The Twelve-Factor App

VI. Processes

Execute the app as one or more stateless processes

The app is executed in the execution environment as one or more processes.

In the simplest case, the code is a stand-alone script, the execution environment is a developer’s local laptop with an installed language runtime, and the process is launched via the command line (for example, python my_script.py). On the other end of the spectrum, a production deploy of a sophisticated app may use many process types, instantiated into zero or more running processes.

Twelve-factor processes are stateless and share-nothing. Any data that needs to persist must be stored in a stateful backing service, typically a database.

The memory space or filesystem of the process can be used as a brief, single-transaction cache. For example, downloading a large file, operating on it, and storing the results of the operation in the database. The twelve-factor app never assumes that anything cached in memory or on disk will be available on a future request or job – with many processes of each type running, chances are high that a future request will be served by a different process. Even when running only one process, a restart (triggered by code deploy, config change, or the execution environment relocating the process to a different physical location) will usually wipe out all local (e.g., memory and filesystem) state.

Asset packagers (such as Jammit or django-assetpackager) use the filesystem as a cache for compiled assets. A twelve-factor app prefers to do this compiling during the build stage, such as the Rails asset pipeline, rather than at runtime.

Some web systems rely on “sticky sessions” – that is, caching user session data in memory of the app’s process and expecting future requests from the same visitor to be routed to the same process. Sticky sessions are a violation of twelve-factor and should never be used or relied upon. Session state data is a good candidate for a datastore that offers time-expiration, such as Memcached or Redis.