Our WordPress Hosting tries to keep a stable modern LEMP stack (Linux, Nginx, MariaDB, PHP). At the time of writing, we are still using PHP version 7.2 rather than the latest 7.3. With the new version available for some time, we are now getting the occasional query on when we plan to update.
The short answer is… soon.
To give a more in-depth answer to this question, and a look at why we haven’t already updated let me introduce you to package management on Linux.
Linux package systems
One of the amazing things about a Unix based operating system, such as CentOS 7.4 which is the Linux distribution we use in containers for sites, is that almost any piece of software designed to work on one distribution can be compiled to work on another.
Indeed in the early days (and for some even today) if you wanted to install software you would do something like:
And provided you have the relevant dependencies already installed, something to build your software such as GCC, and time, your software would compile and be ready to go.
Excellent! Except it never goes according to plan.
Inevitably you will be missing a dependency, something will need changing in the makefile or some other small but irritating problem will rear its head. It made for a good day when you tried to compile something and it just worked.
Distributions soon realised that compiling packages was time-consuming and error-prone so most started including package managers, such as apt-get for Debian based distros and yum/rpm for Red Hat based ones, which include CentOS.
Instead of compiling the software yourself, these package managers connect to repositories (normally referred to as
Package managers also have the advantage that they take care of installing all the dependencies for you, again by installing the precompiled binaries of the dependencies.
Package managers massively simplify the installation of software and as a consequence they are heavily relied upon by everyone.
One of the main reasons to pick a distribution like Red Hat or its derivative CentOS is access to its
The slow pace of this cycle though is not exactly suited to that fast-paced world of hosting. For instance, the version of PHP available to Red Hat customers from the default repository is 5.4. While PHP 5.4 is
To get around the slow nature of Red Hat release cycles, you can add other repositories beyond the base ones. For
Each time you add a new repo to your package manager you are adding a new source for packages to be downloaded and placing a huge amount of trust in the repo’s provider. As such it is very unwise to use any old repo for getting access to packages without a bit of vetting.
When it comes to selecting
If a package does exist in
If all else fails we will compile and manage the package ourselves via an internal repository. Where practical we will avoid this as it means we have to maintain and manage each package individually and dedicate human resources to keeping those packages up to date and tested.
By limiting the number of
So where is PHP 7.3?
As detailed above, we use the IUS repo for managing PHP, giving
Normally when a new release comes out, IUS runs a little bit behind. That’s ok; it gives us a chance to test things behind the scenes while we wait for the package to appear. Back in December 2018 when PHP 7.3 was released, we noted its release and looked at the best way to deploy it in Q1 2019. Unlike lots of our infrastructure, upgrading PHP versions requires more time. Because WordPress core and plugins are written in PHP any deprecation or changes to the codebase can have a direct knock-on effect to clients’ code. As such we look to see how many sites would be affected by a new version and get in touch to prepare those sites for the new release.
Unusually, PHP 7.3 didn’t appear in the IUS stable repo. We kept an eye on it but were happy to just update when it was ready. We were not going to update until after the WordPress 5.2 update which had some PHP 7.3 compatibility fixes included. WordPress 5.2 came and went and we started to get concerned.
Meanwhile, IUS were undertaking some changes to their infrastructure which will ultimately mean a new, more streamlined service. PHP 7.3 is one of the first packages on the new infrastructure and has been available in the testing repo for a while but still hasn’t yet been flagged as stable.
All indications are that it is
As of last week, it looks like IUS are about to move PHP 7.3, or more specifically 7.3.7, into the stable repo. We will do another round of testing and begin contacting clients who will need to make code changes.
Once that is done, we will be rolling out 7.3 across our WordPress Hosting stack, just in time for the release of PHP 7.4!
Should there continue to