Setup Scalable WordPress Sites on Kubernetes

This article is about how to deploy a scalable WordPress site on Google Kubernetes Engine.

Using the container version of the popular LEMP stack:

  • Linux (Docker containers)
  • NGINX
  • MySQL (Google Cloud SQL)
  • PHP (PHP-FPM)

Google Cloud Platform Pricing

Deploying a personal blog on Kubernetes sounds like overkill (I must admit, it does). Still, it is fun and an excellent practice to containerize a traditional application, WordPress, which is harder than you thought. More importantly, the financial cost of running a Kubernetes cluster on GKE could be pretty low if you use preemptible VMs which also means native Chaos Engineering!

ref:
https://cloud.google.com/pricing/list
https://cloud.google.com/sql/pricing
https://cloud.google.com/compute/all-pricing

Google Cloud SQL

Cloud SQL is the fully managed relational database service on Google Cloud, though it currently only supports MySQL 5.6 and 5.7.

You can simply create a MySQL instance with few clicks on Google Cloud Platform Console or CLI. It is recommended to enable Private IP that allows VPC networking and never exposed to the public Internet. Nevertheless, you have to turn on Public IP if you would like to connect to it from your local machine. Otherwise, you might see something like couldn't connect to "xxx": dial tcp 10.x.x.x:3307: connect: network is unreachable. Remember to set IP whitelists for Public IP.

Connect to a Cloud SQL instance from your local machine:

$ gcloud components install cloud_sql_proxy
$ cloud_sql_proxy -instances=YOUR_INSTANCE_CONNECTION_NAME=tcp:0.0.0.0:3306

$ mysql --host 127.0.0.1 --port 3306 -u root -p

ref:
https://cloud.google.com/sql/docs/mysql
https://cloud.google.com/sql/docs/mysql/sql-proxy

Google Kubernetes Engine

The master of your Google Kubernetes Engine cluster is managed by GKE itself, as a result, you only need to provision and pay for worker nodes. No cluster management fees.

You can create a Kubernetes cluster on Google Cloud Platform Console or CLI, and there are some useful settings you might like to turn on:

Node Pools

Over-provisioning is human nature, so don't spend too much time on choosing the right machine type for your Kubernetes cluster at the beginning since you are very likely to overprovision without real usage data at hand. Instead, after deploying your workloads, you can find out the actual resource usage from Stackdriver Monitoring or GKE usage metering, then adjust your node pools.

Some useful node pool configurations:

  • Enable preemptible nodes
  • Access scopes > Set access for each API:
    • Enable Cloud SQL

After the cluster is created, you can now configure your kubectl:

$ gcloud container clusters get-credentials YOUR_CLUSTER_NAME --zone YOUR_SELECTED_ZONE --project YOUR_PROJECT_ID
$ kubectl get nodes

If you are not familiar with Kubernetes, check out The Incomplete Guide to Google Kubernetes Engine.

WordPress

Here comes the tricky part, containerizing a WordPress site is not as simple as pulling a Docker image and set replicas: 10 since WordPress is a totally stateful application. Especially:

  • MySQL Database
  • The wp-content folder

The dependency on MySQL is relatively easy to solve since it is an external service. Your MySQL database could be managed, self-hosted, single machine, master-slave, or multi-master. However, horizontally scaling a database would be another story, so we only focus on WordPress now.

The next one, our notorious wp-content folder which includes plugins, themes, and uploads.

ref:
https://engineering.bitnami.com/articles/scaling-wordpress-in-kubernetes.html
https://dev.to/mfahlandt/scaling-properly-a-stateful-app-like-wordpress-with-kubernetes-engine-and-cloud-sql-in-google-cloud-27jh
https://thecode.co/blog/moving-wordpress-to-multiserver/

User-uploaded Media

Users (site owners, editors, or any logged-in users) can upload images or even videos on a WordPress site if you allow them to do so. For those uploaded contents, it is best to copy them to Amazon S3 or Google Cloud Storage automatically after a user uploads a file. Also, don't forget to configure a CDN to point at your bucket. Luckily, there are already plugins for such tasks:

Both storage services support direct uploads: the uploading file goes to S3 or GCS directly without touching your servers, but you might need to write some code to achieve that.

Pre-installed Plugins and Themes

You would usually deploy multiple WordPress Pods in Kubernetes, and each pod has its own resources: CPU, memory, and storage. Anything writes to the local volume is ephemeral that only exists within the Pod's lifecycle. When you install a new plugin through WordPress admin dashboard, the plugin would be only installed on the local disk of one of Pods, the one serves your request at the time. Therefore, your subsequent requests inevitably go to any of the other Pods because of the nature of Service load balancing, and they do not have those plugin files, even the plugin is marked as activated in the database, which causes an inconsistent issue.

