What’s New With Kernl – October 2019

October held a lot of great work for Kernl! Lots of refactoring, test coverage increases, and a new UI for managing Git deployments. Let’s dive in!

Features

  • Git Continuous Deployment UI Changes – Kernl now has a new and improved interface for adding continuous deployment to your projects.
  • Installed Plugin List Filter – You can now easily filter the installed plugin data in Kernl Analytics. Prior to this change the best you could do is column sort.

Infrastructure, Bugs, & Other

  • Fetching BitBucket repos with more that 20 branches failed. This has been resolved.
  • The plugin/theme webhook build log didn’t handle the case where a user had just signed up and didn’t have any build requests yet.
  • Easy Digital Downloads license validation was failing on newer versions of EDD. Kernl has been updated to support the newer version API as well as the older API.
  • The Git integration has been refactored and had additional test coverage added.
  • Kernl was upgraded to Node 12.13.x. With this upgrade we get async stack traces and a non-trivial decrease in response time (~50ms).

Blog Posts

WordPress Database Performance Showdown: MySQL vs MariaDB vs Percona

WordPress requires that you use a MySQL compatible database for its database backend. It used to be that you could confidently choose MySQL and go on with life, but in 2019 the choice isn’t quite that simple. With the MySQL, MariaDB, and Percona as the attractive options, how do you know which to choose?

Choosing a database isn’t always about performance, but for the sake of this article it will be 🙂

For this series of tests we tested database performance out-of-the-box with no special tweaks. It is quite possible that a professional database administrator could make each database run more performant, but most people hosting WordPress aren’t DBAs. With regards to caching, none was enabled. We wanted to test database performance, not cache performance.

MariaDB Logo

What was tested?

The WordPress host machine was a DigitalOcean CPU Optimized droplet with 16 vCPUs (dedicated hyper-threads) and 32 GB of RAM. This monster of a machine was chosen so that we could be certain that Nginx + PHP-FPM weren’t the cause of any bottlenecks. A minor tweak to the PHP-FPM config allowed for full use of all 16 vCPUs.

The database host machines were DigitalOcean CPU Optimized droplets with 4 vCPUs (dedicated hyper-threads) and 8GB of RAM. CPU Optimized droplets were chosen because we didn’t want our tests to be at the mercy of shared CPU resources.

Each deployment was in DigitalOcean’s SFO2 region with the WordPress server communicating with the database over the internal private network. The traffic producing nodes were deployed in DigitalOcean’s NYC3 data center and communicated via the public internet.

The software versions are as follows:

  • Percona Server for MySQL 8.0.16-7
  • MariaDB 10.4.8-GA
  • MySQL 8.0.18

What tests were run?

Want to test your site’s performance? Sign up for Kernl WordPress Load Testing.

For each database that was tested, we ran a load test with the following parameters:

  • 500 concurrent users
  • 2 req/s ramp up
  • 30 minute duration

The goal here wasn’t to bring the database to it’s knees but instead see how it performed under sustained heavy load, but not so heavy that it falls over.

Left: WordPress (Nginx + PHP-FPM), Right: MySQL

MariaDB WordPress Performance

During the MySQL acquisition of Oracle in 2009 there was a lot of concern amongst the core developers that Oracle would eventually close off MySQL to the world (similar to Oracle’s business model). Before that could take place, a GPL fork of MySQL was created named MariaDB.

MariaDB is open source and in active development. But how does it stand up to our WordPress load tests? Let’s find out.

First we’ll take a look at the requests and failures per second.

~379 req/s with periodic errors

As you can see from the results above the performance scales up very well over time eventually peaking at ~379 req/s. We see periodic database-related errors (the vCPUs on the database were almost completely saturated) but nothing too crazy. Next, let’s see how the response times look.

Median response time of ~190ms.

The median response time of WordPress when backed by MariaDB under heavy load stays remarkably consistent. You can see that the average is slowly creeping up by the end of the test, but nothing that would be noticeable by customers yet.

99% of request finish in 500ms

The response time distribution is a little more interesting than the median response time. 90% of all requests finish in under 300ms and 99% of all requests finish in less than 500ms. Overall, the performance of MariaDB out of the box with no configuration is quite good.

Percona WordPress Performance

Another open-source fork of MySQL, Percona was started in 2006 and has been steadily delivering value-added features and enterprise support on top of MySQL for more than 12 years. With all that accumulated experience, how does Percona measure up?

~320 requests/s, ~3 errors/s

Overall the Percona WordPress performance was pretty good. Not quite a good as MariaDB but nothing to scoff at. The one interesting thing was that the error rate was consistent across most of the test once the request volume passed ~200 requests/s. Lets see if the response time graph adds to the story.

~450ms Median Response Time

The data here is actually pretty interesting. The response time for Percona was comparable to MariaDB right up until the time it started getting consistent errors. After that, it more than doubled and stayed that way for the rest of the test.

