Have you ever thought (or overheard) the following kinds of things about your company’s PHP application?

“Our PHP application is working great right now, so there’s no need to update to the newest PHP version.”

“If we don’t need to take advantage of any of the shiny bells and whistles of the new versions, there’s no reason to update our PHP version.”

These are at first glance pretty reasonable assertions and technically, yes, you might get away without updating your server’s PHP version for a while. Maybe for a long while, if you’re lucky.

But there are actually a number of reasons to update PHP besides just getting access to a few new features. In this article we’ll take a look at some of the major reasons why you should keep your PHP version and your code up-to-date.

Technical Debt

First we’d like to introduce the concept of technical debt, if you’re not familiar with it. Technical debt, also called code debt and design debt, is a concept used in software design (although it can be applied to any system). It says that when there is code that’s not yet complete, there will be interest (debt) that accumulates in the form of future extra work that needs to be done to get the code working optimally.

So let’s say a team decides to release software with sub-optimal, inefficient code. There will be technical debt that needs to be paid; this debt will come in the form of work that has to be done down the line. And the amount of work and cost to fix the code later will be greater than the cost of doing it earlier.

Technical debt is likely to exist for your PHP app. There will definitely come a point when your app code needs to be upgraded to work with a new version especially if your application is 5 or more years old and it has not been done before. The longer you put off upgrading the PHP version, the more difficult and expensive the updating will be.

By upgrading your PHP version and spending some time updating and optimizing your code to match, you spend less money over time than if you were forced to rework a bunch of code due to some future emergency. It’s the same idea behind why you regularly perform maintenance on your car instead of waiting for it to have an expensive breakdown.

So let’s look at some specific reasons for upgrading.

Improved Security

The newest PHP versions have better security. You have a dedicated group of modern and skilled coders working on making the latest PHP versions rock solid and safe.

Older PHP versions are no longer focused on. They are very likely to have security problems that no one has noticed, or they may have problems created by their interactions with new plug-ins and dependencies. Because older versions are not getting updated there are many opportunities for security problems, which opens the door for hacking and penetration.

Some operating systems may claim to be optimized and secure for older PHP versions, but these aren’t official and are almost certain to lag behind stable, maintained releases by a large margin.

Improved Speed and Performance

These days, app and website speed are so important to the user experience. If you’re not doing everything you can to optimize your application’s speed, you risk losing visitors/customers who are frustrated with your slowness.

This is another major reason you should be upgrading the version of PHP on your server: to take advantage of the improvements in performance and code efficiency.

A common upgrade we perform for clients is going from PHP 5.3 (released in 2009, but still widely used) to 5.5 or 5.6. We typically see substantial speed improvements of 30-50%! Mileage of course varies depending on the app complexity, but for an object-oriented app using one of the popular PHP frameworks, the upgrade usually makes a huge difference.

You’ll also see improvements in memory and processor usage, which means you’ll be saving on server costs and improving your overall system efficiency.

Better Tools and Libraries

Impressive new functionalities and libraries are constantly being released for the newest PHP versions. If you are on an old version, you won’t be able to take advantage of these new functionalities.

One of the great things about PHP is that it’s open-source. This means the tools and libraries are continually improving themselves and they are free and easy for everyone to use. If you aren’t keeping your PHP up-to-date, you are missing out on one of the main reasons of using such an open-source system.

Easy To Get Support

The older the version of PHP that your application was developed against is, the harder it gets to find capable support and maintenance for it when things go wrong. Newer developers may only be familiar with the most modern versions.

This is another way the technical debt makes itself felt: the more out-of-date your system is, the harder it is to work on it. With regular upgrades, however, it’s easy to find developers to work on and maintain your code, and the maintenance process is painless and easy.

Portability

If you have an application that requires an older version of PHP to work, then finding new hosting is going to be tough, unless you have access to server people who can install an ancient version of PHP on the new server for you. They then of course need to provide you with bullet-proof assurances that it’ll be secure, which they won’t be able to do, as the older versions are no longer supported. In fact, if you have managed hosting most hosting companies will refuse to maintain older versions due to the very real security concerns.

You might be thinking that you don’t need to move servers so this is a non-issue. But what happens if the server crashes and it needs rebuilding?

This also filters down to keeping test and development environments fresh. If these move or you have new developers come on-line then the issues are amplified.

If this is unclear, let’s put it this way: if your PC or Mac crashed and you needed to re-install software from scratch on a new machine, imagine how hard it would be to get back up and running if you had apps that required Windows 98 or a pre-OSX Mac!

Fix It When It’s Not Broken

For smaller and medium-sized companies relying on PHP, it can be tempting to take the point-of-view of: “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”

But actually, there are many situations in life when fixing things that aren’t yet broken makes a lot of sense, and code projects are one of them. Keeping your code up-to-date ensures your technical debt is kept low. Upgrading PHP to the latest stable version is something we recommend for all of our clients and we do to you too: please start the conversation with your developers today.

Do You Need Help?

If you need any help or advice regarding upgrading your PHP version, please feel free to reach out to us and ask our opinion.

Who are we? We’re Siftware, our service offering is laser-focused and we only work with owners or managers of existing PHP applications. If you would like to find out how we can help you there are more details on our PHP upgrade service here.

About the author: Darren founded Siftware 11 years ago and has been working on PHP projects for 20 years. He's committed to helping those responsible for business critical web applications ensure that their online assets don't become liabilities through lack of maintenance or internal expertise.

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