Best practices for developing on Acquia Cloud

Acquia provides a plethora of tools and documentation aimed at enabling developers to write and manage scalable and maintainable code. We recommend you start with the following best practices and familiarize yourself with the following tools and concepts.

Coding standards and best practices

Good coding hygiene is a broad subject. In our experience, the following recommendations address the most common coding issues we see on a daily basis.

Follow coding standards

Ensure that you understand and adhere to Drupal coding standards. These standards are documented on’s Coding standards webpage. The Coder module can help you conduct internal code reviews against the documented standards.

Avoid modifying Drupal core files

Changing Drupal’s core files makes your application difficult to maintain because you must keep track of and reapply your changes as you apply security and other updates. Remote Administration does not cover modified core or contributed modules, so Acquia recommends you implement any customizations using custom modules or theming files. This allows the Remote Administration team to implement updates, while allowing the client development team to modify custom code without any loss of modifications.

If your application requires modification of Drupal core, or of contributed modules, refer to Patching and locking modules for details on how to patch or lock modified modules properly to ensure your application remains compatible with Acquia security updates.

For a more in-depth discussion of why altering Drupal core files can be problematic, see Never hack core.

Write scalable and maintainable code

Consider carefully how your architecture and supporting code will scale. Although we cannot mention everything you should do and everything you should avoid, consider these questions:

Are my database queries performant?

  • Avoid creating views with too many relationships. These generate queries with lots of joins, which can cause an undue load on the database. We recommend you simplify complex views, use views caching, or write an optimized query as a custom module.
  • Use New Relic to identify slow queries. We can provide you with a copy of the slow query log for your environments.
  • Contact Acquia support to help you find ways to optimize slow queries.

Am I accessing the file system as little as possible?

  • Acquia Cloud Enterprise uses the Gluster distributed file system. Although Gluster is highly fault tolerant, we do see performance issues under conditions of frequent disk I/O. Gluster performance can be seriously degraded when handling more than 1000 files in a single directory. The extent of the degradation depends on the size of the files in question.
  • We recommend you consider ways to reduce the number of files in a single directory, or implement a CDN or a third-party file serving service such as Amazon S3. For more details, see:

Is my application as cacheable as it can be?

  • Avoid setting Drupal session cookies (Drupal’s SESS* cookies that hold Drupal session information) for anonymous users. For more information, see Session cookies invalidate Varnish caching.
  • Avoid varying content based on HTTP headers or cookie values. For more information, see Varying Varnish caching by cookie value.
  • Implement AJAX for dynamic elements on a mostly static webpage (for example, the cart button on a product catalog).

Is my memory footprint as small as possible?

  • Avoid using PHP memory-limit overrides. Use memory profiler, XHProf, and New Relic to identify memory leaks and processing bottlenecks.
  • You may consider conditional memory overrides on select administrative webpages, but if high-traffic webpages still require higher memory limits after being optimized, you may need additional hardware, which could be an additional cost.

Am I avoiding unnecessary HTTP requests?

  • Calling external services inline (for example, in PHP using drupal_http_request()) can hang PHP processes, resulting in 503 errors under load. These calls should be done with AJAX or in a Drush job executed by cron.
  • Avoid executing Drupal’s cron.php file using an HTTP request (also known as poor man’s Cron). Acquia’s documentation describes how to set up Cron for Acquia Cloud and for Acquia Cloud Site Factory.


Acquia’s network tools encode best deployment practices. We give you development, stage, and production environments for building, testing, and deploying your code. Remote Administration customers will also see a Remote Administration environment. You can use these environments however you choose, or not at all. If you need custom environments, you can contact Acquia support to have these set up for you. Depending on how you want to use these environments, you may need additional hardware.

Version control

Acquia Cloud uses the Git version control system to manage your application’s code. Git is an industry standard technology that allows you to manage and track changes to your application’s code. Basic documentation on using Git is available from Resources for learning Git. For using version control on Acquia Cloud, note the following tips:

  • Acquia Cloud offers a feature known as Live Development that enables you to change code directly on your servers. This feature can be useful for making quick changes. However, we strongly recommend against using it as your primary development workflow, because it prevents you from taking advantage of some of Acquia Cloud’s features, and could cause problems with keeping your repository in a consistent state.
  • Do not commit large files into your Git repository. Large files can cause your repository to balloon in size, potentially causing problems deploying even small code changes. Most binary files (for example, documents, images, and videos) belong in Drupal’s public files directory, which is not part of your repository. If you do commit large files to your repository, note that they cannot be removed simply by deleting them, since they will remain in your repository’s history.
  • Be sure to deploy to tags, not branches.


