What to do before PHP 7.1 reaches End-of-Life

Nothing lasts forever, and software is no exception. As new solutions are developed, support and updates for older versions eventually drop off. When this happens, sites still relying on outdated software face degraded performance and security risks. Staying ahead of this curve is crucial to maintaining a website. 

This isn’t a theoretical problem. Soon, many Drupal users will have to come to terms with the sunsetting of a critical software element: PHP 7.1. In December 2019, security support will end for this version of PHP, and any users still utilizing this release will be exposed.

Those with an understanding of web design will recognize that this December deadline isn’t a trivial matter. When PHP was first founded, it stood for “Personal Home Page,” which now feels quaint. A popular server-side scripting language, PHP is well-suited to web development and powers sites ranging in scope from well-known entities like Facebook and Wikipedia to, true to its roots, smaller personal sites. Notably, all Drupal and WordPress sites are written in PHP. As such, PHP’s lifecycle is inexorably tied to Drupal sites.

Major players in the Drupal space have, unsurprisingly, planned for December. A glance at Acquia’s software end-of-life schedule reveals that the services provider and hosting giant will actually end support for PHP 7.1 in October 2019 – two months ahead of schedule. This shift is mandatory for all sites hosted on Acquia’s platform. Once this date elapses, sites that have not updated their version of PHP will see Acquia automatically do it for them, whether the site is fully compatible or not. The company will remove PHP 7.1 and replace it with a new version, come what may. If your site isn’t ready, whatever breaks, breaks.

To avoid an event that cripples your site, preparing for PHP 7.1’s end of life is essential to any Drupal users who are utilizing Acquia. Fortunately, if you’re interested in upgrading, the future looks bright. Newer versions of PHP continue to help improve site performance, enabling a more fluid user experience and aiding with SEO rankings. Updated PHP branches are also safer, as security support will still ongoing for PHP 7.2 and beyond.

Migrating from an existing version of PHP, however, is often a fairly complex process. Even when upgrading from version 7.1 to 7.2, there are a series of incompatible changes that will require testing before pushing to production. Beyond incompatibilities between branches, your site’s Drupal core, contributed modules and local development environment will all have to be updated as well. The more complex your code, the more you’ll have to account for when upgrading.

Not all Drupal sites will be forced to upgrade at this time. Hosting platform Pantheon, for example, maintains support for and keeps older versions of PHP as secure as possible, although it doesn’t recommend keeping sites on end-of-life versions of PHP unless absolutely necessary. In addition to security, there are also the performance gains that upgrading PHP provides. Benchmarks show that an upgrade from PHP 5.6 to PHP 7.2 leads to a 250 percent increase in PHP performance, which is important for any non-cached requests on your site. An upgrade from PHP 7.1 to 7.2 still yields a gain of 13%. Even if your web hosting platform offers flexibility in terms of when you can upgrade your PHP version, it’s really best for you to do so as soon as possible. That said, these upgrades often take a lot of effort, and this is where Duo comes in.

Whether you’re choosing to continue using an older version of PHP for the time being or are ready to upgrade now, an ongoing support agreement with Duo can ensure both security and stability. At the base level, Duo can develop patches and security updates for your site’s Drupal core and modules. In addition to this work, Duo will also work with your team to discover new functionalities and explore new designs that are appropriate for your business goals. As your needs change, Duo works with you to help meet them.

For many Drupal users, the upcoming end-of-life for PHP 7.1 presents a challenge. There are several ways to go about dealing with it, and users would do well to weight the choices before changed is forced upon a site. Keep in mind, though, that you don’t have to make the choice alone.

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