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The Oil Changes of the Internet

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We’ve all been there. You’re gazing absent-mindedly while sitting at a stoplight, and suddenly, you notice the tiny sticker your mechanic put in the corner of your windshield after your last oil change: “Come see us again when you’re at 68,000 miles” You glance over at the odometer. 81,440.

“It’ll be fine,” you tell yourself. “There’s nothing leaking, no smoke under the hood. They just write that number to try to sell you more oil sooner. I don’t have cash lying around for this and besides, these modern oils last a really long time.”

You’re satisfied with this answer until one day, you’ve packed your car full of groceries in the parking lot only to hit the ignition and be greeted with…nothing.

Upgrading PHP and your website’s Content Management System (CMS) are the “oil changes” of the internet: not exciting, no outwardly-visible changes, but essential to invest in.

Why Should I Care about PHP?

If HTML is your website’s bones and CSS is its face, then PHP is its brain: what makes it interactive and dynamic. It’s part of the environment managed by whoever hosts your website. When the PHP version on the server is updated, your site’s code may need to be updated as well—and that’s when you need a developer.

If you remain on a version of PHP that has stopped receiving security patches, it’s not likely that anything on your site will spontaneously break…yet. It is likely, however, that you’ll be vulnerable to security threats involving stolen information, malicious code added without your knowledge, and unauthorized access to files. Asking your users to submit personal details or process payment while still using an ancient version of PHP would put them at an unacceptably high risk.

Because of the risks, most of the large and reputable hosting providers out there aren’t willing to host sites using badly outdated PHP, so if you opt not to have a developer take care of your upgrade, your web host will eventually forcibly move you to a stable version. It’s at that point you can (and likely will) experience spontaneous breakage.

And the Content Management System?

If your website was built any time after you returned your last Blockbuster rental, it’s almost certain to be using a Content Management System, or CMS. These include WordPress, Drupal, Magento, Craft, and more. If you never update yours, you’ll be faced with (you guessed it) security risks. More importantly, most systems are constantly introducing new helpful features that boost customization and ease of use. Every new release addresses frustrations and shortcomings that existed in the previous version. In turn, sites become less rigid and cookie-cutter on the front end while requiring less specialized knowledge on the back end.

Upgrading your CMS will also help rid it of clunky old functions. When’s the last time you pasted something from a Word doc into a text box by clicking a dedicated Word clipboard button? Or cropped and resized photos by typing in the desired number of horizontal and vertical pixels? Upgrade and sweep those out of your way!

Don’t keep listening to “Now That’s What I Call Music!” CDs on that Walkman plugged into your cassette adapter when your car can now connect to Bluetooth.

When you get to show your friends the shiny new ride that you just drove off the lot, it makes the thousands of dollars you just spent feel worthwhile. A few years later when you’re greeted with the orange glow of the check engine light, it’s normal to be much more reluctant to spend. But fun or not, you’re going to need that oil change, and it’s the right choice.

When you get to show your colleagues and clients the shiny new website that you just launched, it makes that budget feel justified. Years later when your PHP and CMS versions have slowly become outdated security liabilities, it’s normal to not feel thrilled budgeting for an upgrade. But fun or not, you’re going to need it, and it’s the right choice.

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