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Memcached and Acquia hosting

About Memcached

Memcached plays a critical role in any Drupal website’s caching strategy on Acquia’s hosting platform. Memcached may seem like a black box, but with a little research, we can demystify many of its confusing aspects.

For introductory information about Memcached, see Using Memcached. For instructions on how to enable Memcached, see Enabling Memcached on Acquia Cloud.

There are four major pieces that comprise Acquia’s Memcached solution: Drupal core, the Memcache API and Integration module, the PECL memcache PHP extension, and the Memcached service.

memcache stack

Memcached service

Memcached is a service with several components that work together to ensure stability and uptime for a website.

Key/Value storage

Memcached is a key-value store, which is a data storage paradigm designed for storing, retrieving, and managing associative arrays — commonly known as a hash. This contrasts with relational database object models that enable advanced concepts such as mapping and datatypes.


Acquia’s memcache configuration uses a small group of commands for handling data in Memcached storage:

  • get - Retrieve an existing item from storage.
  • set - Save a new item to storage.
  • flush_all - Mark an item as expired so that it cannot be retrieved. This method pushes the current item to the front of the line, to be replaced by the next cacheable item. It does not free the memory used by that item.
  • delete - Remove an item from storage.
  • stats - Query the service for aggregated data about the objects saved to storage.

Memory partitioning

When the Memcached daemon is started, it reserves memory for object storage (by default, 64MB). The memory allocated is divided into 1MB pages, which by default provides 64 pages. Memcached initializes a memory organization concept called a slab class on startup. A slab defines the number of items (chunks) which can be inserted into a 1MB memory page. By dividing 1MB by that number of chunks, you can determine that slab’s chunk size.

By default, Memcached creates 42 slabs and assigns a single page to each. Each successive slab holds fewer, larger chunks based on the factor (by default, 1.25). In the following sample representation of slabs, notice that the item size (or chunk size) increases by a factor of 1.25 from the second to the third slab:

#   Item_Size  Max_age   Pages   Count   Full?  Evicted Evict_Time OOM
2      120B   1168824s       1     170      no        0        0    0
3      152B   1831103s       1     196      no        0        0    0
4      192B   1847211s       1     988     yes       30     9183    0
36    246.8K     27236s       6      21     yes        7     2676    0
37    308.5K      1224s       2       3     yes       91    29174    0
40    602.5K      1696s      11       4     yes        0        0    0
41    753.1K        64s       4       1     yes        6       35    0
42   1024.0K     44944s       5       1     yes       20        1   20

Memcached saves items by evaluating an item’s size, and then writing it to a slab. In the previous example, note that slab 37 contains items that range in size from 246.8KB to 308.5KB.

When a slab cannot fit a new item and there is additional memory available to Memcached, a new page will be assigned to the slab. In the previous example, slab 37 can contain at most four items, but, depending on the items’ size, may contain only three items:

  • If objects are 248KB, four items equals 992K, which is less than 1MB.
  • If objects are 300KB, because four items equals 1.2MB, after three items a new page is created.

When the set() method is called, Memcached determines the size of the object, and then locates the slab with the appropriate memory allocation.

Memory management

Each Memcached server is configured to manage its memory with Least Recently Used (LRU) prioritization. The servers oversee their local slab arrays, producing a list of candidates for removal. When a new item is assigned to a full slab and there are no free pages to assign to that slab, the full slab evicts the LRU item from the same slab. This is both healthy and accepted behavior — assuming that the objects being evicted are outdated and due to be safely removed.


Memcached does not internally provide mechanisms for adding capacity through additional processes. Instead, this functionality is handled entirely by an external client, such as the PECL memcache extension for PHP.

High availability and Memcached

An item cached by Memcached is stored in a specific location on a single instance, even if your subscription includes multiple Memcached servers.

If a Memcached server fails, its cached items will no longer be available, and requests for these items will be rerouted to the database layer of your application. Memcached cannot detect failed instances, and will continue to route requests to all servers, resulting in slow or failed requests until the failed server is repaired or removed from service. Although healthy Memcached servers in your subscription will continue to respond normally, responses may slow or fail if the data source becomes overloaded.


If Memcached must be restarted on an instance, all Memcached instances for the subscription must be reset. If this doesn’t occur, multi_item objects will contain incomplete data.

Cache bins and Drupal 8

Drupal 8 provides additional caching flexibility not available in Drupal 7. Instead of caching the entire page, caches in Drupal 8 are saved in bins, each of which can be set to cache information in the database, or with Memcached.

Acquia recommends you use Memcached for most cache bins, as it is preferable to local caches, such as PHP’s APCu cache, since it makes cached items available to all layers of PHP.

Acquia’s recommended default Memcached configuration is available for download and configures your website to use Memcached for the following bins:

// Override default fastchained backend for static bins.
// @see
$settings['cache']['bins']['bootstrap'] = 'cache.backend.memcache';
$settings['cache']['bins']['discovery'] = 'cache.backend.memcache';
$settings['cache']['bins']['config'] = 'cache.backend.memcache';

// Use memcache as the default bin.
$settings['cache']['default'] = 'cache.backend.memcache';
  • The bootstrap bin contains information for most Drupal application requests, and is rarely invalidated.
  • The discovery bin contains discovery data for plugins; Views data; or YAML-discovered data, such as library information.
  • The config bin contains configuration information provided by modules enabled on your website.

You can configure additional bins to use a Memcached backend, such as:

  • The data bin contains data that can vary both by path or by context.
  • The render bin contains cached HTML strings like cached pages and blocks.

For advanced information about cache bins in Drupal 8, see the configuration section of the Cache API documentation on and Drupal 8 Development: Caching On.