WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and many other popular website CMSs were written in a programming language called PHP. PHP version 5 is about to reach end-of-life and will stop receiving security updates in two months. Many WordPress and other PHP websites remain on version 5.6 or older. Once support for PHP 5 ends in two months, these sites are in a precarious position and will become exploitable as new PHP 5 vulnerabilities emerge without security updates.
This post is in a FAQ format and describes why PHP 5 is reaching end-of-life, what the timeline is and what to do about it. The Wordfence team is working to create awareness of this issue in the WordPress and broader PHP community. You can help by sharing this post with your colleagues that manage PHP websites or use WordPress.
What is End-Of-Life or ‘EOL’ in Software?
When a software product reaches EOL, it is no longer supported by software developers. That means that, even if someone finds a security hole in the software, the developers will not fix it.
If a development team is productive, they will release many versions of the software they work on over time. It becomes impractical to support every version of the code ever released. So a compromise needs to be made.
This compromise is that the development team will only support their software for a certain amount of time. After that time has elapsed, the development team suggests that the user community upgrade to a newer version of the same software, which usually does things better than the old versions and is fully supported.
Is PHP Version 5 going to be EOL soon?
Yes. PHP version 5 will be declared End-Of-Life on January 1st, 2019. That is, in approximately two months at the time of writing.
The PHP development team’s policy with regards to end-of-life is as follows: each release of PHP is fully supported for two years from the date of release. Then it is supported for an additional year for critical security issues only. Once three years has elapsed from the date of release, the version of PHP is no longer supported.
PHP 7.0, the very first PHP 7 release, was released on 3 December, 2015, almost three years ago. PHP version 5 is rapidly approaching end-of-life and will no longer be supported starting on 1 January, 2019.
The final branch of PHP version 5 that is still supported is PHP 5.6. Because this is the final PHP 5 branch, the PHP team chose to extend the security fix period from the usual one years, to two years. That extended security support will end on 1 January 2019.
The following table includes the important dates for PHP 5 and PHP 7 branches. You can find this table on this page on the PHP website.
Why Should I Upgrade to PHP 7?
As mentioned above, PHP 5 will no longer be supported with security fixes, starting on 1 January 2019. That means that even if a vulnerability is discovered, it won’t be fixed, leaving your website vulnerable.
PHP 7 has many improvements over PHP version 5. These include performance improvements. PHP 5 has many known bugs that relate to performance, memory usage and more. PHP 7 is actively supported and developers are therefore able to implement those improvements and make your website run faster, be more stable and use your expensive resources more efficiently.
As an added benefit, PHP 7 also allows the use of more modern programming structures, which is a nice benefit for software developers.
How can I find out my PHP version?
If you are using WordPress and running the Wordfence security plugin, simply go to “Tools”, then click on the “Diagnostics” tab at the top right. Scroll down to the “PHP Environment” section and you will be able to see your PHP version on the right side of the page.
Alternatively you can install this extremely basic plugin on your WordPress site which will display your PHP version. Please note that this plugin is not produced by the Wordfence team and we do not endorse it.
If you have FTP access to your website, you can create a file with a name that is hard to guess. Then add the following two lines:
<?php phpinfo(); ?>
Save the file in your web root directory and then visit the file in your web browser. Your PHP version will be displayed at the top of the screen. Don’t forget to delete your temporary file once you’re done.
Which specific version of PHP 7 should I upgrade to?
Ideally, you should upgrade to PHP 7.2 which is the newest version of PHP. This version will be fully supported for another year and will receive security updates for a year after that.
If you are unable to upgrade to 7.2, then at a minimum you should upgrade to PHP 7.1. Full support for PHP 7.1 will end in 1 month. However, you will continue to receive security updates for another year after that.
Do not upgrade to PHP 7.0. This version will also become end-of-life in one month.
Does PHP 5 have any vulnerabilities?
Security vulnerabilities are continuously reported in PHP. Some of these are serious. Viewing this page on CVEDetails.com will give you an idea of the volume and severity of PHP vulnerabilities that have recently been reported.
Many of the vulnerabilities reported in PHP were discovered this year. Many more will be discovered in PHP version 5 next year, after security support for all versions of PHP 5 have ended. That is why it is critically important that you upgrade to a version of PHP 7 that is supported and is receiving security updates.
Will anything break if I update to PHP 7.2?
You may discover incompatibilities that need to be fixed by a developer if you update to PHP 7.2. PHP has undergone some changes since version 5 which has improved the language and made it more secure, but may result in warnings or errors for code that has not been made compatible with PHP 7.
If you are a WordPress user, WordPress core is fully compatible with PHP 7.2 and greater.
However, it is very important that you make sure that your themes and plugins are also compatible with PHP 7.2. If you are using an unmaintained theme or plugin, you may encounter warnings or errors due to incompatibilities. For this reason, we recommend you test your website on a hosting account or server that is running PHP 7.2. If you encounter any problems, contact the developer of the theme or plugin and ask them for an urgent fix. Remind them that PHP 5.6 reaches end-of-life in just two months and that you must update to PHP 7.2 by then.
What if my hosting company does not support PHP 7?
Your hosting account should include some kind of control panel or options and settings page. If you’re not seeing an option to upgrade to PHP 7, you should contact your hosting company’s support team to see what your options are. If none are available, we recommend you transition to new hosting before the end of the year.
What if my developer does not support PHP 7?
PHP 7.0 was released two years and 10 months ago. If your developer’s plugin, theme, or other PHP product does not support PHP 7 at this point, it is quite likely that the project is unmaintained. If the project was being maintained, then they would have had users who are using PHP 7 report problems within the last 2 years and 10 months, which they would have fixed.
Using unmaintained software is a bad idea because it means that security vulnerabilities are not being fixed. So if you do encounter incompatibilities when upgrading to PHP 7.2, this may be a red flag and may indicate you should move on to using an alternative product that is being actively maintained.
What is the easiest way to upgrade to PHP 7.2?
Many hosting providers offer a one click PHP version change in CPanel. This allows you to switch to PHP 7 and check your site for problems. If something doesn’t work, you can switch back and create a plan for addressing the issues you found.
If you can’t find where to update your PHP version, your hosting provider can advise you how to update PHP in their environment. It may mean them making a change on their end or even moving your site to another server.
Remind me again why I need to update to PHP 7.2?
The really good news is that you are probably going to see a nice performance improvement when you update your site. Sure, you may need to deal with a few, hopefully minor incompatibilities. But once you have updated to PHP 7.2, you can rest assured that you will continue to receive security updates until November 30, 2020.
If you remain on PHP 5.6, you may find yourself dealing with a hacked site some time next year when a vulnerability is released for PHP 5.6 and no fix is released by the PHP team because PHP 5.6 is end-of-life.