Updating the PHP version of your WordPress site

Hands typing on a laptop If you have a WordPress site, this means your site is built in PHP. PHP has been around for a long time, and there are a few versions our there, but the most up to date version of PHP is PHP 7 (you may see PHP 7.0 – 7.2…). The release of PHP 7 in 2015 came with many benefits, many of them related to how easy php is to write, but the one you should be the most excited about is the optimized site speed – up to twice as fast as old versions of PHP! Recently, WordPress has been pushing all WordPress powered sites to update to PHP 7. This is all great and dandy, unless your site is running on an old version of PHP and you need to update it. How the heck do you do so safely? Following these steps will ensure your site can be updated to the newest version of PHP safely!

Use a PHP Compatibility Checker

You’ll want to check to ensure all the plugins, and your theme are compatible with PHP 7. Thankfully, there’s a plugin for that! Download and activate the PHP Compatibility Checker plugin, created by the wonderful people at WP Engine.

Once you download the plugin, “Start Scan”. Here, you can scan your website, themes and plugins for compatibility with the different PHP versions.

PHP compatibility checker scan site option

Next choose the PHP version you want to scan for (minimum of PHP 7), and if you want to scan EVERYTHING or just the active themes and plugins. Then press scan site.

WP Compatibility Scan Options

This will scan through everything you have on your site and give you a report on what is or isn’t compatible with the newest version of PHP. How long the scan may take will vary depending on how many plugins your site relies upon.

Report from WP compatibility checker

You can toggle details to find out more about the error displaying. Generally, so long as you use high-quality plugins, and keep everything up-to-date, you should be getting pretty high results here.

If you are in the green, you are good to go to update your PHP version!

But what if you are not…

Dealing with the Errors

Maybe some of your plugins are giving you an error when you run the report. What do you do?

Test updating the site on a staging site

Most good WordPress hosting (We love WPEngine, FlyWheel or Siteground) offer a staging site. A staging site is an exact copy of your WordPress site that lives in a different spot, so you can update your site without affecting the live site.

Once you have a your staging site in place – update the PHP version of the staging site. Here you can test if the plugins are playing nice with your new version of PHP.

If your site looks broken, one by one, deactivate your plugins and check if your site is back up and running each time you do so. If so, know which plugin is causing the issue.

Ensure there is not a plugin update

Screenshot of where WordPress plugins display when they were last updated

Good quality plugins should be updated regularly to keep up with these changes. You can see the last time the plugin was updated by visiting the plugins site and seeing when it was last updated. You should only choose plugins that have been updated recently.

Every time a plugin is updated, you have to pull the update into your own version of the plugin by visiting plugins and clicking update.

Vet the importance of the plugin or choose a better quality plugin

If a plugin is still giving you grief – decide how important this plugin is to your site. If this is something you can do without, then it isn’t worth keeping an outdated and poorly made plugin on your site. It is often these plugins that can open you up to site vulnerabilities anyway!

If you are using the plugin for something really important on your site, consider rebuilding it with a better quality plugin that is kept up to date and is compatible with new php versions.

Final thoughts

As the internet is constantly changing, so is our website, it’s dependencies and it’s needs. Overall, updating our site’s PHP version is going to benefit our site’s speed and security, just to name a few. Make sure you are choosing plugins and themes that are well made well and regularly updated, and updating to PHP should be smooth sailing!

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