EP370 – The WordPress PHP Update Problem: Making New Code and Keeping the Old

August 21, 2020

This week on WPwatercooler we discuss the environment that our WordPress website and the programming language that powers WordPress, PHP.

Join us on this episode of WPwatercooler by visiting our Participant guidelines page.

WPwatercooler network is sponsored by ServerPress makers of DesktopServer. Be sure to check them out at https://www.serverpress.com


Episode Transcription

Jason Tucker 0:07
This is episode number EP370 – The WordPress PHP Update Problem: Making New Code and Keeping the Old. This episode is brought to you by ServerPress, makers of DesktopServer. They make local WordPress development easy. Check them out at ServerPress.com and our new show the query, go check out the query over at WPwatercooler.com/thequery ask Jason Cosper a question.

And Jason Tucker. You can find me over at Jason Tucker on Twitter. My website is Jason Tucker blog.

Steve Zehngut 0:37
I’m Steve Zehngut. I’m the founder of Zeek interactive and I run the OC WordPress meetup.

Sé Reed 0:41
I’m Se Reed and I make WordPress teach WordPress and preach WordPress at SeReedMedia.com on all the things

Russell Aaron 0:48
my name is Russell Aaron, I do things with WordPress in Las Vegas.

Jason Cosper 0:51
It’s Jason Cosper, AKA Fat Mullenwig.

Jason Tucker 0:56
Go support us over on Patreon. Go to patreon.com slash twist WPwatercooler hit the little subscribe button, we’d really appreciate it and click the bell. The bell lets you know that we’re that we’re going live like we did just now and you’ll get notifications of that. We’re live everyone. How are you doing? We are live this time we actually live button. Wow. For those of you in the, you know listening to us later or watching us, we had some issues on Friday and hopefully things work.

Steve Zehngut 1:30
For the record, I have a lot of issues.

Jason Tucker 1:35
We’re just we’re just saving you from having to go to therapy. It’s all

Steve Zehngut 1:39
in here. This really is just therapy for me. That’s all this is.

Jason Tucker 1:43
Oh, man. So yesterday we had a read on the show, we’re hoping that she may jump in at some point. If she does, that’s great. If not, we’re still gonna be discussing this. Anyhow, we’re gonna be talking about WordPress and dealing with PHP and versions of PHP and how you should You know, go about looking at that. How, how should we start this thing off? I’m always directory incorrectly here.

Steve Zehngut 2:11
Yeah, before we get into opinions, let me give a little bit of a factual history on the technologies. That sounds

Jason Cosper 2:18

Steve Zehngut 2:19
So I’m looking at I’m looking at Wikipedia right now and according to Wikipedia, right PHP right now. PHP5.6, was released on in August of 2014. And was supported through December of 2018. Right, the latest version of PHP is 7.X, the depending on on what server you’re running. There was no PHP6. It was it was skipped. PHP7, two is probably the well 7.3 is the current version seven, two is still supported, but it’s moving fast. So 7.2 two is supported only through November of this year. Seven three came out In December of 2018, coincidentally right when, when 5.6 was a was sunsetted, or supported through, and it it is supported through December of next year. Right. And so that’s just a little bit of history of PHP. And the reason we’re talking about this is there’s still a lot of servers out there that are running PHP5.6, which again, was only supported through December of 2018. It is a six year old as of this month, a six year old technology.

Jason Tucker 3:30
And in the whole, the whole world’s running off of it. That’s one yeah.

Steve Zehngut 3:34
And so and so the issue is and this comes up in every version of WordPress is should WordPress support older versions of PHP then the currently supported version? Right meaning should IT support versions of PHP prior to PHP 7.x, or PHP 5.6, right. And you know, the what the reason this came up the reason we’re talking about This is because developers, you know, always want the latest and greatest. And they want the latest and greatest because you know it the codes more efficient, it’s faster. There’s less code to write. And that’s especially true of PHP. And we just don’t want to have to support legacy stuff like PHP 5.6, but WordPress is now approaching 40% of the entire internet. So about 40% of the entire internet runs on WordPress. And so there is a percentage of those WordPress servers about 20% that run a version of PHP that’s prior to PHP seven. So there is a conundrum. So that’s, that’s all the facts. And that’s it. That’s I’m gonna go and enjoy my Saturday.

