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Scaling PHP Applications with RoadRunner

Marin Bezhanov
Updated on April 29, 2024

In the PHP world, a traditional setup for running PHP applications in production usually involves a web server (such as NGINX or Caddy) and a process manager (such as PHP-FPM) that integrates with the web server over FastCGI to process incoming requests.

Although available as an option, application servers are less widespread and not that commonly used (at least not yet). This is likely because they employ a slightly different approach to bootstrapping and request handling compared to more traditional setups.

With PHP-FPM, each request is routed for processing to an FPM worker by the FPM master process. Each FPM worker then bootstraps the PHP environment required for executing the corresponding PHP code, after which that environment is destroyed (memory is freed up, and internal PHP structures are deallocated).

This repeats for each subsequent request, and while mechanisms such as the PHP OPcache and APCu allow you to (broadly speaking) retain certain parts of your execution environment for reuse across multiple FPM workers and requests, you still cannot eliminate the bootstrapping phase in its entirety.

Application servers like RoadRunner provide an alternative by utilizing long-lived PHP processes that can handle multiple requests without the need to constantly bootstrap new execution environments. This can significantly reduce overhead and improve the performance of PHP applications experiencing high traffic volumes.

The following tutorial will demonstrate exactly how this works by guiding you through the development of a small and simple PHP application running on RoadRunner that interacts with a couple of third-party services over the network. In the process, you'll learn how to set up RoadRunner for local development, how it operates internally, and how PHP applications can effectively integrate with it to take advantage of its performance benefits.

Let's get started!


  • Prior PHP development experience.
  • Familiarity with NGINX + PHP-FPM setups.
  • Good familiarity with the Docker CLI.
  • A recent version of Docker installed on your system (this tutorial uses Docker version 26.0.0).
  • Knowing how to create custom Docker images for your PHP applications (see Building Production-Ready Docker Images for PHP Apps).

Preparing your local environment

There are many ways to run RoadRunner locally. I generally prefer to keep my local machine as clean and organized as possible, so I rely mostly on Docker for PHP development.

Docker containers allow you to spin up and tear down different development environments without cluttering your local system with unnecessary software packages. This also ensures that your development environment remains consistent across different machines and operating systems.

Therefore, this section will guide you through setting up a local environment for developing RoadRunner applications based on Docker.

Building a custom Docker image

To begin with, you need to prepare a custom Docker image that meets your requirements. At the very least, this image has to include the PHP CLI for executing PHP code, Composer for installing third-party packages, and RoadRunner for serving your application.

Choosing a suitable PHP base image to use as a starting point was covered in great detail in one of our previous tutorials. You can refer back to that tutorial for more in-depth information on the topic, but for local development in particular, you may want to choose one of the more comprehensive Linux distributions of the official PHP image (such as Debian bullseye or bookworm) instead of Alpine, as these distributions come with a broader range of tools and packages that may come in handy while prototyping your application locally.

At the time of this writing, the latest stable PHP version is 8.3.4, and the latest Debian variant of its official Docker image is bookworm. Since you'll be using RoadRunner as the application server instead of Apache or NGINX, you won't need anything else included in the base image besides the PHP interpreter itself.

The base image that covers all of these requirements at the time of this writing is php:8.3.4-cli-bookworm:

PHP base image on Docker Hub

Create a new Dockerfile and populate it with the following contents:

FROM php:8.3.4-cli-bookworm

Using php:8.3.4-cli-bookworm as the base image ensures that the php binary is available in your Docker container; however, you also need to bring in composer and rr. As Composer and RoadRunner both have official Docker images, you can add their compiled binaries to your image by using Docker multi-stage builds.

The official Composer image is hosted on Docker Hub, and its latest stable version at the time of this writing is 2.7.2:

Official Composer image on Docker Hub

You can add the composer binary from the composer:2.7.2 image to your custom Docker image using a multi-stage build by adding the following instructions to your Dockerfile:

FROM composer:2.7.2 AS composer
FROM php:8.3.4-cli-bookworm
COPY --from=composer /usr/bin/composer /usr/bin/composer

The official RoadRunner image is hosted on the GitHub container registry of the roadrunner-server project. The latest stable version at the time of this writing is 2023.3.12:

Official RoadRunner image on GHCR

You can add the rr binary from the roadrunner:2023.3.12 image to your custom Docker image using a multi-stage build by adding the following instructions to your Dockerfile:

FROM composer:2.7.2 AS composer
FROM AS roadrunner
FROM php:8.3.4-cli-bookworm COPY --from=composer /usr/bin/composer /usr/bin/composer
COPY --from=roadrunner /usr/bin/rr /usr/local/bin/rr

One last thing to consider is adding the unzip command to your image. It's listed as an official requirement on the Composer website, and without its presence, Composer will fail to install packages with a similar error:

Failed to download <package-name> from dist: The zip extension and unzip/7z commands are both missing, skipping.

To add the unzip command, update your Dockerfile as follows:

FROM composer:2.7.2 AS composer
FROM AS roadrunner
FROM php:8.3.4-cli-bookworm

COPY --from=composer /usr/bin/composer /usr/bin/composer
COPY --from=roadrunner /usr/bin/rr /usr/local/bin/rr

RUN set -eux; \
apt-get update; \
apt-get install -y --no-install-recommends unzip; \
rm -rf /var/lib/apt/lists/*

With these final adjustments, you have everything necessary to build the first version of your development image. You can name this image rr-dev-env (short for "RoadRunner Development Environment") and give it a version identifier (e.g., 0.1.0).

