I have this settings:

<IfModule mpm_prefork_module>
    StartServers          5
    MinSpareServers       5
    MaxSpareServers      10
    ServerLimit      1250
    MaxClients            1250
    MaxRequestsPerChild   1500

Is possibile that with a 5-10 settings for Min/Max Servers when i do top, there are tons of apache 2 processs??

Shouldn't they be only between 5-10? Just look at the 260 process sleeping O_O (d*mn apache)

Click http://img200.imageshack.us/img200/3285/senzatitolo1iw.jpg


After 30min of up here a screen of top:

Click: http://img816.imageshack.us/img816/1645/immagineov.png

After 24hours of UP (top orderer for MEM usage)

Thanks for any explanation

(debian 6, lamp, 4gb ram)

  • 1
    Ok, stupid question, but have you verified that it's actually using the prefork mpm and not, say, mpm_common? Mar 8, 2011 at 16:39
  • No i didn't, how can I ? (please don't tell with mod status)
    – dynamic
    Mar 8, 2011 at 16:43
  • @Shane good point. My answer below is applicable for Prefork, but there is similar guidance in the Apache manual for mpm_common and friends
    – voretaq7
    Mar 8, 2011 at 16:44
  • @yes123 httpd -v should tell you which MPM it's using. Mar 8, 2011 at 16:53
  • @shane: httpd: command not found
    – dynamic
    Mar 8, 2011 at 16:56

6 Answers 6


I gave you the answer to this in the comments over on Server not responding to SSH and HTTP but ping works, but apparently you don't believe me. Really, it's true!

You need to size MaxClients / ServerLimit to your system. The "5-10 settings for Min/Max Servers" which you mention are basically irrelevant — that's just the number of extra servers hanging around not doing anything that Apache will retain.

In order to set MaxClients appropriately, look at the typical high-water mark for your httpd (or apache2) processes, and then divide your available memory by that. Best to drop down by a little bit to give the rest of the system room to breathe. Since you've got 4GB of RAM, and 185MB processes, that means your ServerLimit value should be 21 at most — probably 20 or 19.

Now, it may be that 190MB is atypical. You can set the ServerLimit higher, based on a different estimate of typical usage, but then you're basically gambling that you'll never have a spike. If it does happen, your system will be out of memory.

If you can find a way to constrain your per-worker memory usage, that's gonna be a win. I'm betting this is a case of PHP Ate My RAM. Can you code your app to live within a lower memory_limit? If you can't do that, you need a different model under which to run your PHP. If you can't do that, you need to buy more RAM.

  • If this is indeed a "PHP Ate my RAM" situation (and the eating is relatively confined -- staying within a child rather than hitting the shared pool) you may also get some benefit by setting an aggressive (low) MaxRequestsPerClient -- Older (fatter) daemons will be sacrificed to the RAM-freeing gods... Note that this is best viewed as a temporary solution because killing off and restarting apache daemons during high load periods can put a hurting on your server...
    – voretaq7
    Mar 8, 2011 at 17:06
  • Ok, i will set memory_limit at 16megabyte in my scripts, i wanna see one of them needs more than 16mb (i really doubt)
    – dynamic
    Mar 8, 2011 at 17:07
  • @yes123: sounds like a good plan. Watch for php memory limit messages in the error log.
    – mattdm
    Mar 8, 2011 at 17:16
  • currnetly usage is way less than 5mb per php script, As i said above i doubt this is the problem. I think it's just an apache2 settings problem
    – dynamic
    Mar 8, 2011 at 17:17
  • 1
    @yes123: you can call it offtopic, or you can call it "I'm trying to help you nail down your problem". If the phpinfo is showing that limit yet the processes are still huge, either PHP is showing you unhelpful information or something other than PHP is eating memory. Unless you have an idea of what that might be, narrowing down the problem is the only rational approach.
    – mattdm
    Mar 9, 2011 at 12:46

Apache's prefork MPM self-manages servers. It will always start with StartServers daemons, and will never run fewer than MinSpareServers once it gets going. It will also eventually retire/kill off servers in excess of MaxSpareServers if they're idle long enough (I don't recall what "Long Enough" is in this context, nor if/how it can be modified).

ServerLimit sets the maximum number of apache daemons that can be running at any given time -- This is why in your situation you can have hundreds of sleeping apache processes (they got spawned to service a flood of requests and haven't been idle long enough to be killed by the mother process yet).

Personally I think 1250 is a pretty high value for ServerLimit/MaxClients -- 250 may be a more reasonable number (though this may result in the occasional 503/Server Busy error if you get a massive flood of requests: if that becomes a chronic issue you can increase the number or add more servers to handle the load).

