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What is PHP? What Version Does Your Site Need? (UPDATED 2020)

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Did you know that you can easily increase your Website’s speed by more than 50%? You can also improve its support and security features to ensure that your website doesn’t crash or give you any trouble. You can do this and more after simply updating your PHP version.

What Is PHP?

PHP is a popular scripting language on the Internet. PHP is the coding language WordPress is built on. In fact, more than 78% of all sites that run on server-side programming use PHP. The entire WordPress ecosystem is built on PHP, making it very relevant for your business today.

PHP runs on the backend of your website and helps you to build up and make changes to your website. All WordPress plugins and themes quietly run and execute PHP scripts on the backend of your website. It is not necessary to have an in-depth knowledge of PHP unless you are interested in web development and web page designing.  But, it is recommended that you know which PHP version your site is running on and the latest version of PHP.

Apart from its major involvement in WordPress sites, PHP is also a standalone core coding language.

WordPress Websites & Old PHP Versions.

A huge dilemma and security vulnerabilities that looms over WordPress sites is the fact that almost 64% of WordPress sites are running on a PHP version that is not supported. 

Each major PHP update is supported for two years after its release, during which time, bugs, and security issues are fixed. When a PHP Version reaches its End Of Life, all security support is withdrawn from it, leaving it open to vulnerabilities and bugs.

The latest version of PHP on the market is 7.4, but a majority of sites are still using the 5.6 version, which reached its End Of Life on 31st December 2018. PHP versions 7.0 and 7.1 also expired on 3rd December 2018 and 1st December 2019.

Pie-chart WordPress PHP version Stats

Why are Website Owners not Updating their PHP?

  1. The primary reason for people not updating their PHP versions is ignorance. Many website owners don’t know or care about the version of PHP running on their site. Those that are aware leave it in the hands of the hosting service or developers.
  1. Developers have to edit and change their code to ensure that their plugins and themes are compatible with the PHP version. This takes time to do. They also need to carry out extensive testing, and small-scale developers are unwilling to do so. These are the major reasons behind themes and plugins running on older PHP versions.
  1. All in all, people are not willing to spend the time and resources to update the PHP version or make sure that their Website has a supported PHP with security and customer care.

Using an older PHP version not only leaves your site open to many security vulnerabilities, you are also unable to take advantage of the many benefits, security patches, and features that come with every PHP update.

Why is updating your PHP Version Important?

WordPress has not focused on increasing the minimum requirement for PHP for their users. This has led to delays and left WordPress sites open to threats and vulnerabilities. WordPress announced in December 2018 that they would bump up the minimum requirement to PHP 5.6. In the second half of 2019, they would again bump the minimum requirement to PHP 7.0 or greater.

The 3 major reasons to update to PHP 7.0 or above are:-

Security

One of the major reasons to update to the latest version  is the continuous security patches, bug fixes, and updates. According to the official CVE sources, there were 18 vulnerabilities found in PHP in 2018. There were 43 such vulnerabilities discovered in 2017, and a whopping 107 security exploits were discovered in 206, making it one of the worst years for PHP.

These included Memory Corruption, DoS, Code Execution Overflow, and XSS, among others. But all of these were worked on and fixed, which won’t be the case if you’re using PHP 5.6, 5.5, or PHP 5.0, which started it all. These versions have been pulled off security support since 2016.

PHP security vulnerabilities by year

Site Performance

If your version of PHP is older than PHP 7.0, updating to 7.2, 7.3, or 7.4 will give your site a massive performance boost. The speed of your site and the rate at which it processes traffic requests will increase manifold. This boost would be much greater than any advantage you would get after optimizing your site’s different elements. 

PHP 7 and above allow servers to execute twice as many requests with half the latency, which has been verified by many sites such as Kinsta. Faster Sites mean happier visitors, which translates to increased traffic and revenue.

WordPress PHP Version Check - PHP Speed Increases with every latest version

Support & Compatibility

Compatibility is another reason to update your PHP version. Like any software, developers will only support the older versions of their products for a certain period of time. For example, the latest version of Apple’s iOS is never compatible with phones that have come out four or five years ago. This is done to reduce costs of development as running an active support system for an older piece of software is expensive and futile.

This is true for WordPress Sites running on an older version of PHP. One of the most common manifestations of this is the unexpected T_Function error. These issues can easily be resolved by updating your PHP so that your site, themes, and plugins are compatible with the latest version.