Jason Cosper 4:52
So there was a track ticket that was opened by one of the developers in the community And basically the argument that ended up happening around this was they wanted to raise the minimum version of PHP up and drop support for 5.6. And they brought a bunch of facts and figures and numbers and saying that over 80% of installs are on PHP7 and up, etc. However, our benevolent dictator for life, Mr. Slim Mullenweg says said that said that, no, it’s not enough. We need to get the number of people running on PHP version of seven or up lower he thinks it should be down at like 5%. So the developer who opened the the track ticket responded with kind of a I’m taking my ball and going home close the track ticket said, Yeah, all these facts and figures aren’t gonna mean a damn thing when we have this discussion again. So when we were ready to have this discussion, go ahead and open a brand new ticket, like, screw this discussion, like just forget it ever happened. And down the memory hole it goes.

Steve Zehngut 6:28
And so there’s, there’s, that all happens. And there’s a couple of issues there. Right. And so I think the problem with that logic, right, if that is the logic, probably that logic is that’s based on users, right? If we’re saying users, we want the number of users right down below, you know, 5% or smaller, smaller, smaller than 20%, or whatever that number is going to be. Users have no idea what version of PHP they’re running. Right. site owners have no idea what version of PHP They’re running, nor do they care. They don’t know what version of WordPress they’re running. They don’t know what version of plugins they’re running. They just want the site to work. That’s all they care about.

Jason Cosper 7:09
So yeah, as somebody who’s worked at a web host, I can tell you this, three web hosts now, even the web hosts barely have any idea of what versions of PHP their users are running. Like, you know, we’ve got stats and figures and everything else. But that’s something that we have to like dig into, and figure out how dire the situation is. And I’m honestly, we’re just busy keeping the customer sites and servers and everything else up. We would like them to switch to the newer versions of PHP because they’re, they’re faster, they’re more responsive, better performance, everything else, but if the customers happy, we don’t want to mess with that, because that means more issues for our support. So this is like a slippery slope all around. I think Bluehost A few years ago, did and I’ll give them credit for this. I don’t like to give them credit a lot. But they, they did a thing where they basically tried to force as many people as possible up on more current versions of WordPress and PHP. And basically like across the board, because they’re one of the less expensive hosts out there. Some would say cheaper, but let’s just say less expensive hosts. People really just kind of put a WordPress site up and forget about it and don’t care about it. And that they’re they realized that they were part of the problem and they worked on pushing like raising the tide for a lot of folks.

Steve Zehngut 8:49
Well, and so I didn’t come up with the problem there right now. Let’s have the hosts have a have another problem on the other side of this where if they go ahead and just upgrade everybody to the latest version of PHP those sites are going to break because they might not be on the latest version of WordPress. Or if they are on the latest version of WordPress, they may have outdated plugins, there just may be some sort of technology that’s in their site that’s not compatible with the latest version of PHP, because people don’t know to update their stuff. Right. And so the hosts have a problem as well.

Jason Tucker 9:20
Yeah, I ended up seeing something like this where like, for instance, it’s like, you know, the PHP update is required. This is from the site help, if I remember correctly, but like, you end up seeing something like this, and you’re just like, wait, it’s detected an insecure version of PHP, okay, what’s a PHP and why is it not secure anymore? I thought I had SSL turned on what’s going on here? Like, it’s like that, that level of, you know, mentality.

