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PECL memcache extension

About Memcached

The PECL memcache extension provides PHP with an API to communicate with the Memcached service. The classes and functions in the extension accomplish the following tasks:

  • Consume the list of configuration and connection details of the servers running Memcached from the Drupal Cache API configuration.
  • Receive directives from Drupal’s Cache API​, such as cache_set() and cache_get and translates them into commands that can be interpreted by the Memcached service. For more information about Drupal integration, see Drupal and the memcache module.
  • Maintain a hash ring​ on which data objects are plotted. This loop determines which server should store the current item.
    • In an effort to maintain a uniform distribution when plotting data and to spread data evenly amongst all servers running Memcached, every server is plotted several times to the loop. Changing the number of servers hosting a single Memcached loop can cause a key-value pair to be stored on a different server.
    • For each data object, a series of hashing algorithms converts the key into an integer — this integer is plotted to the loop. The extension uses this to determine where to look for information. Acquia recommends against assigning cache bins to specific servers as this has a negative impact on high availability on our hosting platform.

Servers and scaling

The PECL memcache extension creates a single storage pool of cached data based on Drupal’s Cache API configuration. Each server holds an associative array that represents part of the hash ring. Each key-value pair is stored in one location, with no duplication across a distinct loop of servers. This virtual architecture enables Memcached to either share memory with other processes across multiple servers or be consolidated to one more dedicated Memcached servers.

Hash ring diagram

Memcached servers in a hash ring are unaware of each other. Each server knows which data in its local array is least recently used and will purge that data accordingly to make room for newer requests.

Hashing algorithm

By default, the PECL memcache extension on Acquia Cloud employs a caching strategy called consistent hashing. You can verify that this is implemented in your php.ini file:


As an example, using n mod 64 as the (simplified) consistent hashing algorithm results in an integer that falls between 0 and 63. Because of this, any hashed object is going to have to fit somewhere on the following loop:

Modulus loop

At the beginning of a request, Drupal uses the Memcache API and Integration module to pass all connection information to the PECL memcache PHP extension. This includes an array of available servers. For example:

web-1234, web-1235, web-1236

Each of these hostnames are hashed and converted to an integer, decreasing the likelihood that the servers will appear in alphanumeric, sequential order. By doing this, the process increases the likelihood of webs being distributed evenly in the hash ring. The array of servers is then passed to the Memcached service, which plots each value to a hash ring. Memcache does this several times per server, using different hashing parameters, with the goal of creating an even distribution of server endpoints throughout the loop. After all hostname points have been plotted, objects are encoded using the following:

$full_key = urlencode($prefix . $bin . '-' . $key);

This creates a key in the following format:

The objects are hashed using the crc32 hashing algorithm and plotted in a similar fashion.

memcache crc32 hash plot

Servers and objects are plotted to the hash ring with an absolute value, allowing the Memcached service to quickly determine where they exist. If any servers in the loop or array are removed, the website will not lose all of its cached data and the PECL memcache extension will evenly distribute the load amongst the remaining servers.