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4 questions I asked when upgrading PHP for my WordPress websites

Upgrading PHP for your WordPress website

I run way fewer websites than most of the users of the MainWP plugin, I’ll admit that.

I have a few under my command.

I am fairly adept at using WordPress, installing, updating, tweaking themes, and even, occasionally, building a custom WordPress website (although I am painfully slow).

One thing I’ve learned in the WordPress world is that each person is at a different level of tech savviness (is that a word?).

Some are way more technical than I am and know much more about the hosting environment, etc.

I know enough about PHP to tweak something, add a snippet in the functions file or break a WordPress install with the best of anyone.

PHP, of course, like any language, has versions. It is now up to 7.1.

I realized a few months back that my sites were on outdated versions of PHP.

This lead me to several questions.

First, how did I not know that my site is on an outdated version of PHP? I realize this is my responsibility, technically.

Second, how do I update my PHP version? This depends on many things.

Third, what is the minimum version of PHP I need to run a WordPress website effectively? More on that in a bit.

Finally, why did my host not alert me that I needed to update my PHP version? Okay, maybe they did, but it wasn’t something I realized.

Siteground, my host, is a little more proactive on this than some of the other hosts I’ve seen. In fact, they recently just sent out a notice that they are giving customers a security certificate. How cool is that?

Another host that a client of mine uses not only did not alert (presumably, I don’t get their emails) that they need to upgrade their PHP but have my client’s website on a server which can not, according to them, be upgraded to PHP 5.6, much less PHP 7.1.

They have to actually migrate their website to a different server, so they said.

All of these events lead me to a few questions, four to be exact.

Here are four questions I asked when navigating through my journey of upgrading PHP for my WordPress websites.

The 4 Questions

How did I not know that my site is on an outdated version of PHP?


PHP is not something I keep up with on a regular basis. While PHP is being used with WordPress, and I have adjusted lines of code, created widget areas in a theme, I just don’t have insider info on the versions of PHP.

I did not receive any kind of notice from my previous hosting company letting me know that I need to consider upgrading my PHP version.

I initially missed any information being passed around in the WordPress community on PHP.

The average WordPress website owner does not think about this. They are all a little too busy to keep our finger on that information.

All that being said, I was painfully out of the loop.

Now, in MainWP, you can check your PHP version. This is a nice addition by the MainWP team. We will talk about it more below.

MainWP users can see the version PHP they are running by going to their Dashboard –> Sites –> Click Screen Options and Select PHP Version and pressing apply. MainWP

Second, how do I update my PHP version?

How do I upgrade my PHP version?

If you have a cPanel, this will be the easiest way. You simply login to your cPanel, find the PHP version, navigate to that area, and survey your projects.

The cPanel will give you an option to upgrade each domain or area in your directory through the main user interface.

Make the appropriate changes and you have upgraded your PHP.

WPMUDev’s Jenni McKinnon has a very good rundown on how to upgrade your PHP

McKinnon also goes over some of the reasons to upgrade your PHP version as a WordPress user.

What is the minimum version of PHP I need to run a WordPress website effectively? 

In the past year, WordPress has upped (or bumped) the minimum PHP version to PHP 7 as a recommendation for your host.

It is not a requirement, but a recommendation.

As the WP says:

“Note: If you are in a legacy environment where you only have older PHP or MySQL versions, WordPress also works with PHP 5.2.4+ and MySQL 5.0+, but these versions have reached official End Of Life and as such may expose your site to security vulnerabilities.”
https://wordpress.org/about/requirements/

PHP versions jumped from 5.6 to 7.0, so at the very least, you should be running that PHP 5.6.

PHP Supported Versions
PHP Supported Versions (Screenshot php.net)

 

Based on these recommendations, I believe it is a good idea to begin your journey to PHP 7.1.

Why did my host not alert me that I needed to update my PHP version? 

This puzzled me a little bit. I mean, if my site or my client’s site runs on WordPress and it is important to their business, and PHP needed to be upgraded, why would they not notify me?

I talked to a number of the members in the MainWP Facebook Group who ran hosting companies and the picture became a little more clear.

These big hosting companies have a multitude of different kinds of customers and most on shared hosting. Many run something other than WordPress and may not even use PHP.

Hence, they are not a managed WordPress hosting company, so that onus is put on the customer to upgrade their PHP.

As one developer told me,

“They have much less overview of what their users are doing inside the hosting packages so I imagine it’s much resource-efficient to, depending on the infrastructure, either notify users of upcoming updates so they have time to prepare, provide a temporary opt-out (which usually means the packages are put on a server that is not updated until the users greenlights it), or have user-level (or at least package-level) PHP version management. I think the latter is a luxury only the very largest can offer.”

This makes sense. From what I can see from big hosting companies, they provide you with the option of upgrading.

Frankly, this is what makes having a service provider to manage the maintenance of WordPress websites extremely beneficial.

Navigating the plethora of technologies for upgrades should be in the hands of a skilled expert.

Wrapping it up

I think it is important to keep up with your PHP. Ultimately, it is the website owner’s responsibility to do this, but I think a little help from the host or those of us who may be on retainer to keep up with their website would be helpful.

Most plugins and themes are being built to work with PHP 7 these days, and the day will come when, if we keep updating them, they just work efficiently with the outdated versions of PHP. Worse, they may not work at all.

I am thankful that a discussion in the Facebook Group led to MainWP deciding to add the version type in the dashboard.

Know your PHP version in the MainWP Dashboard

Know your PHP version in the MainWP DashboardYou may have to set your screen settings to show this in your dashboard.

Many have found it super helpful.

Have you upgraded your PHP? Has it caused problems for older plugins and themes?

Do you have a protocol in place to update your website’s PHP?

Let us know in the comments below!

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Todd Jones
Along with being the resident writer for MainWP and content hacker at Copyflight, I specialize in writing about startups, entrepreneurs, social media, WordPress and inbound marketing topics.

2 thoughts on “4 questions I asked when upgrading PHP for my WordPress websites

  1. Your point that “each person is at a different level of tech savviness” is something I contemplate and work on daily. My feeling is that some people are awesome at designing and building sites and others are technical wizards. This split is possibly highlighted in the current hack-fest-frenzy taking place.

    My answer to that is a WordPress eco-system where those building websites never need to consider the questions you pose because they’re doing what they do best and tech stuff is covered.

    1. Agreed. I slid into the WordPress ecosystem by hacking themes, etc. Of course, server administration is a different animal. We specialize so much now when Webmasters 20 years ago did every dang thing!

      Good comment!

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