Run the following command to build the image:

docker build -t rr-dev-env:0.1.0 .

Setting up shell aliases

Now that the image is ready, it might not be immediately obvious how to incorporate it into your local development workflow. Let's take a step back to consider how you can utilize it.

When working on a PHP project, things such as installing dependencies, running tests, interacting with the application server, etc., usually require you to launch a shell inside your main project directory to run various php, composer, and rr commands from the terminal.

For this to work, you usually need to have all of these binaries installed directly on your local system using either the default package manager or by downloading and installing them manually following their official installation instructions.

Rather than going through all of this, you can emulate the same experience with shell aliases that use your custom Docker image behind the scenes. Shell aliases are shortcuts that allow you to run complex commands with a simple keyword. By setting up aliases for php, composer, and rr running inside a Docker container launched from your custom image, you can streamline your development workflow and avoid the need to install any of these binaries directly on your system.

For this to work correctly, each alias invocation needs to launch a new interactive Docker container (with your project directory mounted as a volume) and execute the desired command within that container. In this process, you need to ensure that the command runs with the same privileges as your Linux user so that file permissions and ownership are maintained correctly across your project.

The Docker container can be a short-lived one that gets automatically removed after the given command is executed. This will ensure a clean and isolated environment for each subsequent task.

Last but not least, any necessary ports should be published, so that you can use localhost to access the application server running inside the container.

The following docker command fulfills these requirements:

docker run --rm -it -v ./:/app -w /app -u $(id -u):$(id -g) -p 8080:80 rr-dev-env:0.1.0 <COMMAND>

Here's a breakdown of its contents:

  • docker run tells the Docker Engine to start a new container from the provided image.
  • --rm ensures the container is automatically removed after the command finishes executing.
  • -it ensures you can provide interactive input to the specified command.
  • -v ./:app mounts your project directory as /app inside the container.
  • -w /app marks /app as the default working directory inside the container.
  • -u $(id -u):$(id -g) ensures that the specified command runs with the same user and group permissions as your Linux user.
  • -p 8080:80 ensures that you can use localhost:8080 to access the application server listening on port 80 inside the container.
  • rr-dev-env:0.1.0 specifies the name of the image that your container should be started from (corresponding to the custom image you created earlier).
  • <COMMAND> acts as a placeholder for the actual command you want to run inside the container.

Depending on the exact shell environment that you're using, you can specify your aliases in .bashrc, .zshrc, or any other relevant shell configuration file. This will make them persistent across sessions and ensure that they are available every time you open up a new terminal.

Most Linux distributions come with Bash as the default shell, pre-configured to allow storing your custom shell aliases in a file called .bash_aliases located in your home directory.

Go ahead and create that file unless it already exists:

touch ~/.bash_aliases

Then add the following aliases to the file:

alias rr-dev-env="docker run --rm -it -v ./:/app -w /app -u $(id -u):$(id -g) -p 8080:80 rr-dev-env:0.1.0"
alias composer="rr-dev-env composer --no-cache"
alias php="rr-dev-env php"
alias rr="rr-dev-env rr"

The rr-dev-env alias outlines the main docker command that the other three aliases will expand upon. The composer, php, and rr aliases narrow that command down to the specific binary to be executed inside the container. The composer alias intentionally includes the --no-cache flag to prevent unnecessary warnings from being displayed during package installation.

You have to either restart your shell session or source the .bash_aliases file for the aliases to take effect:

source ~/.bash_aliases

After you do that, go ahead and try them out:

php --version
PHP 8.3.4 (cli) (built: Mar 15 2024 23:59:35) (NTS)
Copyright (c) The PHP Group
Zend Engine v4.3.4, Copyright (c) Zend Technologies
composer --version
Composer version 2.7.2 2024-03-11 17:12:18
PHP version 8.3.4 (/usr/local/bin/php)
Run the "diagnose" command to get more detailed diagnostics output.
rr --version
rr version 2023.3.12 (build time: 2024-02-29T18:24:06+0000, go1.22.0), OS: linux, arch: amd64

It works! You're now ready to start using RoadRunner for local development.

Initializing your application

It's time to see RoadRunner in action by creating a small PHP application that makes use of its ability to persist the application state across multiple client requests. But before we actually launch this application with RoadRunner, let's first make sure it can process requests and generate responses by setting up its basic structure and functionality.

Create a new directory for the project and cd into it:

mkdir roadrunner-tutorial
cd roadrunner-tutorial

Initialize the project using Composer:

composer init

An interactive prompt appears, asking you to specify a package name for your application:

composer init start

You can name the package demo/project and stick mostly to the default options for the remaining prompts. Feel free to omit the author specification, describe your package type as a project, and postpone the specification of dependencies.

The complete interaction could look like this:

composer init end

As a result, your project directory gets the following contents:

ls -l
total 12
-rw-r--r-- 1 marin marin  165 Apr  8 10:07 composer.json
drwxr-xr-x 2 marin marin 4096 Apr  8 10:07 src
drwxr-xr-x 3 marin marin 4096 Apr  8 10:07 vendor

With a composer.json file initialized, you can now focus on putting the application together.