Steve Zehngut 9:47
And jokingly, as we were preparing for this show, I wrote a fake pull request for WordPress core, basically saying, you know, if, if the version of PHP is less than seven, then write a bunch of excellent About about calling your hosts and then die, right? So the whole thing just doesn’t load. Right? So, but that there’s a problem there, right? Because even if even if we did something like that, we’re we’re forcing it, right? You’ve got a customer support issue, right? Because any of these messages in the dashboard, the users are going to immediately call the host and say and say what, how

Jason Cosper 10:26
hosts will do everything they can to avoid an influx of support tickets, whether it calls whether that be like physical email, tickets, whatever, they’re doing everything they can to make sure that the customer is happy. And if that means that the customer is maybe Ill informed, and and not necessarily knowing that they need to upgrade their PHP that things would be better for them. If they upgraded their their site in PHP. You know, then then they Won’t they won’t do it.

Steve Zehngut 11:01
All they know is something doesn’t work. Right. So it must be right that they know somebody who is not tech who is not technical. That’s all they’re gonna know is is is you know that they’re gonna call us and fix my shit.

Unknown Speaker 11:16
Yeah, that’s Oh,

Jason Cosper 11:18
Steve. Steve with the S bomb I was dropping.

Unknown Speaker 11:24
I was dropping it Saturday.

Jason Cosper 11:28
I was dropping him yesterday before we realized we weren’t recording but wow.

Steve Zehngut 11:36
So so we’re caught we’re stuck. Right? Right. Because who, who? Who? Who makes the first move here?

Jason Cosper 11:44
Right. And it’s, it’s even harder because if you upgrade to get on the latest and greatest, say WordPress five just came out like oh, I’ll just I’ll just upgrade and put myself on the latest and greatest Well guess what, if you’re running Divi Elementor, the WooCommerce square plugin and WooCommerce itself, you’re gonna have problems with WooCommerce, five, five, because they just drop support for jQuery migrate. And all of those, like, most of those plugins require jQuery migrate, they didn’t test their plugin against five, five and went and it’s always worked in the past, why the hell not?

Steve Zehngut 12:31
So so that so that and that’s, that’s the that’s what doesn’t make a lot of sense here, right? Is there kind of picking and choosing technologies, we’re not requiring the latest and greatest PHP, but WordPress, five, five updates, the latest jQuery, right, which as you said, if you if you if you update five, five, and you’re running WooCommerce, and you do not upgrade to WooCommerce for four at the same time, you have conflicts. Now they’re not major, but there are dashboard issues that that don’t allow you to make key edits. To your to your products. Right? And that deal. You know, so and so, again, I’m kind of stuck here who who, who makes the first move here, right? Do you? Do you force all this? Because Because, you know, theoretically WordPress could put something in that says, you know if you’re running five, five WooCommerce for four is required, right? You have to you have to upgrade. You don’t get a choice here. What percentage of WordPress would would just break if we were to upgrade it?

Jason Tucker 13:33
Is it 20%? Is it 10%? Is it just you big hosted sites? And that’s it. Like what like, what percentage? Is it that we’re looking at here?

Steve Zehngut 13:43
And does it matter? I mean, what what percent is, Matt, can it be happy? Right? Yeah, matter. And I’m not calling out math here. I’m just saying in general, what what does it matter, right, let’s say let’s say it’s 30% of the sites that’s gonna break that are gonna break Okay, 30% of WordPress users are pissed off. Okay, let’s say we’d reduce that down to five, right? You still have 5% of users that are gonna be pissed off. Right? And if those 5% happen to be the most vocal users, it doesn’t matter, the percentage doesn’t matter if those 5% take to Twitter. It’s the same. It’s the same result.

Jason Tucker 14:24
Yeah, I mean, when when one of the things that you know, cost bring in to kind of set you up here, but you know, yesterday on our show, kind of, we kind of Yeah, we kind of started talking a little bit about like, what are the the ways in which you can kind of approach this? And Cosper started talking, and I’m just going like, we’ve seen this in the past. So Cosper Can you talk a little bit about what you wanted to discuss today about that?

