapper /home/seekdl/fcgi-bin/php5.fcgi .php
FCGIWrapper /home/seekdl/fcgi-bin/php5.fcgi .php5

allow from all
AllowOverride All Options=ExecCGI,Includes,IncludesNOEXEC,Indexes,MultiViews,SymLinksIfOwnerMatch

can i still continue with the step 01) 1. Create a new file in /etc/apache2/conf.d/php-fcgid.conf and put the following in it:

Kindly let me know

Thank you


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