PHP 8 has been released and will be in full effect and likely in use by your hosting provider starting January 2022. If you value your website running smoothly and securely here are some things you should know.
Why is the PHP 8 update important?
PHP is a preferred and flexible language for web development. WordPress is one of the platforms that it runs on. It is a key component for speed, bug fixes, and security.
The current PHP lifecycle is on a 2 year period for each version and has been this way since version 5.6 reached its end of life. See https://www.php.net/supported-versions.php for more details on the lifecycle and supported versions.
Only critical security updates will be done to the PHP version after the two-year period. So once the three-year mark is hit, the version is declared deprecated and is no longer supported. For more on the end-of-life branches, PHP has them listed here: https://www.php.net/eol.php
Now, your current website may be running just fine on an unsupported version of PHP, but we caution you that many shared hosting vendors will eventually “push” websites to the most stable version. This is done in an effort to ensure that older and more insecure web applications aren’t putting other clients at risk.
In recent years this push to a more recent version of PHP has caused some WordPress websites troubles with logging in (critical errors once logged in), not allowing admin users to see the back-end options, disable important features provided by plugins or themes, caused errors to display for the user, or simply cause the site to go blank!
What does that mean for WordPress and your website?
Your hosting vendor may automatically bump PHP from 7.4 to 8 and you will likely see this go into effect sooner than later. Many hosting vendors such as WPEngine only allow the two most recent versions. So if you decide to possibly move to host with them, be prepared to use 7.4 as of March 2021.
Other vendors may permit the user to change between versions (even ones that are depreciated). SiteGround is one of these vendors. However, there is typically discontinuation of support slated for the end of 2021 for PHP versions 7.2, 7.1, 7.0, and 5.6. In this case, 7.3 will be the minimum supported version starting December 31, 2021. For more on this development see: https://www.siteground.com/blog/moving-to-php-7-4/
The scheduled end-of-life for 7.4 is November 28th, 2022. That is an important date to keep in mind when undergoing any kind of maintenance or considerations for updating your website as you look toward next year.
What are my possible next steps?
At 4CDesignWorks, we suggest routine maintenance for your WordPress site. As part of these considerations to hosting vendors and their capabilities are often a discussion point. Those that offer the ability to create a staging environment and run initial testing are very beneficial. This way, a testing site can be created with the option to update the PHP version (7.4 or 8) to check if the website breaks completely, or if only certain portions of the site need to be adjusted.
If the site breaks in a way where there are just too many components that don’t work as desired, the option may be to go through a website refresh or even a rebuild.
We’ve had clients in this situation decide to rebuild their WordPress website to get get the benefits of recent features and not get ‘stuck’ attempting to band-aide older technology AND get a bit of a visual face-lift at the same time. Many of these sites have been in operation for 4+ years and the organization is completely different or has shifted strategies in light of the pandemic.
Confused by this PHP 8, WordPress, and hosting stuff and want to talk?
We can understand that! With websites (and WordPress websites in particular) there is often a lot of moving parts and how hosting, PHP, and even WordPress itself interact can be a bit of a chore to keep up with. Reach out to contact us and let’s talk about your options!