I have a nginx server on a digital ocean droplet, with 2 CPU's and 4gb mem.

I'm running a couple of minor WP-sites, without much traffic - but it seems like i can push the server to 100% CPU without much effort. I can actually just spam(1-2/sec) Hard Refresh, and the server hits 100% and throws a error 500.
I'm still very new to server management and Nginx, so i have tried to debug to the best of my knowledge - and i keep coming back to my config's not being enough good.

Server Information:

  • 2 x CPU
  • 4GB Memory
  • CentOS 7
  • VestaCP
  • Pure Nginx
  • Running WP sites only

Nginx conf:

# Server globals
 user                    nginx;
 worker_processes        auto;
 worker_rlimit_nofile    65535;
 error_log               /var/log/nginx/error.log crit;
 pid                     /var/run/nginx.pid;

 # Worker config
      events {
         worker_connections  1024;
         use                 epoll;
    multi_accept        on;

 http {
# Main settings
sendfile                        on;
tcp_nopush                      on;
tcp_nodelay                     on;
client_header_timeout           3m;
client_body_timeout             3m;
send_timeout                    3m;
client_header_buffer_size       1k;
client_body_buffer_size         128k;
client_max_body_size            10m;
output_buffers                  1 32k;
postpone_output                 1460;
large_client_header_buffers     4   4k;
keepalive_timeout               30 30;
reset_timedout_connection       on;
server_tokens                   off;
server_name_in_redirect         off;
server_names_hash_max_size      512;
server_names_hash_bucket_size   512;

# Log format
log_format  main    '$remote_addr - $remote_user      [$time_local] $request '
                    '"$status" $body_bytes_sent "$http_referer" '
                    '"$http_user_agent" "$http_x_forwarded_for"';
log_format  bytes   '$body_bytes_sent';
#access_log          /var/log/nginx/access.log main;
access_log off;

# Mime settings
include             /etc/nginx/mime.types;
default_type        application/octet-stream;

# Compression
gzip                on;
gzip_static         on;
gzip_comp_level     2;
gzip_min_length     1000;
gzip_buffers        8 64k;
gzip_types          text/plain text/css text/javascript text/js text/xml application/json application/javascript application/x-javascript application/xml application/xml+rss application/x-font-ttf image/svg+xml font/opentype;
gzip_proxied        any;
gzip_disable        "MSIE [1-6]\.";

# Proxy settings
proxy_redirect      off;
proxy_set_header    Host            $host;
proxy_set_header    X-Real-IP       $remote_addr;
proxy_set_header    X-Forwarded-For $proxy_add_x_forwarded_for;
proxy_pass_header   Set-Cookie;
proxy_connect_timeout   90;
proxy_send_timeout  90;
proxy_read_timeout  90;
proxy_buffers       32 4k;

# Cloudflare https://www.cloudflare.com/ips
#set_real_ip_from   2400:cb00::/32;
#set_real_ip_from   2606:4700::/32;
#set_real_ip_from   2803:f800::/32;
#set_real_ip_from   2405:b500::/32;
#set_real_ip_from   2405:8100::/32;
real_ip_header     CF-Connecting-IP;

# SSL PCI Compliance
ssl_session_cache   shared:SSL:10m;
ssl_protocols       TLSv1 TLSv1.1 TLSv1.2;
ssl_prefer_server_ciphers on;

# Error pages
error_page          403          /error/403.html;
error_page          404          /error/404.html;
error_page          502 503 504  /error/50x.html;

# Cache settings
proxy_cache_path /var/cache/nginx levels=2 keys_zone=cache:10m inactive=60m max_size=1024m;
proxy_cache_key "$host$request_uri $cookie_user";
proxy_temp_path  /var/cache/nginx/temp;
proxy_ignore_headers Expires Cache-Control;
proxy_cache_use_stale error timeout invalid_header http_502;
proxy_cache_valid any 1d;