99% of requests finished in ~550ms

The response time distribution tells similar story to the response time chart. The difference between the 50th percentile and the 99th percentile shows that performance was very consistent across the entire test, it just wasn’t as good as MariaDB.

MySQL WordPress Performance

Last but not least (well….) in our test is MySQL. It’s been around since 1994 and is now owned by Oracle. In it’s latest releases there has been lot of great features such as window functions and more JSON features to compete with PostgreSQL. So let’s see how it did.

295 requests/s, 3-4 errors/s

MySQL had a similar trajectory to Percona: It did pretty good across the board with a small but consistent series of errors after it started to go past 200 req/s. Also note that it never achieved higher than 300 req/s, which both MariaDB and Percona did.

500ms Median Response Time

The shape of the MySQL response time graph looks nearly identical to Percona, just about 50ms slower once the vCPUs started to get saturated. The detailed look in the response time distribution tells a similar story.

99% of requests finished in 875ms

The response time distribution is where you can see Percona and MySQL diverge a bit. At the 99th percentile MySQL is returning at 875ms, while Percona was more like 550ms. In general, the distribution matches what one would expect given how the response time graph looks

Conclusions

The out of the box numbers for MariaDB make it look like the clear winner here. And compared to both Percona and MySQL it is in the raw performance department. This isn’t to say that you couldn’t tune Percona or MySQL to out-perform MariaDB, but only that you get more performance with zero configuration changes.

Req / sError / sMed. Response Time99% Dist.
MariaDB379~1190ms500ms
Percona3203450ms550ms
MySQL2953500ms875ms

WordPress Performance on DigitalOcean Managed MySQL

Want to performance test your own WordPress installation? Try Kernl’s WordPress Load Testing service.

The database is the most important part of any WordPress site. If you aren’t adept at managing MySQL, it can be a serious risk for you and your clients. One way to de-risk this portion of your WordPress site is by going with a managed MySQL offering. There are ton of different options out there, but for this post we’re going to look at Digital Ocean’s Managed MySQL.

DigitalOcean DB SaaS background.

Why Use DigitalOcean Managed MySQL?

There are a lot of reasons to use Digital Ocean’s Managed MySQL (or some other offering) including:

  • Simple Setup – With a few simple clicks you can have a high quality MySQL cluster set up.
  • Horizontal Scalability – Site growing fast? You can spin up read-only nodes to help scale out read operations.
  • Automated Daily Backups – No need to set up your own backups. DigitalOcean takes care of it for you.
  • Automated Failover – If for some reason your primary database node fails, you will automatically fail over to your warm spare.
  • Security – MySQL best practices for security are automatically followed by DigitalOcean. In addition to that your database is isolated to your private network so that outside requests can’t access it by default.

Baseline Performance Test

To get things started let’s do a baseline performance test where the MySQL database is on the same box as the Nginx server. The server configuration is as follows:

  • 1GB RAM
  • 3 vCPU
  • Nginx
  • PHP-FPM 7.2
  • MariaDB 10.1
  • No caching

A test of 400 concurrent users was run using Kernl’s WordPress Load Testing service. Without caching the results are predictably bad, but that is to be expected.

Graph of requests per second for self-hosted MySQL with WordPress
Things fall apart at around ~70 req/sec

For completeness, let’s also take a look at the response time distribution.

Response time distribution for self hosted MySQL with WordPress
99% of requests finish in ~2 seconds

Given how many failing requests we had and zero caching, the ones that did manage to get through didn’t perform too poorly. 99% in 2 seconds or less.

DigitalOcean Managed MySQL

When setting up a managed MySQL database on DigitalOcean you get the option to select the underlying hardware that powers it. For this blog post we went with the minimum possible configuration (1GB RAM, 1vCPU).

Knowing that fewer resources were allocated, it was expected that performance would actually be a bit worse on the dedicated MySQL instance. These expectations were confirmed with the load test.

Graph of requests per second for DigitalOcean Managed MySQL with WordPress
Things go sideways at ~50 req/s.

All things considered, 50 req/s against a WordPress site with no caching isn’t all that bad. Once we hit that level, the database charts were showing 100% CPU saturation and thats when we started to see the error rate increase. Now let’s look at the response time distribution.

Response time distribution for managed MySQL with WordPress
99% of requests finish in less than 2.6 seconds

As expected performance is slightly worse here due to fewer resources on the dedicated MySQL machine, but not in a huge way.

Cost & Why Managed MySQL is Important

For our test we used the most basic configuration that DigitalOcean offers:

  • 1 GB RAM
  • 1 vCPU
  • 10 GB Hard Disk
  • No failover
  • Automatic backups

All of this and not having to manage MySQL for $15/month. Not too bad, but to really be getting your money’s worth (automatic failover) you need to spend more money.

  • 2 GB RAM
  • 1 vCPU
  • 25 GB Hard Disk
  • 1 Standby node
  • Automatic failover
  • Automatic backups

With automatic failover you start to reduce the risk to yourself and your customers a lot. However, this level of availability isn’t free 🙂 DigitalOcean doesn’t support failover on their cheapest node, so you have to upgrade to the next level ($30/month). After that, the failover node costs you an additional $20/month. Now we’re looking at $50/month for a managed MySQL cluster with automated failover.