Relating this question to your previous one Re: an out-of-memory crash, definitely follow the guidance from the Apache Manual on this parameter:

Most important is that MaxClients be big enough to handle as many simultaneous
requests as you expect to receive, but small enough to assure that there is enough
physical RAM for all processes.

…and my personal axiom: It's better to give a client a 503 page than knock the server down. :)

  • on my previous server with only 2gb i had all the time serverlimit at more than 1000 without having any problemes... With this new server with the double of ram i can't really lower that value. With 250 the apache error log would be spammed with "... consider rising MaxClients directive ..."
    – dynamic
    Mar 8, 2011 at 16:46
  • 1
    Did you ever have a spike of N simultaneous requests before? And are we even sure that's what happened? Looking more closely at your top output I don't see that many apache processes (Restrict to user: www-data and see what you get -- 200 or so processes on an idle Linux box is not uncommon, I doubt they're all httpd :-)
    – voretaq7
    Mar 8, 2011 at 16:48
  • i don't think i had these spike before. Google is pwning my server requesting more than 20 pages/minute as i can see from the log (the top screenshot is taken right after an hard reboot)
    – dynamic
    Mar 8, 2011 at 16:50
  • i taken another TOP screenshot. See first post. (now you can see after 30min there are only apahce2)
    – dynamic
    Mar 8, 2011 at 16:54
  • 1
    ahh, now that's a problem - two actually. Crash-wise 1200 Apache processes is definitely too high a limit for your hardware (1200 * 11M(RSZ) = ~13Gigs: Way more than your physical RAM). Workload-wise you need to hunt down why you're getting so many requests: You may need to tweak your crawl rate in robots.txt, but check your apache logs to see what else is going on too...
    – voretaq7
    Mar 8, 2011 at 16:59

Turn off Keepalives and set MaxClients to 150. The most likely reason you have 260 processes just sitting there is because Apache is dutifully holding browser connections open because KeepAlive on is set in you apache config file.

  • 1
    I have KeepAliveTimeout 2 I think it's more useful if i leave it to on
    – dynamic
    Mar 8, 2011 at 17:41
  • Are you also setting MaxKeepAliveRequests? MaxKeepAliveRequests 80 seems to be the recommended setting.
    – kashani
    Mar 8, 2011 at 17:53
  • yep 80..........
    – dynamic
    Mar 8, 2011 at 18:17
  • Hmmm, if it's still that high with a few hundred connections sitting idle you might want to consider putting Varnish or Nginx on port 80 and doing reverse proxy to Apache processes. Let either of those servers do the tcp connections and just pass requests to Apache. I'd do a quick test though with KeepAlive off just to make sure that would actually decrease the number of idle Apaches. If it does, then the reverse proxy stuff is worth doing.
    – kashani
    Mar 8, 2011 at 19:22
  • @hashani: i actually lowered a bit serverlimit maxc and maxreqxchild. Let's wait if this happens again then i will disable keepaliove
    – dynamic
    Mar 8, 2011 at 19:43

Calculate how many servers you can have running within the constrains of your system's RAM by running this command:

$ ps -ylC apache2 | awk '{x += $8;y += 1} END {print "Apache Memory Usage (MB): "x/1024; print "Average Process Size (MB): "x/((y-1)*1024)}'

If will produce output like:

Apache Memory Usage (MB): 1608.76
Average Process Size (MB): 55.4745

Now stop apache and find out how much RAM you have available without it by using free:

               total       used       free     shared    buffers     cached
  Mem:       7629384    7415780     213604          0     333428    5341884
  -/+ buffers/cache:    1740468    5888916
  Swap:      7629380       7968    7621412

(above is in kilobytes. free -m would show you megabytes.)

Linux will fill available memory with buffers and cache, so adding free+buffers+cache (213604+333428+5341884) yields 5888916 Kbytes available.

588916K available / 55474K per apache process = 106 servers. But set it lower than that to leave some breathing room.


In my experience it is worth the effort to tune KeepAliveTimeout after properly setting other parameters regarding number of processes. I say tune which means you should change the parameter slightly and measure the server responsiveness. Among our sites, one performs best with KeepAliveTimeout=3 yet another with KeepAliveTimeout=1. None of these are happy with KeepAlive turned off. This additional tuning saves you from buying/allocating extra RAM too early.

Tuning is easy because the change is effective immediately after graceful restart:

sudo apache2ctl -k graceful

(I'm reviving an old thread because Google still deems it relevant... ;) )


Old overall post, but still very relevant. In layman terms, I have understood that if I set 20 MaxClient means maximum 20 different users? Then what is exactly the MaxRequestsPerChild doing ( in layman terms) ?

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .