Which PHP Version to Use With WordPress? — The Guide

Which PHP Version to Use With WordPress?

PHP versions, what are they? And why should you care? Just as you may speak English, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish or one of the many other languages in the world. There are also various languages for programming.

One such language is PHP, the language that WordPress is predominantly written in. And the language version number your site uses can have a significant impact on your website’s loading times.

In this guide, we’ll be exploring more about which PHP version to use for WordPress, along with the implications of using older PHP versions.

Without further ado, let’s get started!

What PHP Versions are Compatible With WordPress?

Now, WordPress works with PHP versions as old as PHP 5.6, along with:

  • PHP 7.0
  • PHP 7.1
  • PHP 7.2
  • PHP 7.3
  • PHP 7.4

However, all PHP versions prior to PHP 7.3 are end of life (EOL), meaning they no longer receive updates. Because of this, your site may be exposed to security vulnerabilities.

WordPress themselves recommend running PHP 7.3 as a minimum and also state:

“Note: WordPress also works in legacy environments with PHP 5.6.20+ and MySQL 5.0+. But these versions have reached official end-of-life and, as such, may expose your site to security vulnerabilities.”

It’s not just the security implications though of running an older PHP version, it’s the performance impact as well. According to PHPBenchmarks, PHP 5.6 is at least 47% slower than PHP 7.3

Such a vast difference in performance is incredible. Imagine updating your PHP and seeing an instantaneous performance rise of 47%! There’s nothing else you can do to your website that’d have such a tremendous impact on load times in such a short space of time.

How to Find out Which PHP Version You’re Using

Now you understand more about the performance gains you can get from upgrading your WordPress PHP version, how do you go about finding out which PHP version you’re currently using?

In WordPress 5.2, a tool was introduced called “Health Check” before this Health Check was a separate plugin that you could install.

In this guide, we’ll assume you are using WordPress version 5.2 or above, and if you aren’t, definitely update ASAP!

Head over to your wp-admin and hover over “Tools”:

Tools toolbar section on the WordPress dashboard

You should see “Site Health.” Go ahead and click that. And then you’ll be on the main Site Health tab that’ll show various information and highlight aspects that need attending to. Click on the “Info” tab:

WordPress dashboard site health information section

You’ll see various items that you can click on, but the one that we care about is the server. Click that, and you’ll then see the server information like so:

Server information screen on the WordPress dashboard

Under the PHP version, you can see our test site is running PHP 7.3, so we’re all good! But what if we were running an older version of PHP? Like PHP 5.6? Let’s take a look at what we’d need to do to upgrade it.

The Advantages of Upgrading Your PHP Version:

Advantage 1: Speed

Ok, ok. We talk about speed a lot, but it’s a critical factor of any good website. You could have the best product in the world, the most beautiful website. Yet if it loads slowly, no one is going to buy your product or stay on your website.

Advantage 2: Increased Security

If you’re running either PHP 5.6, PHP 7.0, or PHP 7.1, did you know that your website isn’t protected?

That’s right, all those PHP versions are what’s known as EOL or end of life. That means they don’t receive any updates, whether that be for security or bug fixes.

By using an older version of PHP, you are automatically putting your website in danger. Even those who are running PHP 7.2 are at risk with support ending soon.

While we aren’t saying you’re going to be hacked if you are using an older PHP version, it certainly plays into the nefarious hands of the third-party. Keep safe and upgrade to PHP 7.3 or PHP 7.4.

Advantage 3: Maintained

Maintenance. What happens when there’s a bug in PHP? Well, what happens in most instances is at some point, the bug is fixed, and web hosting companies automatically apply the patch to their servers, and you never even notice.

Yet…what about bugs when a PHP version is EOL? Well, unfortunately, you’re out of luck! The only way you can fix it is by upgrading to a newer PHP version.

Upgrading when it isn’t critical (e.g., your website isn’t broken) is much safer, as the upgrade isn’t done in a hurry, and you have more time to test.

But having to upgrade because there’s a problem with the version you currently use isn’t ideal at all.

Greater compatibility with newer software

We’re already seeing WordPress plugins like MailPoet shift to dropping support within their plugin for older PHP versions.

If you try and use MailPoet with PHP 5.6, you’ll just see an error notice asking you to upgrade.

And this is a trend that’ll continue as newer versions of PHP introduces new features and functionality that developers want to implement within their software, and often to do this they have to drop support for older PHP versions.

The latest version of WooCommerce also dropped support for PHP 5.6. While as an end-user, you may feel hard done by to no longer have your software work with older PHP versions, developers are doing it with your best interests at heart as well.

Disadvantages of Using an Older PHP Version

PHP Errors

Have you ever upgraded your WordPress version, a plugin, or a theme and then come across an unexpected error?

Maybe you’ve seen something like:

PHP Parse error: syntax error, unexpected ‘::’ (T_PAAMAYIM_NEKUDOTAYIM)

This is an error that you’ll see if you upgrade to something that uses the double colon operator, and your website runs a PHP version less than 5.3.

