Code powers everything we see online – whether we’re browsing Facebook or shopping on Amazon.
However, these languages only work once the HTML is loaded. Behind the scenes, programmers use different kinds of programming language, known as “back-end” or “server-side” languages.
That’s what we’re talking about today.
Most of what you see on your WordPress site—from your dashboard to your plugins—exists because of the programming language is known as PHP.
In December of 2015, the latest update to PHP was announced—taking the place of the previous version, PHP 5.
Over the last 3 years, PHP 5 has been slowly phased out, and now, after over a decade of use, we’re at PHP 5.6 EOL (End of Life). In January 2017, PHP 5.6 stopped receiving active support, only receiving critical security updates as needed. On December 31, 2018, this branch of PHP will no longer receive any support.
What are the WordPress Benefits of Updating to PHP 7?
Because the older versions of PHP will no longer receive support after December, failing to update to PHP 7 will result in a slower, less secure, and less functional WordPress site.
With new and modernized features, along with a much-needed boost to efficiency, PHP 7 is the best update yet. Here are 3 great benefits of making the switch to this newest version:
1. Your website will run faster (and perform better in search results)
PHP 5.6 consumes more memory, so that means it’s less efficient and runs much slower than the newer versions. As a result, sites running the older version have a higher bounce rate and rank lower in search.
2. Your website will be more secure
Older versions of PHP will no longer be supported, which can leave your site vulnerable to security breaches. The potential cost to both your wallet and your reputation in the event of a hack if you choose not to update to PHP 7 far outweigh the minor inconvenience of making the switch to the newest version.
3. Some new plugins may be incompatible with older versions of PHP
Because PHP 7 is now the officially recommended minimum requirement to run WordPress, most plugins and themes will be incompatible with older versions of PHP. That means you’ll likely see decreased functionality in your site.
Given the benefits of updating to PHP 7 (and the risks of failing to do so), can you really afford not to make the switch?
How Do I Upgrade to PHP 7?
In most cases, you can easily change over to the updated version of PHP by either contacting your hosting service or by accessing the back end of your hosting account.
If you have full privileges on your server, you will be able to upgrade to PHP 7 yourself using your command line. However, if you are using shared or managed hosting, you may need to ask your provider’s support team to perform the update.
If you’re the one performing the upgrade, we’ve put together a handy step-by-step guide to walk you through the process:
1. Find out which version of PHP your site is currently running
You can check which version of PHP your site is currently running by accessing the back end of your hosting account. In the menu called “PHP Settings” or “PHP Version Manager,” you’ll be able to check which version of PHP your site is currently running, and you may even be able to easily upgrade from here (more on that in step 5).
Some plugins are also available that do the work for you. Simply search “Display PHP Version” from the WordPress dashboard. Then install and activate the plugin to see which version your site is currently running.
If your site is currently running PHP 7, congrats! There’s nothing more to do. If not, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
2. Backup your current site in case something goes wrong
There are some risks to updating to the newest version since some elements of your site may be incompatible. In that case, you might see some malfunctions, so you’ll definitely want a backup available.
There are many plugins you can use to backup your website, and you can find one by performing a search in your WordPress dashboard.
In fact, it’s always a good idea to use an automated backup plugin even if you’re not undergoing a major upgrade. You never know it’ll come in handy.
3. Update everything
Ideally, you’ve been keeping up with your WordPress updates, but if not, now’s the time. Head over to your WordPress dashboard and update all.
After the updates are completed, check the front end of your website to make sure everything is still working as expected.
4. Check the compatibility of PHP 7 with your current WordPress site.
Some elements of your site may not work with the newest version of PHP. Luckily, you don’t have to go through the tedious process of manually testing each theme and plugin.
WordPress suggests the PHP Compatibility Checker plugin to check for possible issues. If your compatibility checker plugin detects any problems, contact the theme or plugin developer and ask them to look into the issue. If the developer fails to fix the issue, install an alternative.
Note that it is possible to encounter a false flag or for the checker to miss something, but, in most cases, the plugin is accurate.
5. Upgrade to PHP 7
The time has come to finally make the switch.
Because your PHP version is set by your server, the exact process of updating changes depends on your provider. Thankfully, WordPress has requested that each hosting company submit upgrade instructions, and you can find that information here.
In many cases, switching to the newest version is as simple as navigating to that PHP Settings menu that we used in step 1 and selecting the version of PHP to which you want to upgrade.
If your host isn’t on the list or you’re unsure how to proceed, you’ll want to contact that provider for guidance.
6. Check your site
The only thing left to do is to make sure everything is running smoothly. Poke around the front end of your website and check every page. You’ll also want to test your various plugins and theme features.
If you followed the previous steps, it’s unlikely that you’ll encounter any issues. However, if something does go wrong, you may need to restore your backup version and contact either your hosting company or a professional web developer.
If everything is working as expected, then you’re good to go! You should now see a marked improvement in the speed and functionality of your WordPress site.