I saw a message suggesting I should “update PHP”. What does that mean?

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When you use a script like WordPress on your website, it runs a software program called PHP on our servers. PHP “runs” the code in the script and generates the web pages people see.

Like any other software, PHP comes in different versions. The newest version is usually the fastest, and has the fewest bugs — but some older scripts may require an older versions of PHP because they aren’t compatible with the newest version.

We let customers choose between different versions of PHP dating back for six years, but you should usually choose the most recent version that’s compatible with your scripts.

On this page:

I know nothing about this. What should I do?

If you’re not sure what version of PHP to choose, do this after making sure to update your scripts (including applying all WordPress plugin and theme updates):

  1. Login to the “My Account” control panel (having trouble?)
  2. Click PHP Settings
  3. Choose the version of PHP marked “recommended for most customers
  4. Click Save Settings

That’s all it takes.

After doing this, check your website and make sure it still works as it did before. If it does (it usually will), you’re finished. If it doesn’t, choose the next oldest PHP version shown and try again. You can repeat that with older and older PHP versions until it works (if necessary, setting the PHP version back to what it originally was). If it only works with an old PHP version that says it will be removed from our servers soon, you can contact us for assistance.

Why do I need to update PHP?

Think about what happens when you install a new software app on your computer or phone. The authors of that software expect you to be using a reasonably modern operating system, too. You probably don’t worry about every last detail of what versions you’re using, but you might have problems if the operating system on your computer or phone hasn’t been updated for years. For example, if you try installing the latest Microsoft Office on an old Windows XP operating system, or if you try installing a new game on an old phone that hasn’t been updated for many years, it probably won’t work.

The same is true with scripts like WordPress, and with PHP. As you upgrade your scripts (“apps”) over time, you need to make sure you’re using a fairly recent version of PHP, the “operating system” those scripts run on.

People who create scripts usually write them to work with several different versions of PHP. But they do expect you to be using a version that’s fairly recent, not a version that’s many years old.

Fortunately, updating PHP is much easier than updating your computer or phone operating system — you just click the button in our control panel and it updates in a couple of seconds. (And unlike computer and phone upgrades, you can instantly click back to an older version of PHP if you have trouble.)

Why can’t I just use an old version of PHP forever?

The reason this won’t work is the same reason you can’t just use an old computer operating system (like Windows XP) forever. You’ll encounter more and more situations where things just don’t work properly.

Newer versions of PHP are more secure, have fewer bugs, run your scripts more quickly, and are more likely to be compatible with new scripts you install. Of course, that’s really just another way of saying that older versions of PHP are insecure, buggy, slow, and more likely to have compatibility problems.

People who write scripts (including scripts like WordPress plugins and themes) generally don’t use old PHP versions and don’t test their scripts to work on those old versions. They really want you to update PHP.

If you keep using a very old version of PHP, it’s likely that your site will eventually stop working when you install a script update (like a WordPress plugin update) that nobody ever tested with that old PHP version.

Aside from that, old versions of PHP eventually get removed from our servers anyway, as described in the next section. So using an old version forever isn’t possible: your site will be switched to a newer version of PHP at some point, even if you do nothing.

Why doesn’t Tiger Technologies update PHP for me?

We want all our customers to keep their scripts updated and use recent versions of PHP. But because we don’t actually know if you’re updating your scripts to be compatible with recent PHP versions, we can’t force you to update PHP as often as we think you should update it.

For example, if you hired someone to write a custom script for you ten years ago, and you’ve never updated that script, it’s possible that switching to a newer version of PHP might cause it to stop working. (This is similar to updating your computer operating system, where old programs may not work if you haven’t updated them for many years.)

Because of that, we let people use older versions of PHP much longer than we think think they should use them — but we strongly encourage you to update both your scripts and PHP on a regular basis.

If you ignore (literally years of!) our nagging, the PHP version on your site will eventually be “upgraded” when a very old version is entirely removed from our servers. But if that happens, you won’t have a chance to temporarily switch back to an older version of PHP if things don’t work properly. It’s far better to do it yourself, at a time when it’s convenient for you to test things afterwards.

(Also, if we did upgrade PHP for you automatically, things wouldn’t be very different. We’d still need to send you a notice similar to the one we send now, except it would say “we upgraded PHP for you and you should check your site” instead of “please upgrade PHP at a time convenient for you and check your site”. If we did it, and the upgrade did break your site, it would be “down” until you respond to the notice. That could be a problem, especially if you’re on vacation. Asking you to do it at a time when it’s convenient for you avoids downtime.)

What if I update PHP and then have problems?

You probably won’t notice any change after upgrading PHP, except that your site may run a little faster. Problems are rare if you’re using scripts that have been updated recently.

Still, after you choose a newer version of PHP in our control panel, you should test your site thoroughly. If you do see any problems, switch it to the next-older PHP version in our control panel and test it again. Continue testing and choosing older versions as necessary until it’s set back to the original version if you need to go that far. Your site will again work immediately, and you can let us know the details of the trouble you had. We’ll be glad to help.

That said, almost everyone who contacts us about this simply hasn’t first updated the scripts they use, such as all their WordPress plugins and themes. Be sure to do that before you update PHP.

Are there any technical guides about the differences between versions?

The PHP authors provide guides explaining the differences between versions. However, those are mostly for programmers; you probably don’t need to worry about that level of detail.