Jason Cosper 14:48
I really think that, you know, if we want to push WordPress forward, as Steve said, we’re kind of picking and choosing all the technologies that we’re you know, that we’re pushing forward here. Why don’t we say with the five five branch basically declare the five branch, our long term support or LTS branch and say okay, you can stay on five six if you are and and like try to keep pushing people up but if you want the latest and greatest if you want the new hot whatever things we’re doing with Gutenberg or with you know any other core improvements if you want your site to be as fast as possible, then get on WordPress six. WordPress six will be the the new possibly breaking changes. And I know that we have had a great platform that hasn’t basically caused like breaking changes The course of you know, WordPress even being a thing which is amazing, because I know Drupal has had breaking changes in the past where you basically have to like, redo your entire Drupal site to move it from Drupal six to seven Joomla look at what

Steve Zehngut 16:21
jenko Magento does not even it does not even upgrade.

Jason Cosper 16:25
Right. So, you know, there’s Magento there’s Joomla there’s Drupal, all of these have these breaking changes. I think we don’t have to have a hard braking change like they do. But I think we can say Listen, if you are going to be on WordPress, you know, like 6.0 you know, then you have to have an if you want the new features, then you have to push your host you have to add We put the pressure on the hosts to because they don’t want the tickets to kind of upgrade and push. And we use the pressure from the community to force this to happen,

Jason Tucker 17:13
that this was happening. For instance, like with Red Hat, Red Hat Linux has been doing this for their enterprise edition for forever. And if you if you’re thinking, what about what about something that I would normally use as a normal human? Facebook, it’s, you know, Firefox itself has its own enterprise solution as well, which, you know, for me working at a church and having having software that may be an older version of the software that still needs to run like a web based product that needs to run on a browser. I can’t have a browser just randomly update and now I can’t have something work on a Sunday. So to have something like this, it allows for me to go and say, I can now plan my upgrades and not have it forced upon me so it’s it’s a little bit of a nicer way of kind of approaching I think

Steve Zehngut 18:00
it’s the right balance in the extreme of this is what Apple and Google do, right? Apple and Google don’t do this at all. They just, they just say, if you were going to the latest and greatest, and if you got out the data technology, it’s just incompatible. Not gonna work. Right. They do it all the time. Right? Yeah. And look what happened. Chrome does it all the time. And there’s no enterprise version of Chrome. They just, they just, they just sunset stuff, right? So stuff is not gonna work.

Jason Cosper 18:26
And what is and what does the web do in response, they go to where chrome and to where, you know, to where Chrome is going, that they

Jason Tucker 18:37
say, straight up has a page called vintage products.

Steve Zehngut 18:41
Yeah. Yeah. Don’t use anymore. Yes. Just don’t use this anymore. We don’t support it. That’s how they do you

Jason Tucker 18:49
have a g4 Quicksilver, okay.

You probably don’t need to be using that anymore. Right.

Steve Zehngut 18:55

Jason Cosper 18:58
I know

that somebody Somebody’s uncle out there is probably still using their their g four Quicksilver Mac and they love it.

Steve Zehngut 19:06
And as long as he doesn’t upgrade his OS fine. As a matter of fact, you take that computer and you go to upgrade us It won’t install. That’s what they do. Yeah, fine. You can use it forever. That’s fine. You just don’t have the latest and greatest stuff.

Jason Cosper 19:22
That’s fine that that that joke patch that you wrote in chat of die, if not, like, why not? Why not have a patch that says, hey, you can’t upgrade because of this. They have been squishing security. patches back to WordPress 3.7. What is so different? What is so different about saying you can’t upgrade past WordPress five, five or five, six or whatever. If you do not match the minimum PHP requirements,

Steve Zehngut 19:54
the host, the host will have to make one key change, right? It’s the Manage hosts I’m talking about. So the liquidweb A world Nexus WP Engine, there is a button in your panel that says automatically upgrade core, they’re going to have to add a little bit of logic into that script that says if PHP equals five six, right if they happen to be running five six on the server, then disable that button. You just don’t have auto upgrades anymore.

