Will Your Website Survive The Coming Change?

In WordPress Website Blog by Jordan

Is your website going to survive or crash?

Many website owners are hands-off when it comes to the details of the hosting with their website. Typically many website owners leave the these details to their web developers or web hosting companies take care with the basics of day-to-day handlings of their website hosting without much thought after the site has been launched. This is all good and dandy, up to a certain point. However, if you do not have a Fully Managed Web Hosting Solution with your current hosting provider or web manager, it can leave you and you business website at risk of crashing within the next 2-3 months.

What am I talking about?

An upcoming change is coming to all websites through their website hosting providers. These changes are mandatory and there is no choice in the matter, as PHP 5.6 has now reached its End-Of-Life.

What is PHP 5.6 and End-Of-Life?

Managed Web HostingWhen a software product reaches End-Of-Life (EOL), it is no longer supported by software developers. That means that, even if someone finds a security hole in the software, the developers will not fix it. Meaning that websites will tend to have issues, be easier to hack.

Websites that are built upon WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, and many other proprietary and popular website CMS systems are all written in a programming language called PHP. Many WordPress and other websites are still running on PHP version 5.6 to this day. However, support and updates for PHP 5.6 reached its end-of-life on December, 31st 2018. That was 29 days ago, at the time of writing.

Meaning that any sites using older versions of PHP within their code base are in a precarious position and will not become exploitable as new PHP 5.6 vulnerabilities emerge without security updates. In addition to PHP 5.6 having slower performing and less secure than newer versions of PHP, it will no longer be updated or supported in the future.

What is replacing PHP 5.6?

Depending upon your hosting provider, many are upgrading from 5.6 to 7.1, 7.2, or 7.3. The following table includes the important dates for PHP 5 and PHP 7 branches. You can find this table on this page on the PHP website.

PHP Version

Why should I care?

Virtually all website hosting providers are making this mandatory shift from PHP 5.6 to PHP 7.1 – 7.3 that will be performed here over the next 2-3 months. With this change it brings with it several potential issues that may occur when everyone is forced to upgrade their PHP version. Below is a list of several potential issues caused by this coming shift…

  1. The potential of breaking parts or entire websites due to use of outdated WordPress Themes, Plugins, and extensions on websites due to them no longer being updated by their developers and being incompatible with these changes.
  2. Those websites hosted with hosting companies that do not update are at risk of their websites being hacked and data vulnerable in the very near future due to PHP 5 no longer being supported.

Managed Web Hosting PHP UpdateWhat Benefits are there to this change?

  1. Site Compatibility and Security – Your website will be good to go for the next 2-3 years with the latest updates and security on the web.
  2. Enhanced Speed – One of the advantage of the new PHP 7.1+ is the compelling improvement of performance. The new feature of PHP 7 is that, not only the code will run faster but it will also need fewer servers to serve the same amount of users. Websites running WordPress 5.0 + WooCommerce 3.5.2 website running on PHP 7.1 runs approximately 100-200% faster, while running on PHP 7.3 would run up to approximately 200-300% faster.
  3. Improved Error Handling – Exception handling is one of the essential parts of the code. The exception handling saves the code in different situations. Various fatal errors have been converted to exceptions in PHP 7. If the exception is not caught, PHP will return the same fatal errors as it occurs in PHP 5.6 .
  4. Supports 64-bit windows systems – PHP is basically used on Linux environment but it is also possible that it can be executed on a Windows system. The PHP 5.6 doesn’t provide 64-bit integer or large file support, so until now x64 builds have been considered experimental in this version. The PHP 7 changed this as it introduced consistent 64-bit support i.e. both 64-bit integers and large files will be supported, allowing the programmer to run the language efficiently on his 64-bit Windows system.
  5. Accurate type declarations – The new PHP 7 enables developers to enhance the quality of their code with the help of return type declarations. The code below shows a very simple use case where the test () function returns an array.

How to prepare for the change…

  1. Check with your hosting provider on which PHP version they are upgrading to (7.1, 7.2, 7.3).
  2. Backup your website to preserve any data from loss.
  3. Update your theme and plugins to their latest versions that are compatible with hosting provider PHP coming updates to be compatible.

In extreme cases of outdated websites and plugins, the switch to a new website theme or to different plugins is necessary if they are no longer updated, compatible, or supported with these PHP changes by their developers.

If your theme or plugins do not have a recent update since December 1st,  2016 – December 1, 2019 of this year, it may not be compatible with PHP version 7.1. If the theme and plugins have not been updated since November 30th, 2017,  it will not be compatible with PHP 7.2, which many hosting providers are switching over to as it will be supported until November 30th, 2020. The most updated and latest themes on the market are using up to PHP 7.3 which was released on December 6th, 2018, which is good until December 6th, 2021.

