Sometimes things break, and then we've got to fix them.

Forker: a PHP Library


A while back we released Forker, a small PHP library that enables easy parallel processing. We've been using it in production for a couple of months now, so I figured it would be a good candidate for a first post.

How We Use It

Right now, we use it for network IO operations. Particularly, we use it to connect via SSH and execute commands on a bunch of machines in parallel. This has decreased the time it takes us to deploy new code to 2-3 seconds, instead of 2-3*n seconds that it took before.

Here's an example of how you can use Forker to run a command on many machines in parallel:

require "Forker.php";

$servers = array('', '');

 * Run a shell command on an array of servers using SSH,
 * returning the output and exit code.
function runCmd($command, $servers) {
    return Forker::map($servers,
    function($index, $server) use ($command) {
        $sshCommand = "ssh $server -c '$command' 2>&1";
        exec($sshCommand, $exitCode, $output);
        return array(
            'output' => implode("\n", $output),
            'exitCode' => $exitCode

$results = runCmd("hostname", $servers);

This would produce something along the lines of: Array ( [0] => Array ( [output] => [exitCode] => 0 ) [1] => Array ( [output] => [exitCode] => 0 ) )

How It Works


Forker has three functions to provide the functionality behind its one public function. A protected method called fork() creates a connected socket stream pair, forks the current process and returns one socket to the parent, and one to child. These sockets are used for one-way communication from the child to the parent.

protected static function fork() {
   $results = array();
   $sockets = stream_socket_pair(STREAM_PF_UNIX,
   $pid     = pcntl_fork();

   if ($pid == -1) {
      die('Could not fork');

   } else if ($pid) {
        /* parent */
       $results = array(
          'stream' => $sockets[0],
          'parent' => true
   } else {
       /* child */
       $results = array(
          'stream' => $sockets[1],
          'parent' => false

   return $results;


Up one more level there is the mapStream() function. This implements a typical map function over a provided array. The map function passes to the callback the array entry and a connected stream. The data written to the stream during each callback is read from the other end by the parent and returned from the original mapStream() call.

protected static function mapStream($things, $callback) {
   $children = array();

   foreach($things as $key => $value) {
      $info = self::fork();
      if ($info['parent']) {
         $children[$key] = $info;
      } else {
         $callback($key, $value, $info['stream']);

   return self::getChildrenOutput($children);

The final public function 'map()' wraps the mapStream() function and allows the caller to just return a php object instead of writing to a stream. Returned objects are serialized and written to the stream and then deserialized before being returned in the resultant array.

public static function map($things, $callback) {
   $outputStrings = self::mapStream($things,
   function($key, $value, $stream) use ($callback){
      $data = $callback($key, $value);
      fwrite($stream, serialize($data));

   $results = array();
   foreach ($outputStrings as $key => $output) {
      if ($output === null || $output === '')
         $results[$key] = null;
         $results[$key] = unserialize($output);
   return $results;

The end result is an easy to use interface to forking in PHP, Forker::map().

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