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Tyler Smith
Tyler Smith

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Speed up Laravel in Docker by moving vendor directory

I'm building a Laravel app on my MacBook Pro with Docker by mounting my project folder inside a Docker container. I was working on an API endpoint in the app that had a response time of a little more than a second. This made the interactivity in a connected React app feel painfully slow.

This article will show you how to increase the speed of a containerized Laravel app during development on MacOS and Windows by moving Composer's vendor directory to inside the container.

Why Laravel is slow in Docker

The reason behind this slow performance is two-fold, caused by the combination of the PHP request model and the latency when transferring data between Docker Desktop's Linux VM and the host MacOS machine.

When PHP receives a request, it loads all of its dependencies on a per-request basis. Once the request finishes it discards all of the loaded data. This is different than something like Node.js, where a single thread handles all requests and each module is cached when it's first loaded.

PHP's way of loading dependencies is already inefficient compared to Node. And when you do Docker development on a non-Linux machine, you add the overhead of crossing between Docker Desktops's Linux VM and the mounted host machine folder for every single dependency file that's loaded. It's the difference between moving books from one shelf to another vs moving books to a shelf in a house down the street.

To keep Docker fast, we want to minimize the amount of times we need to cross between Docker Desktops's Linux VM and the host machine. We can do that by storing Composer's vendor/ folder inside the container instead of in the mounted project directory.

Moving the vendor directory

For the rest of this post, we'll assume that you have a container where your app is stored in /srv/app/. We will install the Composer dependencies in /srv/vendor/.

In your Dockerfile, we'll install the Composer dependencies using the RUN command below:

# ...previous Dockerfile commands
WORKDIR /srv/app
COPY . .
RUN COMPOSER_VENDOR_DIR="/srv/vendor" composer install
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This will install the Composer dependencies in the /srv/vendor directory, but Laravel can't see them: it expects its dependencies to be in the project root's vendor/ folder. We must update the places where Laravel loads the Composer autoload file.

In public/index.php and artisan, find the following line:

require __DIR__.'/vendor/autoload.php';
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And replace it with:

require __DIR__.'/../vendor/autoload.php';
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Also update the path in phpunit.xml.

Run docker build (or docker-compose build if you use Compose), and bring the container back up. When you navigate to your Laravel project in the browser, you should see noticeably faster page-load speeds. In my project, my API request drop from about 1000ms to about 200ms.

Gotchcas

The faster page-load speeds are nice, but if you use IntelliSense & autocomplete, you're really going to want your dependencies in your mounted project directory so that your editor can see them.

You can install your Composer dependencies in your mounted project directory by running the following command from your host machine while the Laravel container is running:

docker exec your-container-name composer install
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Another "gotcha" can happen when installing new dependencies using the composer require command. You may occasionally run into an error like the following:

Class "Laravel\Breeze\BreezeServiceProvider" not found  

Script @php artisan package:discover --ansi handling the post-autoload-dump event returned with error code 1

Installation failed, reverting ./composer.json and ./composer.lock to their original content.
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This error occurs because when the installation completes, it tries to load the Laravel app–which is looking at the vendor/ folder inside the container. When installing dependencies, it may be best to run the composer require command twice: once for the vendor folder in your container, and once for the directory that is shared with your host.

# Install in the container first
COMPOSER_VENDOR_DIR="/srv/vendor" composer require [package-name]

# Then install in the directory shared with your host
composer require [package-name]
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Maybe rebuild your image after this too: if you're using Docker Compose then your changes won't persist once you stop your container.

Further reading

In addition to moving your dependencies into your container, you can also enable PHP's OpCache to make Laravel load even faster. Kristoffer Högberg has a concise write-up on how to do this.

Michaël Perrin wrote a post called "3 ways to get Docker for Mac faster on your Symfony app" that has some interesting performance measurements before and after optimization. Michaël's post was the inspiration behind this article, and it's definitely worth a read.

Alternatively, a few people have mentioned that you might be able to sidestep these Docker-related performance issues entirely by using Octane, so if you need the best possible performance then take a look at that as well.


