What is PHP?
PHP may be something that you have never heard of, or even know is part of your WordPress website. Essentially PHP is the programming language that powers the data side of WordPress.
Which version of PHP do I need?
PHP has been sat at version 5.6 in a stable state for around 4 or 5 years but it has now reached the end of its life, which means its time to upgrade. At the time of writing this post WordPress recommend using version 7.3 or higher. You can see a full list of the WordPress version requirements here.
How to upgrade PHP?
The answer to this will vary depending on the type of hosting you use. This is not something you can do through the WordPress dashboard as it tied to the server from your hosting provider. Dedicated or cloud servers will require you to get in on the command line and change the version in there. For CPanel users there is a PHP management option that allows you select a different version of PHP from a dropdown and set it. The same goes for managed hosting, you can usually login to your dashboard and select your PHP version from that admin area.
How will upgrading PHP affect my website?
This is a bit of an unknown, all WordPress websites are so dramatically different in terms of themes and plugins that it can affect them in different ways. A clean WordPress build will update to the latest version of PHP with no issues. But the majority of your websites functionality is handled through plugins and these may not be compatible with the new version of PHP.
I recommend backing up your website before attempting to upgrade PHP and create a staging version if possible. Then from that staging version you can update PHP in isolation and see what happens without it affecting your live website. I would thoroughly recommend testing all functionality of your website including contact forms, admin tools and checkout process.
What happens if I don’t upgrade PHP?
Staying on an older version of PHP means you will no longer be able to update to the latest versions of WordPress, themes and plugins. This leaves your website vulnerable and open to security breaches. This means you stand to lose not only all of your personal data, but also the data of all your sites users, members or customers. This leaves you liable to legal action, so it is quite a serious thing.
If you need help upgrading your version of PHP then please feel to get in contact.