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PHP 5.6 and 7.1 are being retired – what that means for your website

December 20, 2018
Larry Vollmer
Larry Vollmer
Senior Web Dev Manager

PHP.net will end support for PHP 5.6 and 7.1 in December 2018 in favor of PHP 7.2. So, what does that mean for your website?

First off, you might be wondering, what the heck is PHP anyway? The simple answer is that PHP is an open source server-side language that is used for creating dynamic web pages. Any time you log into a website, submit a form, place an order for something, etc., there’s a very good chance that those website functions were built with PHP.

Many popular CMSs, like WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal are built with PHP. Many of the websites running on those CMSs are likely running on PHP version 5.6 or 7.1. Most web hosts will automatically upgrade their servers to run on PHP 7.2, and that could have implications for your website if you have not updated your CMS, plugins, or codebase in a while.

If you are using old, outdated code there may be areas of your website that will break once this upgrade occurs. Many functions that were available in PHP 5.6 and 7.1 will become deprecated, and this could cause areas of your website to become broken. Luckily, there are measures you can take to avoid any downtime on your website.

If your website is running on WordPress, there is an awesome open source plugin that WP Engine has built called PHP Compatibility Checker.  All you have to do is install the plugin, run the report, and it will let you know whether or not your site is ready to migrate over to PHP 7.2. If there are areas of your site that are not ready, the plugin identifies those areas so that you can update your code accordingly.

If you’re using another CMS or homegrown application running on PHP 5.6, the best course of action is:

  1. Spin up a new development environment wherever your website is hosted and make sure it is running on PHP 7.2.
  2. Migrate your existing database and server files to the new environment.
  3. Go through your entire website that is living on the new environment and check for bugs, outages, and broken forms.
  4. In your browser, check the console in inspector tools to make sure there are no additional errors on your website lurking in the background.
  5. Update any deprecated code accordingly to meet PHP 7.2 standards.

This all sounds like a nuisance, but upgrading to PHP 7.2 has a lot of benefits. PHP 5.6 stopped receiving active support on January 19, 2017, and has now moved onto the critical security phase. These security updates will end on December 31, 2018. Without updating to PHP 7.2, there will be major security implications introduced in the coming years that will allow hackers to take down your website.  Additionally, PHP 7.2 is twice as fast as 5.6, so you will see some performance upgrades right off of the bat.

If performing this update sounds like a daunting task for you, get in touch with us here at ROI·DNA and we can help you out!