In my previous post, I talked about the performance budget for my website. My goal is to load from a cold cache in two seconds. From a primed cache, just one second. Before optimizations, I was at seven seconds.
I haven’t been working with WordPress for very long, but I have a gut feeling that WordPress is slow. It is super easy to customize, get running, and is pretty reliable. But when it comes to raw speed, I get the feeling that it’s gonna take some work.
WordPress is written in PHP. I’ve been using PHP as my primary server-side language since 2005, so I know a thing or two about it. I’ve written a blog or two on scaling PHP. The techniques I discuss in there apply to making PHP applications run on multiple servers, and it also helps with general speed.
The first replacement I made was getting rid of Apache for Nginx and PHP-FPM. Nginx is the best lightweight static file server I’ve ever used. PHP-FPM is quickly becoming the industry standard to evaluate PHP scripts. I also added the APC op-code cache to PHP-FPM so my scripts could have some internal caching.
Even with every trick I knew, I was still running at 7 seconds to load the index page.
I love a challenge, so it was time to get creative. Two or three years ago, I was interviewing a potential employee who had their website on their resume. Being the nerd I am, I brought up the website with Chrome’s DevTools open. When I looked at the Network tab, I saw a HTTP response header I’ve never seen before:
Huh? That seems strange. I did some research, and found it was coming from a caching accelerator named Varnish.
The way Varnish works is simple. It stores a cache of webpages using memcached. That means it puts it effectively in the server’s RAM. Which is fast. Really fast.
Orders of magnitude faster. I helped put Varnish on the Keyhole Software corporate website recently. It was running at 4 transactions a second before Varnish. After Varnish, I was getting 100 transactions per second.
Yeah, it’s fast. After getting rid of images and putting Varnish in front, this is what I got:
Coming from a cold cache, Varnish was serving my website in 1.7 seconds. So far so good. How about a primed cache:
Less than one second. Booyah.
I achieved my performance goals without any code changes. Zip, zero, zilch. All it took was being smart about my design, and making sure I was using the latest technologies to achieve my goals.
The next post I do will be about how to setup Varnish with Nginx and PHP-FPM for a WordPress site.
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