Or maybe you’ve seen an error like this:

Parse error: syntax error, unexpected ‘’ (T_VARIABLE), expecting function (T_FUNCTION)

Again this error is something you’ll see if you use a PHP version that’s older than 5.3, and you upgrade a plugin or theme that doesn’t support such an old PHP version.

As we mentioned above, most plugins now require PHP 5.6 as a minimum, a few require PHP 7, and some recommend PHP 7.3 as a minimum.

In short, you want to make sure you are using the newest WordPress PHP version, both for performance and to prevent any unexpected errors.

How to Safely Upgrade Your WordPress PHP Version

Now upgrading your PHP version doesn’t have to be scary or feel like taking a leap into the unknown.

Of course, as with anything that revolves around software or anything technical, there is always the possibility of issues arising, whether that be in the shape of bugs, failed upgrades, or anything in-between.

That’s why we’re showing you how to safely upgrade your PHP version and remember if you still aren’t happy about performing it yourself, you can always hire a professional through a service such as Codeable for doing it for you.

Exactly how you upgrade your WordPress PHP version will largely depend on who you host with. Most managed WordPress hosts already have detailed guides that you can follow (we’ll link to those below).

But we’re also going to show you how to upgrade your WordPress PHP version using Siteground, why Siteground? Simply because Siteground is our recommended host that offers blazing-fast managed WordPress hosting at great prices.

So before we get started with showing you how to upgrade your PHP version, let’s first start with making sure you’re doing it safely.

Step 1: Use a Staging Site

Ideally, you’ll first have an exact replica of your website in a development environment (also known as a staging site) where you can apply the PHP version change to check before upgrading your live site.

The benefits of using a staging site over a live site are numerous and include:

  • No revenue loss — If you upgrade your live website and it breaks, you’re going to lose revenue one way or another. By breaking a staging site and fixing it, you can then upgrade your live site safely.
  • Time — When you upgrade your WordPress PHP version on a staging site, you have time on your side, you can test over a couple of days and ensure everything works fine. When you upgrade on a live site, you’ll be testing quickly. You can easily miss things that are broken, causing a negative user experience.
  • Reputation stays intact — If you upgrade your live website and it breaks, your reputation is going to take a hit, and people may stop visiting your site. By upgrading on your staging site, should any issues arise, then you can solve them first without damaging your reputation.

Step 2: Backup Your Website First

While this should go without saying, it’s absolutely crucial that you backup your WordPress website first. How though?

Head on over to your wp-admin > plugins > add new and search for “Updraft”:

Updraft Plus plugin search on the WordPress dashboard

Click on “Install now” and then click activate and you’ll be taken to the tour/setup wizard:

Installed and activated UpdraftPlus plugin

Click on “Press here to start!”. And then on the next page click “Backup now”:

Initiating the first backup on UpdraftPlus
Starting a new backup on UpdraftPlus

Ensure that “Include your database in the backup” and “include your files in the backup” is checked (it should be by default).

Once you’re happy with everything, click on “Backup now” within the modal.

Depending on the size of the backup, it’ll take from a couple of minutes to 30 minutes or so. Once the backup is complete you’ll see a success message, and you should see an existing backup in your list:

Downloading your backups on the UpdraftPlus plugin

And congrats! You’ve now successfully backed up your WordPress website, ready to upgrade your WordPress PHP version. But where is the backup stored?

Well, by default, the backup is stored on your server, so you’ll want to download that. Here’s how.

Step 2a: Downloading Your Backup

In your wp-admin > Settings > UpdraftPlus Backups, scroll down to existing backups, and you should see all your backups listed like so:

Downloading your backups on the UpdraftPlus plugin

Here you can click on each item:

  • Database
  • Plugins
  • Themes
  • Uploads
  • Others

Clicking on an item will find the item on your server and then allow you to download the file to your computer.

So go ahead and click on each one and download it. Once everything has been downloaded, you can be more at ease with upgrading your PHP version, knowing you can restore your website should the worst happen.

Step 3: Ask Your Host

Your host is another way to upgrade your PHP version safely, still don’t forget to take a backup first (after all things can go wrong). But generally, your host will be able to report any issues and check your website’s error log for you.

In fact, we’d actually recommend asking your host to upgrade your PHP version before doing it yourself or hiring an expert. And because of that, we’ve written a short template letter you can send to your host.

“Hi there,

I’d like the PHP version of my WordPress website to be upgraded to at least PHP 7.3 for the performance and security benefits.

Can you please upgrade my PHP version for me and let me know if subsequently there are any new errors in my website’s error log caused by the PHP upgrade?

Thanks!”

Straightforward and to the point. In our experience, most web hosts are more than happy to upgrade your WordPress PHP version for you.

Step 4: Hire an Expert

The final step to safely upgrading your WordPress PHP version is to hire an expert. Yes, while it’ll cost you a little money, the peace of mind is often worth it.