Naturally, every PHP web application needs a "front controller". This file serves as the main entry point to the application, receiving all incoming requests from the web server, routing them for processing to the appropriate actions within the application, and finally emitting the corresponding response.

Popular frameworks such as Symfony and Laravel place their front controllers in ./public/index.php, so you can use the same approach.

Make a new directory named public:

mkdir public

Then create a new file named index.php inside that directory:

touch public/index.php

Your project takes the following shape:

tree -L 2
├── composer.json
├── public
│   └── index.php
├── src
└── vendor
    ├── autoload.php
    └── composer

Begin setting up the basic structure of your front controller file by including the Composer autoloader. This will ensure that all necessary application classes and third-party packages will be loaded into your project when needed.

Populate your index.php with the following contents:


require __DIR__ . '/../vendor/autoload.php';

Now is a good time to work on the application kernel. In an effort to keep this application as small and simple as possible, its kernel will act as a basic request handler, implementing the PSR-15 RequestHandlerInterface. To satisfy this interface, the kernel has to be able to construct objects conforming to the PSR-7 ResponseInterface.

This calls for the installation of some Composer packages:

  • psr/http-server-handler: provides PSR-15 and PSR-7 interfaces that you can code against.
  • nyholm/psr7: provides a lightweight implementation for building valid Response objects compatible with PSR-7.

Go ahead and install these packages by running:

composer require psr/http-server-handler nyholm/psr7

composer require psr/http-server-handler nyholm/psr7

Create a new file named Application.php in your src folder:

touch src/Application.php

Populate your Application.php file with the following contents:


namespace Demo\Project;

use Nyholm\Psr7\Response;
use Psr\Http\Message\ResponseInterface;
use Psr\Http\Message\ServerRequestInterface;
use Psr\Http\Server\RequestHandlerInterface;

class Application implements RequestHandlerInterface
    #[\Override] public function handle(ServerRequestInterface $request): ResponseInterface
        return new Response(body: "Hello, world!");

The Application class will take in any provided request and respond with a simple "Hello, world!" string. This is a good start.

You now need to hook the application kernel to the front controller. To do this, you must determine how the front controller can construct objects that satisfy the ServerRequestInterface. Otherwise, it won't be able to invoke the handle method on the Application.

As you know, the PHP engine exposes raw request information through its built-in superglobal variables. Utilizing these superglobals, you can easily build a valid Request object, but implementing a class capable of doing this correctly yourself can prove to be tedious and error-prone.

Therefore, let's use a readily available package such as nyholm/psr7-server which already provides the desired functionality.

Go ahead and add it to your project:

composer require nyholm/psr7-server

composer require nyholm/psr7-server

Open up your front controller and add the following lines:


require __DIR__ . '/../vendor/autoload.php';

// initialize Application kernel
$app = new \Demo\Project\Application();
// create Request object
$psr17Factory = new \Nyholm\Psr7\Factory\Psr17Factory();
$creator = new \Nyholm\Psr7Server\ServerRequestCreator($psr17Factory, $psr17Factory, $psr17Factory, $psr17Factory);
$request = $creator->fromGlobals();
// pass Request object to Application kernel
$response = $app->handle($request);

The code above initializes the Application kernel, creates a Request object using the ServerRequestCreator class from the nyholm/psr7-server package, and finally passes the Request for processing to the Application kernel.

As a result, the Application produces a Response object containing information about the headers and body that will be sent out to the client.

You can either write the code to emit the response yourself or better yet, use an existing package that contains the desired functionality. This is where the laminas/laminas-httphandlerrunner package can come in handy. It provides a SapiEmitter class that can take in Response objects and emit the corresponding response body and headers using the PHP SAPI.

Add this package to your project:

composer require laminas/laminas-httphandlerrunner

composer require laminas/laminas-httphandlerrunner

Then modify your front controller one last time as follows:


require __DIR__ . '/../vendor/autoload.php';

// initialize Application kernel
$app = new \Demo\Project\Application();

// create Request object
$psr17Factory = new \Nyholm\Psr7\Factory\Psr17Factory();
$creator = new \Nyholm\Psr7Server\ServerRequestCreator($psr17Factory, $psr17Factory, $psr17Factory, $psr17Factory);
$request = $creator->fromGlobals();

// pass Request object to Application kernel
$response = $app->handle($request);

// emit Response
$emitter = new \Laminas\HttpHandlerRunner\Emitter\SapiEmitter();

With that, the application is ready for a test run. Start a new PHP development server with:

php -S public/index.php
[Wed Apr  8 07:20:18 2024] PHP 8.3.4 Development Server ( started

Open up localhost:8080 in your browser to see the "Hello, world!" message:

"Hello, world!" page

The application is up and running!

However, it's currently using the PHP development server, which works as a standard web server (in the sense that your index.php file processes regular HTTP requests parsed by the PHP SAPI).

In the next section, you'll work on launching this application with RoadRunner.

Starting up RoadRunner

Starting the RoadRunner server is done by executing the following command:

rr serve

However, issuing this command right now will yield an error:

handle_serve_command: open /app/.rr.yaml: no such file or directory

That's because a RoadRunner configuration file is missing from your project. By default, RoadRunner expects an .rr.yaml file to be provided at the root of the project directory.

