Php – Why is require_once so bad to use


Everything I read about better PHP coding practices keeps saying don't use require_once because of speed.

Why is this?

What is the proper/better way to do the same thing as require_once? If it matters, I'm using PHP 5.

Best Solution

This thread makes me cringe, because there's already been a "solution posted", and it's, for all intents and purposes, wrong. Let's enumerate:

  1. Defines are really expensive in PHP. You can look it up or test it yourself, but the only efficient way of defining a global constant in PHP is via an extension. (Class constants are actually pretty decent performance wise, but this is a moot point, because of 2)

  2. If you are using require_once() appropriately, that is, for inclusion of classes, you don't even need a define; just check if class_exists('Classname'). If the file you are including contains code, i.e. you're using it in the procedural fashion, there is absolutely no reason that require_once() should be necessary for you; each time you include the file you presume to be making a subroutine call.

So for a while, a lot of people did use the class_exists() method for their inclusions. I don't like it because it's fugly, but they had good reason to: require_once() was pretty inefficient before some of the more recent versions of PHP. But that's been fixed, and it is my contention that the extra bytecode you'd have to compile for the conditional, and the extra method call, would by far overweigh any internal hashtable check.

Now, an admission: this stuff is tough to test for, because it accounts for so little of the execution time.

Here is the question you should be thinking about: includes, as a general rule, are expensive in PHP, because every time the interpreter hits one it has to switch back into parse mode, generate the opcodes, and then jump back. If you have a 100+ includes, this will definitely have a performance impact. The reason why using or not using require_once is such an important question is because it makes life difficult for opcode caches. An explanation for this can be found here, but what this boils down to is that:

  • If during parse time, you know exactly what include files you will need for the entire life of the request, require() those at the very beginning and the opcode cache will handle everything else for you.

  • If you are not running an opcode cache, you're in a hard place. Inlining all of your includes into one file (don't do this during development, only in production) can certainly help parse time, but it's a pain to do, and also, you need to know exactly what you'll be including during the request.

  • Autoload is very convenient, but slow, for the reason that the autoload logic has to be run every time an include is done. In practice, I've found that autoloading several specialized files for one request does not cause too much of a problem, but you should not be autoloading all of the files you will need.

  • If you have maybe 10 includes (this is a very back of the envelope calculation), all this wanking is not worth it: just optimize your database queries or something.