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I've got a server running on a Linode with Ubuntu 10.04 LTS, Nginx 0.7.65, MySQL 5.1.41 and PHP 5.3.2 with PHP-FPM.

There is a WordPress blog on it, updated to WordPress 3.2.1 recently.

I have made no changes to the server (except updating WordPress) and while it was running fine, a couple of days ago I started having downtimes.

I tried to solve the problem, and checking the error_log I saw many timeouts and messages that seemed to be related to timeouts. The server is currently logging this kind of errors:

2011/07/14 10:37:35 [warn] 2539#0: *104 an upstream response is buffered to a temporary file /var/lib/nginx/fastcgi/2/00/0000000002 while reading upstream, client:, server:, request: "GET /page/2/ HTTP/1.0", upstream: "fastcgi://", host: "", referrer: ""

2011/07/14 10:40:24 [error] 2539#0: *231 upstream timed out (110: Connection timed out) while reading response header from upstream, client:, server:, request: "GET / HTTP/1.1", upstream: "fastcgi://", host: "", referrer: ""

and even saw this previous serverfault discussion with a possible solution: to edit /etc/php/etc/php-fpm.conf and change


instead of

;request_terminate_timeout= 0

The server worked for some hours, and then broke again. I edited the file again to leave it as it was, and restarted again php-fpm (service php-fpm restart) but no luck: the server worked for a few minutes and back to the problem over and over. The strange thing is, although the services are running, htop shows there is no CPU load (see image) and I really don't know how to solve the problem.

enter image description here

The config files are on pastebin

The php-fpm.conf file is here

The /etc/nginx/nginx.conf is here

The /etc/nginx/sites-available/ is here

share|improve this question

Have you tried instead of "upstream" -ing in nginx.conf doing something like:

# Pass PHP scripts to PHP-FPM
location ~* \.php$ {
   try_files       $uri /index.php;
   fastcgi_index   index.php;
   include         fastcgi_params;
   fastcgi_param   SCRIPT_FILENAME    $document_root$fastcgi_script_name;
   fastcgi_param   SCRIPT_NAME        $fastcgi_script_name;

Take a look here

share|improve this answer
Thanks for the tip adrian7, at that time the problem was solved thanks to the hosting provider tips. I will remember your point -don't know if it would work, everything is fine now-, maybe it could be useful on future situations similar to this. Regards! – javipas May 14 '12 at 9:24
What was the "hosting provider tips" ? – Daniel T. Magnusson Jun 18 '12 at 9:36
I'm affraid I don't remember :( In fact, that server no longer exists. Sometime ago I moved everything from there to another VPS. Sorry! – javipas Jul 11 '12 at 15:33
@adrian7 Your suggestion is absolutely useless, as there's no difference between fastcgi_pass; and upstream backend { server; } fastcgi_pass backend;. – VBart Jul 23 '12 at 2:04

and restarted again php-fpm [...] the server worked for a few minutes and back to the problem over and over

The problem is php-fpm config

But it's not the timeout. Increasing the timeout just gives php more time to process a single request - which may mask the symptoms but is not the right solution.

The php-fpm log should make the reason why the server is struggling apparent; in my experience (obviously in the absence of information this is a guess) the php-fpm log file will contain entries like this:

[19-Oct-2014 06:25:10] NOTICE: error log file re-opened
[19-Oct-2014 17:46:56] WARNING: [pool www] seems busy (you may need to increase
pm.start_servers, or pm.min/max_spare_servers), spawning 1 children, there are 
1 idle, and 5 total children

If there are only a few log entries like the above, that's not much of a problem. If there are many and only minutes or seconds apart - then php-fpm has insufficient resources for the load it's being asked to cope with.

This is not uncommon because a standard dist php-fpm config file will contain something similar to this:

# /etc/php5/fpm/pool.d/www.conf
pm = dynamic
pm.max_children = 5
pm.start_servers = 2
pm.min_spare_servers = 1
pm.max_spare_servers = 3

Which means php-fpm will only handle a maximum of 5 requests in parallel.

Especially with something like wordpress, which for a single html page hands a large number of subsequent requests (images, css, js files etc.) also to php - it is easy for a large and ever-increasing queue of requests to form such that for any given request it must first wait for the in-process and already-waiting requests to be processed first. This leads to delays (it will show up as waiting time in any browser profiling tool) and frequently leads to a large number of time outs.

Also note that a large number of 404s (requests for anything that don't exist) is an easy way to exaggerate the limitations of any server - check for and fix any 404s that the site is generating.

How to fix it

If the problem is that php-fpm has too few server-processes running - just increase them. The numbers to use depend on the hardware of the server it is deployed upon; here's a suggestion:

# /etc/php5/fpm/pool.d/www.conf
pm = dynamic
pm.max_children = 20
pm.start_servers = 10
pm.min_spare_servers = 5
pm.max_spare_servers = 15

This would permit serving 20 requests in parallel - and should alleviate any problems without causing the server to struggle.

If in doubt though, there's a simple rule to follow when changing php-fpm config:

  • Increase until error messages disappear (and performance is acceptable)
  • Decrease if the server runs out of memory or server load is unacceptable :)
share|improve this answer
I'm affraid the system is no longer running, so I can't really tell if that change could make things work as expected. Thank you for your help though. – javipas Nov 7 '14 at 16:47
Hmm, not sure. The php5-fpm.log message you show above does not indicate server overload, just a fifth parallel request coming in. Since 5 is the max. number of child processes, other requests will then go into a backlog. From this, the OP's situation would result if queue items stay for 3 min in that backlog and time out. Which means, massive server overload. Which is not cured by more PHP-FPM child processes. As a rule of thumb, these should be about the same number as CPU cores on the server. – tanius Jan 30 '15 at 22:35
@tanius the question states "almost zero load consumption" - running out of workers is not an indicator of massive overload, only not being able to process requests faster than they come in. You only need 1 slow request and a few concurrent users/requests to run out of workers. FPM workers are ordinarily configured based on the amount of free memory, not cpus - i.e. php processes aren't normally cpu-bound (they wait for databases, they wait for api response, they are badly written and wait for themselves... etc.). OTOH this answer is based on an assumption - just like the above comment =). – AD7six Jan 31 '15 at 9:14
@AD7six I've read things up again and you're right. FPM workers are configured based on free mem, nginx workers are configured according to CPU core count (like here). Must've mixed things up. – tanius Jan 31 '15 at 17:10

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