Michael Zucchi

 B.E. (Comp. Sys. Eng.)

  also known as zed
  & handle of notzed


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Tuesday, 24 April 2018, 17:38

FastCGI experiments

It's not particularly important - i'm lucky to get more than one-non-bot hit in a given day - but I thought i'd have a look into FastCGI. If in the future I do use a database backend or even a Java one it should be an easy way to get some performance while leveraging the simplicity of CGI and leaving the protocol stuff to apache.

After a bit of background reading and looking into some 'simple' implementations I decided to just roll my own. The 'official' fastcgi.com site is no longer live so I didn't think it worth playing with the official sdk. The way it handled stdio just seemed a little odd as well.

With the use of a few GNU libc extensions for stdio (cookie streams) and memory (obstacks) I put together enough of a partial (but robust) implementation to serve output-only pages from the fcgid module in a few hundred lines of code.

This is the public api for it.

struct fcgi_param {
        char *name;
        char *value;

struct fcgi {
        // Active during cgi request
        FILE *stdout;
        FILE *stderr;

        // Current request info
        unsigned char rid1, rid0;
        unsigned char flags;
        unsigned char role;

        // Current request params (environment)
        size_t param_length;
        size_t param_size;
        struct fcgi_param *param;
        struct obstack param_stack;

        // Internal buffer stuff
        int fd;
        size_t pos;
        size_t limit;
        size_t buffer_size;
        unsigned char *buffer;

typedef int (*fcgi_callback_t)(struct fcgi *, void *);

struct fcgi *fcgi_alloc(void);
void fcgi_free(struct fcgi *cgi);

int fcgi_accept_all(struct fcgi *cgi, fcgi_callback_t cb, void *data);
char *fcgi_getenv(struct fcgi *cgi, const char *name);

I didn't bother to implement concurrent requests, the various access control roles, or STDIN messages. The first doesn't appear to be used by mod_fcgi (it handles concurrency itself) and I don't need the rest (yet at least). As previously stated I used GNU libc extensions to implement custom stdio streams for stdout and stderr, although I used a custom 'zero-copy' buffer implementation for the protocol handling (wherein the calls can access the internal buffer address rather than having to copy data around).

Converting a CGI program is a little more involved than using the original SDK because it doesn't hide the i/o behind macros or use global variables to pass information. Instead via a context-specific handle it provides stdio compatible FILE handles and a separate environmental variable lookup function. Of course it is possible to write a handler callback which can implement such a solution.

The main function of a the fast cgi program just allocates the context, calls accept_all and then free. The callback is invoked for each request and can access stdout/stderr from the context using stdio calls as it wishes.

Apache config

Here's the basic apache config snipped I used to hook it into `/blog' on a server (I did this locally rather than live on this site though).

        ScriptAlias /blog /path/fcgi-test.fcgi

        FcgidCmdOptions /path/fcgi-test MaxProcesses 1

        <Directory "/path">
                AllowOverride None
                Options +ExecCGI
                Require all granted

Custom streams and cookies

Using a GNU extension it is trivial to hook up custom stdio streams - one gets all the benefits of libc's buffering and formatting and one only has to write a couple of simple callbacks.

#define _GNU_SOURCE

#include <sys/types.h>
#include <sys/uio.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <unistd.h>

static ssize_t fcgi_write(void *f, const char *buf, size_t size, int type) {
        struct fcgi *cgi = f;
        size_t sent = 0;
        FCGI_Header header = {
                .version = FCGI_VERSION_1,
                .type = type,
                .requestIdB1 = cgi->rid1,
                .requestIdB0 = cgi->rid0

        while (sent < size) {
                size_t left = size - sent;
                ssize_t res;
                struct iovec iov[2];

                if (left > 65535)
                        left = 65535;

                header.contentLengthB1 = left >> 8;
                header.contentLengthB0 = left & 0xff;

                iov[0].iov_base = &header;
                iov[0].iov_len = sizeof(header);
                iov[1].iov_base = (void *)(buf + sent);
                iov[1].iov_len = left;
                res = writev(cgi->fd, iov, 2);
                if (res < 0)
                        return -1;

                sent += left;

        return size;

static int fcgi_close(void *f, int type) {
        struct fcgi *cgi = f;
        FCGI_Header header = {
                .version = FCGI_VERSION_1,
                .type = type,
                .requestIdB1 = cgi->rid1,
                .requestIdB0 = cgi->rid0
        if (write(cgi->fd, &header, sizeof(header)) < 0)
                return -1;
        return 0;

Well perhaps the callbacks are more `straightforward' than simple in this case. FastCGI has a payload limit of 64K so any larger writes need to be broken up into parts. I use writev to write the header and content directly from the library buffer in a single system call (a pretty insignificant performance improvment in this case but one nonetheless). I might need to handle partial writes but this works so far - in which case the writev approach gets too complicated to bother with.

The actual 'cookie' callbacks just invoke the functions above with the FCGI channel to write to.

static ssize_t fcgi_stdout_write(void *f, const char *buf, size_t size) {
        return fcgi_write(f, buf, size, FCGI_STDOUT);

static int fcgi_stdout_close(void *f) {
        return fcgi_close(f, FCGI_STDOUT);

const static cookie_io_functions_t fcgi_stdout = {
        .read = NULL,
        .write = fcgi_stdout_write,
        .seek = NULL,
        .close = fcgi_stdout_close

And opening a custom stream is as as simple as opening a regular file.

static int fcgi_begin(struct fcgi *cgi) {
        cgi->stdout = fopencookie(cgi, "w", fcgi_stdout);


        return 0;


Here's a basic example that just dumps all the parameters to the client. It also maintains a count to demonstrate that it's persistent.

I went with a callback mechanism rather than the polling mechanism of the original SDK mostly to simplify managing state. Shrug.

#include "fcgi.h"

static int cgi_func(struct fcgi *cgi, void *data) {
        static int count;

        fprintf(cgi->stdout, "Content-Type: text/plain\n\n");
        fprintf(cgi->stdout, "Request %d\n", count++);
        fprintf(cgi->stdout, "Parameters\n");
        for (int i=0;i<cgi->param_length;i++)
                fprintf(cgi->stdout, " %s=%s\n", cgi->param[i].name, cgi->param[i].value);

        return 0;

int main(int argc, char **argv) {
        struct fcgi * cgi = fcgi_alloc();
        fcgi_accept_all(cgi, cgi_func, NULL);


I haven't worked out how to get the CGI script to 'exit' when the MaxRequestsPerProcess limit has been reached without causing service pauses. Whether I do nothing or whether I exit and close the socket at the right time it still pauses the next request for 1-4 seconds.

I haven't converted my blog driver to use it yet - maybe later on tonight if I keep poking at it.

Oh and it is quite fast, even with a trivial C program.

Tagged hacking, zedzone.
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