PHP is a server-side programming language that undergirds WordPress itself. Basically, PHP allows your server to dynamically generate pages on your site as needed. Like WordPress, PHP is continually updated to address new security challenges, improve speed, and incorporate the latest technology.
PHP 8 was released on Thanksgiving Day (November 26, 2020). This is a major update, which means there’s a larger-than-usual chance that this update could cause things to stop functioning on your site.
We strongly recommend that you regularly update all of the software on your site—including WordPress Core, themes, plugins, and yes, PHP. However, in this case, we recommend waiting for just a little bit. We want to give developers time to update affected plugins. (Theoretically, this should be happening already through the beta and release candidate process. But inevitably there will still be some incompatibilities.)
How to prepare for PHP 8
If we’re not recommending you upgrade right away, why are we talking about the update at all? Here’s the important part: an update to PHP 8 is likely to go more smoothly if you’ve been keeping PHP up to date on your server. In other words, if you’re already running a current version (7.3 or 7.4), you’ll be in a better position to update to PHP 8 than if you’re running an earlier PHP version (whether that’s 7.2, 7.1, 7.0, or 5.6!). That means now is a good time to go ahead and bring PHP up to version 7.4. This will allow you to address any incremental issues before upgrading to PHP 8.
Similarly, if you haven’t yet upgraded to WordPress 5.5, you’re going to want to do that. There may still be incompatibilities, but as with PHP updates, identifying these issues incrementally makes it easier to address them. The WordPress Core team recently released WordPress 5.6 as well. This update contains important support for PHP 8, so you don’t want to put that update off.1
For Agathon clients who are running WordPress 5.6, feel confident their plugins and themes are prepared, and want to upgrade to PHP 8 right away, we have it ready and would be happy to make it available on your server. Email support, and we’ll make it available on your server!
Finally, if you’re curious you can read about what’s new in this PHP update. Note the list of breaking changes in PHP 8. These might be giving a plugin or theme developer in your life a few more gray hairs!
With 10 years of experience as a professional blogger—and as a former Agathon hosting client herself—Mandi’s passionate about the good work Agathon does and sharing that message with more people.