Jason Tucker 20:18

Steve Zehngut 20:20
yeah, I’ll write it I think it’s three lines of code I’ll submit a pull request for you.

Jason Tucker 20:31
So So is it is it on the host this goes back to the initial question you had steep is it on the host is it on the user? Is it on WordPress the community WordPress the organization WordPress Mr. WordPress himself? Like what is it that we need to to push this and say, Okay, we’re gonna we’re gonna set these guys aside all your catalogs all your websites, you’re never gonna update you forgot you even had a website at least you know, the thing is as secure as it can be. We’ll plan on This side and then on this side of the place, we’re gonna make it so that you can do your upgrades, do all your auto upgrades and kind of make all that stuff happen. Like how do we how do we do that?

Steve Zehngut 21:09
Yeah. So you asked, Is it on the host? Or is it on? WordPress? Yes, is the answer. Right? So it’s it’s kind of on both. But I think I think the I think the WordPress team has to lead this charge, right? They they’re the ones who have to make this happen and the host will fall in line. Here’s the thing, those 20% of people that are on WordPress, five, six, excuse me, PHP Five, six, or something less than PHP seven, right, that aren’t updating their technology. They don’t value their site. Right. Those aren’t people that are that are that are making it they’re doing anything serious with their site. Sorry. I know that’s a bold statement. There may be there may be exceptions, that rule but then I would bet the majority of those, those 20% right, are people that are running cap blog. There are people that are paying for $2 shared hosting, is that even a thing anymore? Is it so Sub $10 hosting, right? Those are these people, right? And so I’m sorry, you know, if you don’t value your site enough to invest in a decent host that cares about this stuff, you lose or you just run an outdated piece of the software. That’s it.

Jason Cosper 22:19
Yeah. Yeah. Thanks to the I, I always, never want to mention it. But thanks for the pandemic. I’ve been helping a lot of friends get their businesses and just generally like informationally like stuff online. And I am not. Even though I work at a host. I’m not necessarily tied to any one host I say here are the features and benefits of all these different hosts. Pick the one you want and we’ll go with it. So I have looked at most of the large hosts out there. WP Engine kinsta you know liquidweb I’ve looked at, you know, all of these folks, and the new installs that people are making are all on a PHP version past seven. I mean, I see the default for some of these servers, PHP seven, four, which is like the new new. Yeah. And, I mean, and this is, I mean, I even I’ve even helped a few people on on Bluehost on GoDaddy, and even they’re running their new installs are running PHP seven and up. So you’re right, Steve, that these people are not the people who are back on five six really are holding back either because it’s a site that they forgot about. It’s a site that I mean, I I know people And some of these people that I’ve helped set business sites up for, they set up the site. And then I’m like, okay, here’s how you log in. And I’ve gone back and looked, you know, this is back, like in March, I’ve gone back and look, and they haven’t touched anything on their site and months.

Steve Zehngut 24:15
And, again, if you’re out there, and you’re listening to this, this podcast, right, and and you’re not working with a developer, and you haven’t, you haven’t logged into your dashboard, you’re not working with one of the hosts that that Cosper just mentioned, right? This is a site that you just haven’t really looked at or cared about, right? This applies to you. Right? If it is a site, you actually want to keep unique. You need to maintain it, whether that’s something whether that’s doing it on your own, or hiring somebody to go look at this for you or just working with a decent host. Any of these things are going to help kind of solve this for you. Pete you know, WordPress gets a new version. What about now every six four to six months, right when a new version of WordPress PHP He is coming out with a new version every year. Right? So they’re, they’re on a similar cycle. Right? So 773 is the current one. That’s good that supported through December 2021. Like Cosper said seven, four just came out last year. It’s supported through 2022. Eight, PHP eight is due at the end of this year. So it’s, it’s not something if you don’t do this, you’re gonna get left behind at some point.

