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Tips for Acquia Hosting Development
By brandont
Jan. 3, 2012

Here at Appnovation, we frequently use the Acquia hosting platform for our clients. The Dev Cloud and Managed Cloud are impressive platforms that fit well for many Drupal sites being built today. I’ve listed some items below that have helped with the overall build quality and ease of use for these platforms.

Utilities - Drush aliases

Anyone who develops with Drupal should know about Drush by now. Acquia has gone ahead and installed Drush and the Drush aliases on your Acquia Hosting account automatically. For example, you can run the command “drush @sitename.stg cc all” from your local computer to clear all the caches within the Drupal site without having to log into the server for it to work! You can find the aliases under Sites > Managed (or Dev) Cloud > Utilities. After downloading the file to your $HOME/.drush/ directory and setting up an SSH key, you're good to go.

Enabling Git

Acquia uses SVN as its primary repository system. However, some of us like to use Git for its enhanced speed over SVN. Not a problem since Acquia supports both. Switching to Git is easy and can be found under Sites > Dev Cloud > Workflow. At the top of the page you’ll find an SVN URL by default with a gear icon located next to it. If you click that icon a drop down will appear and the option to switch to Git will be displayed. Simply click this link and your repository will switch from SVN to Git. For Managed Cloud platforms, you just have to request Git by filing a support ticket through Acquia and they will switch it for you.


Acquia Dev Cloud and Managed Cloud implement Varnish to speed things up. To take advantage of this I recommend you use Pressflow. The installation and setup is the exact same as Drupal and Pressflow is 100% compatible with Drupal core modules. There are some issues with contrib modules, so make sure you check the functionality of these modules before assuming they work. Once Pressflow is installed and setup on the Acquia server, you’ll notice you have a new option under Performance called “external”. This allows Varnish to handle caching instead of Drupal’s stock functionality.

Mobile sites and Varnish

I recently worked on a site that was using Varnish to speed up the performance. The site was also configured to use a different theme when a mobile device was detected. I was using the global variable $custom_theme to switch the theme when a mobile device was found. However, when this solution was implemented with Varnish we noticed that sometimes the mobile site would get served to a desktop browser and vice versa. The problem was that Varnish was caching the page and not hitting the code to determine if the device was mobile or not. To correct this, we needed to switch from using the global $custom_theme variable to using Drupal’s multi-site folder architecture. To do this, you need to add a mobile site folder (m.domainname.com) to the sites directory within Drupal. Then within the settings.php file add the following line.

$conf = array('theme_default' => 'mobile_theme');

This will force the site to use the mobile theme. Next, you’ll have to add the domain to the Acquia Hosting platform which is located under Sites > Managed (or Dev Cloud) > Domains. After that, you’ll have to get in contact with Acquia support so that they can configure Varnish to detect mobile devices and redirect to the correct sites folder.

Memcache setup

Memcache is another technology that speeds up the performance of Drupal. To enable this, you must download the Memcache module from Drupal.org. After this, you can add the following lines into your settings.php file.

if (!empty($conf['acquia_hosting_site_info']) && !empty($conf['memcache_servers'])) {
  $conf['cache_inc'] = './sites/all/modules/contrib/memcache/memcache.inc';
  $conf['memcache_key_prefix'] = 'domainname';
  $conf['memcache_bins'] = array(
    'cache' => 'default',

First, I’d like to point out the memcache_key_prefix which must be unique across the different environments such as development to production. This prevents the cache tables from overwriting each other. Next, the memcache_bins key allows you to cache specific cache tables from Drupal. In the example above, I’ve left it to "default" but you could cache specific tables such as views, blocks etc.

Workflow - Lock out the files folder

Acquia has a drag and drop interface that allows the developer to drag the codebase, files and database between development, staging and production environments. This allows you to easily migrate your site between any of the servers. One thing I want to point out is, once your site is on the production server, its a good idea to lock the environment by setting it to Production Mode. This prevents the files directory and database from being overwritten and also allows you to pre-release the site to the client, allowing them to add content while you update the code base. To do this, go to Sites > Managed (or Dev) Cloud > Workflow. There will be a “Prod” section with a gear beside it, clicking that gear will provide a link to switch the site to Production Mode. This can be easily reverted as well by clicking the gear and reverting the site to Pre-Launch mode. Those are some tips that I’ve discovered over my use of Acquia that have eased the development and deployment of a Drupal site on their hosting platforms. If you have any questions or tips of your own, feel free to comment.

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