Addendum

I've been using this setup for about ten days now, and I feel compelled to give a clear and unambiguous warning: moving your vendor folder causes problems.

This setup caused php artisan test to completely stop working in my CI. Running xdebug with this setup is nearly unusable. I'm actively working around these issues so that I can enjoy the performance benefits, but if you use this configuration you will run into problems. However, you may still decide the trade-offs are worth it.

Discussion (19)

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michabbb_76 profile image
Michael Bladowski

so you always have a copy of "verndor" outside the container and you have to keep it in sync with the "vendor" inside - manually? or did i miss something here ?

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tylerlwsmith profile image
Tyler Smith Author

No, you didn't miss anything. It's janky. I don't love the solution I came up with in this article, but I considered my app unusably slow during development before I did this. You could always forgo the container on the host machine if you don't use your editor's IntelliSense. It eliminates the syncing issue at least 🤷‍♂️

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michabbb_76 profile image
Michael Bladowski

okay, i understand. it´s different, but in the past i had similar problems with "code on host" but mounted into vmware, which makes everything terrible slow. so having code inside the VM is 500% faster. maybe you should take a look to laravel octane - because here, everything stays in memory and nothing gets loaded again and again for each new request. of course, it has some downsides and other things you have to take care of, but when it comes to speed, i guess octane will be much much faster than your current solution - even if the code IS NOT inside your container ;)

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tylerlwsmith profile image
Tyler Smith Author

Thanks for the tip! I've been REALLY interested in Octane since Taylor announced it, but I haven't had a chance to dig into it yet. What are the downsides you've run into with Octane?

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michabbb_76 profile image
Michael Bladowski

i am not using octance right now, but i am planning to use it for an api to create images on the fly. i have read a lot about it, but i cannot give u any detailed examples right now. in general: code that stays in memory (forever) is always a challenge - you have to write clean code and take a lot of care about everything - if i remember correctly, you should avoid static calls, because those can make problems. but you have to read some stuff about it, there is already plenty to read about it and also existing docker images, so you can start in a minute ;)

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tylerlwsmith profile image
Tyler Smith Author

I spent a year writing Node.js, so I know some of the gotchas of things like global mutable state. Hopefully Octane will feel kind of familiar from that.

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michabbb_76 profile image
Michael Bladowski

BTW, I guess statics are not a problem, it could be singletons, found this article, very interesting:

developpaper.com/first-experience-...

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michabbb_76 profile image
Michael Bladowski

Also helpful: youtu.be/T5lkBHyypu8

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cavo789 profile image
Christophe Avonture

Hello. Can you explain why putting the vendor folder one level up (not under /srv/app) make laravel faster ?

In my crurent set-up I'm putting the vendor folder as a subfolder (normal situation) but don't synchronize it on my machine.

My docker-compose file is creating a volume for the vendor folder so only in the container.

When I code, I'm using vscode and develop inside the container so I've well m'y vendor (auto-complete is working and I can debug too).

This said I'm really interested to hear more about your settings and how the performances are better.

Thanks

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tylerlwsmith profile image
Tyler Smith Author

Moving the vendor folder into another directory that resides in the container itself is faster than accessing mounted volumes on Docker Desktop in Windows/MacOS because it doesn't have to cross between the host OS and Docker Desktop's Linux VM. The container is able to access files that only exist in the container much quicker than it can access files that are mounted from the host OS.

As far as my other performance optimizations in the Dockerfile, I enabled PHP OpCache. Kristoffer Högberg has a concise write-up on how to do this.

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cavo789 profile image
Christophe Avonture

Oh? I think I've said the same... (I was on my smartphone, probably not the best to write a comment).

I'm putting my ~/vendor folder only in the container; not on my host (in my case, Windows). I'm running docker-composer myapp composer update in my container and I've created an internal volume to map the vendor folder so stay in the container and is not synchronized on my host.

My question was: why put you the folder not in the application directory but somewhere (so you've forced to update the ~/public/index.php file). Using an internal volume achieve the same result without the need to hack some Laravel file like index.php.

For OpCache, yes, I've just played right now with it and the improvement is really nice (github.com/cavo789/docker_php_opcache), about 30% faster.

