Updated April 13, 2020.
If so, you are not alone. According to W3Techs, nearly half of all web sites still run on PHP 5.x. According to WordPress.org stats, currently 51.3% of all WordPress web sites are running a PHP version older than 7.2. 18.9% have web hosting PHP 5.6 active. As of December 31, 2018, security updates will no longer be provided for PHP 5.6. It’s important to know what version your web site is running on so that you can take the steps to update it.
In the best case scenario, your web hosting environment supports multiple versions of PHP and if your web site is on a platform like WordPress and everything is up to date, upgrading to PHP 7.x can sometimes be as easy as a click of a button. However, like many things in technology. It’s seldom that simple. Some web servers do not support multiple versions of PHP so in order to upgrade, you need to move to a newer server. Even if your server support PHP 7.x, your web site may not. Many times when you update PHP, the site will generate an error or not display correctly. This is often due to a plugin or some code in the site that needs to be fixed or updated in order to support PHP 7.x.
What is PHP 5.6 and why should I care?
PHP is a scripting language that runs on your web site server. It is required to power most modern web sites including those build with popular content management systems like WordPress and Joomla. When a web server is first setup, it will most likely be configured to run the latest version of all server software programs like PHP. This is very similar to when you purchase a new desktop computer with Windows. You’ll most likely purchase it with the latest version at that time. Fast forward three, four, five or more years and there is a good chance that version of Windows is not longer the most current. The same applies for web servers which are computers too. Most of us do not own or control the servers our web sites reside on but we’re all paying a web hosting company for web site hosting services and good hosts will keep their servers current. At Windhill, we have multiple web hosting servers with multiple versions of PHP available.
Why should I upgrade to PHP 7.x?
Just like your smart phone, tablet or computer, the operating system software on web hosting servers age over time as newer versions are developed and older versions are no longer supported. The term ‘End-Of-Life’ is used to refer to versions that are no longer supported. What does that mean? It means that the software developer is no longer going to issue security fixes or updates as future vulnerabilities are discovered. As of this writing, the chart below which can be seen live here shows that only PHP versions 7.3 and 7.4 have active support (green bars). PHP 7.2 (orange bar) has security fixes only through November 30, 2020. A lot of web sites running on WordPress are still running on PHP 5.6 which saw support end in 2018.
How can I figure out what version of PHP I’m running?
There are several ways to determine what version of PHP your web hosting server or web site is currently using.
- If your hosting account is using cPanel, you can login to your control panel and check the version under the Software section.
- If your web site is running WordPress, you can install this lightweight plugin which will display your web hosting PHP version.
- If you have FTP access to your web site, you can create a text file with the following and save a PHP file.
Upload it to your web site and visit the file with your web browser. Do not forget to delete the file once you are done.
What version should I upgrade to?
We always recommend upgrading to the highest version your site will support. Sometimes, older plugins, themes or code will cause your site to break or not display correctly. If your web host supports multiple versions of PHP, you can try changing the version working from the newest down to see what the latest version is that your site will support. Before attempting to change your PHP version, follow these steps.
- Backup your web site files and database completing using a backup process that you know you can easily restore from. Tools like Updraft Plus work well for taking site-level backups that can usually restore very quickly if needed. If you have cPanel hosting, I would recommend taking a full site backup there as well. You many need your web host’s tech support to help restore from that cPanel backup file and some hosts may charge a fee for this so it is advisable to try to use a backup method that you know you can restore from yourself if needed.
- Make sure you have updated all plugins, themes and CMS versions BEFORE trying to upgrade PHP. If your web site using a theme or plugin that is no longer being updated or supported by that developer, your site may not be compatible with the latest versions of PHP.
Best case scenario to upgrade web hosting PHP 5.6 is that your web site has been kept up-to-date, your web site hosting server supports the latest version of PHP and all that needs to happen is that you or your hosting provider simply upgrades the version on your account. However, 9 times out of 10, it won’t be that simple. Some plugins or themes may be outdated and need to be updated. This may require tracking down or purchasing current licenses for those plugins in order to install the latest version. Other times, there will not be any current updates available and an alternative plugin will need to be researched and installed. And in the most extreme situations, your web site may be coded on a platform or in some way where the code is not compatible with the latest version of PHP in which case the upgrade path requires manually updating the code or rebuilding your web site on a newer platform like a current version of WordPress.
Windhill Design has experience with ALL of these upgrade paths. Being WordPress developers, we’ll often given our clients options to consider and help them evaluate the pros of cons of upgrading. While may people may not care about upgrading or struggle to determine how much of a priority to make this, we subscribe to the belief that it’s better to be proactive and keep your web site as secure and up-to-date as possible to reduce the risk of unplanned downtime or security breaches. Ask yourself, how important is your web site to your business and how much downtime can you afford?