Upgrading PHP

Since 2017, EWWW IO has joined an effort by a wide number of developers to encourage folks to upgrade PHP to a newer version. But perhaps that's like a foreign language to you, so I want to help you understand a few things:

  • What is the problem?
  • Why should we care?
  • Why do I expect you to do something about it?

Shortcut, if you don't care about the why, and just want to get rolling, make sure  your site is ready to upgrade, and then ask your webhost to find out how to do it (usually they will do it for you, but take a backup first). EWWW IO is currently supported on PHP 5.5 - 7.2. I use it on PHP 7.0 and 7.2 everyday, and you can see the status of the tests on various PHP versions every time I check-in the code to GitHub.

What's a PHP? What are these versions you speak of?

WordPress, (like the EWWW Image Optimizer), is built with several different programming languages, but the majority is written in a language called PHP. Just like WordPress, the PHP language has been improved over time. Some of these changes are gradual, and some have been incredible performance improvements. Developers everywhere are using the new features found in newer versions of PHP and loving the performance gains of modern versions. More importantly, everyone gets to enjoy the increased security found in these new versions. Sadly, WordPress developers are left out in the cold and get none of these benefits. What?!?! Why not?
PHP has a much more aggressive  update path than WordPress. PHP 5.6 will receive security patches until the end of 2018, and  no other PHP 5 version receives security updates. PHP 7 is the future and it is fast.
Since July 2011, the minimum PHP required for WordPress is PHP version 5.2. There are a lot of us who wish core WordPress would move that requirement up to PHP 5.6. In the meantime, we're doing what we can to push things along. Currently, EWWW IO does not support anything below version 5.5. The goal is to phase out the unsupported versions by the end of 2018.

Why do you care so much?

I care about a lot of things, but two things are very important to me: Security & Speed.

Security

The single most important reason to increase the minimum requirement is security: PHP versions 5.2 through to 5.5 are still being used on millions of sites, but they no longer get security updates.
This security concern is not theoretical, this is your business we're talking about here. The number one reason sites get hacked is because of outdated software. Ever heard of Equifax? Running old versions of PHP is just plain dangerous, as major security issues have been found, and go unfixed. WordPress implemented automatic updates for security updates for exactly this reason. It's hypocritical to push folks to upgrade WordPress, but then turn a blind eye on the PHP software that powers WordPress.

Speed

Another big issue is speed. Sometimes folks blame WordPress for being slow, but it doesn’t have to be be that way. If it’s running on old versions of PHP, it will be unnecessarily slow, even more so as you add plugins to your site for desired functionality. PHP 5.2 is over 100% slower than PHP 5.6, and a staggering 400% slower than PHP 7 ( source).

Why isn’t WordPress increasing the requirement to PHP 5.6 (or better)?

There has been a lot of debate in the WordPress community about changing the PHP requirements, even more so in recent years. I can't speak to the concerns of the core teams, but we have seen promising developments in this area. They've changed the requirements for recommended webhosts most recently to be version 7+, but we've all waited for far too long. This is something web hosts should be taking care of on their own, but as we wait and wait (and wait some more) for something that is literally their job to do, we've waited far too long. Some web hosts take care of their customers, and to others, you're just another number. So long as folks keep paying them, they don't care what happens to your site. They don't care how fast it is, they don't care if you get hacked, and they certainly don't care about any business you might lose as a result. It might sound a bit dramatic, but this is a really big deal, I hope you get that by now.
When Yoast began leading the charge last year, the  WordPress stats page said 5.6% of websites were using PHP 5.2, 15.6% were using PHP 5.3, 23% were using PHP 5.4 and 15.4% were using PHP 5.5. Almost 60% of WordPress installs were running on an unsupported version of PHP. So much for web hosts doing their work... A year later, 2.5% of websites are using PHP 5.2, 6.7% are using PHP 5.3, 11.2% are using PHP 5.4 and 7.2% are using PHP 5.5. That means over 30% of WordPress installs upgraded to a supported version of PHP since we began this effort back in March of 2017.
Because web hosts were not upgrading PHP, we began pushing this from within plugins, and it's working!

Why don’t web hosts update PHP?

There are some web hosts that just don't care, but there IS one thing that strikes a webhost with fear. They are afraid to break your site. Some software (really ancient stuff that you don't want to be using anyway) may not support newer PHP versions. But really, you shouldn’t have to worry about that, your webhost should just take care of business and do the upgrades to keep your site safe and secure. Plus, did we mention it's faster? Oh yeah, we did... well it is!

What is EWWW IO going to do?

There are a lot of reasons to push the minimum version of PHP forward. While plugin developers don't have the power to decide on minimum requirements, we can help in a different way.
As of EWWW IO 3.3, we started showing a notice on the WordPress dashboard to administrators of sites running on PHP 5.2. This notice is bold, red, and non-dismissible. Sort of... If you upgrade PHP, it goes away, and the plugin starts working again.
It is my hope that the notice will encourage people to contact their host if they don’t know how to upgrade PHP. This could mean some work for web hosts, isn't that a horrid thought (sarcasm, in case you missed it)? This notice is deliberately intended to make them do their jobs.
As a last resort, if your web host is not willing to upgrade PHP for your site, we recommend that you get better hosting. Yoast has a  list of web hosts that use modern PHP versions by default, but I personally recommend  WP EngineSiteGroundKinsta, and  Flywheel. There are no affiliate links involved here, this is not about making money (not for me anyway)! This is all about making your site safer and faster.

When will it stop?

As I mentioned earlier, the goal is to continue pushing newer versions until we get to 5.6. To that end, support for 5.5 is scheduled to end in October or November. Of course, in December, version 5.6 will even stop getting updates from the PHP devs, so that one will have to go eventually as well.
With over 700 thousand active installs of EWWW IO, we’re bound to have a lot of customers that are going to start asking for help. You might as well get started!

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