Question: What are the differences between Drupal Varnish and database caching?


Drupal is a powerful content management system (CMS) that can benefit greatly from various caching mechanisms to improve performance and reduce server load. Two common approaches to caching in the context of Drupal are using Varnish and database caching. Understanding the differences between these two can help in optimizing your Drupal site effectively.

Varnish Cache

Varnish Cache is a web application accelerator, also known as a caching HTTP reverse proxy. It's designed to sit in front of any server that speaks HTTP and cache the contents. Varnish is particularly effective for Drupal sites because it caches responses from the web server before they reach the user's browser, significantly reducing response time and server load for subsequent requests.

# Example configuration snippet for Drupal with Varnish if (req.url ~ \"^/status.php$\") { return (pass); } if (req.method == \"PUT\" || req.method == \"DELETE\" || req.method == \"TRACE\" || req.method == \"OPTIONS\" || req.method == \"PATCH\") { return (pipe); } if (req.method != \"GET\" && req.method != \"HEAD\") { return (pass); }

This snippet shows part of a Varnish configuration tailored for Drupal, designed to bypass caching for certain request types or paths that should always be dynamic.

Database Caching

Database caching in Drupal typically involves caching query results to avoid repeated costly queries to the database. This can dramatically improve performance for complex queries used in rendering pages or retrieving content. Drupal core provides built-in database caching mechanisms that can be leveraged via its API.

// Example usage of Drupal's Database Cache API $cached_data = cache_get('my_custom_data'); if ($cached_data) { $data = $cached_data->data; } else { $data = my_expensive_query_function(); cache_set('my_custom_data', $data); }

This PHP snippet demonstrates how you might cache custom data fetched from a database to prevent repetitive querying and processing.

Comparison and Use Cases

  • Speed and Efficiency: Varnish is generally faster for full-page caching since it operates outside of Drupal and can serve cached content without bootstrapping Drupal or connecting to the database. Database caching shines for more granular or complex data that isn't easily cached by Varnish.
  • Complexity and Granularity: Database caching offers more granularity and control within Drupal's framework, ideal for caching specific data or query results. Varnish provides a broader stroke by caching entire HTTP responses.
  • Ease of Setup: Setting up Varnish requires additional server configuration and understanding of HTTP caching headers, making it potentially more complex than utilizing Drupal's internal caching APIs.


Both Varnish and database caching have their places in a comprehensive Drupal caching strategy. Varnish excels at reducing load times and server demand for full-page caches, while database caching is indispensable for optimizing database interactions within Drupal. Ideally, a combination of both, carefully configured, will provide the best balance of speed and efficiency for a Drupal site.

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