WordPress 5.2 – what you need to know

May sees the release of version 5.2 of WordPress, ready for users to update (hint: always updated to major releases ASAP). As this is quite a major update to the popular CMS platform, we wanted to run through the main improvements with you, and what it means for your site.

PHP versions, up up and away!

The headline item for this release is that WordPress now requires a minimum version of PHP 5.6. Indeed, by the end of 2019, the core development team aim to push this to 7.2. This is notable for a few reasons.

WordPress has long supported older versions of PHP – and the older the version of PHP, the more security holes for attackers to exploit. In turn this has allowed various hosting platforms and sites to effectively slide by with order versions for many years. The result has been an epidemic of hacked sites.

WordPress itself is a very secure platform out of the box, but if you’ve ever been told “WordPress isn’t secure”, this is really the culprit: out of date and insecure software around the periphery. Kudos to the WordPress team for finally grappling with this. It does of course mean there will be some upheaval for users who haven’t yet tackled modern PHP compatibility for their sites.

If you haven’t already done so – now is the time to start looking at PHP 7.x compatibility for your site. In an ideal world your site is already hosted on our WordPress hosting platform. Here we maintain very strict rules and keep software and sites up to date at all times. We’re already running PHP 7.2 exclusively on this platform (and will be ahead of the ball for 7.3 support too). If you’d like to move to the platform we will happily advise and help in getting your site PHP 7.2 compatible as part of the free migration process.

If you don’t get PHP 7.x ready, at some point you won’t be able to update your website to the latest version of WordPress; this is critical in preventing your site from being hacked and damaged. Moreover, the further you fall behind, the more plugins and themes will cease to function. You could eventually be left with a site that’s impossible to recover fully.

But we don’t want to get to that point, right? Start looking today at ensuring your site is compatible with PHP 7.x and get in touch with our support team if you need any help.

PHP error protection

Next up, a feature that prevents the notorious “White Screen Of Death”. We actually tackled this huge problem back in September last year, but the new natively implemented feature in WordPress is superior to our own. We’ll be removing our own solution to this problem from any 34SP.com managed installs of 5.2.

So what is PHP error protection? Have you ever installed a new plugin and hung your head as your site crashed, returning just a white screen? This feature prevents that type of failure. If you try to install and activate any plugin that might cause a major site failure (returning a PHP error), the feature kicks in and prevents the activation.

You’ll likely see this manifest as the activate plugin refusing to work over and over. At that point, feel free to get in touch with our WordPress support team so we can look into the issue for you.

Site Health

Site Health first came to WordPress in 5.1 but has been significantly expanded in this release. The new tool aims to spot basic setup problems with your WordPress website and recommend ways to move forward. The plugin also gives your site a health score from 0 to 100.

You can find Site Health under the Tools section of your WordPress dashboard interface. At this point we’d advise taking some of the suggestions with a grain of salt, don’t obsess with hitting 100% just yet – if you have any queries about the tool’s recommendations just get in touch with our WordPress experts so we can advise.

P.S. don’t forget our own plugin Wapuu Dashboard Pet can offer lots of functionality on keeping your site up to date and healthy – with a little more fun to boot!

Other items

The above points are the major changes to the software in 5.2, but do check the official release notes here, for a full breakdown of every last change; everything from accessibility improvements through to interface changes.

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