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stbuehler, 2012-12-01 11:33

Performance Improvements

Module: core

Description - Performance Issues

lighttpd is optimized into varying directions. The most important direction is
performance. The operation system has two major facilities to help lighttpd deliver its
best performance.

HTTP Keep-Alive

Disabling keep-alive might help your server if you suffer from a large
number of open file descriptors.

The defaults for the server are:

  server.max-keep-alive-requests = 16
  server.max-keep-alive-idle = 5
  server.max-read-idle = 60
  server.max-write-idle = 360

Handling 16 keep-alive requests in a row on a single connection, waiting 5 seconds
before an unused keep-alive connection gets dropped by lighttpd.

If you handle several connections at once under a high load (let's assume 500 connections
in parallel for 24h) you might run into the out-of-fd problem described below. ::

  server.max-keep-alive-requests = 4
  server.max-keep-alive-idle = 4

It would release the connections earlier and would free file descriptors without a
detrimental performance loss.

Disabling keep-alive completely is the last resort if you are still short on file descriptors: ::

  server.max-keep-alive-requests = 0

Event Handlers

The first one is the Event Handler which takes care of notifying the server
that one of the connections is ready to send or receive.
Every OS has at least the select() call which has some limitations.

See server.event-handler for details on how to set an event handler in lighty.

For more information on this topic take a look at and

Network Handlers

The basic network interface for all platforms at the syscalls read() and
write(). Every modern OS provides its own syscall to help network servers
transfer files as fast as possible.

If you want to send out a file from the webserver, it doesn't make any sense
to copy the file into the webserver just to write() it back into a socket
in the next step.

sendfile() minimizes the work in the application and pushes a file directly
into the network card (ideally).

lighttpd supports all major platform-specific calls:

OS Method Config Value
all write write
Unix writev writev
Linux 2.4+ sendfile linux-sendfile
Linux 2.6+ sendfile64 linux-sendfile
Solaris sendfilev solaris-sendfilev
FreeBSD sendfile freebsd-sendfile

The best backend is selected at compile time. In case you want to use
another backend set: = "writev" 

You can find more information about network backend in:

Max Connections

As lighttpd is a single-threaded server, its main resource limit is the
number of file descriptors, which is set to 1024 by default (on most systems).

If you are running a high-traffic site you might want to increase this limit
by setting:

  server.max-fds = 2048

This only works if lighttpd is started as root.

Note that SELinux can prevent lighttpd from setting the maximum number of
open file descriptions, at least on Fedora and RHEL/EPEL5.

To create a SELinux module allowing lighttpd to set server.max-fds:

# /usr/sbin/semodule -DB
# service auditd restart
# service lighttpd restart
# grep lighttpd /var/log/audit/audit.log | audit2allow -M lighttpdmaxfds
# semodule -i lighttpdmaxfds.pp
# service lighttpd start
Starting lighttpd:                                         [  OK  ]
# /usr/sbin/semodule -B

You can look for lighttpd's maximum number of open file descriptors in /proc:

# cat /proc/`ps ax | grep lighttpd | grep -v grep | awk -F " " '{print $1}'`/limits |grep "Max open files" 
Max open files            2048                 2048                 files 

Out-of-fd condition

Since file descriptors are used for TCP/IP sockets, files and directories,
a simple request for a PHP page might result in using 3 file descriptors:

  1. the TCP/IP socket to the client
  2. the TCP/IP and Unix domain socket to the FastCGI process
  3. the filehandle to the file in the document root to check if it exists

If lighttpd runs out of file descriptors, it will stop accepting new
connections for awhile to use the existing file descriptors to handle the
currently-running requests.

If more than 90% of the file descriptors are used then the handling of new
connections is disabled. If it drops below 80% again new connections will
be accepted again.

Under some circumstances you will see

... accept() failed: Too many open files

in the error log. This tells you there were too many new requests at once
and lighttpd could not disable the incoming connections soon enough. The
connection was dropped and the client received an error message like 'connection
failed'. This is very rare and might only occur in test setups.

Increasing the ``server.max-fds`` limit will reduce the probability of this

stat() cache

A stat(2) can be expensive; caching it saves time and context switches.

Instead of using stat() every time to check for the existence of a file
you can stat() it once and monitor the directory the file is in for
modifications. As long as the directory doesn't change, the files in it
must all still be the same.

With the help of FAM or gamin you can use kernel events to assure that
your stat cache is up to date. Alternatively you can use the "simple"
method, which caches results for up to one second.

Enabling the stat cache can significantly improve performance on
heavily-loaded servers:

  server.stat-cache-engine = "fam"   # either fam, simple or disabled

See for information about FAM.
See for information about gamin.

See also:

Platform-Specific Notes


For Linux 2.4.x you should think about compiling lighttpd with the option
``--disable-lfs`` to disable the support for files larger than 2GB. lighttpd will
fall back to the ``writev() + mmap()`` network calls which is ok, but not as
fast as possible but support files larger than 2GB.

Disabling the TCP options reduces the overhead of each TCP packet and might
help to get the last few percent of performance out of the server. Be aware that
disabling these options most likely decreases performance for high-latency and lossy

  • net.ipv4.tcp_sack = 0
  • net.ipv4.tcp_timestamps = 0

Note: Be carefull with net.ipv4.tcp_timestamps. It caused massive problems for me under benchmark load with a high count of concurrent connections.

Increasing the TCP send and receive buffers will increase the performance a
lot if (and only if) you have a lot of large files to send.

  • net.ipv4.tcp_wmem = 4096 65536 524288
  • net.core.wmem_max = 1048576

If you have a lot of large file uploads, increasing the receive buffers will help.

  • net.ipv4.tcp_rmem = 4096 87380 524288
  • net.core.rmem_max = 1048576

Some things that a high-traffic site found useful:

  # These ensure that TIME_WAIT ports either get reused or closed fast.
  net.ipv4.tcp_fin_timeout = 1
  net.ipv4.tcp_tw_recycle = 1
  # TCP memory
  net.core.rmem_max = 16777216
  net.core.rmem_default = 16777216
  net.core.netdev_max_backlog = 262144
  net.core.somaxconn = 262144

  net.ipv4.tcp_syncookies = 1
  net.ipv4.tcp_max_orphans = 262144
  net.ipv4.tcp_max_syn_backlog = 262144
  net.ipv4.tcp_synack_retries = 2
  net.ipv4.tcp_syn_retries = 2

  # you shouldn't be using conntrack on a heavily loaded server anyway, but these are 
  # suitably high for our uses, insuring that if conntrack gets turned on, the box doesn't die
  net.ipv4.netfilter.ip_conntrack_max = 1048576
  net.nf_conntrack_max = 1048576

Keep in mind that every TCP connection uses the configured amount of memory for socket
buffers. If you've got many connections this can quickly drain the available memory.

See for more information on these parameters.


On FreeBSD you might gain some performance by enabling accept filters. Just
compile your kernel with:


or just load it using

  kldload accf_http 

For more ideas about tuning FreeBSD read: tuning(7)

Reducing the recvspace should always be ok if the server only handles HTTP
requests without large uploads. Increasing the sendspace would reduce the
system load if you have a lot of large files to be sent, but keep in mind that
you have to provide the memory in the kernel for each connection. 1024 * 64KB
would mean 64MB of kernel RAM. Keep this in mind.

  • net.inet.tcp.recvspace = 4096

Updated by stbuehler over 8 years ago · 27 revisions