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Apache reverse proxy memory consumption observations

August 14, 2006

Last week I spent some time stress-testing Apache 2.2.3 configured to work as a reverse proxy. I discovered (actually, re-discovered would be more accurate) two issues worth sharing:

  1. Memory consumption of an Apache process will steadily increase as the number of processed requests rises. This is very easy to see if you send thousands of requests per second, with each request going to the same process. This has to be either a memory leak or a memory fragmentation issue. To deal with this you need to recycle processes before they become too large (and cause the operating system to start swapping). The MaxRequestsPerChild directive is meant to help with this. By setting its value to something other than zero (which means "unlimited") you are telling Apache to shut down every process that goes over the limit. No problems there. Except that it's where the second problem comes in.
  2. The MaxRequestsPerChild directive does not work as the name suggests. Apache does not count requests - it counts *connections*. This creates a problem if you have persistent connections enabled in your configuration - you don't know how many requests will come over a connection. It is probably safe to assume the number will not be large in most cases but you won't know if someone will try to abuse this problem and force a large number of requests over a single connection (e.g. by using a specially programmed script). To be on the safe side you need to divide your ideal MaxRequestsPerChild value with the MaxKeepAliveRequests value. This will prevent the Apache processes from growing too large. But there's a side effect - Apache will now recycle its worker processes more often. As your final step you need to make sure there are enough idle processes around (using  MinSpareServers) to jump in as soon as an active process goes down. Yo need to have a few of these processes because there is a performance penalty associated with the creation of a new process and because Apache creates new processes at a rate of one every second.