Is your website displaying an error?
If you are suddenly seeing errors displayed on your website, it’s likely your website code is conflicting with the most recent version of PHP, PHP 7.
In this article, we are going to
- explain why this is happening,
- talk about some of the benefits that PHP 7 brings to WordPress and other websites,
- shed some light on why your website may need to be updated, or possibly even redeveloped to be compatible with PHP 7, before older versions of PHP are completely unsupported.
Why is this Happening?
Like most things, technology changes over time. If you think back over the life of computers, they’ve moved from being fed punch cards to using plastic storage disks to now not even having cd-rom drives. In fact, the computer I’m typing on doesn’t have a single USB slot.
The code your website is built on also evolves just like anything else, changing and improving. As capabilities grow and security risks are found, new and better versions are created.
In many ways you can compare your website and its code to the car sitting in your driveway. The first automobile was invented in 1885 by Karl Benz and though the systems and processes that make our cars run are still very similar, the cars themselves are not. We’ve seen vast improvements in safety, comfort, and the overall driving experience. Unfortunately, those upgrades often mean that parts from that original Benz wouldn’t be compatible with a modern Mercedes.
The same compatibility issues can happen with newer versions of code. Websites and the tools they’re built with also age and become obsolete, as we’ve seen with cars. The newer code brings safer websites and better customer experiences, but sometimes at the cost of compatibility.
This is the situation we’re facing, and the reason you may be seeing errors, as we transition to the newest version of PHP. No one likes the headache that comes with technology updates, but we value our customers and want them to have the best, safest web experience possible.
What is PHP Anyway?
In a nutshell, PHP is a basic building block of many of today’s websites. PHP is programming that lives “under the hood” of a website. It is not seen or interacted with by website users – but it is critical to making websites work.
According to PHP.net, the official PHP website, PHP is
“an open source, general purpose scripting language that is especially suited for web development and can be inserted into HTML.”
Unlike other coding languages, PHP is
“executed on the server, generating HTML which is then sent to the client. The client would receive the results of running that script, but would not know what the underlying code was.”
Its use in web development lies largely in its simplicity, making it easy for a newcomer to work with, but also offers advanced options for experienced developers. Those factors also make it ideally suited for WordPress development, but not limited to that platform.
The Evolution of PHP
Similar to our automobile analogy above, PHP has been through its own evolution. Created in 1994 as open source software, it moved forward without written formal standards until 2014. This allowed for websites to be built in any manner the individual developer saw fit, often for good reasons, but not always making the sites accessible for version upgrades.
In 2014, the decision was made to create standards and while they attempt to preserve compatibility, the original way of coding with PHP has become obsolete. Now in 2020 with version 7.2, support of all older code has been discontinued.
What that means is outside of third-party resources, no new development and security updates will be available for any version of PHP that is older than 7.2.
What’s the difference between PHP 5 and PHP 7?
PHP 5 was really just a more robust version of PHP 4, more stable and solid but without any technology changes. However to create PHP 7’s more modern codebase, some significant developmental shifts were necessary.
This means that some connections between older website code and the new PHP 7 server code no longer exist.
So, is this change worth it?
Again, think about the differences between the 1885 Benz and a modern Mercedes. PHP 7 is faster,
more secure, more efficient, handles twice as much traffic to your site, and has better development options. All around creating an improved user experience.
Why should you care?
- A secure business website is more trustworthy.
- You can double the amount of traffic your site receives.
- A faster site means users don’t leave because it took too long to load.
- Better development options allow you to build more innovative elements into your future website.
While no one enjoys surprise repairs to anything, we all know that it is worth the investment to have a solidly operating, modern business.
Why do some websites break on PHP 7?
If your code — generally in the theme — was written before 2015, your site is likely to break. 2015 is when the shift was made to modernizing the codebase and the original coding practices no longer connect with PHP 7.
It’s as simple as that.
WordPress and plugins can all be up-to-date and there will still be failures.
Sometimes the connection break is a simple fix. It may just be an element in your theme. An example of one of these elements is a slideshow. If the slideshow software was written in 2015, and hasn’t been re-coded for PHP 7, it will generate an error code. However, this fix could be as simple and quick as updating to a newer slideshow or replacing your slideshow with a hero image.
Unfortunately, some websites that are many years old may not have a simple fix. In this case, the only solution may be to have your website completely rebuilt on a modern framework.
Does my website have to be updated to be PHP 7 compatible?
Yes. Older versions of PHP are no longer supported.
If you don’t update, you will have a broken website that is insecure, opening up your business to potentially devastating damage.
When does my website need to be updated?
PHP 5.6 is already unsupported, which means there are no security patches being released and applied to website servers. The longer websites continue to run on PHP 5, the greater their vulnerability is. We will be systematically upgrading our servers over the coming weeks, and will officially stop running PHP 5.6 for all servers on August 1, 2020.
You will be contacted by phone and email two weeks before your hosting server’s software is upgraded.
How much will it cost?
That depends on your website, and you do have options.
- You could hire our team to upgrade your current site to make it PHP 7 compatible. This may take a few hours, or longer, but is the best way to replicate and modernize your existing site.
- You could hire an outside developer to perform the same tasks as our team.
- In some cases, your website programming may be too old to upgrade. In this case, you will need to have your website rebuilt. Our team will contact you directly if this is the case.
- You could opt for a complete website redesign, that freshens up your business and will last longer into the future.
Isn’t this included with my hosting service?
Again, that depends. If you have a monthly maintenance plan that includes development work, then we may be able to make your website compatible. However, if your monthly agreement with Iceberg only includes website hosting, there may be additional development charges. We have been doing all that we can to ensure that the core software behind your WordPress website, and any plugins used, remains up to date and compatible with PHP7.
However, outdated software that is no longer supported, as well as custom code written before 2015, falls outside of the standard updates in the plan. Those fixes require additional development work.
The software – things like themes and plugins – that we update as part of our maintenance plan creates their own updated versions. We check for them and install them when they’re available. We do not do any coding on those products. Leaning on our car analogy again, your mechanic will replace the fuel pump, but he doesn’t build a new one from scratch each time.
Same with things like theme and plugin updates. As stated above, we monitor the parts that make your website run and implement upgrades as they come available, but do not code those updates ourselves.
What if I do nothing?
Unfortunately, if your website is not compatible with PHP 7 and you do nothing, your website may display errors. The extent of these errors depends on the individual features of your website. It may just be one line of code showing at the top of your website, or the errors may completely prevent you and your customers from accessing your website. We are rolling out PHP 7 updates on all servers within the next few weeks. If you are a hosting customer, you will receive a phone call and email from us to let you know two weeks in advance of your upgrade, so you have ample time for us to work on your website to make it compatible.
This isn’t our choice. We don’t want this to happen to anyone, but the reality is that the connections between some website’s older codebase and PHP 7 do not exist. We are sympathetic to the frustration this might initially cause and are taking steps — like this article — to create resources and options to help you find the best solution for your website.
We value your business and your needs. If you have any questions about what this means for your website, we’re here to help. Our goal is to make this transition as painless as possible. Much like seatbelt requirements were initially a hassle, ultimately they protect you. And this software update will best protect your business moving forward.
I’m not a customer, can you help?
We’ve received a number of calls from businesses that have been notified by their website developer or host that their website is not PHP 7 compatible.
At this time, we are not performing development work on third party hosting servers, or updating code that we did not write. However, our team at Iceberg is happy to take a look at your website and give you some options. We do have turn-key website solutions, and we may be able to rebuild a professional website for your business that is compatible with PHP 7 in just a few weeks. Reach out for a free consultation here, or call us at 612-440-8762.