I have started seriously using PHP 5.3 recently due to it finally making it into Portage. (Gentoo really isn't full of bleeding edge packages people.) I have used mysqlnd a little here and there in the past, but until it was really coming to my servers I did not put too much time into it.

What is mysqlnd?

mysqlnd is short for MySQL Native Driver. In short, it is a driver for MySQL for PHP that uses internal functions of the PHP engine rather than using the externally linked libmysqlclient that has been used in the past. There are two reasons for this. The first reason is licensing. MySQL is a GPL project. The GPL and the PHP License don't play well together. The second is better memory management and hopefully more performance. Being a performance junky, this is what peaked my interests. Enabling mysqlnd means it is used by the older MySQL extension, the newer MySQLi extension and the MySQL PDO driver.

New Key Feature - fetch_all

One new feature of mysqlnd was the fetch_all method on MySQLi Result objects. At both dealnews.com and in Phorum I have written a function to simply run a query and fetch all the results into an array and return it. It is a common operation when writing API or ORM layers. mysqlnd introduces a native fetch_all method that does this all in the extension. No PHP code needed. PDO already offers a fetchAll method, but PDO comes with a little more overhead than the native extensions and I have been using mysql functions for 14 years. I am very happy using them.

Store Result vs. Use Result

I have spoken in the past (see my slides and interview: MySQL Tips and Tricks) about using mysql_unbuffered_query or using mysqli_query with the MYSQLI_USE_RESULT flag. Without going into a whole post about that topic, it basically allows you to stream the results from MySQL back into your PHP code rather than having them buffered in memory. In the case of libmysqlclient, they could be buffered twice. So, my natural thought was that using MYSQLI_USE_RESULT with fetch_all would yield the most awesome performance ever. The data would not be buffered and it would get put into a PHP array in C instead of native code. The code I had hoped to use would look like:
$res = $db->query($sql, MYSQLI_USE_RESULT);
$rows = $res->fetch_all(MYSQLI_ASSOC);
But, I quickly found out that this does not work. For some reason, this is not supported. fetch_all only works with the default which is MYSQLI_STORE_RESULT. I filed a bug which was marked bogus. Which I put back to new because I really don't see a reason this should not work other than a complete oversight by the mysqlnd developers. So, I started doing some tests in hopes I could show the developers how much faster using MYSQLI_USE_RESULT could be. What happened next was not expected. I ended up benchmarking several different options for fetching all the rows of a result into an array.

Test Data

I tested using PHP 5.3.3 and MySQL 5.1.44 using InnoDB tables. For test data I made a table that has one varchar(255) column. I filled that table with 30k rows of random lengths between 10 and 255 characters. I then selected all rows and fetched them using 4 different methods.
  1. mysqli_result::fetch_all*
  2. PDOStatement::fetchAll
  3. mysqli_query with MYSQLI_STORE_RESULT followed by a loop
  4. mysqli_query with MYSQLI_USE_RESULT followed by a loop
In addition, I ran this test with mysqlnd enabled and disabled. For mysqli_result::fetch_all, only mysqlnd was tested as it is only available with mysqlnd. I ran each test 6 times and threw out the worst and best result for each test. FWIW, the best and worst did not show any major deviation for any of the tests. For measuring memory usage, I read the VmRSS value from Linux's /proc data. memory_get_usage() does not show the hidden memory used by libmysqlclient and does not seem to show all the memory used by mysqlnd either.

So, that is what I found. The memory usage graphs are all what I thought they would be. PDO has more overhead by its nature. Storing the result always uses more memory than using it. mysqli_result::fetch_all uses less memory than the loop, but more than directly using the results.

There are some very surprising things in the timing graphs however. First, the tried and true method of using the result followed by a loop is clearly still the right choice in libmysqlclient. However, it is a horrible choice for mysqlnd. I don't really see why this is so. It is nearly twice as slow. There is something really, really wrong with MYSQLI_USE_RESULT in mysqlnd. There is no reason it should ever be slower than storing the result and then reading it again. This is also evidenced in the poor performance of PDO (since even PDO uses mysqlnd when enabled). PDO uses an unbuffered query for its fetchAll method and it too got slower. It is noticably slower than libmysqlclient. The good news I guess is that if you are using mysqlnd, the fetch_all method is the best option for getting all the data back.

Next Steps

My next steps from here will be to find some real workloads that I can test this on. Phorum has several places where I can apply real world pages loads to these different methods and see how they perform. Perhaps the test data is too small. Perhaps the number of columns would have a different effect. I am not sure.

If you are reading this and have worked on or looked at the mysqlnd code and can explain any of it, please feel free to comment.