Optimizing Dancer2 PT. 3

After improving our web server and web server configurations in our previous article, we can now dive deeper into our stack. There is much to gain by deciding how we configure our stack, what technologies we use, and how we architect our platform.

Offloading tasks

Have you ever implemented a queue system in a web application? Of course you have! We all have! However, this proves to be a common mistake that must be rectified if we seek to have a fast web application.

Queues are not the only example of trying to accomplish as much as possible within the web application instead of offloading it to other components which are more suitable at their given task.

  • Queues

    Queues are enticing to write since they seem simple at first. We push to an array, pop on the other side, and run. Unfortunately, a proper queue system needs to take into account working across data centers, journaling and crash recovery, and even multiple processes for work.

    We recommend using a proper queue or proper DB meant for storing and dealing with queues. You can use RabbitMQ for queuing or if you want to use a worker system, you can store your work in Redis.

    Either way, you shouldn't implement such a grant task yourself inside your web application. It just won't cut it.

  • Scheduled tasks (cron jobs)

    Many tasks are performed asynchronously in the web server since they take a long time to run. However, it makes them more fragile, error-prone, and opaque, making it hard to trace and debug.

    Instead, scheduled task runners are available on common operating systems.

  • Caching

    There is Plack::Middleware::Cache available, but at the end of the day, caching can definitely be done better by any proper caching server.

    We recommend Varnish.

Preloading modules

Our web applications tend to use many modules, some of which quite heavy. Most web servers fork in order to handle multiple workers. But why waste the start-up time of heavy modules on each fork of the web server? This is what preloading is for.

If you load modules before you start your web server, you can allow the web server to fork with the modules already loaded in memory, and to share that memory.

While this saves a lot of memory, it also saves the CPU required on every fork generator in order to load the modules.

# app.psgi
use MyApp;

# preloading
use Moose ();
use DBIx::Class ();
use AnotherBigModule ();


Faster headers everywhere

Handling headers is one of the most common tasks performed in a web request. It is done by the caching layer, the reverse proxy, the web server, and your application.

The most common module in Perl to handle headers is the old HTTP::Headers, and old is right. Plack moved to a faster version, aptly named HTTP::Headers::Fast, which tries to maintain compatibility but improve the speed. It is about 20% faster, which is already a major benefit, since Plack an make many uses of headers.

Dancer2 internally uses HTTP::Headers::Fast in order to assure faster results, but you can take this one step further by changing what Dancer2 (and Plack) will use, along with any other component in your web application.

If you load HTTP::XSHeaders early in your application, it will override the other HTTP libraries (namely HTTP::Headers and HTTP::Headers::Fast) and changes their code (and subsequently) any code that calls it) to a much higher performant C-based implementation of headers.

# app.psgi
use HTTP::XSHeaders;
use MyApp;


Reduce I/O with loggers and sessions

Logging and session reading and writing are also frequently performed actions. It also involves I/O, writing to disk, or involve a network operation. Those can be slow.

Make sure to maintain a useful logging level in your application, not writing at all levels, to prevent excessive writing to disk or network, and use a fast logger engine.

Additionally, usse a memory-based session storage, not the YAML or JSON ones, since they both write to disk and serialize - two unnecessary expensive actions.

Faster templating

If you're not writing a web service, you are likely to be using templates. Rendering a template is a simple task, but when using templating frequently, it starts to take more time.

If speed is crucial, it is a key point to improve. We recommend using Text::XSlate for a blazing fast templating system.

Middlewares aren't everything

Middlewares are quite beneficial. They allow use to split the work between layers and keep layers simple and thin. However, they are much more expensive than we realize.

Each middleware call requires two additional subroutine calls on every request. While calling subroutines in perl 5.24 has been considerably improved in speed (30% faster!), it is still a cost worth realizing and possibly amending.

In many cases middlewares need access to information you already have in your application. Benchmark before you either decide to move to middleware, or when contemplating removing them.

Reduce assets cost

Serving our assets through a CDN or other caching server, or even through our reverse proxy is faster, but we take this one step further by improving the asset files themselves.

For images, you can reduce the size and amount of required file transfers by using sprites.

For Javascript files, you can both concatenate the files together and reduce their size by minifying them.

Coming next

Our next article in this series will deal directly with our application code. How can we write faster code in order to speed up our application?


This article has been written by Sawyer X for the Perl Dancer Advent Calendar 2016.


No copyright retained. Enjoy.

Sawyer X.