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How to reduce PHP-FPM (php5-fpm) RAM usage by about 50%

PHP-FPM is the FastCGI Process Manager for PHP. On Unix-like operating systems, including Linux and BSD distributions, PHP-FPM is enabled by installing the php5-fpm (Linux) or php56-fpm (FreeBSD 10.1) package.

The problem with PHP-FPM is that the default configuration and that promoted by numerous blogs chews up too much resources – RAM and CPU. The server that powers this blog suffers from the same fate. And that’s because I used the same tutorials available out there that promote inefficient PHP-FPM configuration options.

You’ll find those inefficient configuration options in the pool file or files under the /etc/php5/fpm/pool.d directory. Here, for example, is the set of inefficient configuration options on one of my Cloud servers (not the one that powers this site):

; Choose how the process manager will control the number of child processes.
pm = dynamic
pm.max_children = 75
pm.start_servers = 10
pm.min_spare_servers = 5
pm.max_spare_servers = 20
pm.max_requests = 500

That particular server is a DigitalOcean Droplet with 512 MB of RAM (that, by the way, is my referral link). It currently hosts one new website and when idle (no traffic whatsoever), only swapping saves it from freezing. The output of top shows the major consumers of RAM on the server.

13891 cont      20   0  396944  56596  33416 S  0.0 11.3   0:14.05 php5-fpm
13889 cont      20   0  396480  56316  32916 S  0.0 11.2   0:17.67 php5-fpm
13887 cont      20   0  624212  55088  32008 S  0.0 11.0   0:14.02 php5-fpm
13890 cont      20   0  396384  55032  32312 S  0.0 11.0   0:13.39 php5-fpm
13888 cont      20   0  397056  54972  31988 S  0.0 11.0   0:14.16 php5-fpm
14464 cont      20   0  397020  54696  31832 S  0.0 10.9   0:09.44 php5-fpm
13892 cont      20   0  396640  54704  31936 S  0.0 10.9   0:12.84 php5-fpm

13883 cont      20   0  396864  54692  31940 S  0.0 10.9   0:15.64 php5-fpm
13893 cont      20   0  396860  54628  32004 S  0.0 10.9   0:15.13 php5-fpm
13885 cont      20   0  396852  54412  32116 S  0.0 10.8   0:13.94 php5-fpm
13884 cont      20   0  395164  53916  32364 S  0.0 10.7   0:13.51 php5-fpm
13989 cont      20   0  394960  53548  32108 S  3.7 10.7   0:14.37 php5-fpm
2778 mysql     20   0 1359152  31704   1728 S  0.7  6.3   1:38.80 mysqld
13849 root      20   0  373832   1180    188 S  0.0  0.2   0:03.27 php5-fpm

That output shows 12 php5-fpm child processes (owner cont) spawned from one master process (owner root). And all 12 are just sitting there, doing nothing but consuming more than 10% of RAM each. And those child processes where mostly made possible by the pm = dynamic pool configuration option.

To be honest, the vast majority of Cloud server owners do not know what all those options mean or do. It’s mostly copying and pasting. And I will not pretend that I know what every option in every PHP files means or does. I, too, for the most part, was a victim of copying and pasting.

But I examine resource usage often and always wonder why my servers use up too much RAM and CPU. Here, for another example, is the output of free -mt on this particular server.

              total       used       free     shared    buffers     cached
Mem:           490        480          9         31          6         79
-/+ buffers/cache:        393         96
Swap:         2047        491       1556
Total:        2538        971       1566

That’s almost 1 GB of memory usage (actual RAM plus swap) with no traffic. Sure, tuning the pm values would have made a difference, but only slightly; with pm = dynamic, there will still be child processes sitting idle waiting to be called into action.

I became aware of what an alternative configuration would do after reading an article titled A better way to run PHP-FPM. It was written about a year ago, so it’s kinda disappointing that I came across it while searching for a related topic just last night. If you run your own server and use PHP with PHP-FPM, you need to read that article.

After I read it, I changed the pm options in the pool configuration file to these:

; Choose how the process manager will control the number of child processes.
pm = ondemand
pm.max_children = 75
pm.process_idle_timeout = 10s
pm.max_requests = 500

The major change was setting pm = ondemand instead of pm = dynamic. And the impact on resource usage was drastic. Here, for example, is the output of free -mt after reloading php5-fpm:

              total       used       free     shared    buffers     cached
Mem:           490        196        293         28          9         70
-/+ buffers/cache:        116        373
Swap:         2047        452       1595
Total:        2538        649       1888

Compared to the output before, that’s more than a 50% drop in RAM usage. And the reason became obvious when I viewed top again:

 2778 mysql     20   0 1359152  56708   3384 S  0.0 11.3   2:11.06 mysqld                               
26896 root      20   0  373828  19000  13532 S  0.0  3.8   0:02.42 php5-fpm                             25818 root      20   0   64208   4148   1492 S  0.0  0.8   0:01.88 php5-fpm
25818 root      20   0   64208   4148   1492 S  0.0  0.8   0:01.88 php5-fpm                            
17385 root      20   0   64208   4068   1416 S  0.0  0.8   0:02.23 php5-fpm                              1465 ossec     20   0   15592   2960    480 S  0.0  0.6   0:08.60 ossec-analysisd                      
 1500 root      20   0    6312   2072    328 S  0.0  0.4   0:45.55 ossec-syscheckd                          1 root      20   0   33444   1940    812 S  0.0  0.4   0:03.29 init 

Did you notice that there are no child processes? What happened to them? That’s what setting pm = ondemand does. A child process is spawned only when needed. After it’s done its job, it remains idle for 10 seconds (pm.process_idle_timeout = 10s) and then dies.