Go ahead and create one:

touch .rr.yaml

Then populate it with the following contents:

version: "3"

  command: "php public/index.php"

  • version specifies the schema of the configuration file.
  • server activates the Server plugin. The Server plugin regulates how worker pools are created. It expects you to define a command that each worker in the pool executes. In this particular case, the command is php public/index.php, which means that each worker will initiate a copy of your front controller (in the form of a long-running PHP process) for handling incoming requests.
  • http activates the HTTP plugin. During initialization, the HTTP plugin asks the Server plugin to create a new worker pool for handling HTTP requests. After that, it starts an HTTP server that listens for incoming connections at the provided address ( here means that the HTTP server will bind to port 80 on all available interfaces). Each incoming request is then forwarded to a worker for processing and generating a response.

Here, it's important to note that each worker is a goroutine (think lightweight thread) running within the scope of the main RoadRunner process. Each worker goroutine initiates its own dedicated PHP process (a separate Linux process) and crosses the RoadRunner process boundary by exchanging messages with that particular PHP process.

This is best illustrated with a diagram:

RoadRunner architecture diagram

The specifics of the RoadRunner architecture bring new requirements to your front controller. You are no longer working with raw HTTP requests understood by the PHP SAPI. RoadRunner uses the Goridge protocol for communication.

When a new HTTP request arrives at the server, RoadRunner selects one of the available workers to handle it. The worker converts the request to a Goridge message and passes it to its dedicated PHP process (which is running your front controller code) for execution. The front controller process is then expected to respond with another Goridge message, containing everything necessary for RoadRunner to construct a valid HTTP response. Once the worker receives the Goridge message, it converts it back to HTTP response data and lets the server send it back to the client.

The main problem here is that the PHP CLI SAPI doesn't speak Goridge natively and cannot populate its superglobals with the HTTP request data sent through the Goridge message. This means that constructing Request objects from superglobals in the front controller is no longer possible (and that's exactly what the ServerRequestCreator that you used earlier relies on).

Using the SapiEmitter to transmit responses is also no longer possible, as it is practically oblivious to the Goridge format and relies entirely on the PHP SAPI to transmit HTTP response data.

Try rerunning the command from earlier:

rr serve

It fails again, but this time with the following error:

handle_serve_command: Function call error:
        serve error from the plugin *http.Plugin stopping execution, error: static_pool_allocate_workers: WorkerAllocate:
        goridge_frame_receive: unexpected EOF

That's exactly because of the front controller's inability to understand the incoming Goridge message and respond accordingly.

It's time to adapt your application to RoadRunner.

Thankfully, the team behind RoadRunner provides several packages to aid with this transition:

  • spiral/roadrunner-worker provides everything necessary for sending and receiving Goridge messages from the RoadRunner worker connected to your PHP process.
  • spiral/roadrunner-http provides a higher level of abstraction over the spiral/roadrunner-worker package that lets you use Request and Response objects compliant with PSR-7 throughout your code while still being able to quickly convert them to and from the Gordige format as needed.

Add these packages to your project:

composer require spiral/roadrunner-worker spiral/roadrunner-http

Contrary to what you might expect, this results in an error:

Package spiral/roadrunner-worker has requirements incompatible with your PHP version, PHP extensions and Composer version:
    - spiral/roadrunner-worker v3.5.0 requires ext-sockets * but it is not present.

The spiral/roadrunner-worker package requires the PHP Sockets extension to be present, but the Docker image you prepared earlier doesn't have it installed.

This is caused by an underlying dependency in the spiral/goridge package, which implements the Goridge protocol specification. The Goridge protocol specifies several possible communication methods between Go and PHP processes (so-called "Relays").

While the most efficient (and default) method of communication is through Unix pipes, the protocol specifies TCP and Unix sockets as possible alternatives. To satisfy the specification, any PHP program that integrates the Goridge library is therefore required to have the capability of creating such sockets. Because of this, the PHP Sockets extension is listed as a mandatory dependency, and even though you won't use any sockets in your current application, you're still required to install the extension.

Go back to your Dockerfile and modify it as follows:

FROM composer:2.7.2 AS composer
FROM AS roadrunner
FROM php:8.3.4-cli-bookworm

COPY --from=composer /usr/bin/composer /usr/bin/composer
COPY --from=roadrunner /usr/bin/rr /usr/local/bin/rr

RUN set -eux; \
    apt-get update; \
    apt-get install -y --no-install-recommends unzip; \
    rm -rf /var/lib/apt/lists/*

RUN docker-php-ext-install sockets

Then build a new version for your development image:

docker build -t rr-dev-env:0.2.0 .

Don't forget to reflect the updated version in your shell aliases:

alias rr-dev-env="docker run --rm -it -v ./:/app -w /app -u $(id -u):$(id -g) -p 8080:80 rr-dev-env:0.2.0"
alias composer="rr-dev-env composer --no-cache" alias php="rr-dev-env php" alias rr="rr-dev-env rr"

Source your .bash_aliases file or restart your shell session to apply the changes.

source ~/.bash_aliases

Then try rerunning the earlier command:

composer require spiral/roadrunner-worker spiral/roadrunner-http

This time, the result is successful:

composer require spiral/roadrunner-worker spiral/roadrunner-http

You can now proceed with adapting your front controller to the Goridge protocol.

