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Memory management


The MySQL Native Driver manages memory different than the MySQL Client Library. The libraries differ in the way memory is allocated and released, how memory is allocated in chunks while reading results from MySQL, which debug and development options exist, and how results read from MySQL are linked to PHP user variables.

The following notes are intended as an introduction and summary to users interested at understanding the MySQL Native Driver at the C code level.

Memory management functions used

All memory allocation and deallocation is done using the PHP memory management functions. Therefore, the memory consumption of mysqlnd can be tracked using PHP API calls, such as memory_get_usage(). Because memory is allocated and released using the PHP memory management, the changes may not immediately become visible at the operating system level. The PHP memory management acts as a proxy which may delay releasing memory towards the system. Due to this, comparing the memory usage of the MySQL Native Driver and the MySQL Client Library is difficult. The MySQL Client Library is using the operating system memory management calls directly, hence the effects can be observed immediately at the operating system level.

Any memory limit enforced by PHP also affects the MySQL Native Driver. This may cause out of memory errors when fetching large result sets that exceed the size of the remaining memory made available by PHP. Because the MySQL Client Library is not using PHP memory management functions, it does not comply to any PHP memory limit set. If using the MySQL Client Library, depending on the deployment model, the memory footprint of the PHP process may grow beyond the PHP memory limit. But also PHP scripts may be able to process larger result sets as parts of the memory allocated to hold the result sets are beyond the control of the PHP engine.

PHP memory management functions are invoked by the MySQL Native Driver through a lightweight wrapper. Among others, the wrapper makes debugging easier.

Handling of result sets

The various MySQL Server and the various client APIs differentiate between buffered and unbuffered result sets. Unbuffered result sets are transferred row-by-row from MySQL to the client as the client iterates over the results. Buffered results are fetched in their entirety by the client library before passing them on to the client.

The MySQL Native Driver is using PHP Streams for the network communication with the MySQL Server. Results sent by MySQL are fetched from the PHP Streams network buffers into the result buffer of mysqlnd. The result buffer is made of zvals. In a second step the results are made available to the PHP script. This final transfer from the result buffer into PHP variables impacts the memory consumption and is mostly noticeable when using buffered result sets.

By default the MySQL Native Driver tries to avoid holding buffered results twice in memory. Results are kept only once in the internal result buffers and their zvals. When results are fetched into PHP variables by the PHP script, the variables will reference the internal result buffers. Database query results are not copied and kept in memory only once. Should the user modify the contents of a variable holding the database results a copy-on-write must be performed to avoid changing the referenced internal result buffer. The contents of the buffer must not be modified because the user may decide to read the result set a second time. The copy-on-write mechanism is implemented using an additional reference management list and the use of standard zval reference counters. Copy-on-write must also be done if the user reads a result set into PHP variables and frees a result set before the variables are unset.

Generally speaking, this pattern works well for scripts that read a result set once and do not modify variables holding results. Its major drawback is the memory overhead caused by the additional reference management which comes primarily from the fact that user variables holding results cannot be entirely released until the mysqlnd reference management stops referencing them. The MySQL Native driver removes the reference to the user variables when the result set is freed or a copy-on-write is performed. An observer will see the total memory consumption grow until the result set is released. Use the statistics to check whether a script does release result sets explicitly or the driver does implicit releases and thus memory is used for a time longer than necessary. Statistics also help to see how many copy-on-write operations happened.

A PHP script reading many small rows of a buffered result set using a code snippet equal or equivalent to while ($row = $res->fetch_assoc()) { ... } may optimize memory consumption by requesting copies instead of references. Albeit requesting copies means keeping results twice in memory, it allows PHP to free the copy contained in $row as the result set is being iterated and prior to releasing the result set itself. On a loaded server optimizing peak memory usage may help improving the overall system performance although for an individual script the copy approach may be slower due to additional allocations and memory copy operations.

Monitoring and debugging

There are multiple ways of tracking the memory usage of the MySQL Native Driver. If the goal is to get a quick high level overview or to verify the memory efficiency of PHP scripts, then check the statistics collected by the library. The statistics allow you, for example, to catch SQL statements which generate more results than are processed by a PHP script.

The debug trace log can be configured to record memory management calls. This helps to see when memory is allocated or free'd. However, the size of the requested memory chunks may not be listed.

Some, recent versions of the MySQL Native Driver feature the emulation of random out of memory situations. This feature is meant to be used by the C developers of the library or mysqlnd plugin authors only. Please, search the source code for corresponding PHP configuration settings and further details. The feature is considered private and may be modified at any time without prior notice.

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