PHP 7.4 End of Life is on the horizon as the PHP version will stop receiving any security updates from November 28, 2022. With over 60% of all websites written in PHP still using the final version of the PHP 7 release branch, this is particularly huge for the whole internet community.
WordPress powers 40% of all websites worldwide, which makes moving to PHP 8 of paramount importance for all WordPress website owners. Staying on PHP 7.4 past EOL introduces major security risks and can result in further increase in global malware volumes.
In this comprehensive guide into PHP 7.4 End of Life, you will learn why you need to move your WordPress website to PHP 8 by the end of November and how to do it with minimum downtime.
Is WordPress Fully Compatible With PHP 8?
After the initial release of PHP 7.4, WordPress aimed to provide full support for it starting from the 5.3 version of the WordPress core. As a result, PHP 7.4 has been officially recommended by WordPress as the PHP version of choice for all major WordPress releases introduced over the past few years.
Although PHP 8.0 first came out two years ago, limited backward compatibility did not allow the WordPress community to fully take advantage of the new PHP release. Even now, two years later, PHP 7.4 remains the most used PHP version in the world.
WordPress 5.9 and WordPress 6.0 – two major platform releases of 2022 – only offered beta compatibility for PHP 8.0 and 8.1. It means that the WordPress core still had to undergo a series of modifications to fully support the new PHP 8 release branch.
WordPress 6.1 and PHP 8
WordPress recommends PHP 8 for WordPress 6.0 and 6.1, but they do warn that it’s still just beta compatibility. However, all warnings should be just deprecation notices, which won’t break any functionality. Beta support for PHP 8.2 was added in WordPress version 6.1.
PHP 8.1 is the latest stable PHP version in the phase of active community support. WordPress website owners are encouraged to upgrade to PHP 8.1 to leverage new features and ensure further security coverage.
Although the WordPress core now has full support for the PHP 8 release branch, most plugins and themes are yet to ensure compatibility with PHP 8. This is one of the major difficulties WordPress users will face with the upgrade, and we will discuss in more detail further in the guide. You will also learn how iThemes can help you upgrade to WordPress 6.1 and PHP 8.1.
The PHP 7.4 Support Lifecycle
Each PHP version has a support lifecycle of three years, which includes two years of active support and one year of critical security patching. Three years after the initial release date, a version reaches its end of life.
During the first two years, all identified bugs and security vulnerabilities are addressed in regular point releases. After two years of active support, the PHP community will provide fixes for critical security issues on an as-needed basis.
As part of the PHP 7 release branch and the final minor release, PHP 7.4 was first introduced to the world back in November of 2019. A year ago, in November 2021, active support for the version came to an end.
At the end of November 2022, the broad community of PHP developers will have to adopt PHP 8 with all improvements and new features as PHP 7.4 reaches its end of life. PHP 8.0 will reach its end of life in a year, while PHP 8.1 will still be fully supported until November 2024.
|PHP Version||Release Date||End of Active Support||End of Life|
|PHP 7.4||November 28, 2019||November 28, 2021||November 28, 2022|
|PHP 8.0||November 26, 2020||November 26, 2022||November 26, 2023|
|PHP 8.1||November 25, 2021||November 25, 2023||November 25, 2024|
Top 3 Negative Consequences of Using PHP 7.4 Past EOL
Over the years, PHP has become the centerpiece of website development, with over 70% of all websites using it as the server-side scripting language. Making it possible to build dynamic, database-driven websites and web applications, PHP is used by WordPress and a large number of other content management systems.
As part of the development cycle, all software undergoes constant changes in order to present new features and improve the existing functionality. PHP and WordPress are no exception.
Each new PHP release branch brings together numerous updates and bug fixes and provides notable performance improvements. However, limited backwards compatibility can result in significant loss of functionality. It highlights the importance of performing regular updates to your website code.
In the case of WordPress, when the platform is built and maintained by the WordPress community, website owners need to make little to no changes to WordPress core. Plugin and theme developers, on the other hand, will need to ensure their code is fully compatible with new PHP versions.
Let’s take a closer look at what negative impact staying on PHP 7.4 past its end of life can have on your WordPress website.
Increased Security Risks
When PHP 7.4 reaches its end of life, no security updates will be released for the version. Staying on the PHP 7 release branch exposes your website to a wide range of unpatched vulnerabilities, significantly increasing the attack surface.
