The Ultimate Guide to Updating PHP for Your WordPress Website (2023 Edition)

As a WordPress website owner, you may have heard about the importance of keeping your site updated, including themes, plugins, and the WordPress core itself. However, one crucial aspect that often goes overlooked is updating the PHP version that powers your WordPress site. In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll dive into the world of PHP, explore its significance for WordPress, and walk you through the process of updating your site‘s PHP version for optimal performance, security, and compatibility.

Understanding PHP and Its Role in WordPress

PHP, which stands for "Hypertext Preprocessor," is a server-side scripting language that forms the backbone of WordPress. It is responsible for generating dynamic content, interacting with databases, and executing the core functions of your WordPress site. Without PHP, your WordPress site simply wouldn‘t function.

WordPress is written primarily in PHP, and as the language evolves, so does the content management system (CMS). Each new PHP version brings improvements in performance, security, and functionality, making it essential for WordPress site owners to keep up with the latest developments.

The Benefits of Using the Latest PHP Version

Using the most recent stable release of PHP offers numerous advantages for your WordPress site:

  1. Enhanced Performance: Newer PHP versions, especially PHP 7.x and 8.x, offer significant performance improvements over their predecessors. These versions have been optimized to execute code faster, handle more requests per second, and consume fewer server resources. By upgrading to the latest PHP version, you can expect your WordPress site to load faster and handle traffic more efficiently.

  2. Improved Security: PHP developers are constantly working to identify and patch vulnerabilities in the language. By using an up-to-date PHP version, you benefit from the latest security fixes and protect your site from potential exploits. Older PHP versions that have reached end-of-life status no longer receive security updates, leaving your site exposed to known vulnerabilities.

  3. Better Compatibility: As WordPress and its ecosystem of themes and plugins evolve, they often leverage new features and improvements introduced in the latest PHP versions. By running an outdated PHP version, you may encounter compatibility issues with newer themes and plugins, limiting your options and hindering your site‘s functionality.

Checking Your WordPress Site‘s Current PHP Version

Before proceeding with updating your site‘s PHP version, it‘s crucial to determine which version your site is currently running. Here‘s how you can check your WordPress site‘s PHP version:

  1. Log in to your WordPress dashboard and navigate to "Tools" > "Site Health."
  2. Click on the "Info" tab at the top of the page.
  3. Scroll down to the "Server" section, and you will see the "PHP Version" listed.

Alternatively, you can create a simple PHP file with the following code and upload it to your site‘s root directory:


Access the file through your web browser, and you will see detailed information about your site‘s PHP configuration, including the current version.

Choosing a Web Host That Supports the Latest PHP Versions

One of the most critical factors in updating your WordPress site‘s PHP version is your web hosting provider. Not all hosts offer the latest PHP versions or make it easy to update. When selecting a web host, ensure that they provide support for the most recent stable PHP releases and have a straightforward process for updating your site‘s PHP version.

Some reputable web hosts known for their PHP support and ease of updating include:

  1. SiteGround
  2. WP Engine
  3. Kinsta
  4. Flywheel
  5. Cloudways

If you‘re currently with a host that doesn‘t support the latest PHP versions or makes it difficult to update, consider migrating your site to a more accommodating provider.

Updating Your WordPress Site‘s PHP Version

Now that you know your site‘s current PHP version and have ensured that your web host supports the latest versions, it‘s time to update. The process may vary slightly depending on your hosting provider, but generally, you can follow these steps:

  1. Create a Backup: Before making any significant changes to your site, always create a complete backup of your files and database. This will allow you to restore your site quickly if anything goes wrong during the update process.

  2. Test in a Staging Environment: It‘s highly recommended to test the PHP update in a staging environment before applying it to your live site. This will give you an opportunity to check for any compatibility issues with your theme, plugins, or custom code. Most reputable web hosts offer staging environments, or you can create a local development setup using tools like XAMPP or Local by Flywheel.

