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Any reason to maintain an entire fork of Elgg? Perhaps it would be more of an incentive for your contributors to contribute to Elgg directly if it weren't?
Yes and we want to move in that direction. Version 2, Composer, .. Thanks! But for now, participants will be able to earn point for contributing to Elgg!
Elgg 2 comes with:
1. Improved simplecache. Static resources (css, js, image files) can exist anywhere in the view system. When simplecache views are generated their location is mapped against the view system location. This allows you to serve files directly from the disk bypassing the PHP engine. You need to configure your serve to allow symlinks and to symlink the cache directory to simplecache directory. http://learn.elgg.org/en/2.3/admin/performance.html?highlight=symlink#performance
2. Boot time cache caches a bunch of run time data (e.g. plugin settings) to shorten boot time. You may want to look into TTL setting to find the right value for your site.
3. Files are served using a special handler, which serves the file without booting the engine. You can achieve better caching by sacrificing file access controls and serving all files without binding them to user sessions.