Does your website seem to run slow? Losing customers because of page speed? Is Google lowering your ranking? It’s possible your server language (PHP version) is outdated.

Your website might not be operating at its full potential. This page will tell you about an important issue we have detected and how to resolve it.

What is PHP?

PHP is the foundational coding technology of WordPress. Just like any foundation, it’s important that it is strong and secure. When you use an old version of PHP on your WordPress host, you are building a WordPress site on a weak foundation. Upgrading to the latest version of PHP is paramount to ensuring your site is secure, fast and compatible with all parts of WordPress. There’s also a host of other great reasons why you should update to the latest version of PHP.

Currently, WordPress is turned to use PHP 7. However, WordPress’ commitment to backward compatibility allows you to use versions as old as  PHP 5.2, which was originally released in 2006. Do you want your website to be stuck that far in the past?  

Why PHP Matters?

There are three things we should care about as a site owner. First, we are the site works as expected when people visit, let’s refer to this as “site availability”. We also care about how fast the site loads and functions, which we can call “performance”. Lastly, we care that we can make use of all the latest and greatest tools for our site, which we will call “features.”  

Site Availability

We have all clicked on ads and links that end up with 404 errors or the dreaded “white screen of death”.  We spend billions of dollars a year to get people to click on our links and when they have a bad landing page experience, all those marketing efforts go to waste. One scarier reason a site could go down is that of hacking. WordPress is a safe and secure platform for your business as long as you are keeping everything up to date.  Unfortunately, bad people on the internet will figure out exploits of any code and hack sites using that code. Since PHP is running a very large percentage of the web and WordPress is built on PHP, these malicious people tend to focus their efforts on this underlying code. Once a vulnerability is publicly known, more bad actors use that same hole to attack more sites.

Fortunately for all of us, the vibrant PHP community is constantly improving PHP.  Currently, they are supporting PHP7 –the most current and secure version of the software possible. The PHP community is only releasing security fixes for 5.6 and is not supporting earlier versions at all. They make the code freely available and they want you to use it on your site to make sure your site is safe.  

Making these updates will help ensure your site will be there when your end customers follow those links and are ready to engage with your business.  

Performance

How fast your site loads is called ‘performance’.  “73% of mobile internet users say that they’ve encountered a website that was too slow to load,”  says Kissmetric’s research.  They also say “40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load.”  The performance of your site is also a key factor in Google’s mobile site rank.  

Just like any other complex machine, the performance of a site is dependant on the parts being of good quality and well tuned.  PHP is a major part of how sites are delivered.  One of the ways WordPress sites can improve performance without a lot of effort is to update PHP to the latest supported version, which is PHP7 currently.  Sites can see a 30+% increase in performance, immediately in most cases, simply by making this change.  

Features

Let’s imagine you are buying a state of the art car in 1978 vs today. You would expect that a car would include audio as part of the stereo system, have heated seats, utilize active braking assistance, and include a rearview camera – all standard. The car from 1978 would literally have none of those things. This doesn’t mean that it was a bad car; rather, the world of automobiles continued to progress and those features did not exist back then.  

WordPress has evolved much faster than automobiles and there are more new features, delivered through plugins, available today than ever before. Many of the newest features are built and tested on PHP7, as that is the most current version that developers are working within their environments. Your options for features are going to be limited if you are not keeping up with the latest underlying updates, which you are free to do. Make sure you can use the latest and greatest functionality for your WordPress website and update to PHP7 today.

Are there risks when upgrading my PHP version?

In a perfect world, the answer would be “no”. However, WordPress is a continually-developed software with many pieces, including themes and plugins, which are built and maintained by individuals all over the world. This is the beauty of Open Source software. Much of the software we use is freely donated.

Because you may be using a product that is no longer developed, there can be incompatibilities between certain PHP versions and certain WordPress plugins or themes, which WordPress cannot detect automatically.

WordPress as a content management system (CMS) is committed to backward compatibility. This means the main files that run your site will work as far back as PHP version 5.2. That said, we now recommend 5.6. Faster is better and this is why we’d love you to upgrade to PHP7.

Before you update, make a backup of your site (which you should be doing continuously regardless) and then feel the speed and the digital wind in your hair as you freely drive down the internet highway. Okay, so maybe we went too far on that, but we’re very excited about the latest PHP versions..

How to Upgrade PHP for your Website?

While it would be stellar if WordPress could solve the PHP problem itself, that just isn’t possible. PHP is part of the language on your website’s server and, unfortunately, WordPress is not in charge of the PHP version. It is up to you and your hosting provider.

So how do you do it?  Our favorite answer: it depends on how you are running your site.

The good news is that many hosting providers will allow you to choose which version of PHP you can run. There are a lot of different companies with a lot of different ways to manage this.  Fortunately, the WordPress community has collected some of the more popular providers’ upgrade paths.  

If you are not familiar or comfortable interacting with the particular interface to switch PHP versions with your provider, the best thing you can do is ask your host. Here is some sample email language you can use when emailing your provider:

“Dear Hosting Provider,

I want my website to be as performant as possible and secure with the latest updates. Since I am running a WordPress site, I would very much like to ensure that I am on PHP7. If I am not already in this version, please let me know what steps I need to take to upgrade. “

If you are self-hosting, you will need to consult the guides for upgrading PHP on your server.  Again, we highly recommend backing up everything before beginning any such upgrades.  

Conclusion:

Your website might not be operating at its full potential and it could be because your server isn’t on the latest version of PHP.

Keeping foundational server-side software up-to-date is a great way to not only help your own website’s performance but to help keep the internet, as a whole, secure.

Content source: make.wordpress.org