WordPress, the most popular website and blogging software in the world, is written in PHP, one of the most widely used server-side scripting languages. As of 2022, PHP powers over 75% of websites.

A large part of that staggering percentage is due to the popularity of WordPress itself as a platform for building websites. It currently has an astonishing 43% market share.

One of the reasons for this amazing success of both WordPress and PHP is that PHP is ubiquitous and most hosting providers, including ICDSoft, offer solid support for it. It is incredibly easy to deploy a PHP application like WordPress.

Over the years, running a WordPress site has become even easier with the appearance of dedicated tools for managing WordPress installations such as the WordPress management page in the ICDSoft Control Panel. The same is true of all PHP applications, and we have developed extensive PHP management tools as well.

In fact, we support just about every PHP version you could need to run your website smoothly: from PHP 5.3 for legacy applications, through 5.6 and 7.4 for the latest available releases in the 5 and 7 branches, respectively, all the way to the most recent release, PHP 8.1. All these versions are available at the flip of a switch in the Control Panel of your hosting service with us.

Considering that upgrading always runs the risk of breaking something, you may be wondering if there is any benefit to upgrading the PHP version of your website. The answer is that, yes, there is actually a very compelling reason to upgrade to the latest PHP version, and that is the performance boost in recent PHP versions.

Starting with PHP 7, the developers of the language made major efforts to bring considerable performance improvements to PHP with each new release. PHP 7.0 offered an incredible performance increase over PHP 5.6, making the language almost 40% faster on some benchmarks. PHP 8 is about twice as fast as PHP 5.6 on some tasks.

We wanted to see how WordPress fares with different PHP versions on our hosting platform, so we ran a few tests of our own to see if our results would match other published benchmarks.

Our hosting setup has been tuned to make WordPress sites as fast as possible, and the Server-side Caching feature in particular is a great tool to significantly improve loading times for all WordPress sites on our servers, even ones on the latest PHP versions. However, we disabled that feature for our tests, as well as all WordPress caching plugins, so that we could measure actual WordPress page generation performance.

The results show consistently faster loading times for WordPress 6.0 running on PHP 7.4 and PHP 8.x compared to PHP 5.6. Here is a sample comparison of twenty sequential requests to the same WordPress website with several PHP versions that show the page generation time differences:

Page generation times for WordPress 6.0 running on different PHP versions

For our tests, we isolated only the WordPress page loading times. Network-related tasks like establishing a connection and TLS negotiation were ignored in order to provide a clear picture of raw PHP performance.

Overall, the results are in line with recent PHP benchmarks that show a solid improvement in loading times and execution time for new PHP versions. Synthetic benchmarks do not always match real-world performance exactly, but in this case PHP really delivers. Although the improvement for a complex workload like WordPress is not quite double like some of the PHP benchmarks we've seen, it is still very substantial and well worth upgrading.

And while this post focuses on performance, it is important to stress that security should also be a serious concern for any website owner. Security updates for previous PHP versions are no longer provided on a regular basis and that may leave your website vulnerable to hacking if a serious vulnerability in PHP is discovered. The best thing you can do to improve the security of your website is to keep all software it runs on up-to-date.

So why do we keep all these old PHP versions around?

While PHP 5.3 and 5.6 are at this time obsolete and no longer used by new applications, there are legacy applications that have to be upgraded from PHP 5 to a more recent version, and having the option to switch between versions is invaluable when making such updates.

Even PHP 7 is slowly being deprecated in favor of PHP 8, although PHP 7.4 is still widely supported, and the WordPress developers recommend PHP 7.4 or later for recent WordPress versions.

Unfortunately, there are still plenty of WordPress plugins and themes that do not work well with PHP 8 and even PHP 7, and having multiple PHP versions available is needed to keep the large number of WordPress websites on our servers running smoothly. Additionally, having the option to run different PHP versions allows our customers to make the jump to a recent PHP version at their own pace.

In the end, if your WordPress site is up-to-date and your theme can handle it, it is a great idea to update the PHP version of your site to the latest available one. This will boost the performance of your site significantly.

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