You can find experts to help you at various job boards such as:

Of course, keep in mind when hiring someone, it’s like giving them the keys to your house, you need to trust them and be confident they know what they are doing. How can you stay safe?

  1. Give them their own account — don’t share your own passwords and accounts. Create them new unique accounts.
  2. Ask questions.
  3. Research them — do they have a background in what you need done? Can you find any negative reviews of them online?

As a general guide, unless you have a crazy complex website, it shouldn’t take someone more than 3 hours to upgrade your PHP version and test the website that everything works.

Upgrading Your PHP Version with Siteground

Step 1: Access Development Tools

Open up your Siteground control panel for your website, and you should see something like this:

SiteGround hosting dashboard screenshot

On the left-hand side you’ll see a menu item called “Devs”. Click on that and you’ll see the PHP Manager:

SiteGround hosting PHP manager on the dev tools

Step 2: Managing Your PHP Version With Siteground

With the PHP manager open, your screen should like this:

SiteGround hosting PHP manager on the dev tools

Now you’ll see a couple of different things here, including:

  • Current version — the current version of PHP that is being used for your WordPress website. In our case, this is PHP 7.1.
  • PHP Variables — You don’t need to worry about this section. This is to enable and disable different variables and modules of PHP. In 99.99% of instances, you’ll never need to touch this.

Click on the pencil icon under the “PHP version” section:

Arrow pointing to the PHP manager on the SiteGround hosting dashboard

You’ll now see that there’s an option of both managed PHP and unmanaged PHP. However, managed PHP isn’t available on all Siteground plans, only those that are part of their “Managed WordPress plans”.

change php version menu on siteground

If you leave your version as “Managed PHP” Siteground will automatically upgrade the server your website is hosted on to the latest stable version of PHP that they support.

Step 3: Switching Your PHP Version

Sometimes the managed PHP version isn’t suitable for your website though after all our website is set to PHP 7.1. Still, we could see performance improvements with PHP 7.4. What do we do?

Click in the dropdown box under “Set PHP version” and select “Change PHP version manually.

selecting option on siteground to select php version

You’ll then be able to see the various versions of PHP that you can upgrade and downgrade from/to:

selecting php version on siteground

In this instance we want our website to use the latest version of PHP which is PHP 7.4.2. Click on that, then click “confirm” and you should see a success message:

Success screen after changing the PHP version on the SiteGround Hosting

And that’s it! You’ve now successfully upgraded your PHP version on Siteground.

Updating Your PHP Version Manually on Your Server

If you run your own server either as a dedicated server or a VPS (Virtual Private Server), then you’ll want to take a look at PHP’s official documentation on migrating your PHP version.

If you run your server on a platform like SeverPilot then you can upgrade your PHP version quickly and easily. Here’s how.

Upgrading Your PHP Version Using ServerPilot

Open up your SeverPilot account and click on “Apps”, then click the app name. You should then see a page like this:

server pilot dashboard

Then where you see “PHP version” click on the pencil icon next to that and you can then select the PHP version you want from the displayed dropdown:

selecting php version on serverpilot

Select the PHP version you want from the dropdown list (in our case that’s PHP 7.4) and then click on “Update”.

Your PHP version will be changed and that should reflect in your app like so:

server pilot dashboard

Congrats! You’ve now successfully updated your PHP version using ServerPilot.

Conclusion

Upgrading your WordPress PHP version is vital for both the performance and security of your website.

Although it may seem overwhelming at first, upgrading is more straightforward than it first appears, and whether you upgrade the version yourself, ask your hosting company or hire an expert, there’s a solution for everyone.

Have you upgraded your PHP version? Or maybe you’ve run into an issue when upgrading your PHP version? Let us know in the comments below.

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8 comments

  1. Thanks very much. most people keep saying PHP 5.6 is the best and most recommeded for a wordpress website. You have given me enough reasons why I should upgrade to the latest php version.

  2. I’ve try to upgrade from 7.2 to 7.3 many times during the last year, but each time I had to go back because my site won’t load… blank page. As soon as I return to 7.2, everything comes back to normal. In a local environement, I works fine, but as soon as I try on a live site, it crash.

    1. Hey Stephane,

      The reason behind you seeing a blank page on your website may be because one of the plugins on your website is not compatible with PHP version 7.3.
      You can try updating the PHP version on the staging site, enable WordPress debug logs on your site and upgrade to PHP 7.3. You will be able to see error log on your site OR wp-content/debug.log file. This log will help you find the error coming from the plugin. The plugin author should be able to help you handle this further. 🙂

  3. visionrouge.net

    Thanks, I’m upgrading from php7.0 to 7.4 but now have a blank screen to start,
    So I guess I need to check each plugin on by one..

    1. Hello there,

      Yes, that would be the correct way.

      Or checking the debug log for any errors related to any plugin or theme and contact the respective plugin or theme author.

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