Getting Started with Couchbase and PHP

Couchbase is a simple, fast and elastic document-oriented database. It is the product of a merge between the companies behind Memcached (Membase) and CouchDB. The current version is 1.8 and the 2.0 version is already in a developer preview release. If you haven’t heard much about Couchbase yet, start at the Couchbase Webinar Series, which will get you up to speed. The full manual is available here.

As there were a lot of merges, renamings and releases, it was pretty hard to follow up with the current/best database version and SDK to use for your project. Now as the dust has settled a bit, here’s what I’ve come up with:

Couchbase 2.0 will be the next major version and is already pretty stable, so I’ll jump straight onto it and skip 1.8. When it comes to PHP SDKs, you should either use the more feature-complete php-couchbase SDK (which is based on pecl/memcached) or work the brand new php-ext-couchbase extension. Note that it doesn’t support working with views currently, but according to janl this will be available in a few days. He also mentioned that this extension is the future way of interacting with Couchbase, so it is definitely worth a look.

The rest of this post guides you through the installation process of both Couchbase and the PHP SDKs.

Installing Couchbase

The easiest way to install Couchbase is through a precompiled binary for Ubuntu, RedHat, Windows or Mac OS X. You can find all of them here. The installation process is really straightforward: you first need to install the binary and then configure Couchbase from a web interface. I recommend you to watch the webinar starting from minute 7 here, where Perry Krug describes the necessary steps in detail. For the purpose of this post, you can just stick with the default settings.

$ sudo dpkg -i couchbase-server-community_x86_2.0.0-dev-preview-3.deb

After the installation, you should have a Couchbase instance listening on

Installing php-ext-couchbase

The new PHP SDK ships as a PHP extension, so we need to compile it. Make sure you have both the build tools (like build-essentials) and the PHP development packages (php5-dev php-pear) installed. You also need to install libssl0.9.8. On Ubuntu it looks like this:

$ sudo aptitude install libssl0.9.8 php5-dev php-pear

The extension also depends on the libcouchbase library, which can be installed through the Couchbase repository (for more information on this, look here).

Add this to your /etc/apt/sources.list:

# Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot (Debian unstable)
deb oneiric oneiric/main

Then, import the key, update your repositories and install the package:

$ wget -O- | sudo apt-key add -
$ sudo aptitude update && sudo aptitude install libcouchbase-dev

Now, we need to download the extension and build it.

$ unzip
$ cd couchbaselabs-php-ext-couchbase-2680b64

$ phpize
$ ./configure
$ make
$ sudo make install
  Installing shared extensions:     /usr/lib/php5/20090626+lfs/

The last thing we need to do is create a new couchbase.ini file in /etc/php5/conf.d with the following content:

Now we can see that the couchbase extension is installed correctly:

$ php -m | grep couch

Of course you’ll need to restart your webserver or your fastcgi processes too.

Installing php-couchbase

If you want to work with the current stable SDK, you need to download the code from the php-couchbase repository. This SDK extends the memcached extension, which you can install directly through apt:

$ sudo aptitude install php5-memcached

Documentation for the PHP 1.1 SDK can be found here.

Note that for the rest of this post I’ll use the API provided by the php-ext-couchbase extension, but the one for php-couchbase shouldn’t be much different.

Basic Usage

Historically, communication with CouchDB was done over pure HTTP while memcached provided a custom protocol. Couchbase uses both methods, depending on the task you want to accomplish. Create, update and delete actions are done through the memcached protocol. If you want to read data, you can do that either based on the key (through the memcached protocol) or on a view (through HTTP). Thankfully, the SDK abstracts this away from you, but its always good if you know whats going on under the hood.

You can access the API through an object-oriented interface or directly through their exported functions. I couldn’t find any online documentation for now, but here’s the function list from the source-code:

/* {{{ couchbase_functions[]
static zend_function_entry couchbase_functions[] = {
    PHP_FE(couchbase_connect, arginfo_connect)
    PHP_FE(couchbase_add, arginfo_add)
    PHP_FE(couchbase_set, arginfo_set)
    PHP_FE(couchbase_set_multi, arginfo_set_multi)
    PHP_FE(couchbase_replace, arginfo_replace)
    PHP_FE(couchbase_prepend, arginfo_prepend)
    PHP_FE(couchbase_append, arginfo_append)
    PHP_FE(couchbase_cas, arginfo_cas)
    PHP_FE(couchbase_get, arginfo_get)
    PHP_FE(couchbase_get_multi, arginfo_get_multi)
    PHP_FE(couchbase_get_delayed, arginfo_get_delayed)
    PHP_FE(couchbase_fetch, arginfo_fetch)
    PHP_FE(couchbase_fetch_all, arginfo_fetch_all)
    PHP_FE(couchbase_increment, arginfo_increment)
    PHP_FE(couchbase_decrement, arginfo_decrement)
    PHP_FE(couchbase_get_stats, arginfo_get_stats)
    PHP_FE(couchbase_delete, arginfo_delete)
    PHP_FE(couchbase_flush, arginfo_flush)
    PHP_FE(couchbase_get_result_code, arginfo_result_code)
    PHP_FE(couchbase_set_option, arginfo_set_option)
    PHP_FE(couchbase_get_option, arginfo_get_option)
    PHP_FE(couchbase_version, arginfo_version)

The test cases also provide vital information on how to use the API.

Let’s create 10 JSON documents and store them in Couchbase:


$connection = new Couchbase("");

for($i=0;$i<10;$i++) {
    $doc = array(
        'title' => "This is Post $i"
    $connection->set("post_$i", json_encode($doc));


You can view your stored documents instantly through the GUI (http://localhost:8091/index.html#sec=documents&bucketName=default). Now we can retrieve all documents again by their keys:


$connection = new Couchbase("");

echo "<ul>";
for($i=0;$i<10;$i++) {
    $post = json_decode($connection->get("post_$i"));
    echo "<li>" . $post->title .  "</li>";
echo "</ul>";


Note that we need to encode/decode our JSON documents by hand, because in Couchbase you can store pretty much what you want in a document.

There are lots of other things that can be explored, but for now you should have a Couchbase instance up and running and you can start to explore it on your own!

‘‘‘Edit 1:’’’ Jan pointed out that they don’t recommend php-couchbase at this point as the extension will gain all functionality soon. Thanks!

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