  3. Update PHP via cPanel: Many web hosts use cPanel as their control panel. To update your site‘s PHP version through cPanel:

    • Log in to your cPanel account.
    • Look for the "PHP Version" or "MultiPHP Manager" option.
    • Select the domain or directory you want to update.
    • Choose the desired PHP version from the dropdown menu.
    • Click "Apply" or "Save" to initiate the update process.
  4. Update PHP via WordPress Dashboard: Some managed WordPress hosting providers offer the ability to update your site‘s PHP version directly from the WordPress dashboard. If your host provides this option, you can usually find it under the "Tools" or "Settings" menu.

  5. Verify and Test: After updating your site‘s PHP version, thoroughly test your site to ensure everything is functioning correctly. Check your pages, posts, forms, and any custom functionality to identify potential issues. Don‘t forget to test your site‘s front-end and back-end.

PHP Versions and WordPress Compatibility

As of 2023, WordPress recommends using PHP 7.4 or higher for optimal performance and security. However, WordPress also supports the following PHP versions:

  • PHP 7.3 (reached end-of-life in December 2021)
  • PHP 7.2 (reached end-of-life in November 2020)
  • PHP 7.1 (reached end-of-life in December 2019)
  • PHP 7.0 (reached end-of-life in December 2018)
  • PHP 5.6 (reached end-of-life in December 2018)

While WordPress still supports these older versions, it‘s crucial to note that they no longer receive security updates and may pose a risk to your site‘s security and performance. It‘s strongly recommended to update to at least PHP 7.4, with PHP 8.0 being the most recent stable version as of 2023.

Tools and Resources for PHP Compatibility and Debugging

When updating your WordPress site‘s PHP version, you may encounter compatibility issues with your theme, plugins, or custom code. Here are some useful tools and resources to help you identify and resolve these issues:

  1. PHP Compatibility Checker: This free plugin scans your WordPress site‘s theme and plugins for compatibility with different PHP versions, helping you identify potential issues before updating.

  2. WP_DEBUG: WordPress comes with a built-in debugging system that can be enabled by adding the following line to your wp-config.php file: define(‘WP_DEBUG‘, true);. This will display PHP errors, notices, and warnings on your site, helping you identify and fix compatibility issues.

  3. Query Monitor: This powerful plugin provides detailed information about your site‘s database queries, PHP errors, and performance metrics, making it an invaluable tool for debugging and optimization.

  4. WordPress Codex: The official WordPress documentation is an excellent resource for learning about PHP compatibility, debugging techniques, and best practices for WordPress development.

The Risks of Using Outdated PHP Versions

Using an outdated PHP version can have severe consequences for your WordPress site:

  1. Security Vulnerabilities: Older PHP versions that have reached end-of-life status no longer receive security updates, leaving your site exposed to known vulnerabilities. Hackers can exploit these weaknesses to gain unauthorized access to your site, steal sensitive information, or inject malicious code.

  2. Slow Performance: Newer PHP versions offer significant performance improvements over their predecessors. By running an outdated PHP version, you‘re missing out on these optimizations and may experience slower page load times, reduced server response times, and a generally sluggish site.

  3. Compatibility Issues: As WordPress, themes, and plugins continue to evolve, they often leverage new features and improvements introduced in the latest PHP versions. Running an outdated PHP version may lead to compatibility issues, causing your site to break or malfunction.

  4. Limited Support: If you encounter issues with your WordPress site while running an outdated PHP version, you may find it challenging to get support from theme or plugin developers, as they typically focus on supporting the latest PHP versions.


Updating your WordPress site‘s PHP version is a critical step in maintaining a secure, performant, and compatible website. By staying up-to-date with the latest PHP releases, you can take advantage of improved performance, enhanced security, and access to the latest features and optimizations.

Remember to choose a web host that supports the latest PHP versions, create a backup before updating, and thoroughly test your site in a staging environment to identify and resolve any compatibility issues. With the right tools, resources, and a bit of planning, updating your site‘s PHP version can be a smooth and rewarding process.

Don‘t let outdated PHP versions hold your WordPress site back. Embrace the latest PHP releases and unlock the full potential of your website. Stay secure, stay fast, and stay ahead of the curve with regular PHP updates.

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