Despite the massive number of websites that run on the WordPress platform, there is a surprising large number of users who have no idea what PHP is, and neither do they want to because they think it is too technical. Perhaps, but all that a layperson really needs to know about PHP is that it is the programming language in which WordPress is written. Plugins, separately-developed, downloadable components that allow your website to perform particular tricks, are also written in PHP.
As with every other programming language or program, no version of PHP is perfect. There is a horde of unsavory characters out there looking for vulnerabilities in PHP to exploit. This may enable them to obtain control over your files and confidential information. At the mildest, you might end up with a vandalized website, but there have been instances of outdated PHP versions being used to gain access to the host’s and customers’ personal and banking details. Old vulnerabilities have been patched over in newer PHP versions – an excellent reason to upgrade.
The oldest version of PHP that can run WordPress is version 5.2.4 which was released in the fall of 2007. Unsurprisingly, it is the most susceptible to such attacks – people have had the most amount of time to dissect it and discover its shortcomings. Its shelf life ended in 2011, meaning the developer is no longer patching flaws and shortcomings. Also, an increasing number of plugin developers are no longer supporting it.
This is another good reason to upgrade. As 5.2 gets dropped, you will be able to run an increasingly fewer number of plugins on your website, making for a less than stellar visitor experience. Even if you are running PHP 5.3 or 5.4, it may be advisable to upgrade – even the latter’s shelf-life ended in September 2015. Again, that means no new patches from the developer so your website is left open to new methods of hacking. The versions, 5.5 and 5.6 are the two that you should upgrade to. Version 7.0, being the latest, might still have some teething problems in the coming months and if you are not very confident, 5.6 will do as great a job for most users.
Now you might be wondering how one can go about upgrading their WordPress site’s PHP version. The exact process differs server to server and requires some technical expertise in the area. Fortunately, most hosting providers take care of such server management tasks for their users so all you need to do is drop an email to your hosting provider, asking them to switch to the a newer version of PHP.