So what I have is a simple modification to the default PHP-FPM settings that saved me more than 50% of RAM. Sure, the server hasn’t come under heavy traffic, but I think it can withstand a reasonably heavy traffic, considering that it only has 512 MB of RAM. And with Nginx microcaching configured, I think it will do very well. There are other aspects of PHP-FPM and Percona MySQL that I’ve not optimized yet, so stay tuned. This was just to pass on a little tip that I found useful.



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5 years ago


please comment using your configuration for big server is it work.

I use it and it reduce ram the culpit is php7.2-fpm it eat all ram.


David Levy
David Levy
7 years ago

The later part of the original tutorial of having each sub pool conf have it’s own master process I couldn’t get to work, and I followed the instructions exactly… anyone else able to get multiple PHP-FPM masters working?

8 years ago

This config suggestion is stinky unless you have a very inactive website. Of course you will limit the memory usage in idle mode with this config, but if you have a highly active website, this config will drain CPU and IO uneccessarily as each PHP environment needs to be loaded to your memory before it actually – and where does the environment come from (a: disk) and who will handle it (a: cpu)? Leaving the process “open” and ready in your memory means that the PHP environment is preloaded in order to handle your visitors requests.

One very powerful option with PHP-FPM is the performance. But this performance depends on having processes preloaded. When switching to on demand you actually kills this idea, and could rather go with something else like the horrible slow suphp.

Suggestion. Do always keep atleast one process alive and swith pm to dynamic, as it would always fall back to “pm.start_servers” in idle periods. If you have memory limits do instead tweak the pm.max_children setting.

8 years ago

Hi, could you explain more about this ” .. Nginx microcaching configured ..” ?


8 years ago

What you fail to mention is that setting it to ondemand means longer response times as the PHP interpreter has to be started from scratch every time it’s needed. Consider leaving it at dynamic and rely on low values for the pm.max_children, pm.max_requests, and pm.process_idle_timeout settings to clear out memory usage.

Matt Fletcher
Matt Fletcher
8 years ago

This is useful, and yes it does work.

However, it is in some ways selling snake oil because you’re not making it any less memory-hungry; instead, you’re just preventing it from pre-allocating a maximum amount of memory, so it’s easier to get bitten on the arse when your server runs out of memory from a traffic spike. Even though PHP-FPM using up 600mb of memory, for instance, when it’s doing nothing, it allows you to work out how much memory everything else will need before the whole thing explodes.

Still, I think this is a good option for smaller sites that don’t get a huge amount of traffic, especially if you limit the max connections. So I will be using it, but people just need to be warned that it will still use the same amount of memory for the same amount of connections- but that sudden RAM spike may come as a shock.

Akpan Promise
8 years ago

Believe it or not, this tweak reduced my php5-fpm RAM usage by half. Good work Bro.

8 years ago


Thanks for this tweak, just tried it….. since i started using my own server this is the first time php-fpm is over using CPU

Fedrianto Ramadhan
8 years ago

Thank you… this helped me a lot

8 years ago

amazing, it reduced RAM usage more than 50% to me 🙂

8 years ago

I have website with 100 to 200 Concurrent Users. 2GB RAM and 2 CPU Cores So what will be good config?

My Current is

pm = dynamic
pm.start_servers = 1
pm.max_children = 5
pm.min_spare_servers = 1
pm.max_spare_servers = 5

What can be good?

8 years ago

I think its important to point out that using less memory is a secondary issue to latency. If the box is spending time spinning up and down workers, that added latency is felt by the consumer.

These settings might work for a small website. I would not recommend it for high usage systems. From my testing, I get the the best performance using static workers as the expense of increased memory usage.

Reply to  Erik
8 years ago

Less memory is not a secondary issue to latency if it’s a small site and other things have to run in the same space. Linode servers give you a gig for the $10/mo option, and you have to make it last…

8 years ago


Found you on google.
Here’s an output of server resources usage on DO:
24069 serverp+ 20 0 490016 99564 70984 S 2.7 9.8 2:35.12 php-fpm
24847 serverp+ 20 0 484932 93696 69316 S 2.7 9.2 1:53.23 php-fpm
24070 serverp+ 20 0 490668 101784 71420 S 2.2 10.0 2:08.30 php-fpm
24072 serverp+ 20 0 489028 100720 71996 S 2.2 9.9 2:06.21 php-fpm
23977 serverp+ 20 0 484444 97488 73492 S 1.8 9.6 2:12.38 php-fpm
23996 serverp+ 20 0 493456 107496 74340 S 1.8 10.6 2:22.87 php-fpm
24231 serverp+ 20 0 488612 100456 72248 S 1.8 9.9 2:07.68 php-fpm
25955 serverp+ 20 0 491272 97948 67044 S 1.8 9.6 1:12.52 php-fpm

serverpilot@server:~$ free -ht
total used free shared buffers cached
Mem: 994M 925M 68M 104M 88M 216M
-/+ buffers/cache: 620M 374M
Swap: 511M 35M 476M
Total: 1.5G 961M 544M

Gonna implement these changes straight away. Thank you.

Reply to  Richard
8 years ago

Can’t edit my comment, but my server runs with DO 1gb package and free package.

I made some custom config changes here and there, but I’m not a pro either.

8 years ago

In my case, I always have HIGH CPU USAGE and LOW RAM USAGE.
Is there any solution by tuning php5-fom? Or it is just a case of bad PHP/SQL scripts?

8 years ago

If you enable ondemand and timeout, what happens to opcache? Is the cache enable on a per-process basis, and if so does it get wiped when that process times out?

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