Friday, January 04, 2008

Drupal way :: A good article on Cache mechanism

An very helpful article on druapl cache mechanism that post from Lullabot:

Original article: click here

A beginner's guide to caching data

Building complicated, dynamic content in Drupal is easy, but it can come at a price. A lot of the stuff that makes a Web 2.0 site so cool can spell 'performance nightmare' under heavy load, thrashing the database to perform complex queries and expensive calculations every time a user looks at a node or loads a particular page.

One solution is to turn on page caching on Drupal's performance options administration page. That speeds things up for anonymous users by caching the output of each page, greatly reducing the number of DB queries needed when they hit the site. That doesn't help with logged in users, however: because page level caching is an all-or-nothing affair, it only works for the standardized, always-the-same view that anonymous users see when they arrive.

Eventually there comes a time when you have to dig in to your code, identify the database access hot spots, and add caching yourself. Fortunately, Drupal's built-in caching APIs and some simple guidelines can make that task easy.

The basics

The first rule of optimization and caching is this: never do something time consuming twice if you can hold onto the results and re-use them. Let's look at a simple example of that principle in action:

function my_module_function($reset = FALSE) {
static
$my_data;
if (!isset(
$my_data) || $reset) {
// Do your expensive calculations here, and populate $my_data
// with the correct stuff..
}
return
$my_data;
}
?>

The important part to look at in this function is the static variable named $my_data. Static variables start out empty the first time a function is called, but they keep the data they're populated with even when the function is called again. That means that we can check if the variable is already populated, and if so return it immediately without doing any more work.

This pattern appears all over the place in Drupal -- including key functions like node_load(). Calling node_load() for a particular node ID requires database hits the first time, but the resulting information is kept in a static variable for the duration of the page load. That way, displaying a node once in a list, a second time in a block, and a third time in a list of related links (for example) doesn't require three full trips to the database.

Another important feature is the use of the $reset variable. Caching is good, but occasionally you want to be sure you're getting the absolute freshest data available. Using a 'reset' variable in your function, and always performing the 'expensive' version of the function if it's set to TRUE, lets you bypass caching when you really need to.

Drupal's cache functions

You might notice that the static variable technique only stores data for the duration of a single page load. For even better performance, it's often possible to cache data in a more permanent fashion...

function my_module_function($reset = FALSE) {
static
$my_data;
if (!isset(
$my_data) || $reset) {
if (!
$reset && ($cache = cache_get('my_module_data')) && !empty($cache->data)) {
$my_data = unserialize($cache->data);
}
else {
// Do your expensive calculations here, and populate $my_data
// with the correct stuff..
cache_set('my_module_data', 'cache', serialize($my_data));
}
}
return
$my_data;
}
?>

This version of the function still uses the static variable, but it adds another layer: database caching. Drupal's APIs provide three key functions you'll need to be familiar with: cache_get(), cache_set(), and cache_clear_all(). Let's look at how they're used.

After the initial check of the static variable, this function checks Drupal's cache for data stored with a particular key. If it finds it, and the $cache->data element isn't empty, it unserializes the stored data and sticks it into the $my_data variable.

If no cached version is found (or if we called the function using the $reset parameter), the function does the actual work of generating the data. Then it serializes it, and save it TO the cache so future requests will find it. The key that you pass in as the first parameter can by anything you choose, though it's important to avoid colliding with any other modules' keys. Starting the key with the name of your module is always a good idea.

The end result? A slick little function that saves time whenever it can -- first checking for an in-memory copy of the data, then checking the cache, and finally calculating it from scratch if necessary. You'll see this pattern a lot if you dig into the guts of data-intensive Drupal modules.

Keeping up to date

What happens, though, if the data that you've cached becomes outdated and needs to be recalculated? By default, cached information stays around until some module explicitly calls the cache_clear_all() function, emptying out your record. If your data is updated sporadically, you might consider simply calling cache_clear_all('my_module_data', 'cache') each time you save the changes to it. If you're caching quite a few pieces of data (perhaps versions of a particular block for each role on the site), there's a third 'wildcard' parameter:

('my_module', 'cache', TRUE);
?>

This clears out all the cache values whose keys start with 'my_module'.

If you don't need your cached data to be perfectly up-to-the-second, but you want to keep it reasonably fresh, you can also pass in an expiration date to the cache_set() function. For example:

('my_module_data', 'cache', serialize($my_data), time() + 360);
?>

The final parameter is a unix timestamp value representing the 'expiration date' of the cache data. The easiest way to calculate it is to use the time() function, and add the data's desired lifetime in seconds. Expired entries will be automatically discarded as they pass that date.

Advanced caching

You might have noticed that cache_set()'s second parameter is 'cache' -- the name of the table that stores the default cache data. If you're storing large amounts of data in the cache, you can set up your own dedicated cache table and pass its name into the function. That will help keep your cache lookups speedy no matter what other modules are sticking into their own tables. The Views module uses that technique to maintain full control over when its cache data is cleared.

If you're really hoping to squeeze the most out of your server, Drupal also supports the use of alternative caching systems. By changing a single line in your site's settings.php file, you can point it to different implementations of the standard cache_set(), cache_get(), and cache_clear_all() functions. File-based caching, integration with the open source memcached project, and other approaches are all possible. As long as you've used the standard Drupal caching functions, your module's code won't have to be altered.

A few caveats

Like all good things, it's possible to overdo it with caching. Sometimes, it just doesn't make sense -- if you're looking up a single record from a table, saving the result to a database cache is silly. Using the Devel module is a good way to spot the functions where caching will pay off: it can log the queries that are used on your site and highlight the ones that are slow, or the ones that are repeated numerous times on each page.

Other times, the data you're using will just be a bad fit for the standard caching system. If you need to join cached data in SQL queries, for example, cache_set()'s practice of string data as a serialized string will be a problem. In those cases, you'll need to come up with a solution that's specific to your module. VotingAPI maintains one table full of individual votes and another table full of calculated results (averages, sums, etc.) for quick joining when sorting and filtering nodes.

Finally, it's important to remember that the cache is not long term storage! Since other modules can call cache_clear_all() and wipe it out, you should never put something into it if you can't recalculate it again using the original source data.

Go west, young Drupaler!

Congratulations: you now have a powerful set of tools to speed up your code! Go forth, and optimize.