How to Update PHP for WordPress Websites

September 6, 2019

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Some people hesitate to make updates to their WordPress plugins, theme, or PHP version because they don’t want to deal with possible issues post-upgrade. We’re writing this post to remind you of the importance of not ignoring upgrading your PHP version.

WordPress works with PHP versions as far back as 5.6.20, but with 2020 right around the corner, the WordPress community is urging people to upgrade to the latest version (currently 7.3). Let’s go over how to update your PHP version for your WordPress website.

Check out this timeline visualization below from PHP’s official website that shows when versions will no longer be supported.

PHP Version Active Support Timeline Visualization 1
PHP Version Active Support Timeline Visualization Key

What is PHP?

PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) is the server-side programming language used by WordPress to build and maintain all WordPress websites. In fact, PHP powers 70% of all websites. Since PHP is a “server-side” language, even a computer or device with a powerful processor can’t process PHP quickly from a slow server. PHP works by pulling information from your site’s database, packaging it as CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), and then using that information to create what your website visitors ultimately see.

As we mentioned in our blog post about caching, PHP allows for interactive and dynamic features that aren’t possible using just HTML. Like any software, the newer versions of PHP are both faster and more secure.

Why Updating PHP Matters

When you have the most updated version of PHP, you can rest assured that you’ll notice the benefits. Most people find a considerable improvement in site performance and speed. You can check your website’s speed for free using Google PageSpeed Insights. A faster website could lead to more conversions and a lower bounce rate.

In the backend of your WordPress website, you should see a “Site Health” section found under “Tools”. The Site Health section shows you the current PHP version you’re using. If you aren’t able to figure out your PHP version this way, try installing and using the free Display PHP Version plugin.

Display PHP Version WordPress Plugin

With an open source programming language like PHP, you have to keep in mind that it’s maintained by a community of programmers, and therefore your site could be vulnerable to hackers.

The cost of a hacked website (including damage to your reputation) is much more than the effort involved in ensuring your PHP version is up-to-date and your site is secure.

Steps to Update PHP for WordPress Websites

Let’s go over how to update your PHP version of your WordPress website in five straightforward steps.

PHP Update for WordPress Security Message

1) Back up your website

Backing up your website is an essential part of doing your due diligence before an update of any kind. Be sure to back up your website files and your database prior to any major change you make. Also, check in with your web development team. As we mentioned in our article about preparing for a major WordPress update, you and your team want to be on the same page and stay in control when you hit the update button.

2) Update Your WordPress version, themes, and plugins

PHP issues are typically due to out-of-date code, so it’s best to upgrade your plugins, theme, and WordPress version first.

3) Confirm Compatibility

Upgrading everything on your WordPress website requires confirming that all the features you updated will be compatible, which you can do with the PHP Compatibility Checker plugin from WP Engine. Keep in mind that the plugin is not 100% reliable because it hasn’t been tested with recent WordPress versions. However, it does usually work and it’s simple and free to download the plugin.

PHP Compatability Checker Plugin

4) Update your PHP version

One of the most straightforward ways to update your PHP version is through your hosting provider. Your hosting provider should have directions on how to find PHP upgrade options on their site.

First, log in to your web hosting control panel. Then, find the PHP section and click to upgrade the PHP version of your website. Your web hosting support team can help you troubleshoot any issues.

5) Test and triple check everything on your website

Test all features and plugins across your website to make sure nothing is broken.

Wrapping It Up…

Websites that don’t have up-to-date PHP versions sooner than later could have to deal with security issues and other negative consequences. If you work with a website support or development team for your site, communicate with them to make sure they’re on top of it.

Want to know more about how our team of experts here at Chainlink can help your business make sure your website is in good shape? Reach out to us below for a free consultation. Also, don’t forget to sign up for our weekly newsletter for more of our insights!

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