PHP 5.6 Is Now the Most Widely Used PHP Version

PHP 5.6 usage has steadily increased over the past year and has now overtaken versions 5.3 and 5.4 to be the most widely used version, according to W3Techs’ stats. PHP is used by 82.6% of all the websites for which W3Techs can detect a server-side programming language. PHP 7 accounts for 3.1% of these websites and PHP 5.x makes up 95.3%, with version 5.6 usage at the top end.

PHP.net’s usage stats page hasn’t been updated sine 2013 but the project recommends W3Techs’ stats for viewing PHP market share by version. W3Techs’ methodology takes the top 10 million websites, according to Alexa rankings, to offer a representative sample of established sites without including domain spammers.

PHP 5.6 overtaking older versions is a significant milestone for the PHP community, since it still receives support for critical security issues until December 31, 2018. The older versions that previously dominated usage reached End of Life in 2015 and 2016 and are no longer receiving security updates.

Adoption of supported PHP versions is somewhat slower in the WordPress community. According to the project’s stats, more than half of all WordPress sites (55.6%) are using unsupported versions of PHP (versions 5.2 – 5.5).

In early December 2016, WordPress updated its hosting recommendation to PHP 7+, which should help new users who are approaching hosts to request their sites be put on newer versions of PHP. In addition to these recommendations, WordPress’ strategy in the past has been to cultivate relationships with hosts to help improve host configurations for users. The project recently launched the Make WordPress Hosting community to facilitate collaboration among those with hosting experience. Participants are currently working on documenting best practices, including recommendations for PHP versions offered, and providing tools for the community.

21 Comments


  1. I’m just starting to upgrade sites from 5.6 to 7 and so far so good.

    My host gives you the option to choose your PHP version via cPanel so it’s very easy to do.

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    1. Normally all cPanel does is write that PHP handler to the .htaccess file on the site if using Apache.

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  2. To accelerate adoption of PHP 5.6 and PHP 7, WordPress should end of line support for older PHP on newer versions of WordPress. WordPress offers security updates of WordPress all the way back to 3.7 whose most recent release was on 6 March 2017 (3.7.19). There’s a beautifully maintained download page for all past releases. Ironically they print this nonsense at the top of the secure versions download page:

    This is an archive of every release we’ve done that we have a record of. None of these are safe to use, except the latest in the 4.7 series, which is actively maintained.

    This simply not true. There’s no reason a PHP 5.2 user couldn’t safely remain on WordPress 4.4 or WordPress 4.6 whose most recent releases were also on 6 March 2017. We created a plugin BusinessPress to allow a user to safely enable security updates without participating in ever major upgrade. It works a treat. WordPress could do something similar for users on older versions of PHP.

    With his constant talk of market share, Matt Mullenweg seems unwilling to put at risk a small amount of market share to do the right thing for the platform. And that would be to make future versions of WordPress PHP 5.6 and PHP 7 only. Recently I’ve had developers quit as they are tired of working with out of date technology (specifically referring to PHP 5.2, 5.3 and 5.4).

    When WordPress loses the developers, WordPress will lose the customers. Long time WordPress advocates and design frontrunners Smashing Magazine have already lost patience with WordPress and moved to jamstack. It’s high time to stop worrying about today’s marketshare and start worrying about tomorrow’s WordPress.

    The logical step would be to leave PHP 5.2, 5.3 and 5.4 behind on the next release with 5.5 soon to follow.

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    1. Totally agree. As a plugin developers and WordPress users, we’ve created a plugin Giga Messenger Bots, and because plugin for Facebook Messenger platform isn’t a small project, we have to, at least use PHP namespaces & trait, to arrange the code, we also need to use Composer to load other packages, most of these packages need PHP >= 5.6, I have to stay with their older and outdated versions.

      Theoretically, we can tell our users uses PHP >= 5.4 to install but sometimes, people neither look at the installation guide nor warning message, they just complain about our plugin. This makes us stressful and takes so much time to maintain the ancient PHP version.

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      1. How many complaints do you get from users using 5.3 and bellow, Gary?

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    2. There are security issues with PHP 5.2 itself, so using WordPress on it is not safe. Granted that’s not WP’s fault.

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  3. Most hosts do that these days which is great. There’s no reason the majority of people shouldn’t switch to PHP 7 as soon as it’s available.

    It’s a good idea to check with your host as they may have implemented PHP 7 as an option that you were unaware was available.

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    1. There’s a lot of reasons not to move to PHP 7 yet. Not all the kinks have been worked out. Any custom code or your theme may be incompatible with PHP. Many plugins are still incompatible with PHP 7. Unless some is using his/her site to run a business and have a substantial budget for maintenance, a normal publisher would be better off running PHP 5.6 for the next six months. But yes, everyone should move to PHP 5.6 now, the moderately well-heeled or people with a busy site should move to PHP 7 now and everyone else should follow in about six months.

      PHP 7 makes a big performance difference on a busy site (in terms of server load). On a site with low traffic, it’s no big deal whether its PHP 5.6 or 7. After the initial page load to cache, the performance is not that different. Of course if your site has mainly logged in users pulling uncached pages, then the advantage of PHP 7 is substantial.

      Early adopters and scouts exist for a reason. To work out the bugs before the mainstream arrive.

