Janos Pasztor

Setting up Apache with PHP-FPM

How PHP-FPM works

To understand the whole setup we must first take a look at PHP-FPM. If you’ve set up PHP with FastCGI under Apache before you may have noticed that Apache runs all the PHP processes and they are executed under a specific user using the suexec binary which runs as root with the SUID bit on.

Even though PHP could run as a standalone binary and work as a FastCGI server before, it only became widey used with the release of PHP-FPM. In this mode the PHP process runs standalone without the need for a webserver and listens for incoming requests on either a TCP or a Unix socket. Webservers can connect the PHP process and send requests using the FastCGI protocol.

With PHP-FPM however one could define multiple – so-called – pools which could run using different settings and even user ID’s. This made the FPM ideal for multi-tenant hosting.

Setting up the PHP-FPM

In our examples I’m going to illustrate the process for Ubuntu Linux, the process should however work very similar with other Linux distributions.

First of all if you haven’t already, you need to install the FPM-CGI binary for PHP:

apt-get install php5-fpm

You’ll have a few new files to configure. First of all you need to set up a pool for yourself. To do this take a look at /etc/php5/pool.d/www.conf. The file is full of comments so you should find your way around. The most important option is the listen option. This will tell your pool where to listen for connections, by default listen = Be sure to check this setting because your Apache will need to connect this port. For the first try I recommend leaving everything as it is and restarting the FPM by running:

service php5-fpm restart

Setting up Apache

You can set up Apache with two FastCGI modules: mod_fastcgi and mod_fcgid, however mod_fcgid cannot handle external servers as far as I know, which makes it pretty useless with PHP-FPM.

mod_fastcgi is the “classic” module from the makers of FastCGI. To make it work with PHP you need to route the request through several detours. In fact it works much like using the suexec binary.

To use mod_fastcgi, you first need to install it on your server:

apt-get install libapache2-mod-fastcgi

Once installed, you need to set up a (non-existent) URL that Apache can route the requests through. This URL must be available under your web root, so if your webroot is /var/www, the URL might be /var/www/cgi-bin/php5.fcgi. As I said this file doesn’t have to exist at all.

Next you need to point your server to the external server for the aforementioned URL within your virtualhost configuration (so within <VirtualHost ... >):

FastCGIExternalServer /var/www/cgi-bin/php5.fcgi -host

As you can see, the cgi-bin/php5.fcgi URL is within your document root. It is a virtual URL that will capture all requests to that URL and send them to the PHP-FPM. Finally you need to send all files with the .php extension to this URL within a <Directory ... > directive:

AddType application/x-httpd-fastphp5 .php
Action application/x-httpd-fastphp5 /cgi-bin/php5.fcgi

This takes all files with the .php extension and defines a MIME type of application/x-httpd-fastphp5 for them. (You could use any MIME type.) The Action then sends all requests of this MIME type to the virtual URL created above, which is in turn then sent to the external FastCGI server.

And there you go, your PHP should now work! All this fancy magic is needed so simple image files and such don’t get routed to PHP, which would be a performance hog, a security hole AND would break things at times.

If you need to set up multiple FPM pools, you of course need to configure every pool to it’s separate port AND adjust the Apache configuration for each virtual host separately. So a virtual host configuration for a site would look like this:

<VirtualHost *:80>
	ServerName fpmtest.localhost

	DocumentRoot /var/www

	FastCGIExternalServer /var/www/cgi-bin/php5.fcgi -host

	<Directory /var/www>
		Order allow,deny
		Allow from all

		AddType application/x-httpd-fastphp5 .php
		Action application/x-httpd-fastphp5 /cgi-bin/php5.fcgi

Setting up multiple FPM pools

When you are setting up multiple FPM pools, you will need to assign a separate FastCGI port to each of them. That is port 9000 for the first, port 9001 to the second, etc. You then copy over your default configuration (Ubuntu: /etc/php5/fpm/pool.d/www.conf) to a second file (say www2.conf), change the pool name at the top and the listen directive.

The next step is to clone your Apache vhost file and change the appropriate directives (ServerName, FastCGIExternalServer, etc). Then restart both the FPM pool and Apache and you should be set.


It’s pretty easy to break this setup. There are however a few common mistakes you should avoid:

File not found

This is an error by PHP and basically means that it can’t find the file Apache sent it. You should take a look at your configured chroot and document root. If you chrooted, the path needs to be the same for the webserver and the PHP process, so if you request /var/www/index.php, the PHP process should be able to find such a file as well. If you’re in doubt, disable all advanced PHP options or take a look below in the “when all else fails” section.

When all else fails

If nothing else helps, you need to dig into the FastCGI protocol. Open up tcpdump (or Wireshark for easier viewing) and sniff into the FastCGI traffic. You should then be able to find out what the webserver requested of the FPM.

If that doesn’t help, you need to debug the FPM pool with strace. If you lack the experience, take a look at my description “Debugging applications with strace“.

I hope this little description helped to clarify the setup process. If you’re stuck or have more information to add, please use the comments box below.

Janos Pasztor

I'm a DevOps engineer with a strong background in both backend development and operations, with a history of hosting and delivering content.

I run an active DevOps and development community on Discord, and if you like what I do and would like me to do more, you can also support me on Patreon.

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