If you’re running a WordPress website, you’re using PHP whether you realize it or not.
PHP is an open source programming language, which stands for PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor.
WordPress software is written in PHP. Your web hosting company has a version of this language installed on the server where your site is hosted, which allows the server to interpret the software and run it.
Most of the time, as a website owner, you won’t need to even think about PHP. But sometimes, web hosts don’t keep your PHP version up to date. There are various reasons for this, including that your host does not want to break your website. If your WordPress or other software built with PHP is not up to date, then updating your PHP version could cause your site to stop functioning correctly in some cases. So it is important to be sure your software is also up-to-date before you update your web server’s version of PHP.
Why does my PHP version matter?
This is important: PHP versions eventually become obsolete. That means that if your web server is running an older version, and it turns out to have security vulnerabilities, there will be no fixes released for those issues. So by staying on an older version, you may be leaving your site unprotected.
You can’t expect your web host to just handle this for you. Many web hosts are still not offering anything higher than PHP 5.6 yet, even though PHP 5.6 is slated to reach its “end of life” on December 31, 2018. (“End of life” means that after this date, security vulnerabilities will no longer be patched.)
Some web hosts even maintain older versions, as far back as 5.5 or 5.4, which reached their “end of life” in July 2016 and September 2015, respectively.
PHP 7, the latest version, offers significant speed and security improvements.
PHP 7 was released almost three years ago now, so it’s past time to get your installation up to date. By upgrading to PHP 7, your site will gain in speed and usability, a huge advantage to your visitors, as well as becoming more secure. This article has a good overview of the specifics about PHP 7’s improvements, if you are interested in the details. You can check out the speed improvements in chart form over on Zend’s site. PHP 7 is two to three times faster than PHP 5.
How can I update my PHP version?
On most web hosts, you can access and update your PHP version through your hosting control panel. If you change versions, be sure to clear your web hosting cache, website cache, and browser cache, and test your website thoroughly to be sure everything has gone smoothly. If you notice any issues you need to fix, you can downgrade again, fix, and re-upgrade.
Is there any risk to updating my PHP version?
When upgrading programming language versions or software, there is always a risk that some aspects won’t be compatible. But leaving your site vulnerable is not a viable option, even in the short term. Your website developer can help you navigate these issues and find the best solution for your website security and functionality.
If you aren’t sure what version of PHP your web server is running, your trusted web developer can help you find out, and update if required. If your web host is still not offering PHP 7, which has been out since December 2015, it is probably time to look for a more up to date host who is concerned about your website security.
Need help verifying your PHP version or updating? Get in touch!