The MaxClients directive sets the limit on the number of simultaneous requests that can be supported. No more than this number of child server processes will be created. To configure more than 256 clients, you must edit the HARD_SERVER_LIMIT entry in httpd.h and recompile. In our case we want this variable to be as small as possible, because in this way we can limit the resources used by the server children. Since we can restrict each child’s process size (see Preventing Your Processes from Growing), the calculation of MaxClients is pretty straightforward:


               Total RAM Dedicated to the Webserver
  MaxClients = ------------------------------------
                     MAX child's process size

So if I have 400Mb left for the webserver to run with, I can set MaxClients to be of 40 if I know that each child is limited to 10Mb of memory (e.g. with Apache::SizeLimit).

You will be wondering what will happen to your server if there are more concurrent users than MaxClients at any time. This situation is signified by the following warning message in the error_log:

  [Sun Jan 24 12:05:32 1999] [error] server reached MaxClients setting,
  consider raising the MaxClients setting

There is no problem — any connection attempts over the MaxClients limit will normally be queued, up to a number based on the ListenBacklog directive. When a child process is freed at the end of a different request, the connection will be served.

It is an error because clients are being put in the queue rather than getting served immediately, despite the fact that they do not get an error response. The error can be allowed to persist to balance available system resources and response time, but sooner or later you will need to get more RAM so you can start more child processes. The best approach is to try not to have this condition reached at all, and if you reach it often you should start to worry about it.

It’s important to understand how much real memory a child occupies. Your children can share memory between them when the OS supports that. You must take action to allow the sharing to happen – See Preload Perl modules at server startup. If you do this, the chances are that your MaxClients can be even higher. But it seems that it’s not so simple to calculate the absolute number. If you come up with a solution please let us know! If the shared memory was of the same size throughout the child’s life, we could derive a much better formula:

               Total_RAM + Shared_RAM_per_Child * (MaxClients - 1)
  MaxClients = ---------------------------------------------------

which is:

                    Total_RAM - Shared_RAM_per_Child
  MaxClients = ---------------------------------------
               Max_Process_Size - Shared_RAM_per_Child

Let’s roll some calculations:

  Total_RAM            = 500Mb
  Max_Process_Size     =  10Mb
  Shared_RAM_per_Child =   4Mb

              500 - 4
 MaxClients = --------- = 82
               10 - 4

With no sharing in place

  MaxClients = --------- = 50

With sharing in place you can have 64% more servers without buying more RAM.

If you improve sharing and keep the sharing level, let’s say:

  Total_RAM            = 500Mb
  Max_Process_Size     =  10Mb
  Shared_RAM_per_Child =   8Mb

               500 - 8
  MaxClients = --------- = 246
                10 - 8

392% more servers! Now you can feel the importance of having as much shared memory as possible.