If you run a WordPress based business on DigitalOcean, $50/month buys you a lot of peace of mind. It’s also easy to scale up as traffic increases and the cost is competitive in the landscape of managed MySQL. If you happen to be an excellent DBA though, you can definitely manage your own cluster at a reduced monetary cost, but increased time cost.

Conclusions

Managing your own database cluster is probably fine if cost is a problem and you are good at it. In general though, if you can afford it we recommend using a managed MySQL host so you can push the complexity of operating a highly available MySQL cluster on to someone else.

Want to performance test your own WordPress installation? Try Kernl’s WordPress Load Testing service.

What’s New With Kernl – July & August 2019

I hope everyone has had a great summer (or winter if you are in the southern hemisphere)! Over the past 2 months we’ve gotten a lot great stuff done, so let’s dive in.

Features & Infrastructure

  • Kernl has upgraded from Mongo 3.x to Mongo 4.2 with WiredTiger. We get improved performance and the latest features with this change.
  • Our Redis instance has moved to DigitalOcean along with the rest of our infrastructure. Prior to this we were using managed host that lived outside the NYC3 data center. Response times decreased ~50ms or so with this change.
  • The high traffic plugin and theme update check endpoints had a round of performance tuning done. Resource consumption was lowered in meaningful way.
  • ???Kernl Analytics Active Plugins???- Kernl Analytics will now track what plugins are most active across your install-base. You only need to be signed up for Kernl Analytics and use the latest plugin_update_check.php file to get this new feature.
  • Our MongoDB database has been moved to DigitalOcean NYC3. Prior to this we were hosting on Compose.io outside of the datacenter. Originally this decision was made because managing databases is tough, but the quality of hosting at Compose has gone done significantly in the past year. With this change we shaved ~150ms off of response times.
  • Some tweaks were made to our network firewalls to make them easier to manage. Thanks DigitalOcean!
???Kernl Analytics Active Plugins ???

Bug Fixes

  • Load testing machines would fail to provision if the API call to DigitalOcean failed. This has been resolved.
  • The load testing master node would fail to start sometimes if secondary nodes failed to connect. The threshold for starting tests has been lowered so that this won’t happen anymore.
  • If a credit card expires and the invoice payment fails, the account isn’t marked as paid when a new card is added and a successful payment happens.
  • When switching between themes/plugins in Kernl Analytics the domain data wasn’t reloading with the new plugin/theme.
  • Thanks to a customer bug report and code snippet, the plugin_update_check.php no longer sends headers before the license check fails.

Blog Posts

That’s it for July and August!

Vultr Cloud Compute -vs- Dedicated -vs- Bare Metal WordPress Performance

Load test your own WordPress site with Kernl! Getting started is free!

In the world of cloud computing there are a lot of different options to choose from. Normally you only need to choose how big your instance will be (2 vCPUs or 4, 2GB RAM or 6), but some cloud compute providers are upping their game and providing an even wider array of options and instance types for you to choose from.

Vultr has 3 different types of compute instances:

  • Cloud Compute – You get your own virtual server, but it is sharing hardware resources with lots of friends. Noisy neighbors can definitely be a problem.
  • Dedicated – Dedicated servers, but virtualized. I (think) it is possible to run in to noisy neighbor problems in this situation.
  • Bare Metal – Dedicated servers and hardware. No hypervisor and no noisy neighbors taking up your resources.

In this article we’re going to see how a very basic WordPress install performs on the different types of Vultr compute instances. We’ll do so using Kernl’s WordPress Load Testing service.

The Test

As per usual with Kernl load tests I imported this blog’s content into each load testing environment. The load test skews extremely read heavy. If you have a site that is write heavy or a mix you may see different results.

Each test was performed for 1 hour with 2000 concurrent users generating load from London and New York to Vultr’s data center in New Jersey.

Configuration

For this test I used Vultr’s pre-built WordPress image with no caching. A lot of readers might say “But you can get much better performance using X or Y!”, and they would be right! But I’m not testing Apache vs Nginx performance, or W3 Total Cache vs WP Rocket, I’m testing Vultr hardware under load in a real world scenario. I simply want to know at the end of this article if Vultr Cloud Compute, Dedicated, or Bare Metal is better for WordPress hosting.

Test 1: Vultr Cloud Compute $10 / Month

The first test I performed was against the $10 per month Vultr Cloud Compute offering. As expected of a $10/month VPS performance wasn’t awesome, but it also wasn’t terrible.

All the red of red land

As you can see, lots of failed requests and only maintaining throughput of 16 req/s. Not unexpected with a single core and 1 GB of RAM. After all, I was throwing 2000 concurrent requests per second at the server. The response time distribution was similarly bad.

Bad, but could be a lot worse.

