PHP RFC: Sessions: Improve original RFC about lazy_write

This is a proposal to make an update, or override a decision taken in the session-lock-ini RFC. Not in the sense of rejecting the RFC, but rather redesign the already accepted solution, namely the 'lazy_write' option passed to session_start().

The session-lock-ini has IMHO not been handled or thought out properly. What ended up as accepted from it is mostly unrelated to what it was originally all about (locking options). It (the RFC description) lacks a lot of information and implementation details, that are otherwise part of the patch (but not obvious). This has made it possible for such details to either be overlooked completely or to not receive the deserved attention for something as critical as Sessions.

I feel that there's room for improvement in regards to backwards and forward compatibility, as well as an overall better API design. This is an attempt to make those improvements before there's no coming back from what I believe to be flaws in the initial design.


Note: Previously, here was a description of the issues related to the 'read_only' option, which was later renamed to 'read_and_close', effectively solving the problem.


The issues with this option are non-obvious, diverse and are mostly related to userland session handlers. Below is the description of how it works, that was missing from the original RFC, and is only evident by the patch and the author's comments during the discussion of this RFC.

Note: PS_UPDATE_TIMESTAMP() is updateTimestamp() in userland, but it was previously called PS_UPDATE_FUNC() (or update()). It was changed for a more descriptive name.

  • When $_SESSION is not changed: call PS_UPDATE_TIMESTAMP_FUNC() instead of PS_WRITE_FUNC().
  • PS_UPDATE_TIMESTAMP_FUNC() only changes the “last modified” timestamp (or a similar timestamp, depending on the storage in use) instead of re-writing all of the data. This is the performance improvement.
  • Userland session handlers can use updateTimestamp() to replicate PS_UPDATE_TIMESTAMP_FUNC().
  • updateTimestamp() is NOT added to the SessionHandler class to maintain BC.
    • This means that userland session handlers extending SessionHandler can't call parent::updateTimestamp().
    • It is made that way because the internal handler that SessionHandler wraps, may or may not have PS_UPDATE_TIMESTAMP_FUNC() (PECL extensions) and this is not detectable at runtime.
  • updateTimestamp() is NOT added to SessionHandlerInterface (to maintain BC), but is added to a new interface called SessionUpdateTimestampInterface.
    • This is because of internal implementation details that were originally designed to just register all of the methods from SessionHandlerInterface, so now you have to use some interface to add new methods.
  • If there's a userland session handler in use:
    • If the handler doesn't have updateTimestamp() - call write() to maintain BC.
    • If the handler has updateTimestamp() - call it.
      • As listed above, a class extending SessionHandler can NOT call parent::updateTimestamp(). It has to call parent::write() to “extend” the internal handler.

And now, the problems with it:

1. You can't call parent::updateTimestamp().

The SessionHandler class was made to expose the internal implementation. To put emphasis on the problem, the following combination beats the whole purpose of having the SessionHandler class:

  • PHP will call SessionHandler::updateTimestamp(), if you have it.
  • You can't call parent::updateTimestamp() from it.

This is an unnecessary limitation, given that only a few PECL extensions wouldn't support the feature, which is a new one and this is not a BC concern.

2. There is little reason for the option (not the feature) to exist in the first place.

It is mostly a performance improvement instead of a functional change. It is somewhat a behavioral change, but still a performance improvement and designed in a way that doesn't break existing applications.

Performance improvements should not be optional, unless they break backwards compatibility and this one is designed to avoid that. Therefore, it should not be optional.

3. No API to detect the option, at all.

'lazy_write' was originally proposed as an INI setting. However, it was reduced to being just a session_start() option because of feedback on the RFC discussion stating that “users don't like INI settings”, or that there are too many INIs already. This is a valid point, but it ignores the fact that INI settings do have a purpose and are in some cases a necessity. For 'lazy_write' to be optional and with no other API available, ini_get() would've been a way for userland code to detect it. Furthermore, with session_start() also accepting existing session.* INI settings, this is yet another inconsistency.

Also, the whole feature was inspired by a feature request for an API to detect if $_SESSION has been changed or not.


A combination of multiple (but not all) of the following:

Merge updateTimestamp() into write()

SessionHandler::write() should decide whether all data should be written or just the timestamp updated.

This solves all problems:

  • Not adding an unnecessary interface (SessionUpdateTimestampInterface).
  • Maintaining backwards compatibility, even with PECL extensions.
  • Enabling userland code to call parent::methodName().
  • No API changes, at all.

Another argument in favor of this solution is that currently, this is the only design allowing userland implementations of 'lazy_write' behavior.

Add SessionHandler::updateTimestamp(), when available

updateTimestamp() can be added to SessionHandler at instantiation time, depending on whether the current session.save_handler supports it. This is of course an alternative to moving its logic to write().

It might not be convenient for some session modules to have the method and others not, but users are in general careful with PECL extensions and of course, it should be properly documented. Anybody could write a PHP extension that provides a session handler that even breaks current functionality - there's no guarantee on that. What can be done however, is to not put unnecessary limits because of third-party extensions. It's a good enough trade-off, IMO.

And this wouldn't be a precedent, many MySQLi functions only exist if mysqlnd support is present.

Add API exposing $_SESSION changes status

This is what was originally asked for via feature request #17860 and would be useful even without 'lazy_write', allowing users to make the performance improvement on their own.

It can be a “magic constant” like the currently existing 'SID'. It can be a function, i.e. session_is_changed(). It can be a property or a method of the SessionHandler class.

Either of the above would be sufficient, it doesn't matter, just as long as the user has a way of accessing that state.

Always do "lazy writes"

There's no reason for this feature to be optional, as explained above - it is a performance improvement and the patch already calls write() if updateTimestamp() doesn't exist. If this RFC is accepted, it would make even less sense to keep it optional. Worst thing that could happen is to fallback to the old behavior where session data is written at all times.

Backward Incompatible Changes

None, the aim is to make the already accepted solution even easier to handle in regards to older versions, given that it is accepted for PHP 5.6.

Proposed PHP Version(s)

PHP 5.6

Impact to Existing Extensions

ext/session and all extensions providing a session handler.

php.ini Defaults


Proposed Voting Choices

  • Change API
    • Merge updateTimestamp() into write()
    • Declare SessionHandler::updateTimestamp(), if session.save_handler supports it
    • Keep original implementation
  • Always to lazy writes
    • Yes
    • No
  • Add API to detect $_SESSION changes
    • Yes
    • No

Refer to the proposal section for details.

Should require 50% + 1 votes.


Voting period is 2014/04/10 until 2014/04/24.

Change API
Real name Merge updateTimestamp() into write() Declare SessionHandler::updateTimestamp(), if session.save_handler supports it Keep original implementation
Count: 0 0 0
Always do lazy writes
Real name Yes No
Count: 0 0
Add API to detect $_SESSION changes
Real name Yes No
Count: 0 0

Thank you for voting!

Patches and Tests

No patch is available at this time, I'll be looking for a volunteer with Yasuo Oghaki being a likely candidate.


After the project is implemented, this section should contain

  1. the version(s) it was merged to
  2. a link to the git commit(s)
  3. a link to the PHP manual entry for the feature


Rejected Features

  • Making 'read_only' a separate function.

Almost nobody recognized this as something important and anyway the main issue here was the highly misleading name that 'read_only' is for what it does. Based on discission and an earlier version of this RFC, the patch for session-lock-ini has been altered to use the 'read_and_close' name, which is fine.

rfc/session-read_only-lazy_write.txt · Last modified: 2014/04/21 13:05 by narf