There are two solutions for plugins and themes:

  1. A shared writable network filesystem mounted by each Pod
  2. An immutable Docker image which pre-installs every needed plugin and theme

For the first solution, you can either setup an NFS server, a Ceph cluster, or any of network-attached filesystems. An NFS server might be the simplest way, although it could also easily be a single point of failure in your architecture. Fortunately, managed network filesystem services are available in major cloud providers, like Amazon EFS and Google Cloud Filestore. In fact, Kubernetes is able to provide ReadWriteMany access mode for PersistentVolume (the volume can be mounted as read-write by many nodes). Still, only a few types of Volume support it, which don't include gcePersistentDisk and awsElasticBlockStore.

However, I personally adopt the second solution, creating Docker images contain pre-installed plugins and themes through CI since it is more immutable and no network latency issue as in NFS. Besides, I don't frequently install new plugins. It is regretful that some plugins might still write data to the local disk directly, and most of the time we can not prevent it.

ref:
https://serverfault.com/questions/905795/dynamically-added-wordpress-plugins-on-kubernetes

Dockerfile

Here is a dead-simple script to download pre-defined plugins and themes, and you can use it in Dockerfile later:

#!/bin/bash
set -ex

mkdir -p plugins
for download_url in $(cat plugins.txt)
do
    curl -Ls $download_url -o plugin.zip
    unzip -oq plugin.zip -d plugins/
    rm -f plugin.zip
done

mkdir -p themes
for download_url in $(cat themes.txt)
do
    curl -Ls $download_url -o theme.zip
    unzip -oq theme.zip -d themes/
    rm -f theme.zip
done

plugins.txt and themes.txt look like this:

https://downloads.wordpress.org/plugin/prismatic.2.2.zip
https://downloads.wordpress.org/plugin/wp-githuber-md.1.11.8.zip
https://downloads.wordpress.org/plugin/wp-stateless.2.2.7.zip

Then you need to create a custom Dockerfile based on the official wordpress Docker image along with your customizations.

FROM wordpress:5.2.4-fpm as builder

WORKDIR /usr/src/wp-cli/
RUN curl -Os https://raw.githubusercontent.com/wp-cli/builds/gh-pages/phar/wp-cli.phar && \
    chmod +x wp-cli.phar && \
    mv wp-cli.phar wp

RUN apt-get update && \
    apt-get install -y --no-install-recommends \
    unzip && \
    apt-get purge -y --auto-remove -o APT::AutoRemove::RecommendsImportant=false && \
    rm -rf /var/lib/apt/lists/*

WORKDIR /usr/src/app/
COPY wordpress/ /usr/src/app/
RUN chmod +x install.sh && \
    sh install.sh && \
    rm -rf \
    install.sh \
    plugins.txt \
    themes.txt

###

FROM wordpress:5.2.4-fpm

RUN mv "$PHP_INI_DIR/php.ini-production" "$PHP_INI_DIR/php.ini"
COPY php/custom.ini /usr/local/etc/php/conf.d/
COPY php-fpm/zz-docker.conf /usr/local/etc/php-fpm.d/

COPY --from=builder /usr/src/wp-cli/wp /usr/local/bin/
COPY --from=builder /usr/src/app/ /usr/src/wordpress/wp-content/
RUN cd /usr/src/wordpress/wp-content/ && \
    rm -rf \
    plugins/akismet/ \
    plugins/hello.php \
    themes/twentysixteen/ \
    themes/twentyseventeen/

# HACK: `101` is the user id of `nginx` user in `nginx:x.x.x-alpine` Docker image
# https://stackoverflow.com/questions/36824222/how-to-change-the-nginx-process-user-of-the-official-docker-image-nginx
RUN usermod -u 101 www-data && \
    groupmod -g 101 www-data

ENTRYPOINT ["docker-entrypoint.sh"]
CMD ["php-fpm"]

The multiple FROM statements are for multi-stage builds.

See more details on the GitHub repository:
https://github.com/vinta/vinta.ws/tree/master/docker/code-blog

Google Cloud Build

Next, a small cloudbuild.yaml file to build Docker images in Google Cloud Build triggered by GitHub commits automatically.

substitutions:
  _BLOG_IMAGE_NAME: my-blog
steps:
- id: my-blog-cache-image
  name: gcr.io/cloud-builders/docker
  entrypoint: "/bin/bash"
  args:
   - "-c"
   - |
     docker pull asia.gcr.io/$PROJECT_ID/$_BLOG_IMAGE_NAME:$BRANCH_NAME || exit 0
  waitFor: ["-"]
- id: my-blog-build-image
  name: gcr.io/cloud-builders/docker
  args: [
    "build",
    "--cache-from", "asia.gcr.io/$PROJECT_ID/$_BLOG_IMAGE_NAME:$BRANCH_NAME",
    "-t", "asia.gcr.io/$PROJECT_ID/$_BLOG_IMAGE_NAME:$BRANCH_NAME",
    "-t", "asia.gcr.io/$PROJECT_ID/$_BLOG_IMAGE_NAME:$SHORT_SHA",
    "docker/my-blog/",
  ]
  waitFor: ["my-blog-cache-image"]
images:
- asia.gcr.io/$PROJECT_ID/$_BLOG_IMAGE_NAME:$SHORT_SHA

Just put it into the root directory of your GitHub repository. Don't forget to store Docker images near your server's location, in my case, asia.gcr.io.