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      1. Even on fairly small sites I’ve noticed significant differences in how the WordPress admin performs. Just so much snappier with PHP 7. It makes all the difference.

        As for plugin/theme compatibility issues, this really shouldn’t be much of a problem? I converted all my themes/plugins to be PHP 7 compatible months ago. I can’t even remember the exact changes but the changes were trivial in my case.

        Are there major technical issues in general with switching code to work with PHP 7? Perhaps for a minority, I don’t know.

        The way I see it is that the more people to adopt to PHP 7 NOW, the more likely it is themes/plugins still lagging behind will be updated? Otherwise where’s the motivation to update code?

        PHP 7 shouldn’t just be for early adopters anymore (PHP 7 has been around for over 15 months now). PHP 7 is great. Everyone should benefit. I really don’t think waiting another 6 months is going to change the situation much.

        So on balance I’d still definitely encourage people to at least try it if their host supports it. In most cases it’s just a setting in the hosting control panel so can easily be reverted.

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  4. I have a free (no ads) hosting account that I use for WP and even they offer PHP 7 (7.0.17) support. If you pay for hosting that doesn’t offer PHP 7, tell them to upgrade or take your business elsewhere.

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  5. Now PHP 5.6 users should start moving to PHP 7 or 7.1.

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  6. WP Tavern was running on PHP 5.4.28 and we upgraded it to PHP 7 today. Here is a speed comparison.

    PHP 5.4 Full Load PHP 5.4 First Byte PHP 7 Full Load PHP 7 First Byte

    9.8 2.88 7.2 1.21

    The numbers for PHP7 are definitely an improvement and the first thing we noticed is how much faster the WordPress backend loads. We should have upgraded sooner!

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    1. Why don’t you do a follow-up post about it Jeff? I’m sure plenty of users will be motivated by the speed gains, because apparently the security issues are not enough for most of the end users to upgrade to much modern versions of the language.

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  7. The interesting thing is that from hosting company perspective PHP 7 is good for them too, because it uses less memory and it is faster, so resource usage will go down with new PHP, where 7.1 is even faster than 7.0.

    All hosting companies should make an update to PHP 7/7.1 a priority because it will save them money, if nothing else.

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    1. That is the point, why any host without availability of php7 already is not worth a penny.

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    2. This is a simplistic view. Cost of human work is usually higher than anything else. Upgrading old systems to php 7 will require also upgrade of the dependencies, test etc. What is the gain you get if you already have a fully populated server that works well with lets say 5.2? There is a gain in supporting as little configuration options as you can as it minimizes the training and support knowledge required, adding new platform to support probably costs a lot, and the cost is actually relatively higher for the small players which is why they are getting extinct.

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  8. This is exciting news, I myself am elevating the minimum requirements to at least 5.4 for an upcoming open source project of mine which I’ve been developing for the past year (you guys are gonna love it). Let’s hope we kill 5.3 and below once for all.

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  9. In fairness, Mark, the cost to transition from a well-established version to another well-established version is not that bad. For instance from PHP 5.2 to PHP 5.5 or 5.6. By now, almost all of the dependencies and packages and plugins will have updated versions. You can still get into trouble and huge expense though with custom code. A lot of people who built WordPress sites early had to build a lot of custom code. Forcing them to spend thousands to rebuild is not exactly fair. I’ve noticed more and more people in our community like to tell others how to spend their money and how to run their website. That’s why we wrote [BusinessPress](https://wordpress.org/plugins/businesspress/): to let a publisher easily update his/her site at his/her own speed.

    Anyway if WordPress as a community are going to force people to update, forcing them to update to PHP 5.6 would be eminently more reasonable than PHP 7. It’s a far easier upgrade and security upgrades are planned [until at least 1 Januar 2019](http://php.net/supported-versions.php).

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    1. Very interesting about Postmatic. If you post Markdown links into an email they don’t get converted (emails are plain text evidently and processed literally). We should include literal HTML markup (not converted and wrapped but plain text). Will give that a try now.

      If it’s successful, I would be very grateful is someone could delete the first version of this comment above. Sorry for the meta activity! Normally I load the page to comment but would like to take advantage of the comment by email functionality.

      Yes, the links come through but paragraphs are not well respected and the spacing seems strange. Line breaks are sometimes out of place as well. There’s no chance to correct your text (no timer, even if you are logged in with the same account as I am now). End result, unless it’s a very short comment with no formatting, one is better off commenting in the comment form.

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  10. In fairness, Mark, the cost to transition from a well-established

    version to another well-established version is not that bad. For

    instance from PHP 5.2 to PHP 5.5 or 5.6. By now, almost all of the

    dependencies and packages and plugins will have updated versions. You

    can still get into trouble and huge expense though with custom code. A

    lot of people who built WordPress sites early had to build a lot of

    custom code. Forcing them to spend thousands to rebuild is not exactly

    fair. I’ve noticed more and more people in our community like to tell

    others how to spend their money and how to run their website. That’s

    why we wrote BusinessPress:

    to let a publisher easily update his/her site at his/her own speed.

    Anyway if WordPress as a community are going to force people to

    update, forcing them to update to PHP 5.6 would be eminently more

    reasonable than PHP 7. It’s a far easier upgrade and security upgrades

    are planned until at

    least 1 Januar 2019.

    Report

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