Most items on the front-end and back-end of a website are running on PHP. In addition to existing on page templates, it comprises the files for the WordPress dashboard. This is also true for plugins and themes that have been installed. In summary, without utilizing PHP, your website and the WordPress platform would not exist.
Since PHP is the brain of WordPress, this article discusses how important it is that the PHP-version of your website is up to date. This post exists to assist you with learning a little more about the language, why it is critical to operate the latest version, how to check PHP on your website and how it can be upgraded safely.
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Before we start advising on the how-to, let’s first discuss more about PHP. As you are aware, it is a programming language used to operate websites. What you may not know is that the language is open source, so it is free-to-use. The “free” factor likely contributes to PHP being one of the most popular languages for website development. In addition to running WordPress, it also helps to run Facebook, Google, Digg, Yahoo! and a variety of the most popular sites. However, it can be used for many other purposes.
Why Update PHP?
Since PHP is so critical to WordPress and other sites, it is also central to overall site performance. Essentially, PHP is the middle-man that pulls the data from your database, changes it to HTML and CSS so the browser can read it, then delivers the final site to the visitor. If the middleman is sluggish, every other aspect of the website will also be slow.
Surprisingly, WordPress estimates that around 57% of its sites operate using outdated versions of PHP. If these sites fail to upgrade to the latest PHP version from prior to 7, they are vulnerable to hacking events. Therefore, if such security vulnerabilities are uncovered, there will not be a patch to fix the issue, it will be left untouched. Furthermore, most themes, extensions, plugins and WordPress itself will stop working with unsupported versions of PHP.
If you are operating a high traffic site, this could be catastrophic for business. Security will be compromised with no fix; the site will be slow and inefficient while being heavy load on the server and a hacker could cripple the website if a vulnerability is uncovered.
Updates equates to improvements. As a result, PHP is being updated regularly to improve functionality and efficiency. Over the years, the programming language has experienced quite a bit of versions. Currently, to operate WordPress, your server must have PHP 5.2.4, at the minimum. However, the officially recommended version is PHP 7 or higher. This is because the newest versions bring the most recent improvements. As upgrades are provided, the language becomes more secure, leaner, faster, consumes less resources and is just better overall. Therefore, the jump from PHP 5.6 to PHP 7 was tremendous.
PHP 7 is the Best
As expected, PHP 7 is currently the best available upgrade to-date. According to benchmarks, PHP 7 provides up to twice the speed of its predecessor to WordPress users. The result is a quicker website delivery from your server to the user with less work. Additionally, the newest version allows for coding to be easier to read and support.
Also, PHP 7 has significantly improved with processing handling errors. It can resolve script problems without terminating the entire process. This is excellent news for visitors who do not like dealing with error-ridden websites; which is everybody! Furthermore, PHP 7 has ramped up security by making applications built with it much more difficult to hack.
To add to the above, older versions of PHP are becoming extinct. Active support for version 5.6 ceased in early 2017 with security support stopping at the end of 2018. This brings up the next question: how do you know which PHP version is running your website. I have been waiting all article for you to ask!
Checking your PHP Version on WordPress
If you wish to know your PHP version, there are several options for finding out including:
Checking within the Hosting Management Panel
The first option is to check directly with your provider. At the back-end of the hosting account, there is typically a menu named, PHP Version Manager or PHP Settings that allows you to check the version running your site. This is also typically the area in which you can upgrade to newer versions and edit the PHP.ini file which is a critical file allowing you to change server functionality.
Utilize a WordPress Plugin
There are literally hundreds of thousands of WordPress plugins available for download, Of course there is also a plugin to inform you of your current PHP version. The easiest plugin is Display PHP Version which requires you to install and activate it. Then you can see the PHP version under At a Glace within the WordPress dashboard.
If your server is running the latest version then no additional action is required by you, besides send a box of chocolates to your system admin. On the other hand, if you have never deal with this type of issue, there is a good chance the PHP version is not updated. Luckily you have us to show you how to safely do so! Before proceeding, your provider must offer you the option to switch and if they don’t, it may be time to search for new hosting.
Safely Upgrading PHP
Like with any upgrade, there are risks involved of which you must be aware. The biggest being the code on your WordPress site (within the themes, scripts, plugins or core code) is incompatible with the new version. If this occurs, some sections or all of your site could exhibit faulty behavior, so it is critical to check compatibilities beforehand using the following method.
Note, this process is how to upgrade a live site. The best idea is to create a copy of your site and review it on your computer, not in a live setting. This will allow you to reduce the risk of having a nasty surprise post-upgrade.
Step One: Back up Everything
The greatest upgrading problem stems from compatibility issues between older and newer code. The best solution is to upgrade all aspects of your site. The WordPress community advocates for utilizing the latest version of PHP so most theme, plugin and core developers will ensure their latest versions are compatible. Even if you are not upgrading your PHP, you should still update your site for security reasons. To do so, simply back-up your site and click the upgrade button when possible.
Step Two: Utilize Plugins to Check for Compatibility
Even the most updated WordPress and extensions do not guarantee smooth sailing. Luckily, you aren’t left hoping for the best outcome. Therefore, you can test for incompatibility issues using a plugin. There are free plugins available that test for incompatibilities. The plugin essentially checks all code on your site and reports back to you any related issues.
Now, we are finally on to the actual upgrade stage. There are several methods of doing so with the easiest making a switch through the admin dashboard. For instance, in cPanel, simply search for the PHP Version Manager menu, select your site’s location and choose the version you wish to change then hit Save. Every admin panel is different, so you must search for this type of option or contact support. In some cases, your hosting provider may have disabled this option.
Check and Double-Check
Once the site has been upgraded, the last action item is to navigate to your website and check each page for any issues. Also, test the plugins and theme features within WordPress. If you have taken these precautions, it is unlikely you will have an issue. Finally, congratulate yourself on a job well done!
SpiderSavvy Managed WordPress Hosting
Here at SpiderSavvy, we recognize that you are the experts in your field and we are the experts here. Can you keep your website up to date? Sure, but is that something else that needs to be added to your plate? You might be able to google the steps and perform it yourself, or you can let us handle it for you. With our Managed WordPress Hosting plan these updates are another thing off your plate and off your mind. We keep your site up to date and provide your clients with a fast, smooth experience and you with the security you need to sleep soundly at night.
PHP is the glue that holds together websites and Content Management Systems like WordPress. Without it, you would not have a beautiful and functional website. Therefore, it is so critical to have the latest version of PHP installed on your server. This will ensure you profit from increased security and speed.
In this article, you have learned what PHP is and why it is important to upgrade to the latest version. We have discussed how to determine which version you have and what preparation measures to take for upgrading. Also, you have learned how to implement the upgrade using your web hosting administration panel.
As you can see, upgrading to the latest version of PHP is not a difficult and cumbersome task. It may take a few hours to back everything up, but you will be grateful when there is an issue and you have the backed-up version of your site.
If you have been able to follow along this step-by-step process, congratulations! Your site is prepared for the future! If you aren’t interested in DIYing it, let us handle it for you with our Managed WordPress Hosting services.