Begin by changing the way Request objects are constructed. Replace the following piece of code:

. . .
// create Request object
$psr17Factory = new \Nyholm\Psr7\Factory\Psr17Factory();
$creator = new \Nyholm\Psr7Server\ServerRequestCreator($psr17Factory, $psr17Factory, $psr17Factory, $psr17Factory);
$request = $creator->fromGlobals();
. . .

With the following piece of code:

// create Request object
$worker = \Spiral\RoadRunner\Worker::create();
$psr17Factory = new \Nyholm\Psr7\Factory\Psr17Factory();
$creator = new \Spiral\RoadRunner\Http\PSR7Worker($worker, $psr17Factory, $psr17Factory, $psr17Factory);
$request = $creator->waitRequest();

The PSR7Worker ($creator) waits for a Goridge message to arrive from the RoadRunner server and constructs a PSR-7 Request object. The Request is then passed to the Application kernel without any modifications:

$response = $app->handle($request);

Converting the Response to a Goridge message then requires replacing the following code:

// emit Response
$emitter = new \Laminas\HttpHandlerRunner\Emitter\SapiEmitter();

With the following code:

// emit Response

Here, the PSR7Worker ($creator) assumes the additional role of a response emitter, converting the PSR-7 Response object to a Goridge message, and sending it back to the RoadRunner server.

The final code reads:


require __DIR__ . '/../vendor/autoload.php';

// initialize the Application kernel
$app = new \Demo\Project\Application();

// create Request object
$worker = \Spiral\RoadRunner\Worker::create();
$psr17Factory = new \Nyholm\Psr7\Factory\Psr17Factory();
$creator = new \Spiral\RoadRunner\Http\PSR7Worker($worker, $psr17Factory, $psr17Factory, $psr17Factory);
$request = $creator->waitRequest();

// pass Request object to the Application kernel
$response = $app->handle($request);

// emit Response

Go ahead and try starting the RoadRunner server once again:

rr serve

This time the operation is successful:

rr serve output

Try opening localhost:8080, and you should see a familiar message:


However, if you refresh the page a few times, you'll notice something odd in the server logs:

EventWorkerConstruct issue

The server is constantly allocating new workers!

Recall from earlier how each worker in the RoadRunner worker pool is practically linked to a distinct front controller instance running in a separate PHP process. Your front controllers are therefore no longer expected to terminate after each processed request. Instead, RoadRunner expects them to run continuously, handling multiple requests over time.

You can achieve this by placing your request processing logic inside a while loop.

Modify your front controller as follows:


require __DIR__ . '/../vendor/autoload.php';

// initialize the Application kernel
$app = new \Demo\Project\Application();

// create Request object
$worker = \Spiral\RoadRunner\Worker::create();
$psr17Factory = new \Nyholm\Psr7\Factory\Psr17Factory();
$creator = new \Spiral\RoadRunner\Http\PSR7Worker($worker, $psr17Factory, $psr17Factory, $psr17Factory);

while ($request = $creator->waitRequest()) {
// pass the Request object to the Application kernel
$response = $app->handle($request);
// emit Response

Go ahead and restart the RoadRunner server, then refresh localhost:8080 a couple of times.

No matter how many requests you make this time, no additional workers are allocated:

no EventWorkerConstruct

With this, your application is fully integrated with RoadRunner. Because the front controller PHP script is now running continuously, the Application object is constructed only once at the start of each individual PHP process, which allows you to persist the application state across multiple requests.

Let's explore the advantages this brings in the following section.

Exploring a practical use case

Now that you understand how RoadRunner works and how it achieves the persistence of the application state between requests, let's explore a practical use case that makes use of this feature to introduce an optimization that would otherwise be impossible to implement with a process manager such as PHP-FPM.

Essentially, by constructing the Application object only once and then reusing it, RoadRunner eliminates the application bootstrapping phase as a factor in handling client requests. This often results in faster response times and improved performance and can prove to be especially beneficial for high-traffic PHP applications that require quick response times.

Stock Laravel and Symfony applications, for instance, can easily take anywhere between 15-20 ms to boot all of their dependencies. Of course, mechanisms such as the PHP OPcache can help reduce this significantly, yet the boot process in real world applications is rarely all about parsing and compiling PHP code for execution.

You're often required to perform additional tasks such as loading initial settings from a database, performing filesystem operations, or sending network requests to third-party APIs, and doing this repeatedly for each request contributes to slower response times.

One could argue that all of this can be solved easily with caching, but it's important to remember that not all data can be cached efficiently and securely, and sometimes these additional tasks are still necessary for the application to work correctly.

Consider a scenario where, upon startup, your application pulls sensitive credentials from an external secrets management service such as Hashicorp Vault, and then uses one of these credentials to authenticate with a third-party feature flag management system (such as Flipt) to obtain the value of a specific feature flag, which influences some behavior in the application. This scenario may sound excessively complicated, but it's not unusual for a real world application.

Imagine that in the application you've been working on, you want a feature flag to control whether the "Hello, world!" greeting is displayed in its original order or in reverse. The next few sections will walk you through the implementation of this scenario and show you how an application server like RoadRunner helps.

