The following statement left me searching for answers for about a day before I finally clued in:
"Process Control should not be enabled within a web server environment and unexpected results may happen if any Process Control functions are used within a web server environment."
At least for PHP 5.3.8 which I am using, and who knows how far back, it's not a matter of "should not", it's "can not". Even though I have compiled in PCNTL with --enable-pcntl, it turns out that it only compiles in to the CLI version of PHP, not the Apache module. As a result, I spent many hours trying to track down why function_exists('pcntl_fork') was returning false even though it compiled correctly. It turns out it returns true just fine from the CLI, and only returns false for HTTP requests. The same is true of ALL of the pcntl_*() functions.
Process Control support in PHP implements the Unix style of process creation, program execution, signal handling and process termination. Process Control should not be enabled within a web server environment and unexpected results may happen if any Process Control functions are used within a web server environment.
This documentation is intended to explain the general usage of each of the Process Control functions. For detailed information about Unix process control you are encouraged to consult your systems documentation including fork(2), waitpid(2) and signal(2) or a comprehensive reference such as Advanced Programming in the UNIX Environment by W. Richard Stevens (Addison-Wesley).
PCNTL now uses ticks as the signal handle callback mechanism, which is much faster than the previous mechanism. This change follows the same semantics as using "user ticks". You use the declare() statement to specify the locations in your program where callbacks are allowed to occur. This allows you to minimize the overhead of handling asynchronous events. In the past, compiling PHP with pcntl enabled would always incur this overhead, whether or not your script actually used pcntl.
There is one adjustment that all pcntl scripts prior to PHP 4.3.0 must make for them to work which is to either to use declare() on a section where you wish to allow callbacks or to just enable it across the entire script using the new global syntax of declare().
Note: This extension is not available on Windows platforms.