How can I find out my PHP version?

If you are using WordPress and running the Wordfence security plugin, simply go to “Tools”, then click on the “Diagnostics” tab at the top right. Scroll down to the “PHP Environment” section and you will be able to see your PHP version on the right side of the page.

Alternatively, you can install this extremely basic plugin on your WordPress site which will display your PHP version. Please note that this plugin is not produced by the Wordfence team and we do not endorse it.

If you have FTP access to your website, you can create a file with a name that is hard to guess. Then add the following two lines:

<?php

phpinfo();

Save the file in your web root directory and then visit the file in your web browser. Your PHP version will be displayed at the top of the screen. Don’t forget to delete your temporary file once you’re done.

Which specific version of PHP should I upgrade to?

Ideally, you should upgrade to PHP 7.3 which is the newest version of PHP. This version will be fully supported for another year and will receive security updates for a year after that. However, you will have to upgrade to the minimum PHP version that your hosting provider requires, which could be 7.1, 7.2 or 7.3.

Managed Web HostingWill anything breaks if I update the PHP version?

You may discover incompatibilities that need to be fixed by a web developer if you update to PHP 7.1, 7.2 or 7.2. PHP has undergone some changes since version 5 which has improved the language and made it more secure but may result in warnings or errors for code that has not been made compatible with PHP 7.

If you are a WordPress user, WordPress core is fully compatible with the latest stable versions of PHP.

However, it is very important that you make sure that your themes and plugins are also compatible with the new PHP version. If you are using an unmaintained theme or plugin, you may encounter warnings, errors, or site crashes due to incompatibilities. For this reason, we recommend you test your website on a hosting account or server that is running the newer version of PHP. If you encounter any problems, contact the developer of the theme or plugin and ask them for an urgent fix. Remind them that PHP 5.6 reached the end-of-life and that you must update the PHP before your hosting provider does.

What if my hosting company does not support PHP 7.1+?

Your hosting account should include some kind of control panel or options and settings page. If you’re not seeing an option to upgrade the PHP, you should contact your hosting company’s support team to see what your options are. If none are available, we recommend you transition to new hosting asap. If you need help with this, please contact us and ask about our Fully Managed Web Hosting Solutions for your website.

What if my web developer does not support PHP 7.1+?

If your developer’s plugin, theme, or other PHP product does not support the newer PHP version at this point, it is quite likely that the theme or plugin is unmaintained. If the project was being maintained, then they would have had users who are using PHP report problems which they would have fixed. Using unmaintained software is a bad idea because it means that security vulnerabilities are not being fixed. So if you do encounter incompatibilities when upgrading to the latest PHP version, this may be a red flag and may indicate you should move on to using an alternative product that is being actively maintained. If you need help with a web design using the latest PHP, contact us for an estimate on your web project.

What is the easiest way to upgrade to PHP 7.2?

Many hosting providers offer a one-click PHP version change in cPanel. This allows you to switch to the latest version of PHP and check your site for problems. If something doesn’t work, you can switch back and create a plan for addressing the issues you found. If you can’t find where to update your PHP version, your hosting provider can advise you how to update PHP in their environment. It may mean them making a change on their end or even moving your website to another server or hosting provider. If you need help with this, please contact us and ask about our Fully Managed Web Hosting Solutions for your website.

Remind me again why I need to update to be PHP compatible?

If you remain on PHP 5.6, you may find yourself dealing with a crashed, disabled, non-functional website, or if on a bad hosting companies servers, you website may be hacked sometime soon when a vulnerability is released for PHP 5.6 and no fix is released by the PHP team because PHP 5.6 is end-of-life.

The really good news is that you are probably going to see a nice performance improvements when you update your site. Sure, you may need to deal with a few, hopefully, minor incompatibilities. But once you have updated to a newer version of PHP, you can rest assured that you will continue to receive security updates into the future.

How we help?

This End-of-Life has been reached, and now hosting companies are forcing the upgrades on their clients.

To help transition the global web community to new PHP versions, please spread the word by sharing this post and helping create awareness about this tight deadline and how to transition to PHP 7.

If you have a hosting provider that is not capable of updating on their server, your host is not updating their servers, or if your website theme and plugins are outdated and needs to be compatible, contact us.

Our Fully Managed Web Hosting Solutions for websites take care of all of these hosting updates as well as website plugin updates and theme updates to keep your website up-to-date and running with the latest updates and changes in technology.