- What does it mean to upgrade your version of PHP? (start using a newer, better version of PHP to run your site)
- Why should you do it? (your site will load faster and be more secure)
- How often should you? (check the releases, but generally…maybe twice a year)
- Will it hurt? (not if you are doing other stuff right – keeping your themes, plugins and version of WordPress up to date)
Here is what the WordPress community has to say about upgrading your version of php (hint: they’re all for it). Basically, PHP (which stands for Php Hypertext Preprocessor – pretty cute, that) is the language that runs a WordPress site. Periodically a new version is developed and released, usually running things faster, better while using fewer resources. Doing more with less. The big change was the release of PHP 7.0 in 2015, but as of Nov 2018 we are already up to 7.3
Overall, PHP 7 is faster, more secure, and significantly more resource efficient than older versions. To give you an example, a site running PHP 7 can handle twice as many visitors as PHP 5 can, using the same amount of memory.
It’s generally agreed that you should aim to be on the latest secure release, not the most recent bleeding edge one. (though most people are lagging behind updating PHP 7.0 – only less than 1 in 5 sites as of 2018) And it’s further agreed that you should probably not experience any problems from upgrading to a higher version of PHP.
If you use plugins, themes or scripts on your site that rely on outdated PHP code and you upgrade to a newer version of PHP, the changes from the upgrade would cause old code on your site to be incompatible and break.
It’s not a bad idea to check if your site will be okay with a newer version of PHP by using a plugin like Compatibility Checker. If you’re always updating WordPress and using reputable, premium, well-supported plugins and themes, you should be all ready to move forward. However, if your plugin or theme is not being updated frequently, it may not play nicely with a newer version of PHP. To be honest, you may already be aware of which theme or plugin might cause a problem if something crashed your site after a WordPress version update. (Remember, if you can’t access the dashboard, you can sftp in or use the cpanel to easily rename and disable your plugins and themes one by one till your site comes back up and you identify the culprit).
A reputable webhost will have the latest couple of versions of PHP available to you to select from via the cpanel. Remember, you may not be able to upgrade if you’re on a managed WordPress plan (at least from GoDaddy). And you should always have a backup of your site (files and database) in case things go sideways and you need to restore.