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PHP Versions and Why They Matter

Written by Jessica Frick on
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You know you’re supposed to keep your WordPress system up-to-date, but when was the last time you checked your PHP version?

PHP versions can significantly impact your website’s performance and security. But checking your PHP version is a lot like testing your smoke detectors – you know you’re supposed to do it at least twice a year, but you probably wait until that annoying chirp lets you know the batteries are dead.

Don’t wait for your site to break before you give attention to your PHP versions. In this post, we share why you should upgrade your site’s PHP and the steps for managing PHP upgrades.

About PHP

PHP is a scripting language for web development. More than three-fourths of all websites use PHP.

WordPress is a PHP-powered content management system. Processing the PHP code ultimately renders your WordPress page or post. Your WordPress core system files, themes, and plugins include PHP code.

Your web server runs a program that interprets and executes the PHP code. When we talk about PHP versions, we’re talking about what version of PHP your web server is working from.

WordPress PHP Version Requirements

As of the release of WordPress 6.0 in May 2022, WordPress requires servers to run PHP version 7.4 or greater.

WordPress will most likely work with an older version of PHP as long as it’s greater than 5.6.20. But it’s not recommended. You’ll see why in the next section when we review why you want to upgrade.

Why Upgrade Your PHP Version

The PHP development team fully supports each PHP version for two years after its initial release. During this period, regular updates address any bugs or security issues.

At the end of the two years of full support, PHP offers one additional year of security support. The PHP Foundation will offer critical security updates but nothing else.

After three years, the PHP version will officially reach its end of life and no longer be updated or supported.

The latest version of PHP, 8.1 was released Nov. 25, 2021. Security support for version 7.4 will end Nov. 28, 2022, which may expose sites using it to unpatched security vulnerabilities.

It’s extremely risky to use an unsupported version of PHP to run your website.

Reasons to upgrade PHP versions include:

  • Better Site Speed. Outdated PHP versions can slow a site down. Newer versions of PHP will help your site run faster.
  • Optimized Security. If you’re using a version of PHP that has reached its end of life, you’re opening your site up to major security threats. It’s like leaving your front door open while you’re on vacation and hoping no one steals your stuff.
  • New Features. New versions of PHP include updated features, some of which your plugin and theme developers will likely want to use, such as those introduced in PHP version 8.0.
  • Better Support. Not only will your PHP version get regular bug fixes and patches, but your web host may require you to upgrade your PHP before they can offer their own support.

How to Upgrade PHP Versions

Here’s how to check your current version of PHP and the steps to follow when upgrading to the latest version.

Check Your Current Version

Pressable customers can easily check the PHP versions you’re running on all of your sites within the MyPressable Control Panel.

Snapshot of website's backend current PHP version

You can also see your PHP version from your WordPress admin by going to “Tools” and clicking on “Site Health.”

Snapshot of WordPress site up to date version site health menu

Ensure Your Host Supports Upgraded PHP

Your server controls the PHP version. You’ll need to check with your hosting provider to see what versions they support.

Pressable customers, don’t worry… We’ve got you covered! We always offer the latest version of PHP that’s compatible with WordPress.

Create a Site Backup

Before you switch PHP versions, make a backup of your site. Before making big changes like upgrading your PHP and all the subsequent updates to your plugins and themes, it’s best to have a fallback version in case something goes wrong.

Update Your WordPress

Update your WordPress software to the latest version before switching your PHP version. If you’re on a managed hosting plan, odds are your site is already running the most recent version of WordPress.

Switch Your PHP Version

Log in to your hosting account and switch the PHP version according to your host’s directions.

Pressable customers can use these instructions for updating the PHP version in WordPress.

When possible, upgrade your PHP version in a staging environment first to ensure everything works as expected before pushing the changes to your live site.

Check For Errors

Review your site to see if the PHP upgrade broke anything. After a PHP upgrade, the most likely culprits of issues are your theme files or plugins. Try switching to a default theme and deactivating all your plugins. Then switch your theme to see if that’s the issue. If the theme isn’t the problem, try activating your plugins one at a time until you identify the trouble maker.

Custom code is another source of bugs. You’ll need to check to ensure your customizations are compatible with the latest PHP version.

Update Plugins and Themes

Check to see if your themes or plugins have any updates. Install them, and then check your site again for issues.

Finalize Your Update

Again, you’ll ideally be doing this work on a staging server. Once things look good, you can either push your staging changes to your live site or simply switch the version on your live site.

Better Hosting With Pressable

Pressable is where WordPress works best. One of the reasons WordPress users love our managed hosting platform is that we take care of the updates. You don’t have to worry about outdated PHP versions or old versions of WordPress. We ensure your sites stay up-to-date and have the best performance and security. Pick a plan and start building or migrating your site today.

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Jessica Frick

Jessica serves as the Director of Operations for Pressable and spends her days focused on creating the best managed WordPress hosting experience possible. She's been using WordPress since 2008 and has been serving in WordPress-focused roles since 2010. When she's not working, you can find her spending time with her family, serving in her community, watching hilarious dog videos online, or brewing a pitcher of iced tea.