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tylerlwsmith profile image
Tyler Smith Author

Can you give me an example of what you have in mind? I don't think I understand what you're trying to do.

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gavincs profile image
Gavin Schreiber

I had painfully slow response test for a large php application as well as laravel apps.

Setting my working_dir to be cached solved this issue.

Eg (docker-compose) :
working_dir: /var/www
volumes:

  • ./:/var/www:cached
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tylerlwsmith profile image
Tyler Smith Author

Thanks for the tip, Gavin! I'll have to give this a shot.

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juberjj profile image
juberjj

Great article. One thing that you could do to improve performance would be by having Swoole installed and enabled. Very little change on your main codebase but the gains are unreal, 800% or thereabout. I have dockerized a PHP App with a real performance issue, developers were using a convoluted Laravel Homestead before and Opcache enabled didn't do much.Once we wrapped it with Swoole the entire App became very responsive, requests per second were amazingly fast.

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tylerlwsmith profile image
Tyler Smith Author

I plan to try Laravel Octane at some point!

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programster_uk profile image
Programster

A few things:

  1. The article quite often states "Docker's Linux VM", which confuses me. Does Mac have a "Linux subsystem" like windows, or are you running VirtualBox for a VM that Docker is installed within? Docker itself runs "containers" and not virtual machines. The two are quite different.

  2. "When PHP receives a request, it loads all of its dependencies on a per-request basis. Once the request finishes it discards all of the loaded data." This is not quite the full truth. People should read this post on the Zend blog about op-caching and JIT: zend.com/blog/exploring-new-php-ji...

  3. You may also wish to make sure your composer optimize-autoloader setting is set to true (which I believe the default Laravel installation sets by default). getcomposer.org/doc/articles/autol....

  4. Finally, I was surprised to find out that running files from inside the Docker container is faster than running mounting files from the host OS (a "bind mount"). These are supposed to be faster than running from within the container because one is not dealing with the overlay filesystem. More info: docs.docker.com/storage/bind-mounts/. However, it looks like there may be a mac-specific issue going on here: github.com/docker/for-mac/issues/3677. I came across other articles raising this and it seems that others are making use of Mutagen to "resolve" this issue, so that you don't have to "fake it" with two different vendor directories, (one locally and one inside the container). This post has benchmarks and details on how to implement: accesto.com/blog/docker-on-mac-how.... The other post was: medium.com/netresearch/improving-p...

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tylerlwsmith profile image
Tyler Smith Author

Thanks for checking out the article, Programster! You've got some great feedback here, and I've updated my article in a few places based on a few points you've raised.

1. Docker's Linux VM

Docker Desktop for Mac runs a Linux VM under the hood. If it didn't, then Docker wouldn't be able to run the containers: containers rely on Linux internals like cgroups.

I think you're right that I didn't do a great job clarifying that the VM is specific to Docker Desktop and not Docker Engine. I've changed everywhere that I said "Docker's Linux VM" to "Docker Desktop's Linux VM." Good looking out on this one–thank you!

2. PHP's request model

You're right that PHP can cache byte code between requests if you have PHP's OpCache installed and enabled. I omitted this from my description because OpCache & JIT are not enabled in PHP by default: you have to compile and configure the OpCache extension. Since they are not enabled by default, I consider the post's description of the PHP request model to be accurate. I did consider mentioning OpCache in this section when I wrote the post, but I thought it would have obfuscated the description.

That said, even if you enable OpCache you'll still see performance improvements by moving the vendor/ directory: OpCache checks file timestamps for changes, and it can do the check quicker if the files it's checking are in the container.

3. Optimize Autoloader

Yep, "optimize-autoloader" is set to true by default!

4. Speed of mounted files

I think you're right that I didn't do a great job explaining that this trick with moving Composer's vendor directory really only helps with Docker for Desktop on MacOS and Windows. I added a second paragraph to the intro clarifying that this trick is MacOS/Windows specific.

Also, I'll take a look at Mutagen–thanks for the tip! And thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed response: I think this article is better because of the points you've raised.

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Daniel McAssey

Laravel Homestead is a great alternative and can use docker in the background.