Running HHVM with a Webserver

I haven’t used HHVM yet because the use-case for the alternative PHP runtime didn’t came up. Today I was wondering if our Qafoo Profiler would run out of the box with HHVM using the builtin XHProf extension (Answer: It does).

For this experiment I wanted to run the wordpress blog of my wife on HHVM locally. It turns out this is not very easy with an existing LAMP stack, because mod-php5 and mod-fastcgi obviously compete for the execution of .php files.

Quick googling didn’t turn up a solution (there probably is one, hints in the comments are appreciated) and I didn’t want to install a Vagrant Box just for this. So I decided to turn this into a sunday side project. Requirements: A simple webserver that acts as proxy in front of HHVMs Fast-CGI. Think of it as the “builtin webserver” that HHVM is missing.

This turns out to be really simple with Go, a language I use a lot for small projects in the last months.

The code is very simple plumbing starting with a HTTP Server that accepts client requests, translates them to FastCGI requests, sending them to HHVM and then parsing the FastCGI Response to turn it into a HTTP Response.

As a PHP developer I am amazed how Go makes it easy to write this kind of infrastructure tooling. I prefer PHP for everything web related, but as I tried to explain in my talk at PHPBenelux last week, Go is a fantastic language to write small, self-contained infrastructure components (or Microservices if you want a buzzword).

Back to playing with HHVM, if you want to give your application a try with HHVM instead of ZendEngine PHP it boils down to installing a prebuilt HHVM package and then using my hhvm-serve command:

$ go get
$ hhvm-serve --document-root /var/www
Listening on http://localhost:8080
Document root is /var/www
Press Ctrl-C to quit.

The server passes all the necessary environment variables to HHVM so that catch-all front-controller scripts such as Wordpress index.php or Symfony’s app.php should just work.

If you don’t have a running Go Compiler setup this few lines should help you out on Ubuntu:

$ sudo apt-get install golang
$ GOPATH=~/go
$ mkdir -p ~/go/{src,bin,pkg}

You should put the $GOPATH and $PATH changes into your bashrc to make this a permanent solution.

Starting to run HHVM, a Wordpress installation is a good first candidate to check on, as I knew from HHVM team blog posts that Wordpress works. Using a simple siege based benchmark I was able to trigger the JIT compiler and the Profiler charts showed a nice performance boost minute after minute as HHVM replaces dynamic PHP with optimized (assembler?) code.

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