Moreover, it is recommended by the official documentation to use --cache-from for speeding up Docker builds.

ref:
https://cloud.google.com/container-registry/docs/pushing-and-pulling#tag_the_local_image_with_the_registry_name
https://cloud.google.com/cloud-build/docs/speeding-up-builds

Deployments

Finally, here comes Kubernetes manifests. The era of YAML developers.

WordPress, PHP-FPM, and NGINX

You can configure the WordPress site as Deployment with an NGINX sidecar container which proxies to PHP-FPM via UNIX socket.

ConfigMaps for both WordPress and NGINX:

apiVersion: v1
kind: ConfigMap
metadata:
  name: my-blog-wp-config
data:
  wp-config.php: |
    <?php
    define('DB_NAME', 'xxx');
    define('DB_USER', 'xxx');
    define('DB_PASSWORD', 'xxx');
    define('DB_HOST', 'xxx');
    define('DB_CHARSET', 'utf8mb4');
    define('DB_COLLATE', '');

    define('AUTH_KEY',         'xxx');
    define('SECURE_AUTH_KEY',  'xxx');
    define('LOGGED_IN_KEY',    'xxx');
    define('NONCE_KEY',        'xxx');
    define('AUTH_SALT',        'xxx');
    define('SECURE_AUTH_SALT', 'xxx');
    define('LOGGED_IN_SALT',   'xxx');
    define('NONCE_SALT',       'xxx');

    $table_prefix = 'wp_';

    define('WP_DEBUG', false);

    if (isset($_SERVER['HTTP_X_FORWARDED_PROTO']) && $_SERVER['HTTP_X_FORWARDED_PROTO'] === 'https') {
      $_SERVER['HTTPS'] = 'on';
    }

    // WORDPRESS_CONFIG_EXTRA
    define('AUTOSAVE_INTERVAL', 86400);
    define('WP_POST_REVISIONS', false);

    if (!defined('ABSPATH')) {
      define('ABSPATH', dirname( __FILE__ ) . '/');
    }

    require_once(ABSPATH . 'wp-settings.php');
---
apiVersion: v1
kind: ConfigMap
metadata:
  name: my-blog-nginx-site
data:
  default.conf: |
    server {
      listen 80;
      root /var/www/html;
      index index.php;

      if ($http_user_agent ~* (GoogleHC)) { # https://cloud.google.com/kubernetes-engine/docs/concepts/ingress#health_checks
        return 200;
      }

      location /blog/ { # WordPress is installed in a subfolder
        try_files $uri $uri/ /blog/index.php?q=$uri&$args;
      }

      location ~ [^/]\.php(/|$) {
        try_files $uri =404;
        fastcgi_split_path_info ^(.+?\.php)(/.*)$;
        include fastcgi_params;
        fastcgi_param HTTP_PROXY "";
        fastcgi_pass unix:/var/run/php-fpm.sock;
        fastcgi_index index.php;
        fastcgi_buffers 8 16k;
        fastcgi_buffer_size 32k;
        fastcgi_param SCRIPT_FILENAME $document_root$fastcgi_script_name;
        fastcgi_param PATH_INFO $fastcgi_path_info;
      }
    }

The wordpress image supports setting configurations through environment variables, though I prefer to store the whole wp-config.php in ConfigMap, which is more convenient. It is also worth noting that you need to use the same set of WordPress secret keys (AUTH_KEY, LOGGED_IN_KEY, etc.) for all of your WordPress replicas. Otherwise, you might encounter login failures due to mismatched login cookies.

