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How to Set Up a Redis Server as a Session Handler for PHP on Ubuntu 14.04

Tutorials PHP Redis Ubuntu

Introduction #

Redis is an open source key-value cache and storage system, also referred to as a data structure server for its advanced support for several data types, such as hashes, lists, sets, and bitmaps, amongst others. It also supports clustering, which makes it often used for highly-available and scalable environments.
In this tutorial, we’ll see how to install and configure an external Redis server to be used as a session handler for a PHP application running on Ubuntu 14.04.
The session handler is responsible for storing and retrieving data saved into sessions – by default, PHP uses files for that. An external session handler can be used for creating scalable PHP environments behind a load balancer, where all application nodes will connect to a central server to share session information.


Prerequisites #

We will be working with two distinct servers in this tutorial. For security and performance reasons, it’s important that both Droplets are located in the same datacenter with private networking enabled. This is what you will need:

A PHP web server running LAMP or LEMP on Ubuntu 14.04 – we will refer to this server as web
A second, clean Ubuntu 14.04 server where Redis will be installed – we will refer to this server as redis

You’ll need proper SSH access to both servers as a regular user with sudo permission.

For the Redis server, you can also use our Redis One-Click Application and skip to Step 2.

Step 1 — Install the Redis Server>

Step 1 — Install the Redis Server #

The first thing we need to do is get the Redis server up and running, on our redis Droplet.
We will be using the regular Ubuntu package manager with a trusted PPA repository provided by Chris Lea. This is necessary to make sure we get the latest stable version of Redis.

As a general piece of security advice, you should only use PPAs from trusted sources.

First, add the PPA repository by running:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:chris-lea/redis-server

Press ENTER to confirm.
Now you need to update the package manager cache:

sudo apt-get update

And finally, let’s install Redis by running:

sudo apt-get install redis-server

Redis should now be installed on your server. To test the installation, try this command:

redis-cli ping

This will connect to a Redis instance running on localhost on port 6379. You should get a PONG as response.

Step 2 — Configure Redis to Accept External Connections>

Step 2 — Configure Redis to Accept External Connections #

By default, Redis only allows connections to localhost, which basically means you´ll only have access from inside the server where Redis is installed. We need to change this configuration to allow connections coming from other servers on the same private network as the redis server.
The first thing we need to do is find out the private network IP address of the Redis machine. The following steps should be executed on the redis server.
Run ifconfig to get information about your network interfaces:

sudo ifconfig

You should get an output similar to this:

    eth0      Link encap:Ethernet  HWaddr 04:01:63:7e:a4:01  
              inet addr:  Bcast:  Mask:
              inet6 addr: fe80::601:63ff:fe7e:a401/64 Scope:Link
              UP BROADCAST RUNNING MULTICAST  MTU:1500  Metric:1
              RX packets:3497 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 frame:0
              TX packets:3554 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 carrier:0
              collisions:0 txqueuelen:1000 
              RX bytes:4895060 (4.8 MB)  TX bytes:619070 (619.0 KB)
    eth1      Link encap:Ethernet  HWaddr 04:01:63:7e:a4:02  
              inet addr:  Bcast:  Mask:
              inet6 addr: fe80::601:63ff:fe7e:a402/64 Scope:Link
              UP BROADCAST RUNNING MULTICAST  MTU:1500  Metric:1
              RX packets:8 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 frame:0
              TX packets:7 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 carrier:0
              collisions:0 txqueuelen:1000 
              RX bytes:648 (648.0 B)  TX bytes:578 (578.0 B)

Look for the inet_addr assigned to the eth1 interface. In this case, it’s – this is the IP address we will be using later to connect to the redis server from the web server.
Using your favorite command line editor, open the file /etc/redis/redis.conf and look for the line that contains the bind definition. You should add your private network IP address to the line, as follows:

sudo vim /etc/redis/redis.conf


bind localhost

If you see instead of localhost that’s fine; just add your private IP after what’s already there.
Now you just need to restart the Redis service to apply the changes:

sudo service redis-server restart

If you installed Redis using our One-click application, the service name will be redis instead of redis-server. To restart it, you should run: sudo service redis restart .

With this change, any server inside the same private network will also be able to connect to this Redis instance.