Jason Cosper 25:26
Yeah, and, and the jump from PHP five, six to seven. Just making that jump makes your site from from a performance perspective so much faster. Absolutely. And when PHP comes out, when we get that little Christmas present in December or so, we’re going to end up with an even faster because PHP eight is going to have some just in time compiling stuff that’s thrown in and everything else, it’s going to get even faster. And the people who hold back the people Hold back are going to, you know, still just be on this old outdated stuff. And I mean it’s in the it’s in the host centrist really to get people on the latest and greatest versions of PHP because that is a lower cost they are consuming fewer resources serving up individual hits. So the basically the lower their cost is the the better. There is a make WordPress hosting group in the course slack and on mega.wordpress.org. And if you work with a web host, especially go hang out in that channel, go be heard in that channel. Go maybe they need to have a listening session with people who just end users to end and kind of open that up and see like what the concerns are with upgrading PHP with with pushing people towards upgrading PHP.

Steve Zehngut 27:07
And as a as a site owner and a minimum, your host should offer you wanted two things, right? They should have a PHP compatibility checker, right so that if you are on an older version of PHP and you’re looking to upgrade, you can run, you can run this compatibility checker, it’ll let you know if your site is ready to go. Or if you’ve got problems, if they don’t have that, barring that, they should have a staging area for you where you can go copy your site over the staging area and test it on the new version of PHP. If your site if your host doesn’t offer you one of those two things, and you value your website, you should consider moving hosts.

Jason Tucker 27:42
And moving hosts is not difficult anymore. It used to be a thing. It’s not a thing anymore. It’s so much easier.

Steve Zehngut 27:49
liquidation next. Sorry, look, a web Nexus WP Engine all offer a migration tool. They do it for you.

Jason Cosper 27:56
And even if the host that you’re considering moving to doesn’t have Have a migration tool. The people who basically wrote the migration tools for all of those people migrate Guru is in the plugin directory. And it works fantastically. You get you give me your email address, you get to deal with the occasional, hey, you should use migrate guru for all your sites blah blah sort of jump out. Yeah, but oh my god, it’s it’s so easy. Yeah. You give them FTP or SFTP details or you give them if they are partnered with one of the hosts like firewheel. You give them login information, and they just handle it.

Steve Zehngut 28:42
Yeah. And if you don’t tell you your site, fine. By the time that’s fine. We’ll, at least at least at least will reduce those percentages.

Jason Tucker 28:56
That’s what I’m saying is I don’t know what percentage of the sites would break if we did a full blown forced upgrade of everything and would, how much of that would survive how much of the 40% would survive the apocalypse? It’s y2k all over again. Jason.

Steve Zehngut 29:12
We’re gonna have a gas pump out in Barstow go down.

Jason Tucker 29:20
Oh my goodness. Hey, well, thank you, both of you for doing the show, especially on a Saturday. I know I know. I have plenty of things going on today. Steve. Steve, on the other hand, said you know it’s just like every other day.

Steve Zehngut 29:34

Jason Tucker 29:36
was can be a Tuesday right now it wouldn’t even know

Steve Zehngut 29:38
doesn’t matter.

Jason Cosper 29:39
You can tell I just if you’re watching the video you can tell I just rolled out of bed by the head Heron quarantine haircut that I got.

Jason Tucker 29:52
I broke quarantine and got mine. Alright guys, talk to y’all later. Hear our outro out on Patreon go to patreon.com slash WP water cooler. We’d really appreciate your support over there. Here’s the fine folks that helped us out thank you very much for all that you’re doing for helping us out over there. If you want to get listed on there, you can do that as well. Hit the subscribe button click the little bell so you’ll be notified when we go live again and if you’re not aware, the show is also a podcast. I’m actually been pushing these podcasts out the same

Jason Cosper 30:26
time in which

Jason Tucker 30:29
we’ve we’ve launched the show so go over to our website wpwatercooler.com/subscribe and learn how to subscribe to that stuff. talk to y’all later. You have a good one

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