Ubuntu 16.04 Tutorial – How To Manually Upgrade PHP Version

Ubuntu 16.04 LTS Server is widely used in many VPS and Dedicated hosting environments. However, it comes with now obsolete PHP 7.0.x branch version, and many web applications software, including WordPress, cannot properly run on it because of security and performance issues. In fact, WordPress already gives you a warning that PHP Requires Update in Admin Dashboard home page.

This tutorial is intended for self-managed and self-hosted servers. If you use cPanel, DirectAdmin, Plesk, Webmin… or Shared / Managed / CloudLinux hosting, you can simply change PHP version directly from the control panel itself (here’s an example for cPanel, of course, don’t forget to tick all required checkboxes for PHP extensions which your application requires to properly run!). Contact your hosting support for more details.

How To Manually Upgrade PHP version – Ubuntu Server 16.04 LTS Tutorial

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In this brief article we will show you how to manually install and update PHP version to the latest 7.x or 8.x version on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS VPS server using apt package manager. If you are reluctant to perform this relatively easy procedure on a live server you can install Ubuntu Server 16.04 LTS in a virtual machine environment and run a simulation or exercise in a sandbox first. Once everything goes well you can perform it again in a production environment, entire procedure shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes to setup (assuming you regularly maintained your server software up to date).

STEP 1: Perform Initial Packages Update / Upgrade

Login via SSH to your server (e.g. using PuTTY) and run following commands:

sudo apt update
sudo apt upgrade

STEP 2: Install 3rd Party Repository Support

In order to be able to use add-apt-repository command install required 3rd party repository support:

sudo apt install software-properties-common

STEP 3: Add Ondřej Surý’s PPA repo

NOTE: confirm with ENTER after each command

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ondrej/php

[*] if you use PHP as Apache module:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ondrej/apache2

[*] if you use PHP with Nginx:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ondrej/nginx

STEP 4: Perform Packages Update / Upgrade

NOTE: please ignore “The following packages have been kept back” message regarding old PHP 7.0.x components for the moment

sudo apt update
sudo apt upgrade

STEP 5: Install PHP 7.x or 8.x

Technically, PHP 7.3 is EOL / no longer in active support, so you should consider installing 7.4 or 8.0 version. Of course, you will still receive security updates until end of 2021 if you decide to install 7.3 branch.

NOTE: When prompted select option to KEEP local version of config file(s)!

install PHP 7.3 with common components:
sudo apt install php7.3 php7.3-cli php7.3-fpm php7.3-apcu php7.3-opcache php7.3-common php7.3-pear php7.3-curl php7.3-zip php7.3-mcrypt php7.3-mysql php7.3-mbstring php7.3-xml php7.3-gd php7.3-gmagick php7.3-imagick php7.3-xmlrpc php7.3-geoip

install PHP 7.4 with common components:
sudo apt install php7.4 php7.4-cli php7.4-fpm php7.4-apcu php7.4-opcache php7.4-common php7.4-pear php7.4-curl php7.4-zip php7.4-mcrypt php7.4-mysql php7.4-mbstring php7.4-xml php7.4-gd php7.4-gmagick php7.4-imagick php7.4-xmlrpc php7.4-geoip

install PHP 8.0 with common components:
sudo apt install php8.0 php8.0-cli php8.0-fpm php8.0-apcu php8.0-opcache php8.0-common php8.0-pear php8.0-curl php8.0-zip php8.0-mcrypt php8.0-mysql php8.0-mbstring php8.0-xml php8.0-gd php8.0-gmagick php8.0-imagick php8.0-xmlrpc php7.3-maxminddb

Note: php7.3-geoip / php7.4-geoip modules are no longer available in PHP 8.0 | more information here

If you wish to manually install additional or specific PHP modules depending on your application’s requirements, use following command in order to see all available modules for particular PHP version:

apt-cache search --names-only ^php

STEP 6: Configure PHP .ini file

NOTE: Use terminal via SSH or FTP/SFTP client and text editor (e.g. Notepad++) for this purpose.

Depending on your server setup (e.g. Apache or Nginx or some other server and PHP interface) you will have to configure appropriate PHP configuration .ini file and PHP handler manually.

PHP Config Files - etc Folder - Ubuntu 16.04 LTS Server via WinSCP SFTP Client

PHP Config Files – etc Folder – Ubuntu 16.04 LTS Server via WinSCP SFTP Client

If you run PHP as apache2 module visit /etc/php/php7.3/apache2/php.ini or /etc/php/php7.4/apache2/php.ini or /etc/php/php8.0/apache2/php.ini and configure PHP variables (e.g. MEMORY SIZE, APPEND FILE, EXEC TIME LIMIT, FORBIDDEN COMMANDS etc.).

If you run PHP through FastCGI Process Manager (FPM) interface, corresponding PHP .ini file is located in /etc/php/7.x/fpm/php.ini or /etc/php/8.x/fpm/php.ini and server configuration procedure is different. You have to update server configuration file to use new PHP-FPM as you did before when configuring original php-7.0 FastCGI version.

STEP 7: Set PHP 7.x or PHP 8.x as default PHP version

Default Ubuntu 16.04 LTS PHP 7.0.x binary is still handling all PHP requests, we need to change it:

for PHP 7.3

sudo update-alternatives --set php /usr/bin/php7.3

for PHP 7.4

sudo update-alternatives --set php /usr/bin/php7.4

for PHP 8.0

sudo update-alternatives --set php /usr/bin/php8.0

NOTE: following commands are only in case you run PHP as apache2 module!

Disable old PHP apache2 module version:

sudo a2dismod php7.0

Enable new PHP apache2 module version:

for PHP 7.3

sudo a2enmod php7.3

for PHP 7.4

sudo a2enmod php7.4

for PHP 8.0

sudo a2enmod php8.0

STEP 8: Restart Server

restart Apache server service:

sudo service apache2 restart


sudo systemctl restart apache2

restart Nginx server service:

sudo service nginx restart


sudo systemctl restart nginx


STEP 9: Installation Verification

You can check inside your application, for example:

WordPress Admin > Tools > Site Health > Info tab > Server > PHP version row

Or you can create a simple check.php file with following command:

<?php phpinfo(); ?>

Save it and upload it to your site’s root folder and access it via https://yoursite.com/check.php with your browser. If everything went right, you should get a PHP information page containing version number and other configuration details.

NOTE: Remember to DELETE check.php file from your server afterwards for security reasons!

Remember to at least once a week (or two) perform regular server software update and upgrade tasks in order to keep up with relevant bug fixes, security patches and new features!

Also, don’t forget to check plugins and themes compatibility with particular PHP version and resolve any issues before or immediately after you perform PHP upgrade, although you should generally be fine as no drastic changes were made between 7.0.x and later 7.x.0 branches that should normally cause any serious issues (well, except maybe this one, but it’s definitely not critical).



    1 Comment

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  2. 1. emi

    if you don’t install libapache2-mod-php7.X you won’t have /etc/php/php7.X/apache2 folders…

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