Etsy getting crafty with Facebook's open source virtual machine

Following some initial testing, Etsy engineers determined Facebook's HipHop Virtual Machine fit in quite nicely with its infrastructure.


As Etsy pitches itself to investors ahead of a debut on Wall Street, the artisanal digital marketplace has been tidying up things in the back of the house by following in the footsteps of a tech behemoth.

That would be Facebook, but the connection isn't as obvious as one might expect.

Actually, to most shoppers looking for handmade and vintage goods on Etsy's exchange, this particular connection shouldn't be visible much at all.

The Brooklyn-based business has been on the e-commerce scene for awhile, founded in the mid-aughts and since growing to into a community of 54 million worldwide, including 1.4 million active sellers and 19.8 million active buyers, as of December 31, 2014.

But Etsy's traffic surged significantly in the last year, with its API traffic alone growing 20 times over in 2014, according to Dan Miller, a software engineer at Etsy, in a blog post on Monday.

Needless to say, that's going to take a toll on any website.

But for an e-commerce brand, smooth performance and nearly-always uptime are critical for keeping customers happy and maintaining business.

Miller revealed one of the biggest problem spots sprouted up on its mobile channels, which for anyone paying attention to tech lately knows that is where e-commerce is growing fastest these days.

To bolster the system, Etsy looked to Facebook's HipHop Virtual Machine for PHP for guidance.

The HipHop Virtual Machine (HHVM) is an open source virtual machine intended for executing programs written in Hack and PHP scripting languages.

Facebook started developing PHP abstractions for improving infrastructure performance and scalability as early as 2009, deploying HipHop for PHP in 2010. In 2014, the world's largest social network followed up with the release of Hack for the purpose of helping developers code faster.

Since then, Facebook has been trying to get the Hack developer community off the ground, starting with in-person and webcast hackathons, among other outreach efforts.

Facebook has been very open to finding new friends in the open source community over the last few years, from its ongoing involvement in the Open Compute Project to uploading numerous internal tools to GitHub.

Etsy reps pointed out that the e-commerce platform isn't alone in sampling Facebook's HHVM, pointing toward Box and Wikipedia as other familiar online establishments getting involved.

Following some initial testing, Etsy engineers determined Facebook's HHVM fit in quite nicely with its infrastructure. Some of the immediate positive results included a greater throughput on its API cluster on top of overall improved site performance.

An entire deep dive of nitty-gritty details about experimenting with the deployment of the Etsy API on the HHVM can be found on Etsy's engineering blog, Code as Craft.

But the biggest takeaway is that Etsy ended up bucking its own PHP implementation in the process for Facebook's method.

And being a brand known as a hub for hawking older goods rather than chucking them, Etsy engineers championed "buying fewer servers also means less waste and less power consumption in our data centers."

Screenshot via Etsy

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