Overall, the results for the $10 VPS were as expected. This isn’t really an apples to apples comparison (we’ll get to that later), but I wanted to give you an idea of what basic VPS instance performance looks like.

Test 2: Vultr Cloud Compute $80 / Month

With this test we’re starting to get closer to the cost of bare metal and dedicated instances. This server had 6 CPUs and 16GB of RAM. Considerably more robust than the $10 server.

Lots of red, but also blue!!!

This graph tells a much different story than the previous test. Performance peaked at 169 req/s and then leveled off at 100 req/s. We still saw a lot of errors, but once again this isn’t unexpected. Honestly if you started to get this much traffic you would likely start breaking up WordPress into its components (file system, PHP + Nginx, MySQL) and start scaling horizontally.

Much Lower Response Time Distribution

The response time distribution was much better for this server as well. The upper end was just as bad as the cheaper box, but the 90% and below ranges were pretty solid for the amount of traffic that was being received.

Test 3: Vultr Bare Metal $120 / Month

The Vultr Bare Metal server was the instance I was most excited about testing. I’ve always had a soft spot for hardware and getting access to a bare metal server is pretty cool. For $120 per month (on sale, price will rise to $300/month eventually) you get 8 CPUs and 32GB of RAM. This is a pretty serious server.

Oooh, 200 req/s.

Lots of blue on this graph but also the expected amount of red. You can see that throwing 2 more non-virtual CPUs and 2X the RAM made a pretty big difference. We peaked at 200 req/s and then leveled out at 125 req/s. For reference that is 17.2 million requests per day.

🙁

The lower end of the response time distribution was solid, but the upper end wasn’t great at all. With all of those errors it isn’t surprising that this is the case.

Test 4: Vultr Dedicated $120 / Month

I honestly had a tough time figuring out why Vultr priced the bare metal and dedicated instances so close to each other. Dedicated is clearly inferior (far fewer CPUs and RAM) so why would anyone choose it? Anyway, let’s take a look at the graph.

?????

This test peaked at 100 req/s and then leveled off at around 70. I really would expect a lot better performance for this sort of money.

Also ?, but not as much ?.

Response time distribution was similar to the other boxes. With all the failures it tends to skew pretty hard in the wrong direction. I’m sure that there is a use case for these dedicated Vultr instances, but it definitely isn’t hosting a WordPress site.

Conclusions

With all of this data it was pretty easy to graph which of these is the best value.

Value was calculated by taking the cost per month and dividing it by the maximum number of requests. Based on the performance we saw above the Vultr Cloud Compute instances seem like your best value for WordPress hosting. For WordPress hosting it looks like Vultr Bare Metal and Dedicated instances aren’t a great choice. As mentioned above, there are likely use cases where they are a good choice though (maybe workloads that require very consistent performance).

As with all of these tests, your mileage may vary! I highly recommend that you run load tests on any new host that you use to get an idea of what sort of performance you can expect.

Load test your own WordPress site with Kernl! Getting started is free!

Measuring the Performance of WordPress on DigitalOcean Droplets

Earlier this year Kernl launched our WordPress Load Testing offering. Prior to the launch we had been doing a series of blog posts testing the performance of “managed” WordPress providers. In this blog post I’ll test the performance of Digital Ocean’s VPS solutions with a standard LEMP (Linux Nginx MySQL PHP-FPM) installation by scaling it vertically.

Want to measure your own WordPress performance under heavy load? Sign up for Kernl.

Server & WordPress Configuration

The Digital Ocean 1-click LEMP install is already configured to take full advantage of as many cores and as much RAM as is available. During the course of these tests I never needed to tweak any server settings. That doesn’t mean that more performance couldn’t have been extracted through configuration tweaks, but even with these settings we were able to gain useful information about WordPress performance on the different Digital Ocean droplet levels.

With regards to WordPress configuration… there isn’t any. No caching, CDNs, or compression. Just raw WordPress. Its easy to get high performance out of WordPress if you cache everything, but seeing what performance looks like in the worst-case scenario is far more interesting.

The Test

For this series of tests I imported the contents of my personal blog (Re-cycledair) to the target and then used Kernl to run the load tests. Due to the nature of my blog this test is very read heavy. While this isn’t realistic for everyone, for my personal blog the test is representative of the actual traffic that it receives.

The test itself looked like:

  • Concurrent users – 500
  • Ramp up – 2 users per second
  • Duration – 30 minutes
  • Request Rate – Each user makes 1 request every second
  • Droplet location – New York City
  • Load test generator location – Amsterdam

Results

As expected the amount of traffic that we could handle scaled linearly with the amount of hardware we were using (and cost).

Cost -vs- Performance

One interesting thing you’ll see in the graph is that in two places the requests per second actually trend down.

Data

Looking at the data above you can see that I tried Digital Ocean’s standard droplets as well as their CPU optimized droplets. The difference between them is cost and dedicated hyper-threads. From a cost perspective, you’re better off going with the standard droplet in the same price category. Personally I expected the CPU optimized droplet to perform better, but this might not be the best type of workload for it.

