The end of support for PHP 7.4 (PHP 7.4 end of life) created quite a stir in the lives of website owners. As an implication of this, the PHP version won’t be receiving any security updates from 28th November 2022. Now, 60% of all websites built using PHP are still using the final version of the PHP 7 release branch. As a result, there will be huge repercussions for the entire web development space.
Two out of every five websites are built using WordPress, as revealed by W3Techs. In other words, 43.2% of all websites are powered by WordPress. Therefore, switching to PHP 8 will be of utmost importance for all WordPress users.
Compatibility of WordPress With PHP 8
WordPress 6.1 is completely compatible with PHP 8. You can use PHP 8.1 to install WordPress 6.1. When PHP 7.4 was launched, WordPress anticipated that they would offer complete support from the 5.3 version. Consequently, WordPress recommended PHP 7.4 as the most suitable PHP version compatible with all the important WordPress releases from the past couple of years.
PHP 8.0 was launched for the first time in two years. However, because of limitations in backward compatibility, the WordPress community was not able to make the most of this update. Till 28th November 2022, PHP 7.4 was the most popular and extensively used PHP version.
The latest releases WordPress 5.9 and 6.0, provided beta compatibility for PHP 8.0 and 8.1, but it still does not entirely support the new PHP 8 release branch.
Does WordPress 6.1 Support PHP 8?
WordPress says PHP 8 is the best bet for WordPress 6.0 and 6.1. But remember that it only has beta compatibility as of now. Nonetheless, it doesn’t lead to any functionality issues. WordPress version 6.1 also added beta support for PHP 8.2.
PHP 8.1 is the most recent PHP version, and WordPress encourages users to upgrade to PHP 8.1 to use the newest features and establish additional security.
The challenge is that even though the WordPress core has complete support for the PHP 8 release branch, PHP 8 does not support certain plugins and themes.
With that said, let’s understand the PHP 7.4 support lifecycle.
The PHP 7.4 Support Lifecycle
Every PHP version has a support lifecycle of three years, with active support for two years and critical security patching for one year. After the version completes three years from the initial release date, it reaches the end of life.
In the first two years, there are regular point releases to fix bugs and security issues. Then, users will get workarounds for critical security problems whenever needed.
As PHP 7.4 was launched in November 2019, active support ended in November 2021. In November 2022, it will reach the end of life. So, the PHP community will have to move to the current versions of PHP 8.
Here’s the entire breakdown showing the life cycle of different PHP versions.
What Will Happen If You Use PHP 7.4 Beyond Its End of Life?
PHP is the most popular server-side scripting language. 77.6% of all websites use it as the programming language, and it is employed by WordPress and other content management systems.
Every software program evolves over time to adapt to the user’s requirements and changing digital landscape. The same applies to PHP and WordPress. PHP launches new releases to put forward new updates, bug fixes and enhance the existing functionality. It improves the overall performance of the software. The only problem is that because of limited backward compatibility, there can be a decline in performance. Therefore, you ought to update the website coding at regular intervals as and when the new versions are released.
In case you are planning to stick to PHP 7.4 even after its end of life, you might have to face certain issues discussed below.
Challenges Of PHP 7.4
1. Your website stability will be hampered.
With the launch of PHP 8, some features of PHP 7.4 will stop working. There are several PHP 7.4 features that have become completely obsolete.
If you keep using PHP 7.4 even after updating WordPress to the latest 6.1 version, the application will keep showing warnings related to the outdated PHP version. Ultimately, it will lead to serious errors and disable the website. Updating the plugins and themes can also further aggravate the issue.
2. It will increase the security risks.
As mentioned before, when the PHP version comes to its end of life, there will be no security updates. Consequently, your website will be vulnerable to a huge range of security risks. It will increase the likelihood of a cyber attack.