Studies have shown that WordPress is targeted by hackers with malicious intent more than any other content management system. Using PHP 7.4 past its EOL leads to increased exposure to serious security risks that will accumulate over time.
Even applying the best practices and a powerful security plugin such as iThemes Security Pro won’t help protect your WordPress website from numerous security threats. Using outdated software will always lead to increased security risks.
Reduced Website Stability
The PHP 8 release branch introduces various new features and improvements, with some functionality of PHP 7.4 completely left behind. Multiple features found in PHP 7.4 have now been deprecated.
Updating WordPress to the latest 6.1 release while still using PHP 7.4 will lead to reduced application stability as the WordPress core has undergone a series of changes to offer full compatibility with PHP 8.
Your WordPress website will continually show PHP-related warnings, which, in the long term, will turn into fatal errors and bring the website down completely. Potential issues will escalate when you update your active theme and plugins that have been reconfigured to work with the new PHP 8 versions.
WordPress 6.1 has announced major performance improvements. With much anticipated query caching and optimizations to REST API, WordPress website owners should notice a significant performance boost.
As PHP 8 offers numerous improvements to WordPress PHP development, which results in better quality of code and more efficient code processing. Staying on PHP 7.4 past its end of life will lead to degraded performance, which in turn can increase your hosting and website maintenance costs as you are trying to accommodate traffic.
Dealing with the Consequences of Staying on PHP 7.4 Past EOL
Using PHP 7.4 after November 28 will expose your WordPress website to major security risks and result in additional costs and lost opportunities.
Dealing with negative consequences, such malware infections or poor performance, will require much more time and money invested. Having your website updated to WordPress 6.1 and PHP 8 will result in much lower website maintenance costs in the long term.
5 Key Benefits of Updating to PHP 8 For Your WordPress Site
Now that you know what negative impact using PHP 7.4 past its end of life will have on your WordPress website, let’s sum up all benefits moving to the PHP 8 release branch will bring.
- Full compatibility with WordPress 6.1. The latest WordPress version fully supports PHP 8. The PHP 8 release branch will be fully compatible with WordPress til the last minor release reaches its end of life.
- Reduced attack surface. PHP 8 receives active support from the community. All identified security vulnerabilities receive rapid patching.
- Enhanced performance. WordPress takes advantage of new features and performance improvements PHP 8 offers to ensure faster web page load times for all websites.
- Improved development experience. Various new features introduced by PHP 8 simplifies the WordPress PHP development process and brings more opportunities to theme and plugin developers.
- Lower probability of getting WordPress errors. Using the latest PHP version with the newest WordPress release will help you avoid dealing with any errors.
How to Safely Update to PHP 8 in 7 Steps
Updating your WordPress website to PHP 8 can result in loss of functionality or even cause fatal errors that will bring your website down. This happens due to running outdated code containing functions no longer supported by the PHP 8 release branch.
If you have already updated to WordPress 6.1, the culprit is likely to be one of the active plugins or your WordPress theme. Plugin and theme developers can take some time to catch up with the new features PHP 8 provides and update the code until PHP 7.4 reaches its End of Life.
To reduce downtime and avoid your live site going down, follow the five steps below to update your WordPress website to PHP 8.1 – the current stable PHP version.
Step 1. Create a Staging Environment
Having a staging environment helps you test new features and run updates before you can push all changes to the live site. Your staging environment should host a copy of your WordPress website and run on the same server infrastructure as the live version of it.
Managed WordPress hosting, such as Nexcess WordPress plans, offers the ability to create staging and development environments, making the process fully automated.
If you are on VPS or dedicated hosting, you can create a staging version of your website by cloning it to a subdomain of the domain name of your WordPress website. You will then need to add new DNS records and update the URLs in your WordPress database to load the staging website using the new address.
Do not forget to review the main WordPress configuration file – wp-config.php – on the newly created staging website to make sure it includes the correct database connection information and other important details.
Step 2. Update Your Staging Website to WordPress 6.1 and PHP 8.1
Once the staging environment has been created, you can now update the copy of your live website to the new WordPress release and PHP 8.1. Update WordPress to the 6.1 release from the admin dashboard and switch to PHP 8.1 from your hosting control panel.
Make sure your active theme and all plugins are updated to the latest version available. You can run theme and plugin updates from the WordPress dashboard or by using the WordPress Command Line Interface.