What About Caching?

Just for fun I tried out the one-click install of WordPress with LiteSpeed configured on a $5 / month droplet.

Things went really really really well.

?????

Thats right. By the time the test was completed my little $5 / month droplet was receiving 1800 requests / second WITH NO ERRORS. For perspective, thats 4.6 billion requests per month.

Conclusions

The data does a good job speaking for itself here, but in general you should definitely stick to Digital Ocean’s standard droplets when running WordPress. Even without caching you can get really good performance out of the $40/month droplet.

Want to measure your own WordPress performance under heavy load? Sign up for Kernl.

Load Testing the ChemiCloud Managed WordPress Hosting Service

At the beginning of December Kernl launched a closed beta for our WordPress Load Testing service. As part of the bug shakedown we’ve been spending some time load testing different managed WordPress hosting services. Some of previous tests include WordPress.com, CloudWays, and GoDaddy. For this test, we turned our sights on ChemiCloud.

How do we judge the platform?

Using Kernl’s load testing feature we run 3 different load tests against the target system.

  • The Baseline – This is a simple baseline load test that we use to verify that our configuration is correct and that the target can handle even minor traffic. It consists of 200 concurrent users, for 10 minutes, ramping up at 2 users / second, with traffic originating in San Francisco.
  • Sustained Traffic – The sustained traffic test mimics what traffic might look like for a read-heavy website with a lot of visitors. This load test consists of 2000 concurrent users, for 2 hours, ramping up at 2 users / second, with traffic originating from San Francisco.
  • Traffic Spike – This test is brutal. We use it mimic the sort of traffic that your WordPress site might experience if a link to it were shared by a Twitter or Instagram celebrity. The load test consists of 10,000 concurrent users, for 1 hour, ramping up at 10 users / second, with traffic originating from San Francisco.

All traffic for this test is generated out of Digital Ocean’s SFO2 data center.

What ChemiCloud plan was used?

ChemiCloud has several different tiers for managed WordPress hosting. We decided on the “Oxygen” plan. At a high level this seemed to align well with the hosting that we tested thus far.

ChemiCloud - Oxygen Plan
ChemiCloud – Oxygen Plan

Caveats

This load test is intentionally simple. It is read heavy. Many WordPress sites have this sort of traffic profile, but not all do. If you need to perform a WordPress load test with a different traffic profile Kernl supports this. Ideally we should also do multiple tests over time to make sure that this test wasn’t an outlier. Future load test articles will hopefully include this sort of rigor but for now this test can give you reasonable confidence in how you can expect ChemiCloud to perform under a read-heavy load.

The Baseline Test

200 concurrent users, 2 users / s ramp up, 10 minutes, SFO

As most of the hosting providers that we test do, ChemiCloud performed well on the baseline test. They settled in at right around 25 requests / second.

ChemiCloud - Requests
ChemiCloud – Requests

We did see a few failures towards the end of the test, but it appears that it was only a spike. Once the spike passed we didn’t see any more errors for the duration of the test.

ChemiCloud - Failures
ChemiCloud – Failures

The response time distribution for ChemiCloud was solid for this baseline test. 99% of requests finished in 550ms. If we go further down the distribution you can see that 95% of requests finished in ~250ms which is quite good. Even the 100% outlier still wasn’t that bad.

ChemiCloud - Response Time Distribution
ChemiCloud – Response Time Distribution

Sustained Traffic Test

2000 concurrent users, 2 users / s ramp up, 2 hours, SFO

For the sustained traffic test ChemiCloud did a great job serving requests while keeping response times down. As you can see from the graph below, the test settled in to right around 260 requests / second. The journey to that many users was smooth and there aren’t any surprises on the graph.

ChemiCloud - Requests
ChemiCloud – Requests

There were a few failures during the test period, but it appears that they were only a temporary blip. You can see that about half-way through the test we ran into ~32 failures. After that we didn’t see any more for awhile, and then we had one more before not seeing any again for the rest of the test. For some perspective, we performed 1,861,230 requests again ChemiCloud and only 33 failed. Thats a failure rate of 0.0017%! Nice work team ChemiCloud.

ChemiCloud - Failures
ChemiCloud – Failures

The response time distribution was pretty great for the sustained test as well. While there was an outlier at 100% (which is common), 99% of requests finished in under 400ms. Thats an effort worthy of praise with WordPress!

ChemiCloud - Response Time Distribution
ChemiCloud – Response Time Distribution

Traffic Spike Test

20000 concurrent users, 10 users / s ramp up, 1 hour, SFO

The traffic spike load test is brutal for any host. Nobody ever expects to see this kind of traffic out of nowhere so few are prepared for it. ChemiCloud handled the traffic rather well though. We eventually reached 1200 requests / second which is pretty impressive for a plan that costs $17.95 a month. There weren’t any surprises on the way up to that level of traffic, but as you’ll see we did start to see error rates increase.