# Cache bypass
map $http_cookie $no_cache {
    default 0;
    ~SESS 1;
    ~wordpress_logged_in 1;

# File cache settings
open_file_cache          max=10000 inactive=20s;
open_file_cache_valid    30s;
open_file_cache_min_uses 5;
open_file_cache_errors   off;

# Wildcard include
include             /etc/nginx/conf.d/*.conf;



pm = ondemand
pm.process_idle_timeout = 10s
pm.max_children = 3
pm.start_servers = 2
pm.min_spare_servers = 2
pm.max_spare_servers = 2
pm.max_requests = 300

 php_admin_value[memory_limit] = 256M

 env[PATH] = /usr/local/bin:/usr/bin:/bin
 env[TMP] = /tmp
 env[TMPDIR] = /tmp
 env[TEMP] = /tmp

Top Screenshot - imgur.com/a/n02VZ

Last entries in Nginx error-log

Last entries in php error-log

  • 3
    We really need more information to help diagnose a 500 error. top screenshot, Nginx access log showing the 500 error, Nginx error log, and matching PHP logs. – Tim Mar 28 '17 at 19:20

The Problem

This is very unlikely to be a problem, but we don't know because you haven't included information like top/atop. This is because Wordpress / PHP is inefficient and take a lot of server resources. You could post a screenshot of top / atop when the server is busy if you like, but if it's all taken by PHP there's no need.

The Solution

One solution, probably be best solution, is caching. There are two types of caching.

Page Caching

Page caching is usually the best type in this situation. It's only applicable for anonymous users, not users who have logged in. On many sites anonymous users make up most of the traffic so caching them can have a massive benefit. A page is generated by a user, stored in the Nginx page cache, then given to the next user that comes along. The Nginx page cache is often in RAM so it's super fast.

Caching Headers

For page caching to work you need to set your headers correctly. This can be done using some Wordpress caching plugins, but I don't use them so I do it in Nginx. I had to build Nginx with the right modules added, which is pretty simple.

Wordpress Caching

Another type of caching is done by plugins within Wordpress. This can cache the database requests, which take time, and also does some kind of object caching that I don't fully understand. This can help both anonymous and logged in users. Sometimes it causes problems.


I have a tutorial on this, here. It covers caching, building Nginx, and a bunch of other things like using a Content Distribution Network (CDN) which can also speed things up. Page one has downloadable config files. Nginx has an article on microcaching which is a good read.


Speaking of CDNs, if you have a super high scale site, you can configure your pages to be cacheable and configure the CDN to cache the pages. That means your site rarely sees requests, only for logged in users and cache refreshes. That affects your server statistics, and increases the chance of serving users stale data.

Nginx Bug

Nginx 1.11.11 has a bug that it sometimes uses 100% of CPU. Nginx 1.11.12 fixes this.

  • Thank you for your comment tim, top/htop would just show you that one of the sites running 3-5 process each taking 20-40% cpu power. I understand that WP is very inefficient - but its a decent server still, I'm very confident it should be able me spamming (1-2/sec) hard refresh - without going down. – Mac Mar 28 '17 at 18:51
  • Perhaps you should capture top, or confirm that it's PHP taking the CPU at least. When there's no-one hitting the server PHP shouldn't be taking CPU, obviously. When you hit it, once, it should take 20 - 100% of CPU but only for a second or two. If you can edit your question to describe the behaviour that would help people answer the question. I suspect the answer is what I said, inefficiency, and the solution is caching. – Tim Mar 28 '17 at 19:20
  • I have just added a screenshot of top to the bottom of the page, as you can see its running the same php-process for like 28 min straight - their is no way the fault is WP or because of missing caching :P – Mac Mar 28 '17 at 21:03
  • Restart php-fpm. If it does it again look in the php-fpm error logs to see what's up, you can edit your post to include them if you need help. – Tim Mar 28 '17 at 21:06
  • i have done that a couple of times today and it persists, even after restarting - at some point it will be back and do it again :). I have added both nginx error log and php error log for some of the last time before the breakdown. – Mac Mar 28 '17 at 21:23

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