Step 1 — Setting up the infrastructure

Implementing the presented scenario requires two infrastructure components to be present: a secrets management service (Hashicorp Vault) and a feature flag service (Flipt).

Both services have official images published on Docker Hub, so you can make use of them along with Docker Compose to set up the necessary infrastructure locally.

Go ahead and create a new file in your main project folder named compose.yaml:

touch compose.yaml

Populate the file with the following contents:

    container_name: vault
    image: hashicorp/vault:1.16.1
      - 8200:8200
    container_name: flipt
    image: flipt/flipt:v1.39.2
      - 8100:8080

When executed with docker compose, this file will create two containers named, respectively, vault and flipt running the most recent versions of the corresponding hashicorp/vault and flipt/flipt images. The web UIs of both services will be accessible on localhost:8200 for Vault and localhost:8100 for Flipt. The flipt container also has the FLIPT_AUTHENTICATION_METHODS_TOKEN_ENABLED environment variable set to true to enable the creation of static API tokens in the UI.

Start both services by executing:

docker compose up -d

With both services up and running, it's time to perform their initial setup.

Step 2 — Configuring Flipt

You can start with Flipt first, as it's a little easier to set up, plus you'll need to store the API token from Flipt as an application secret in Vault.

Navigate to localhost:8100 and select Flags from the menu on the left:

Flipt homepage

Click New flag:

Flipt new flag button

Specify a Name (e.g. show_reverse_greeting) and set the type to Boolean, then click Create:

Flipt filled new flag form

Navigate back to the Flags page and confirm that you're seeing the newly created flag:

Flipt flag list

To be able to read the value of that flag, your application needs to authenticate with the Flipt server, which requires the generation of a new API token.

From the homepage, navigate to Settings:

Flipt settings

Go to API Tokens and click New Token:

Flipt new token button

Fill in the presented form as follows and click Create:

Flipt new token form

A modal window appears, confirming the token creation.

Click the Copy button and store the token somewhere safe, as you'll need to refer back to its value when configuring your application secrets in Vault.

Flipt created token modal

With that, Flipt is ready for use.

Step 3 — Configuring Vault

It's time to configure Vault next. The idea here is to generate credentials that your app can use to pull its secrets from Vault securely. For simplicity, you can use the most basic authentication method available, which is "Username & Password." Bear in mind that there are more suitable authentication methods for production environments, and "Username & Password" is only being used here for convenience.

Upon startup, Vault generates a new root authentication token that you can use for the initial setup. You can find the token in the logs of the vault container.

Enter the following command:

docker container logs vault

Towards the end, you'll find a similar output:

. . .
The unseal key and root token are displayed below in case you want to
seal/unseal the Vault or re-authenticate.

Unseal Key: Nr0a3rQ33Dl9bmkXzbcZhviNhGuC94WNdXv600igd3c=
Root Token: hvs.DBEjruav38SroLAdT8aqF1nn

Development mode should NOT be used in production installations!

Copy the root token and navigate to localhost:8200.

You should see the Vault login page:

Vault login page

Paste the root token into the Token field and click Sign in:

Vault filled login form

On the homepage, you'll notice that some secret engines are already pre-configured for use. You can store the Flipt API access token in the key/value secret storage engine labeled secret/.

Click View on that engine:

Vault pre-configured secret engines

Click on Create secret:

Vault create secret

Fill in the presented form as follows, then click Save:

Vault filled create secret form

  • flipt_api_host specifies the URL where the Flipt API is located. This URL should be reachable from your application (note that the port is 8080, which is the port that the service listens on inside the container, and not 8100, which is the port that maps to the service on your host machine).
  • flipt_api_token contains the value of the API token that you generated earlier when initially setting up Flipt.

Retrieving the newly created demoapp secret from an application requires an access policy to be set up first.

Choose Policies from the left menu on the screen you were redirected to:

Vault policies menu option

Click Create ACL policy:

Vault policies menu option

Specify demoapp as the name of your new ACL policy and populate it with the following contents:

path "secret/data/demoapp" {
  capabilities = ["read"]

When you're done, click Create policy:

Vault policies menu option

It's now time to create a new user account for your application and attach the demoapp policy that grants access to the demoapp secret.

Navigate back to the homepage and choose Access from the left menu:

Vault access menu option

Click on Enable new method:

Vault enable new method

Select Username & Password:

Vault select auth method

Leave Path to its default value and just click Enable method:

Vault enable auth method

On the next screen, click View method:

Vault view auth method

This takes you to a page that allows you to create new users.

Click on Create user:

Vault create user

In the presented form, specify demoapp as the Username and test123 as the Password.

Then click on Tokens to expand the token details section:

Vault create user form

Find the Generated Token's Policies input field, type in demoapp, then click Save:

Vault create user tokens section

Here, demoapp corresponds to the policy name you created a few steps earlier. By specifying it under Generated Token's Policies, you ensure that your application will inherit this policy when authenticating with Vault. This will let your application access all values stored in the demoapp secret.

The userpass authentication method should now display a newly created user account:

Vault authentication methods page

With that, you have everything necessary for integrating Vault into your application.

Step 4 — Updating your application

It's time to update your application to utilize Vault and Flipt.

This requires the installation of some additional Composer packages:

  • csharpru/vault-php which contains everything necessary for communicating with Vault.
  • flipt-io/flipt which contains everything necessary for communicating with Flipt.