Sadly, even powerful security plugins won’t be able to prevent these attacks. This risk will be directly proportional to the time for which you use the outdated version. Furthermore, because of the malicious software infiltration, you will have to spend additional money to get it fixed. Unfortunately, despite all these efforts, your website won’t perform as you expect it to. It brings us to the next point. ↓
3. Your website will show low performance.
Query caching and REST API optimizations are the most significant updates in WordPress 6.1. It has led to a huge improvement in the website’s performance.
With the release of PHP 8, the quality of code and code processing has become even better. However, all these updates will mean nothing if you don’t make the move from PHP 7.4. It will add up to the hosting and website maintenance costs. Also, you will have a hard time tackling the website traffic.
With that said, let’s see how PHP 8 will be a boon for your WordPress site.
Advantages of PHP 8 For The WordPress Site
1. It is completely compatible with WordPress 6.1
WordPress will support the entire PHP 8 release branch till the last minor release completes its three years and reach end of life.
2. You will be able to ward off the security threats.
PHP 8 will have active support from the community. As a result, all the security threats will get rapid patching, and the attack surface will be negligible.
3. The website will load without any lag.
As PHP 8 provides access to new features, the website will load faster, with a huge improvement in its performance.
4. There will be less possibility of any WordPress errors
Unlike PHP 7.4, the latest version, PHP 8, and WordPress 6.1 will help you steer clear of any errors and enhance your website development experience.
5. It will give a larger playground to the theme and plugin developers.
PHP 8 has brought in place an array of exciting features. It has, in turn, paved new avenues for the developers. It will also improve the overall experience for the website visitors.
That brings us to the last (and most important) section: Updating to PHP 8.
How to Update to PHP 8 Without Any Data or Functionality Loss?
More often than not, business owners dread updating their WordPress websites. They fear losing data or, in the worst cases bringing down their website.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you update to PHP 8 without any hassles.
1. Build a Staging Environment
With the help of a staging environment, you will be able to test new features and run the updates. If all goes well, you can then make all those changes live on the website.
Make sure you assess the main WordPress configuration file – wp-config.php on the staging website. It should have the right database connection information and other details.
2. Update the Website to WordPress 6.1 and PHP 8.1
After you have created the staging environment, update the copy of your live website to WordPress 6.1 and PHP 8.1. You will be able to do so from the admin dashboard and hosting control panel, respectively. You must ensure your active theme and plugins conform to their latest version. Use the WordPress dashboard or Command Line Interface in case they are not updated.
3. Test the WordPress website
Once you have completed steps 1 and 2, you will have to test the website. Test the web pages, forms, and every frontend and backend element that exists on your website.
Luckily, in most cases, you won’t see any glitches on the staging server after you move to PHP 8.1. However, it is still likely that your staging website will go down and displays some errors. Your plugins might not be compatible with PHP 8, and you might have to revise certain custom codes.
4. Try to Restore the Lost Functionality
First, disable all the plugins to determine the one that has led to the issues. Alternatively, you can use the default block themes by WordPress.
You might need to get in touch with the hosting provider’s support team to resolve some issues. Keep the culprit plugin disabled till the plugin developer releases the latest update supported by PHP 8.
5. Always Backup the Live WordPress Site
Make the changes to the production environment. Then, take a complete backup of the live WordPress website. It should have the website files existing on the disk and the WordPress database. This is the most critical step, as it will protect your website data from failed updates and cyber threats.
6. Make the Website Live
After running all the changes and backing up the website, push the website live. Check for all the plugins before making the website live.
7. Update the Live WordPress Site to PHP 8
Go to your hosting control panel and update to PHP 8.1. As you have the complete backup of your WordPress website, you can rest assured that your website will be flawlessly running in no time.
A huge range of new features awaits you in PHP 8, in addition to many other changes, backward incompatibility, and deprecated features. Through this comprehensive guide, we’ve attempted to clear the haze surrounding the transition to PHP 8. If you still need any assistance with your WordPress website running on PHP, our WordPress development services team would love to assist you.