How I do I start a PHP program which takes a long time to complete and how do I track its progress?
While these tend to attract lots of replies, they are usually wrong.
The first thing to consider is that you need to seperate the the thing which takes a long time from its initiation, the ongoing monitoring and whatever final reporting is required.
Since we're talking about PHP its fair to assume that in most cases, the initiation will be a PHP script running in a webserver. However this is not a good place to keep a long-running program.
1) webservers are all about turning around requests quickly - indeed most have failsafe mechanisms to prevent one request hanging about too long.
2) the webserver ties the request to both the execution of the script and to the client socket connection. Typically NOT keeping a browser window open somewhere waiting for the job to complete is an objective for the exercise. Although the dependence on the client connection can be reduced via ignore_user_abort() that was never its intended purpose.
3) long-running typically means it will have quite different resource requirements than a typical web page script - e.g. lots of file handles being opened and closed, more memory being consumed.
Most commentators come back with the suggestion of spawning a seperate thread of execution, either using fork or via the shell. The former obviously does not solve the webserver related issues if the interpreter is running as a module - you're just going to fork the webserver process. You've not solved any of the web related issues and created a whole lot of new ones.
You need to create a new process certainly.
The obvious type of process to create would be a standalone PHP interpreter to process the long running job. So is there a standalone interpreter available to the webserver? The prospective implementor would need to check (and whether the webserver runs as chroot). So lets assume there is, our coder writes:
print shell_exec('/usr/bin/php -q longThing.php &');
A brave attempt. However they will soon find that this doesn't behave as well as they expected and keeps stopping. Why? because all the process they created runs concurrently with the php which created it, it is still a child of that process. Now this is where it starts to get complicated. In our example above, the webserver process finishes with the users script immediately after it creates the new process - however it will probably hang around waiting to be assigned a new request to deal with. However at some point the controller for the webserver processes will decide to terminate it - either as a matter of policy because it has dealt with a certain number of requests (for apache: MaxRequestsPerChild) or because it has too many idle processes (apache's MinSpareServers). However the webserver process should not stop until all its child processes have terminated. How this is dealt with varies by operating system and of course, webserver. Regardless, the coder has created a situation which should not have arisen.
But on a Unix system there are lots of jobs which run independently for long periods of time. They achieve this by:
1) they are first started, say as pid 1234, and try to fork, say to pid 1235 after calling fork, pid 1234 exits
2) pid 1235 will become the daemon - it closes all its open fds including those for stdin, stdout and stderr
3) pid 1235 now calls setsid(), this dissociates this process from the tree of processes which led to its creation (and typically makes it a child of the 'init' process).
You can do all this in a PHP script, assuming you've got the posix and pcntl extensions. However in my experience its usually a lot simpler to ask an existing daemon to run the script for you:
print `echo /usr/bin/php -q longThing.php | at now`;
But how do you get progress information? Simple, just get your long running script to report its progress to a file or a database, and use another, web-based script to read the progress / show the final result.