Of course, you can use a base64 encoded (NOT ENCRYPTED!) Secret to store sensitive data.

ref:
https://kubernetes.io/docs/tasks/configure-pod-container/configure-pod-configmap/
https://kubernetes.io/docs/concepts/configuration/secret/

Service:

apiVersion: v1
kind: Service
metadata:
  name: my-blog
spec:
  selector:
    app: my-blog
  type: NodePort
  ports:
  - name: http
    port: 80
    targetPort: http

ref:
https://kubernetes.io/docs/concepts/services-networking/service/

Deployment:

apiVersion: apps/v1
kind: Deployment
metadata:
  name: my-blog
spec:
  replicas: 3
  selector:
    matchLabels:
      app: my-blog
  template:
    metadata:
      labels:
        app: my-blog
    spec:
      affinity:
        podAntiAffinity:
          preferredDuringSchedulingIgnoredDuringExecution:
          - weight: 100 # prevent the scheduler from locating two pods on the same node
            podAffinityTerm:
              topologyKey: kubernetes.io/hostname
              labelSelector:
                matchExpressions:
                  - key: "app"
                    operator: In
                    values:
                    - my-blog
      volumes:
      - name: php-fpm-unix-socket
        emptyDir:
          medium: Memory
      - name: wordpress-root
        emptyDir:
          medium: Memory
      - name: my-blog-wp-config
        configMap:
          name: my-blog-wp-config
      - name: my-blog-nginx-site
        configMap:
          name: my-blog-nginx-site
      containers:
      - name: wordpress
        image: asia.gcr.io/YOUR_PROJECT_ID/YOUR_IMAGE_NAME:YOUR_IMAGE_TAG
        workingDir: /var/www/html/blog # HACK: specify the WordPress installation path: subfolder
        volumeMounts:
        - name: php-fpm-unix-socket
          mountPath: /var/run
        - name: wordpress-root
          mountPath: /var/www/html/blog
        - name: my-blog-wp-config
          mountPath: /var/www/html/blog/wp-config.php
          subPath: wp-config.php
        resources:
          requests:
            cpu: 100m
            memory: 128Mi
          limits:
            cpu: 500m
            memory: 512Mi
      - name: nginx
        image: nginx:1.17.5-alpine
        volumeMounts:
        - name: php-fpm-unix-socket
          mountPath: /var/run
        - name: wordpress-root
          mountPath: /var/www/html/blog
          readOnly: true
        - name: my-blog-nginx-site
          mountPath: /etc/nginx/conf.d/
          readOnly: true
        ports:
        - name: http
          containerPort: 80
        resources:
          requests:
            cpu: 50m
            memory: 100Mi
          limits:
            cpu: 100m
            memory: 100Mi

Setting podAntiAffinity is important for running apps on Preemptible nodes.

Pro tip: you can set the emptyDir.medium: Memory to mount a tmpfs (RAM-backed filesystem) for Volumes.

ref:
https://kubernetes.io/docs/concepts/workloads/controllers/deployment/
https://kubernetes.io/docs/concepts/configuration/assign-pod-node/

CronJob

WP-Cron is the way WordPress handles scheduling time-based tasks. The problem is how WP-Cron works: on every page load, a list of scheduled tasks is checked to see what needs to be run. Therefore, you might consider replacing WP-Cron with a regular Kubernetes CronJob.

// in wp-config.php
define('DISABLE_WP_CRON', true);
apiVersion: batch/v1beta1
kind: CronJob
metadata:
  name: my-blog-wp-cron
spec:
  schedule: "0 * * * *"
  concurrencyPolicy: Forbid
  jobTemplate:
    spec:
      template:
        spec:
          volumes:
          - name: my-blog-wp-config
            configMap:
              name: my-blog-wp-config
          containers:
          - name: wp-cron
            image: asia.gcr.io/YOUR_PROJECT_ID/YOUR_IMAGE_NAME:YOUR_IMAGE_TAG
            command: ["/usr/local/bin/php"]
            args:
            - /usr/src/wordpress/wp-cron.php
            volumeMounts:
            - name: my-blog-wp-config
              mountPath: /usr/src/wordpress/wp-config.php
              subPath: wp-config.php
              readOnly: true
          restartPolicy: OnFailure

ref:
https://developer.wordpress.org/plugins/cron/

Ingress

Lastly, you would need external access to Services in your Kubernetes cluster:

apiVersion: networking.k8s.io/v1beta1
kind: Ingress
metadata:
  name: load-balancer
  annotations:
    kubernetes.io/ingress.class: "gce" # https://github.com/kubernetes/ingress-gce
spec:
  rules:
  - host: example.com
    http:
      paths:
      - path: /blog/*
        backend:
          serviceName: my-blog
          servicePort: http
      - backend:
          serviceName: frontend
          servicePort: http

There is a default NGINX Deployment to serve requests other than WordPress.

See more details on the GitHub repository:
https://github.com/vinta/vinta.ws/tree/master/kubernetes

ref:
https://kubernetes.io/docs/concepts/services-networking/ingress/
https://cloud.google.com/kubernetes-engine/docs/concepts/ingress

SSL Certificates

HTTPS is absolutely required nowadays. There are some solutions to automatically provision and manage TLS certificates for you:

Conclusions

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth a million. This video accurately describes how we ultimately deploy a WordPress site on Kubernetes.

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