 

WordPress PHP Version Check -PHP Compatibility Checker WordPress Plugin - False Positives

Top Features of PHP 7 and Above

As mentioned above, updating your PHP is essential to boosting your site speed and performance, taking care of website security, and making sure that you have a support system with no compatibility issues. But did you know that like other software and apps, PHP versions come with a bunch of in-built features that help in running your site. These features are another additional reason to use the latest PHP version. 

The top 5 features of PHP 7 and later versions are:-

  1. Combined Comparison Operator and Null Coalesce Operator to help in Coding.
  2. Multi-Catch Exception Handling and Anonymous Classes
  3. Number Operators and Malformed Numbers
  4. New Custom Object Serialization Mechanism.
  5. Arrow Functions 2.0 & Typed Properties 2.0.

How to Check Your Current PHP Version?

PHP plays a vital role in enhancing your website’s speed and performance. It is a good idea to check the current version of PHP that your site is running on. Checking your PHP configuration is the first thing you need to do before updating.

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If you’re running WordPress 5.0 or above, you can also check your PHP version in WordPress itself. Go to the Site Health Tab in the Tools menu, and you can view the running PHP version of your site.

It is easy to check your PHP version using a free Plugin from the WordPress Store. The Display PHP Version plugin can be easily installed and displays the current PHP version of your site on the WordPress Dashboard. 

Checking Compatibility Before Upgrading

If you notice that you are not running on PHP 7 or above, you should make an effort to update to the same. This is easier said than done because updating your PHP may end up breaking elements of your site. This is one of the major reasons behind people delaying their PHP updates. This happens when the theme your site is running on, or the plugins that it is using are not compatible with the new version.

WordPress site health tool PHP version

Therefore, it is important to first check the compatibility of your plugins and themes using a PHP Compatibility Checker. To check for WordPress PHP version compatibility, you can use another simple plugin known as the PHP Compatibility Checker.

This plugin was developed by the popular hosting company WP Engine to make it easier for people to overhaul and perform major PHP updates. 

Once you have installed the plugin, you can select the version of PHP you want to scan your site against. It will scan all the plugins and themes that you specify and flag all errors and warnings. The errors and warnings are categorized with file locations and the code line number that is causing the error, making it easier for you to fix it.

WP Engine wants you to know that their plugin can sometimes make mistakes and provide a list of common false positives. A false positive occurs when the PHP Compatibility Checker says that a specific plugin is not compatible with an update when, in reality, it is. You should always run the flagged issues reported by the plugin against the list of false positives.

How to Update Your PHP Version

Now that you’ve understood the importance of your site’s PHP configuration and the advantages of keeping PHP updated, you must know how to do so. There are three ways in which you can update your PHP, and we’ve ranked them from easy to difficult.

Contact Your Hosting Provider

As mentioned earlier, PHP configuration and the need for an update are often ignored by website owners because they are ignorant about its necessity and benefits. Many hosting providers include PHP updates in their plans and will take care of your site professionally. Suppose your package doesn’t include any such update support. In that case, the company may be able to contact freelancing professionals who can give you all the necessary information and help with the process.

Update PHP Using cPanel

Most WordPress Websites use cPanel, which provides a straightforward way to update your PHP version. Simply login to the cPanel and go to the Software Category. Under it, you’ll find a category labeled Select PHP Version. You can then select the PHP version supported by your Host.

php version

Updating PHP Manually

If you manage your server and have confidence in your coding abilities, you can install and update the latest PHP version yourself. But it is recommended that you go through the official information and guidelines provided on the website before undertaking such a large operation. You’ll want to look at the changes with functions, classes, wrappers, extensions, etc, and how they differ for various operating systems. 

Conclusion

PHP is a crucial part of your website, and updating to the latest version of PHP is a very effective way to enhance the performance of your website. It boosts your site’s speed and performance and enhances user experience. It is necessary to gain information about the versions of PHP that your Hosting provider supports.

Checking the compatibility of your plugins and creating a backup for your site are also essential steps before updating your PHP version. A site running on a lower PHP is still better than a broken site, and proper safeguards must be implemented before an update.

PHP 7 has been around  since 2015, with 7.4 being the latest PHP version for WordPress. WordPress has started on the long-overdue path of reform of getting its customers to update their PHP. While most responses have been positive, be sure to contact WP Uber with any queries, support requests, or help in the process of updating your PHP. Together we can have your site running fast, secure, and attracting traffic in no time.

Author avatar
Tim Michaels
I am into WordPress and web development for the last 10 years. I use my experience to help people just starting with WordPress. Follow my blog at WP Uber for everything related to WordPress.
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