ChemiCloud - Requests
ChemiCloud – Requests per Second

At about 15 minutes into the load test we started to see an uptick in failure rates. The rate of failure stayed consistent throughout the test after that. This is a fairly common pattern when hosts become overloaded with traffic. In general ChemiCloud performed well even with these failures. We sent 4,332,244 requests to ChemiCloud over an hour period and 134,893 failed. For this sort of load test a failure rate of 3.1% isn’t bad.

ChemiCloud - Failures
ChemiCloud – Failures

The most interesting graph from this load test was the response time distribution. You would expect to see a general degradation of response time performance as request failures increased but that wasn’t the case at all. Everything below the 99th percentile performed remarkably well considering the traffic we threw at it. 98% of requests finished in under 370ms. Great work!

ChemiCloud - Response Time Distribution
ChemiCloud – Response Time Distribution

Conclusions

ChemiCloud competes well with the other hosts that we’ve tested. They have a solid price-point and you get a lot of control over your WordPress environment. If you need a host that can handle some solid traffic spikes they are a good choice.

Want to be part of the Kernl WordPress Load Testing Beta? Sign up and then send an email to jack@kernl.us

What’s New With Kernl – November 2018

It has been a busy few months for Kernl. Lots of great work has gone into the WordPress load testing feature work as well as a few structural changes to increase reliability.

  • Cache moved to Redis – For as long as Kernl has existed our cache backend was powered by Memcached. We have now finished migrating to Redis hosted at Compose.io.
  • AngularJS Upgrade to 1.7.5 – Fairly straight-forward upgrade to Angular 1.7.5. We wanted to take advantage of performance improvements and few bug fixes.
  • WordPress Load Testing – Over the past few months we’ve been cooking up something new. Imagine if you could easily test performance changes to you or your client’s WordPress installation? Or be able to tell your client with confidence how many customers at a time their site can support (and what their experience will be like!). What if you could do all this without writing a single line of code or spinning up your own testing infrastructure? We’re ready to start beta testing so send an email to jack@kernl.us if you would like to be a part of it.

Feature Flags – Managing a WordPress Beta Program

Let’s say that you’re an author of a premium (i.e. paid for) WordPress plugin or theme. You’ve been hard at work on an amazing new feature but it really needs some testing before it goes out to all of your customers. How do you manage this process? What’s the best way to get new code into the hands of your beta users with the least effort on your part? This blog post is going to walk you through the process of using Kernl Feature Flags to easily manage a beta program without having two separate builds of your product.

Table of contents

What is a feature flag and how does it work?

Feature flagging is a software best practice for controlling the release of features (sometimes called “gating”). Feature flagging is important because it allows you to turn features on/off without having to do a deploy. But how does this impact you? How does it make things easier?

Feature flags allow you to manage beta programs with a single version of your product. What most people currently do is have 2 version of their product at any given time: The live version (what everyone sees) and the beta version (what your beta users see).  Wouldn’t it be easier to just have one version, one deployment process, and highly granular control over who sees what features?

Feature Flags Product View

For example, in the image above you can see that I have two feature flags: “GitLab CI” and “Download Invoice”. Right now they are both active and people can see the features that they represent. If I decided to change “Download Invoice” to inactive, the feature would be immediately deactivated in my plugin. I wouldn’t have to do another deploy and release a new version to make it happen. It happens automatically in the code that’s already with your customers.

Seems great right? Let’s do a full example so you can truly appreciate the power of feature flags.

Example: Adding a feature flag to the Kernl Example Plugin

The Kernl Example Plugin is intentionally very simple. The goal of the plugin is to show off Kernl’s various features while not overwhelming the person who is looking at it. To illustrate how and why feature flags are awesome, let’s add a simple setting to the “Settings -> General” menu.

The example plugin currently looks like this:

<?php
/**
* Plugin Name: Kernl Example Plugin
* Plugin URI: https://kernl.us
* Description: The Kernl Plugin for testing.
* Version: 3.3.0
* Author: Jack Slingerland
* Author URI: http://re-cycledair.com
*/
require 'plugin_update_check.php';

$MyUpdateChecker = new PluginUpdateChecker_2_0 (
    'https://kernl.us/api/v1/updates/5544bd7e5b8ae0fc1fa5e7a5/',
    __FILE__,
    'kernl-example-plugin',
    1
);
?>
All it does is require “plugin_update_check.php” and instantiate the update checker. Let’s make things a little more complicated by adding a setting to the example plugin.

