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Serverless Laravel applications with AWS Lambda and PlanetScale

Learn how to create serverless Laravel applications by deploying them to AWS Lambda and using PlanetScale as the database.

Serverless Laravel applications with AWS Lambda and PlanetScale

In general, PHP-based applications, like Laravel, are deployed on servers. It is also possible to run them serverless — for example, on AWS Lambda.

This approach provides several benefits:

  • Instant and effortless autoscaling to handle incoming traffic.
  • Redundant and resilient infrastructure out of the box, without extra complexity.
  • Pay-per-request billing.

PlanetScale is a great database to pair with serverless Laravel applications running on Lambda. In this article, we will create a new Laravel application, run it on AWS Lambda using Bref, connect to a PlanetScale MySQL database, and do a load test to look at the performance.

Creating a new Laravel application

Let's start from scratch and create a new Laravel project with Composer:

Terminal
composer create-project laravel/laravel example-app
cd example-app

We can run our application locally with php artisan serve, but let's run it in the cloud on AWS Lambda instead.

Deploying Laravel to AWS Lambda

To deploy Laravel to AWS Lambda, we can use Bref. Bref is an open-source project that provides support for PHP on AWS Lambda. It also provides a Laravel integration that simplifies configuring Laravel for Lambda.

Prerequisites

Before deploying to AWS Lambda, you will need:

You can install the serverless CLI using NPM:

Terminal
npm install -g serverless

If you don't have NPM or want to learn more, read the Serverless documentation.

Now, connect the serverless CLI to your AWS account via AWS access keys. Create AWS access keys by following the guide, and then set them up on your computer using the following command:

Terminal
serverless config credentials --provider aws --key <key> --secret <secret>

Getting started with Bref and Laravel

Now that everything is ready, let's install Bref and its Laravel integration:

Terminal
composer require bref/bref bref/laravel-bridge --update-with-dependencies

Then, let's create a serverless.yml configuration file:

Terminal
php artisan vendor:publish --tag=serverless-config

This configuration file describes what will be deployed to AWS. Let's deploy now:

Terminal
serverless deploy

When finished, the deploy command will display the URL of our Laravel application.

Using PlanetScale as the database

Now that Laravel is running in the cloud, let's set it up with a PlanetScale database. Start in PlanetScale by creating a new database in the same region as the AWS application (us-east-1 by default).

Click the Connect button and select "Connect with: PHP (PDO)". That will let us retrieve the host, database name, user, and password.

Edit the .env configuration file to set up the database connection:

Terminal
DB_CONNECTION=mysql
DB_HOST=<host url>
DB_PORT=3306
DB_DATABASE=<database_name>
DB_USERNAME=<user>
DB_PASSWORD=<password>
MYSQL_ATTR_SSL_CA=/opt/bref/ssl/cert.pem

Don't skip the MYSQL_ATTR_SSL_CA line: SSL certificates are required to secure the connection between Laravel and PlanetScale. Note that the path in AWS Lambda (/opt/bref/ssl/cert.pem) differs from the one on your machine (likely /etc/ssl/cert.pem). If you run the application locally, you will need to change this environment variable back and forth.

Next, redeploy the application:

Terminal
serverless deploy

Now that Laravel is configured, we can run database migrations to set up DB tables. To do so, we can run Laravel Artisan commands in AWS Lambda using the serverless bref:cli command:

Terminal
serverless bref:cli --args="migrate --force"

That's it! Our database is ready to use.

Creating sample data

To test the database connection, let's create sample data in the users table created out of the box by Laravel.

Edit the database/seeders/DatabaseSeeder.php class and uncomment the following line so that we can seed our database with 10 fake users:

PHP
\App\Models\User::factory(10)->create();

Now, let's create a public API route that returns all the users from the database. Add the following code to routes/api.php:

PHP
Route::get('/users', function () {
return \App\Models\User::all();
});

Let's deploy these changes:

Terminal
serverless deploy

Now, let's seed the database with 10 fake users:

Terminal
serverless bref:cli --args="migrate:fresh --seed --force"

We can now retrieve our 10 users via the API route we created:

curl https://<application url>/api/users

Performance with a simple load test using PlanetScale

The execution model of AWS Lambda gives us instant autoscaling without any configuration. To illustrate that, I have performed a simple load test against the application we deployed above, using PlanetScale's free tier database.

The only change I made is to disable Laravel's default rate limiting for API calls (ThrottleRequests middleware) in app/Http/Kernel.php because it would get in the way of my load test.

Furthermore, I did not ramp up traffic progressively because I wanted to show Lambda's instant scalability. I used ab (Apache's benchmarking tool) to request the /api/users endpoint with 50 threads (50 HTTP requests made in parallel continuously):

Terminal
ab -c 50 -n 10000 https://<my-api-url>/api/users

When looking at the AWS Lambda and API Gateway metrics, we see the following numbers:

  • Laravel scaled instantly from zero to 3,800 HTTP requests/minute.
  • 100% of HTTP requests were handled successfully.
  • The median PHP execution time (p50) for each HTTP request is 75ms.
  • 95% of requests (p95) are processed in less than 130ms.
  • PlanetScale processed up to 180 queries/s.
  • The median PlanetScale query execution time is 0.3ms.

The load test was performed against a freshly deployed application. That means the first requests were cold starts: New AWS Lambda instances started and scaled up to handle the incoming traffic. The cold starts usually have a much slower execution time (one second instead of 75ms). However, we do not see them in the p50 or p95 metrics because they only impacted 1% of the requests in the first minute. After the first 50 requests (cold starts), all the other requests were warm invocations.

Note that we are looking at the AWS Lambda duration instead of HTTP response time: This is to exclude any latency related to networking (and thus have reproducible and comparable results). This is not the HTTP response time real users would see as, like on any server, the network adds latency to HTTP responses.

After a few minutes, I dropped the traffic from 50 requests in parallel to one. The PHP execution time stayed identical. This illustrates that the load did not impact the response time.

Improving performance to speed up the SSL connection

For many web applications, responding in about 100ms is more than satisfactory. However, some use cases may require lower latency.

Since Laravel connects to PlanetScale over SSL, creating the SSL connection can take longer than running the SQL query itself. PlanetScale itself can easily handle unlimited connections using built-in connection pooling, which massively improves performance by keeping those database connections open between requests.

However, PHP, by design, shares nothing across requests. This means at the end of every request, PHP will close the connection to the database.

To circumvent this problem, we can use Laravel Octane to gain performance in two ways:

  • Keeping the Laravel application in memory across requests using Laravel Octane.
  • Reusing SQL connections across requests (instead of reconnecting every time).

Bref supports Laravel Octane natively. We need to change the serverless.yml configuration to enable it. Change the web function configuration to this:

web:
handler: Bref\LaravelBridge\Http\OctaneHandler
runtime: php-81
environment:
BREF_LOOP_MAX: 250
OCTANE_PERSIST_DATABASE_SESSIONS: 1
events:
- httpApi: '*'

Let's redeploy with serverless deploy and run the load test again:

We notice the following improvements:

  • The median PHP execution time (p50) went from 75ms to 14ms.
  • 95% of requests (p95) are processed in less than 35ms.
  • Laravel handled 1,000 more requests/minute, though this number is not important: We could simply send more requests in our load test to reach a higher number anytime.

Going further and next steps

Here are some next steps:

You can also learn more about PlanetScale and AWS Lambda with Bref in the respective documentation.

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