Drush is a command-line tool that is capable of executing Drupal code without accessing the Drupal web interface. To use Drush with Acquia Cloud, you can set up an aliases file to execute commands against your Acquia application locally, or you can SSH into your environment and execute Drush commands anywhere within your application’s docroot. Drush aliases are explained in more detail in Drush aliases.

If Drush is not functional on your application (for example, errors prevent Drush commands from successfully completing), your application will not be able to receive automated updates through Acquia’s Remote Administration automation services.

Cloud API

The Acquia Cloud API allows developers to extend, enhance, and customize Acquia Cloud. Some customers use Acquia Cloud API to integrate with third-party command-line tools, such as Jenkins, to build automated testing and other QA and acceptance steps into Acquia’s development/stage/production workflow.

The Acquia Cloud API has three major components:

  • A RESTful web interface that allows direct control of Acquia Cloud applications. Complete documentation for the Acquia Cloud API web interface is available at Acquia Platform APIs.
  • Acquia Cloud Drush commands that allow you to use all the features of the Acquia Cloud API either on the command line or from shell scripts using the Drush command-line tool. These Drush Cloud commands are documented in the Drush Cloud Reference.
  • Cloud hooks, which are scripts in your code repository that Acquia Cloud executes on your behalf when a triggering action, including certain Acquia Cloud API functions, occurs. Complete documentation, templates, and sample scripts for cloud hooks are available from GitHub at

The Acquia Cloud API is available to all Acquia Cloud customers. To get started with it, including information about your Cloud API credentials, Drush aliases, and Acquia Cloud, see Developing with the Cloud API.

Cloud hooks

Cloud hooks provide a mechanism for automatically executing scripts in response to certain platform events, such as code deployments. For example, you can set up a script to perform database updates automatically and do feature reversions whenever new code is pushed to a tag. For more information on how to set up cloud hooks, see Automating with Cloud Hooks.


The Acquia Cloud platform uses Varnish® for caching. All Acquia load balancers, whether shared or dedicated, have Varnish running and serving traffic. Certain conditions can prevent Varnish from caching requests:

  • If your application sets a session cookie for anonymous users, Varnish does not cache requests. A common example of this is setting session cookies to track a visitor through the application. Note that if you enable the display of messages, Drupal sets a session cookie to prevent caching of anonymous traffic. Although this makes sense for development, it should not be used with production websites.
  • Several contributed modules can invalidate Varnish caching, some of which are described in Modules and applications incompatible with Acquia Cloud Acquia Cloud. Some of these modules invalidate caching by setting session cookies. Others break caching by setting no-cache headers.

As you consider your caching strategy, keep the following in mind to ensure you are making the best use of Varnish, as well as Drupal’s own internal caching mechanisms:

  • Ensure that your build includes the basic set of modules for enabling selective purging of Varnish cache:
  • Set cache headers on webpages that may require a lower cache lifetime (for example, your homepage). See Bypassing Varnish cache for more information.
  • Consider loading dynamic elements asynchronously. If every element on your webpage is static except for one, then loading that one dynamic element using JavaScript can keep the rest of the webpage cacheable.
  • Verify that Varnish is caching optimally prior to load and performance testing.
  • You can prevent Varnish from caching in your development environment, so your developers can quickly evaluate changes. See Disabling caching and aggregation in non-production environments for more information.
  • Avoid varying content based on cookie and header values. This is common with websites that want to enable users to set language preferences or that want to serve different content to users in different countries. Ideally, all content variances are addressable on the URL and therefore are compatible with caching. If this is not possible, you may need to engage Acquia to create a custom Varnish configuration.
  • Create an adaptive or responsive theme. Server-side device detection is incompatible with Varnish caching.

Incompatible modules

Ensure that you validate your build against Acquia’s list of incompatible modules. A list of those modules is available at Modules and applications incompatible with Acquia Cloud Acquia Cloud. It is best to catch these modules early, before too many dependencies have been built upon them.

Contact supportStill need assistance? Contact Acquia Support

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