Add a setting to the plugin

// This is added below plugin update instantiation.

function feature_flagged_settings_api_init() {
   add_settings_section(
        'feature_flagged_setting_section',
        'Feature Flag Example Settings in General',
        'feature_flagged_setting_section_callback_function',
        'general'
    );
   add_settings_field(
        'feature_flag_setting_name',
        'My Feature Flag Setting',
        'feature_flag_setting_callback_function',
        'general',
        'feature_flagged_setting_section'
    );
   register_setting( 'reading', 'feature_flag_setting_name' );
}
add_action( 'admin_init', 'feature_flagged_settings_api_init' );

function feature_flagged_setting_section_callback_function() {
   echo '<p>This section is hidden completely behind a Kernl Feature Flag.</p>';
}

function feature_flag_setting_callback_function() {
    echo '<input name="feature_flag_setting_name" id="feature_flag_setting_name" type="checkbox" value="1" class="code" ' . checked( 1, get_option( 'feature_flag_setting_name' ), false ) . ' /> This checkbox is hidden behind a feature flag.';
}
 The above code simply uses the ‘admin_init’ hook to call the WordPress Settings API and add a menu item. It looks like this when you run the code:
Feature Flags Example Setting Image
 Awesome! We’re off to a great start. Now let’s wrap this in a feature flag so only our beta user’s can see it.

Create an On/Off feature flag

Kernl has extensive documentation for feature flag usage, but it all boils down to:

  1. Add the feature flag library to your plugin/theme.
  2. Create a feature flag product in Kernl. A good rule here is 1 plugin / theme to 1 feature flag product.
  3. Create a flag.
  4. Instantiate the feature flag library and wrap your code.
  5. Manage who see’s the feature using Kernl.

So let’s do step one. If you’re using Composer, follow the directions in the feature flag documentation. If not, you can go to https://github.com/wpkernl/WPFeatureFlags and download the WPFeatureFlags.php file and drop it into your plugin or theme.

<?php
// ... snip ...
require 'plugin_update_check.php';
require 'WPFeatureFlags.php';
// ... snip ...
Easy. Next, go to Kernl and add a new product in the Feature Flags section.
Feature Flags Add Product Button
When you click “Add Product” you’ll get to choose a product name. Since I’m using feature flags with my example plugin, I’ll name mine “Kernl Example Plugin”.
Feature Flags Add Product Modal
After you click save, you’ll see the new product at the bottom of your feature flag product list.
Feature Flags Created product in product list
Now here is something important! See the “key” next to your product’s name? You’ll need that to instantiate the WPFeatureFlags class. I’d go ahead and copy it to your clipboard now.
Next up, let’s add a simple feature flag for this new setting we’re adding. This is the thing that will control visibility for all of our users. Click “Manage Flags” in the product menu, and then click the “Add Flag” button. You’ll be presented with this screen.
Add / Edit Feature Flags screen
All the options look straight-forward, but let’s go over them anyways.
  • Active – Will this feature be toggled on or off for everyone.
  • Name – A descriptive name. I’m filling this in with “General Setting Checkbox Example”.
  • Identifier – This is how we identify the flag in code, so I like to make it short and easy to understand. I’ll be using “GENERAL_SETTINGS_CHECKBOX”.
  • Flag Type – Kernl has 3 different types of feature flags for your enjoyment.
    • On/Off – As expected, this toggles the feature on and off for every user. No granularity here, but super useful for quickly disabling things. We’ll be starting with this flag.
    • Individual – You can select specific users that a feature will be toggled on for. This is what we’ll be using eventually, but there are some caveats that come with it.
    • Percentage – Kernl will roll out your feature to a percentage of your user base. Nice if you don’t want to specify individual users, but also don’t want the feature turned on for everyone.

Edit feature flags example

When things are filled out, press save and get ready to move on.

Now that we have our feature flag created, let’s instantiate the WPFeatureFlag class and wrap our code.

<?php
/**
* Plugin Name: Kernl Example Plugin
* Plugin URI: https://kernl.us
* Description: The Kernl Plugin for testing.
* Version: 3.3.0
* Author: Jack Slingerland
* Author URI: http://re-cycledair.com
*/
require 'plugin_update_check.php';
require 'WPFeatureFlags.php';

$MyUpdateChecker = new PluginUpdateChecker_2_0 (
  'https://kernl.us/api/v1/updates/5544bd7e5b8ae0fc1fa5e7a5/',
  __FILE__,
  'kernl-example-plugin',
  1
);

// We add the feature flag code inside the init() function
// so that we can have access to who the current user is.
function feature_flagged_settings_api_init() {
  // The feature flag product key. Remember the key I said you should add to your clipboard? This is it.
  $kernlFeatureFlagProductKey = '5a24035ee48da05271310a71';

  // The user identifier is how Kernl identifies the user requesting flags.
  // This should be unique for every user.
  $current_user = wp_get_current_user();
  $user_login = $current_user->user_login;
  $site_url = get_site_url();
  $userIdentifier = "{$site_url} - {$user_login}";

  $kff = new kernl\WPFeatureFlags($kernlFeatureFlagProductKey, $userIdentifier);