Step 3. Test All Areas of Your WordPress Website
After you have updated your staging website to PHP 8 and WordPress 6.1, along with all plugins and the active theme, it’s time for testing. Open the copy of your live website and test all areas of it – from web pages and forms to any specific backend functionality.
Most WordPress website owners will not see any issues on their staging websites after switching from PHP 7.4 to PHP 8.1. But if your staging website went down and started showing any critical errors, this is not uncommon – you have moved to a new PHP release branch after all.
You may find that some plugins are yet to provide critical updates to be fully compatible with the new PHP versions, or that some custom code needs to be revised.
Step 4. Address the Issues the Updates Have Caused in the Staging Environment
Depending on the error you have received, you will need to take certain steps to restore full functionality until the underlying issue has been resolved. Deactivate all plugins to find the one causing issues or temporarily switch to one of the default block themes offered by WordPress.
If you are unsure how to approach a certain error, contact your hosting provider’s support team or review the guides on how to fix common WordPress errors that iThemes has prepared for you.
We have already covered fixing “There has been a critical error on your WordPress website,” also known as the “white screen of death.” This error message will often be shown after a failed update or as a result of code incompatibility.
You may need to keep the faulty plugin deactivated until the plugin developer has released an update fully compatible with PHP 8.
Step 5. Take a Backup of Your Live WordPress Site
Take a full backup of your live WordPress website before making any changes to the production environment. The new backup must contact both the WordPress database and all website files stored on the disk.
As a WordPress website owner, you need a solid backup strategy to protect your website from any failed updates or malware infections. BackupBuddy will make sure you have a copy of your WordPress website stored safely at a remote location at all times, with scheduled and on-demand backups and one-click restores.
Step 6. Push Staging to Live
Some WordPress website owners may have to make rather exhaustive changes in the staging environment to get their website running on PHP 8.1.
If you need to make any modifications to the custom code on your staging website or deactivate any plugins, apply the changes to the production environment prior to running any updates on the live website.
Step 7. Update Your Live WordPress Site to PHP 8
Now that you have saved a full backup of your WordPress and made the necessary modifications, it’s time to update to PHP 8. Log in to your hosting control panel and switch to PHP 8.1 – the current stable PHP version of the new release branch.
iThemes Has Prepared for PHP 7.4 End of Life. Have you?
PHP 7.4 End of Life is a huge event for the whole WordPress community. Starting from November 28, the final minor release of the PHP 7 release branch won’t receive any security updates.
WordPress website owners staying on the PHP 7.4 past its End of Life will experience degraded performance and an increased exposure to critical security risks. Which is why we encourage you to update to PHP 8 and WordPress 6.1 to leverage new features and keep your website secure from various threats.
iThemes has prepared for the PHP 7.4 End of Life, and we are happy to announce full product compatibility with the PHP 8 release branch. You can continue using iThemes Security Pro and BackupBuddy – your favorite solutions for advanced security and data recovery – with WordPress 6.1 and PHP 8.1.
On top of that, iThemes will help you make a transition to WordPress 6.1 and PHP 8 easy and headache free. If you are managing multiple WordPress websites, iThemes Sync Pro will be your personal assistant, with one-click updates, advanced uptime monitoring, and SEO metrics tracking.
The release of WordPress 6.1 and PHP 7.4 End of Life can be a great opportunity to start using WordPress to build a great website. If you are an aspiring website owner, the Kadence WP theme can offer everything you need to create spectacular, eye-catching designs.
iThemes Training: Upgrading Your WordPress Websites to PHP 8
Need help upgrading your WordPress sites to PHP 8? Join the iThemes Training live event on November 28, 2022, at 1:00 p.m. In this webinar, Tiffany Bridge (Product Manager for WordPress eCommerce at Nexcess) will explain the process of upgrading your WordPress site to PHP 8 and show how to test for errors and deal with them when they come up.
Kiki has a bachelor’s degree in information systems management and more than two years of experience in Linux and WordPress. She currently works as a security specialist for Liquid Web and Nexcess. Before that, Kiki was part of the Liquid Web Managed Hosting support team where she helped hundreds of WordPress website owners and learned what technical issues they often encounter. Her passion for writing allows her to share her knowledge and experience to help people. Apart from tech, Kiki enjoys learning about space and listening to true crime podcasts.