Add these packages to your project by typing:

composer require csharpru/vault-php flipt-io/flipt

composer require csharpru/vault-php flipt-io/flipt

The plan is to supply the application container with all credentials necessary for establishing an initial connection to the Vault server. For the sake of simplicity, you'll pass these credentials in the form of environment variables (in a production environment, you may want to use something more sophisticated, such as Vault Agent instead).

The application will authenticate with the Vault server using the provided credentials and pull its corresponding secrets (flipt_api_host and flipt_api_token). It will then use these secrets to query Flipt for the value of the show_reverse_greeting feature flag and determine whether to display the greeting message in reverse or not.

This implies that your project needs some additional abstractions to handle the construction of Vault and Flipt clients (i.e., factories).

Go ahead and create a new folder for your factories:

mkdir src/Factory

You can work on the Vault factory first, as the Flipt factory will rely on secrets retrieved from Vault for authentication.

Create a new file named Vault.php inside the Factory folder:

touch src/Factory/Vault.php

Populate this file with the following contents:


namespace Demo\Project\Factory;

use Nyholm\Psr7\Factory\Psr17Factory;
use Vault\AuthenticationStrategies\UserPassAuthenticationStrategy;
use Vault\Client;

class Vault
    public function __construct(
       private readonly Psr17Factory $factory
    ) {}

    public function createClientFromEnvironment(): Client
        $host = getenv('VAULT_HOST');
        $user = getenv('VAULT_USER');
        $pass = getenv('VAULT_PASS');

        $factory = $this->factory;
        $client = new Client(
            new \GuzzleHttp\Client(),

        $client->setAuthenticationStrategy(new UserPassAuthenticationStrategy($user, $pass))->authenticate();

        return $client;

The Vault class exposes a single factory method named createClientFromEnvironment(), which creates a new Vault\Client instance using credentials supplied through the environment variables VAULT_HOST, VAULT_USER, and VAULT_PASS.

It requires an additional Psr17Factory object to be passed to its constructor as a dependency because the underlying Vault\Client implementation is designed to work with various PSR-17 interfaces for constructing requests to the Vault server and processing responses from it.

Now is a good time to ensure that the environment variables VAULT_HOST, VAULT_USER, and VAULT_PASS are properly set with the necessary credentials.

Create a new file in the root of your project named vault.env:

touch vault.env

Populate it with the following contents:


The VAULT_USER and VAULT_PASS values correspond to the credentials you specified earlier when creating your application account on the Vault server.

VAULT_HOST assumes that your application will run on the same network as the vault container and therefore uses its DNS name to interact with the Vault server running inside of it.

You can proceed with implementing the Flipt factory.

Create a new file named Flipt.php inside the Factory folder:

touch src/Factory/Flipt.php

Populate this file with the following contents:


namespace Demo\Project\Factory;

use Flipt\Client\ClientTokenAuthentication;
use Flipt\Client\FliptClient;

class Flipt
    public function createClient(string $host, string $token): FliptClient
        return new FliptClient(
            host: $host,
            authentication: new ClientTokenAuthentication($token),

The Flipt class exposes a factory method named createClient() which takes in an externally specified hostname and an API token and returns a valid FliptClient as a result. This hostname and API token are, namely, the ones retrieved from the Vault server at boot time.

It's time to integrate the Flipt and Vault factories into the application.

Open up your Application.php file and apply the following changes:


namespace Demo\Project;

use Demo\Project\Factory\Flipt;
use Flipt\Client\FliptClient;
use Nyholm\Psr7\Response; use Psr\Http\Message\ResponseInterface; use Psr\Http\Message\ServerRequestInterface; use Psr\Http\Server\RequestHandlerInterface;
use Vault\Client;
class Application implements RequestHandlerInterface {
private FliptClient $flipt;
public function __construct(Client $vault, Flipt $fliptFactory) {
$response = $vault->read('/secret/data/demoapp');
$secret = $response->getData()['data'];
$this->flipt = $fliptFactory->createClient(
#[\Override] public function handle(ServerRequestInterface $request): ResponseInterface { $greeting = "Hello, world!";
$flag = $this->flipt->boolean('show_reverse_greeting');
if ($flag->getEnabled()) {
$greeting = strrev($greeting);
return new Response(body: $greeting); } }

The Application class now uses a constructor, essentially implementing the bootstrap phase of the application. The constructor requires an already initialized Vault\Client and a Flipt factory to be passed in as parameters. The Vault\Client is used for retrieving the contents of the /secret/data/demoapp secret. The flipt_api_host and flipt_api_token values are then extracted from the secret and passed to the Flipt factory, which constructs the FliptClient.

The FliptClient is then used in the updated handle() method of the Application for retrieving the value of the show_reverse_greeting feature flag. If the flag is enabled, the greeting message is reversed. Otherwise, it's displayed in its regular order.

The final step is to update the front controller to inject a Vault\Client and a Flipt factory into the Application.