  // This says "For the product defined above, does this flag exists, and if so, is it active for the given user?".
  if ($kff->active("GENERAL_SETTINGS_CHECKBOX")) {
    add_settings_section(
      'feature_flagged_setting_section',
      'Feature Flag Example Settings in General',
      'feature_flagged_setting_section_callback_function',
      'general'
    );

    add_settings_field(
      'feature_flag_setting_name',
      'My Feature Flag Setting',
      'feature_flag_setting_callback_function',
      'general',
      'feature_flagged_setting_section'
    );

    register_setting( 'reading', 'feature_flag_setting_name' );
  }
}

add_action( 'admin_init', 'feature_flagged_settings_api_init' );

function feature_flagged_setting_section_callback_function() {
  echo'<p>This section is hidden completely behind a Kernl Feature Flag.</p>';
}

function feature_flag_setting_callback_function() {
  echo'<input name="feature_flag_setting_name" id="feature_flag_setting_name" type="checkbox" value="1" class="code" '.checked( 1, get_option( 'feature_flag_setting_name' ), false ) .' /> This checkbox is hidden behind a feature flag.';
}

?>
Now that we have the feature flag in our code, let’s talk about some of the optimizations the WPFeatureFlag library has. One of the nice things about WordPress and PHP is that the code itself is stateless. Meaning that without some storage mechanism (MySQL, Redis, Memcache) the entire page and all of it’s data is rebuilt from scratch on every request. This is great for fast development cycles but not always for performance.
The WPFeatureFlag library helps with performance by storing flags for a given user as a WordPress transient for 5 minutes. This way repeated page requests by a user don’t constantly call Kernl and introduce network latency on the request. Kernl’s feature flag API is heavily cached but it’s better for the end user if flags are served out of your own store. What this means for you is that your user’s won’t see changes for a maximum of 5 minutes when you toggle a flag on/off. This is usually fine, but if you need shorter or longer intervals you can use the API directly.
That being said, go ahead and toggle the feature flag off in Kernl. In 5 minutes (or less) you’ll see the setting disappear from the admin. No code deploy needed. “That’s great!” you say, but what about beta program management? Easy. Let’s change this flag to an “individual” flag.

Create an individually targeted feature flag

The video below show’s you how to create an individually targeted feature flag. It’s the same as the on/off flag, except that you get to pick which user’s see the feature. One caveat with this is that if Kernl hasn’t seen the user yet we can’t target them. Why? Because we don’t know how to identify a user that we haven’t seen. If you went to target an individual user without having identified them yet, you would need to register them manually.

Now that the flag is targeted at an individual, that selected person will be able to see the menu setting. This is a contrived example, but you can see how this can be easily expanded to running a beta program. The best part is that you don’t need to have multiple versions of your plugin/theme out there. You can simply release one version, and toggle on features for specific people. In the future Kernl will support making groups of users so managing beta programs will be even easier!

If you have questions feel free to drop them in the comments!

Further Reading on Feature Flags

There’s a lot of great reading out there on feature flags and their uses. If you’re looking for more information about them, I highly recommend these resources.

What’s New With Kernl – December 2017

Happy December everyone! It’s been a busy month at Kernl. We’ve got a few great new features completed, some infrastructure updates, and a few bug fixes. Let’s get started.

Features

  • Customer Management – With the release of our new License Management product we introduced the concept of “customers”. As one would expect, a customer is someone who you assign a license to. The reason we introduced this was so that you could have multiple licenses associated to a single person and easily manage those from a single place. This is a huge improvement over the previous iteration and I highly recommend that you check it out. Hop over to the “License Management’ page and then click “Manage Customers”.
  • Customer Management API – In addition to the new customer management area in the app you can now access the customer management API. There are a lot of different ways that people purchase your plugins and themes so exposing a rich API is the best way to allow integration with Kernl. If you’d like to learn more, check out the documentation.
  • Purchase Code Migration – If you are a user of the legacy “purchase code” system you can now migrate all of your existing purchase codes over to the new license management system. When you go to the license management page there is a big call-out at the top when you can migrate your purchase codes. If you do this, make sure to update your plugin_update_check or theme_update_check file and where you instantiate the Kernl update class. Documentation for using the new license management system can be found here.
  • License Domain Restrictions – You can now restrict updates that are secured by license management to specific domains.

Minor Features & Bug Fixes

  • The web app has been upgraded from Angular 1.3.x to Angular 1.6.6. This is one of the first steps in a migration path forward to the next generation of Angular and a web app UI refresh.
  • You are now able to refresh the Git repository list that Kernl has with the press of a button. Before you had to disconnect/re-connect the integration.
  • In the interest of moving quickly, the first pass of license management and customer management did not have any tests written for it. This month we added a suite of tests around both APIs so that they remain stable.
  • Our back end application servers have been upgraded to Node.js 8.9.1. This brings security updates as well as new language features.
  • The license management documentation was updated to include links to the WordPress Settings API documentation. Kernl doesn’t make any assumptions about how your plugin or theme is developed, but people often ask what the easiest way to get licenses into their app is. The WordPress Settings API is likely the easiest, so it’s now mentioned in the documentation.
  • Meta tags have been added to the marketing site so that shares to Twitter look richer.
  • There was a bug in feature flags where individually targeted flags did not toggle on/off correctly.
  • All packages on all servers have been updated with the latest security fixes.

That’s all for this month! Have a great holiday season everyone!