Compressing Output From PHP

A little-used or discussed feature of PHP is the ability to compress output from the scripts using GZIP for more efficient transfer to requesting clients. By automatically detecting the ability of the requesting clients to accept and interpret GZIP encoded HTML, PHP can decrease the size of files transferred to the client by 60% to 80%.

Configuring PHP

The configuration needed to make this work is simple. I use a Linux distro that relies on RPMS, so I check for the following two packages:

  1. zlib
  2. zlib-devel

For those not familiar with zlib, it is a highly efficient, open-source compression library. This library is used by PHP uses to compress the output sent to the client.
Compile PHP4 with your favourite ./configure statement. I use the following:

	Apache/1.3.x
	./configure --with-apxs=/usr/local/apache/bin/apxs --with-zlib
	Apache/2.0.x
	./configure --with-apxs2=/usr/local/apache2/bin/apxs --with-zlib

After doing make && make install, PHP should be ready to go as a dynamic Apache module. Now, you have to make some modifications to the php.ini file. This is usually found in /usr/local/lib, but if it’s not there, don’t panic; you will find some php.ini* files in the directory where you unpacked PHP. Simply copy one of those to /usr/local/lib and rename it php.ini.
Within php.ini, some modifications need to be made to switch on the GZIP compression detection and encoding. There are two methods to do this.

		Method 1:
		output_buffering = On
		output_handler = ob_gzhandler
		zlib.output_compression = Off
		Method 2:
		output_buffering = Off
		output_handler =
		zlib.output_compression = On

Once this is done, PHP will automatically detect if the requesting client accepts GZIP encoding, and will then buffer the output through the gzhandler function to dynamically compress the data sent to the client.

So?

The winning situation here is that for an expenditure of $0 (except your time) and a tiny bit more server overhead (you’re probably still using fewer resources than if you were running ASP on IIS!), you will now be sending much smaller, dynamically generated html documents to your clients, reducing your bandwidth usage and the amount of time it takes to download the files.
How much of a size reduction is achieved? Well, I ran a test on my Web server, using WGET to retrieve the file. The configuration and results of the test are listed below.

Method 0: No Compression
wget www.pierzchala.com/resume.php
File Size: 9415 bytes
Method 1: ob_gzhandler
wget –header=”Accept-Encoding: gzip,*” www.pierzchala.com/resume.php
File Size: 3529 bytes
Method 2: zlib.output_compression
wget –header=”Accept-Encoding: gzip,*” www.pierzchala.com/resume.php
File Size: 3584 bytes

You will have to experiment with the method that give the most efficient balance between file size and overhead and processing time on your server.
A 62% reduction in transferred file size without affecting the quality of the data sent to the client is a pretty good return for 10 minutes of work. I recommend including this procedure in all of your future PHP builds.

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