Open up the index.php file and apply the following changes:


require __DIR__ . '/../vendor/autoload.php';

// initialize factories
$psr17Factory = new \Nyholm\Psr7\Factory\Psr17Factory();
$vaultFactory = new \Demo\Project\Factory\Vault($psr17Factory);
$fliptFactory = new \Demo\Project\Factory\Flipt();
// initialize the Application kernel
$app = new \Demo\Project\Application($vaultFactory->createClientFromEnvironment(), $fliptFactory);
// create Request object $worker = \Spiral\RoadRunner\Worker::create(); $creator = new \Spiral\RoadRunner\Http\PSR7Worker($worker, $psr17Factory, $psr17Factory, $psr17Factory); while ($request = $creator->waitRequest()) { // pass Request object to the Application kernel $response = $app->handle($request); // emit Response $creator->respond($response); }

The changes here are trivial. Besides the Psr17Factory, you're now also constructing a Vault factory and a Flipt factory. The entire factory initialization section is moved up and now precedes the initialization of the Application kernel. The Application construction is updated to take in a VaultClient (created through a call to createClientFromEnvironment()) and a Flipt factory.

With that, the application is ready for testing.

Step 5 — Testing your application

It's time to launch your updated application with RoadRunner.

Unfortunately, the rr alias you defined earlier won't work as-is in its current form, as you need to inject the Vault credentials as environment variables, and it's not designed to do that. You also need to put the application container on the same network as the vault and flipt containers for DNS resolution to work properly. So this time, let's enter the full Docker command in the terminal.

The rr serve alias currently resolves to the following Docker command:

docker run --rm -it -v ./:/app -w /app -u $(id -u):$(id -g) -p 8080:80 rr-dev-env:0.2.0 rr serve

Injecting the Vault credentials as environment variables is then as simple as adding the option --env-file vault.env.

As for launching the container on the proper network, you can run the following command to determine the current network that the vault and flipt containers are running on:

docker ps --format '{{ .ID }} {{ .Names }} {{ .Networks }}'

This command will list the IDs and names of all running containers, as well as the networks they are connected to:

e152514f397b vault roadrunner-tutorial_default
f248cb05c68c flipt roadrunner-tutorial_default

The vault and flipt containers are both connected to the roadrunner-tutorial_default network. Ensuring that your RoadRunner container will launch on the same network is then as simple as adding the option --network roadrunner-tutorial_default to your final docker run command.

The final command then goes like this:

docker run --rm -it -v ./:/app -w /app -u $(id -u):$(id -g) -p 8080:80 --env-file vault.env --network roadrunner-tutorial_default rr-dev-env:0.2.0 rr serve

Go ahead and execute the command, then open up localhost:8080 and you'll see a familiar message:


Navigate back to the Flags page in Flipt and open the show_reverse_greeting flag for editing:

Flipt flags page flag disabled

Activate the Enabled radio button and click Update:

Flipt enable show_reverse_greeting

Navigate back to the Flags page and ensure the flag shows as Enabled:

Flipt flags page flag enabled

Now refresh localhost:8080 and you should see the "Hello, world!" greeting displayed in reverse:

Flipt enable show_reverse_greeting

Step 6 — Understanding the benefits

The application successfully integrates with Vault and Flipt, but how does RoadRunner make a difference here?

As you saw earlier, in every instance of your front controller, the Application class is bootstrapped just once:

$app = new \Demo\Project\Application($vaultFactory->createClientFromEnvironment(), $fliptFactory);

All client requests are then processed in a while loop that utilizes the very same Application object over and over again:

. . .
while ($request = $creator->waitRequest()) {
    // pass Request object to the Application kernel
$response = $app->handle($request);
// emit Response $creator->respond($response); }

This isn't possible in a more traditional setup that makes use of something like PHP-FPM behind a web server. You have to construct a brand new Application object with each subsequent request to connect to Vault and pull the application secrets. On my local setup, this operation takes about 70–80 ms.

With RoadRunner, these 70–80 ms are completely eliminated from the time it takes to process a request. With PHP-FPM, every request includes this time, and you'll have to resort to caching mechanisms or other workarounds to minimize the impact on performance, which is not ideal when working with sensitive data, such as authentication tokens and credentials.

Final thoughts

As you can see, RoadRunner is a tool worth considering when it comes to enhancing the performance of your PHP applications. Besides the example demonstrated in this tutorial, the fact that you can maintain application state between requests opens the door for numerous other use cases, such as reusing database connections, aggregating monitoring metrics without an external backend, and implementing custom in-memory data caching solutions to further optimize your application's speed and efficiency.

You did everything from scratch in this tutorial and, therefore, had to deal with a lot of low-level details. However, there are some higher-level abstractions for popular PHP frameworks like Symfony and Laravel that you can use to get going much faster and integrate your existing applications with RoadRunner. I encourage you to check out Laravel Octane and the RoadRunner Symfony runtime for some good examples.

I also encourage you to check out the Spiral Framework. It's a modern PHP framework authored by the same team that works on RoadRunner. The Spiral Framework provides seamless integration with RoadRunner out of the box.

The source code for this tutorial is available on GitHub. For even more information on RoadRunner, consider visiting its official website, checking out all of its features, and digging deeper into its documentation.

Thanks for reading, and have fun exploring RoadRunner!

Author's avatar
Article by
Marin Bezhanov
Marin is a software engineer and architect with a broad range of experience working with Go, Java, PHP, and JS. He is passionate about exploring new technologies and staying up-to-date with the latest industry trends, and he loves sharing his knowledge through technical writing and teaching.
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