Memcached is the de facto standard for caching in dynamic web sites. PHP is the one of the most widely used languages on the web. So, naturally there is lots of interest in using the two together. There are two choices for using memcached with PHP: PECL/memcache and PECL/memcached. Great names huh? But as of this writing there are issues with the two most popular Memcached libraries for PHP. This is a summary of those issues that I hope will help people being hurt by them and may bring about some change.


This is the older of the two and was the first C based extension for using memcached with PHP. Before this all the options were native PHP code. While they worked, they were slower of course. C > PHP. That is just fact. However, there has not been much active development on this code in some time. Yes, they have fixed bugs, but support for new features in the memcached server have not been added to this extension. Newer version of the server suppot a more efficient binary protocol and many new features. In addition, there are some parts of the extension that simply don't work anymore.

The most glaring one is the delete() function. It takes a second parameter that is documented as: "the item will expire after timeout seconds". In fact that was never a feature of memcached. It was completely misunderstood by the original extension authors. When that parameter was supported, it locked the key for timeout seconds and would not allow a new add operation on that key. Second, this feature was completely removed in memcached 1.4.0. So, if you send a timeout to the delete function, you simply get a failure. This is creating a huge support issue in the memcached community (not the PHP/PECL community) with people not being able to delete keys because of bad documentation and unsupported behavior. I sent a documentation patch for the this function to the PHP Docs list. I then modified it based on feedback. But since I have heard nothing about it getting merged. I have a PHP svn account, but even if I do have karma on the docs repository, I don't want to hijack them without the support of the people that work on the docs all the time. If you are reading this and can change the docs, please make the documentation for that function say "DON'T USE THIS PARAMETER, IT HAS BEEN DEPRECATED IN THE MEMCACHED SERVER!" or something.

Not too long ago the extension was officially abandoned by its original maintainers. Some people stepped up and claimed they wanted to see it continue. But, since that time, there have been no releases. There are bugs being closed though so maybe there is good things coming.

A very problematic issue with this extension is with the 3.0 beta release. It needs to just die. It has huge bugs that, IMO, were introduced by the previous maintainers in an effort to bring it up to speed, but never saw them through to make sure the new code worked. In their defense, it is marked as beta on PECL. But, thanks to Google, people don't see the word beta anymore. There are lots of people using this version and when they get bad results they blame the whole memcached world. Really, the new maintainers would do the world a favor if they just removed the 3.x releases from the PECL site.


This extension was started by Andrei Zmievski while working at as an open source developer. It uses libmemcached, a C++ memcached library that does all the memcached work. This made it quite easy to support the new features in the memcached daemon as it as it was being developed at the same time as the new server. However, it has not had a stable release on PECL in nearly a year except for release to make it compatible with new versions of libmemcached. No bug fixes and no new features. There are currently 28 open bugs on PECL for this extension. Not all of which are bugs. Some are feature requests. The ironic thing is that the GitHub repository for this extension has seen a lot of development. But, none of these bug fixes have made it into the official PECL channel. And some of these bugs are major and others are just huge WTF for a developer.

The most major bug is one that I found. If you use persistent connections with this extension, it basically leaks those connections, not reusing an existing connection but also not closing the ones already made. This uses up the memory in your processes until they crash and it creates an exponential number of connections to your memcached server until it has no more connections available. Andrei does report in the bug that it is fixed in hist GitHub. But, for now, you can't use persistent connections.

The big WTF for a developer is that some functions don't take a numeric key and use it properly.

$mc = new Memcached();

$mc->addServer("localhost", 11211);

$mc->set(123, "yes!");


The above code should generate:
array(1) {
  string(4) "yes!"
But, in reality, it generates:
The set succeeds, but the getMulti fails. Again, this is being fixed in GitHub, but is not available for release on PECL.


One big issue with these two extensions is that they are not drop in replacements for each other. If you want to move from one to the other, you have to take into consideration some time to convert your code. For instance, the older extension's set() function takes flags as the third parameter. The newer extension does not take a flags parameter at all. The older uses get() with an array to do a multi-get and the newer extension has a separate method for that called getMulti(). There are others as well.


So, what should you do as a PHP developer? If you are deploying memcached today, I would use the 2.2.x branch of PECL/memcache. It is the most stable. Just avoid the delete bug. It is not as fast and does not have the features. But, it is very reliable for set, get, add.... the basics of memcached. For the long term, it is a bit unclear. PECL/memcached looks to fix a lot of things in 2.0. But, I have not used it yet. In addition the long term growth of the project is a bit in question. Will there be a 2.1, 2.2, etc? I hope so. The other unknown is if the those people fixing the PECL/memcache bugs will keep it up and release a good stable product that supports new features of the server. Again, I hope so. The best scenario would be to have a choice between two fully compatible and feature rich extensions. Keep your fingers crossed.