Step 3 — Set a Password for the Redis Server>

Step 3 — Set a Password for the Redis Server #

To add an extra layer of security to your Redis installation, you are encouraged to set a password for accessing the server data. We will edit the same configuration file from the previous step, /etc/redis/redis.conf:

sudo vim /etc/redis/redis.conf

Now, uncomment the line that contains requirepass, and set a strong password:

requirepass yourverycomplexpasswordhere

Restart the Redis service so the changes take effect:

sudo service redis-server restart

Step 4 — Test Redis Connection and Authentication>

Step 4 — Test Redis Connection and Authentication #

To test if all your changes worked as expected, connect to the Redis service from inside the redis machine:

redis-cli -h>

Even though it´s not mandatory to specify the host parameter here (since we are connecting from localhost), we did it to make sure the Redis service will accept connections targeted at the private network interface.

If you defined a password and now try to access the data, you should get an AUTH error:

keys *

(error) NOAUTH Authentication required.

To authenticate, you just need to run the AUTH command, providing the same password you defined in the /etc/redis/redis.conf file:

AUTH yourverycomplexpasswordhere

You should get an OK as response. Now if you run:

keys *

The output should be similar to this:

(empty list or set)

This output just means your Redis server is empty, which is exactly what we expected, since the web server is not yet configured to use this Redis server as a session handler.
Keep this SSH session opened and connected to the redis-cli while we perform the next steps – we will get back to the redis-cli prompt to check if the session data is being properly stored, after we make the necessary changes to the web server.

Step 5 — Install the Redis Extension on the Web Server>

Step 5 — Install the Redis Extension on the Web Server #

The next steps should be executed on the web server. We need to install the PHP Redis extension, otherwise PHP won’t be able to connect to the Redis server.
First, update your package manager cache by running:

sudo apt-get update

Then install the php5-redis package:

sudo apt-get install php5-redis

Your web server should now be able to connect to Redis.

Step 6 — Set Redis as the Default Session Handler on the Web Server>

Step 6 — Set Redis as the Default Session Handler on the Web Server #

Now we need to edit the php.ini file on the web server to change the default session handler for PHP. The location of this file will depend on your current stack. For a LAMP stack on Ubuntu 14.04, this is usually /etc/php5/apache2/php.ini. For a LEMP stack on Ubuntu 14.04, the path is usually /etc/php5/fpm/php.ini.
If you are unsure about the location of your main php.ini file, an easy way to find out is by using the function phpinfo(). Just place the following code in a file named info.php inside your web root directory:


When accessing the script from your browser, look for the row containing “Loaded Configuration File”, and you should find the exact location of the main php.ini loaded.

Don’t forget to remove the info.php file afterwards, as it contains sensitive information about your environment.

Open your php.ini file and search for the line containing session.save_handler. The default value is files. You should change it to redis.
On LAMP environments:

sudo vim /etc/php5/apache2/php.ini

On LEMP environments:

sudo vim /etc/php5/fpm/php.ini

[label /etc/php5/fpm/php.ini] 
session.save_handler = redis

Now you should find the line containing session.save_path. Uncomment it and change the value so it contains the Redis connection string. The content should follow this format, all in one line: tcp://IPADDRESS:PORT?auth=REDISPASSWORD

[label /etc/php5/fpm/php.ini] 
session.save_path = "tcp://"

You only need to provide the parameter auth if you did set a password when configuring Redis.

Save the file and restart the php service.
On LAMP environments:

sudo service apache2 restart

On LEMP environments:

sudo service php5-fpm restart 

Step 7 — Test Redis Session Handling>

Step 7 — Test Redis Session Handling #

To make sure your sessions are now handled by Redis, you will need a PHP script or application that stores information on sessions. We are going to use a simple script that implements a counter – each time you reload the page, the printed number is incremented.
Create a file named test.php on the web server and place it inside your document root folder:

sudo vim /usr/share/nginx/html/test.php

Don’t forget to change /usr/share/nginx/html to reflect your document root path.

[label /usr/share/nginx/html/test.php] 
//simple counter to test sessions. should increment on each page reload.
$count = isset($_SESSION['count']) ? $_SESSION['count'] : 1;

echo $count;

$_SESSION['count'] = ++$count;

Point your browser to http://web/test.php in order to access the script. It should increment the number each time you reload the page.
Now you should have session information stored on the Redis server. To verify, go back to your SSH session on the redis machine, where we previously connected to the Redis service using redis-cli. Fetch the content again with keys *:

keys *

And you should get an output similar to this:

1) "PHPREDIS_SESSION:j9rsgtde6st2rqb6lu5u6f4h83"

This shows that the session information is being stored on the Redis server. You can connect additional web servers to the Redis server in a similar way.


Conclusion #

Redis is a powerful and fast key-value storage service that can also be used as session handler for PHP, enabling scalable PHP environments by providing a distributed system for session storage. For more information about scaling PHP applications, you can check this article: Horizontally Scaling PHP Applications.