Testing your plugins for PHP version compatibility

With all versions of PHP 7 now officially EOL (end of life) any plugins you develop, or have developed, must support PHP 8. While WordPress does run on PHP 8, many plugins still do not support it fully. In this tutorial, we’ll look at how to can test your plugins for PHP compatibility, in order to get them updated.

Learning outcomes

  1. Explain why testing for PHP version compatibility is important.
  2. Locate resources to check for PHP version changes.
  3. Manually test plugins for errors based on PHP versions.
  4. Use the PHPCompatibility tool to test plugins for errors based on PHP versions.

Comprehension questions

  1. What does it mean when a PHP version is end-of-life?
  2. Where can you read about changes introduced by different PHP versions?
  3. What are two ways you can test your plugins for PHP version compatibility?


Hey there, and welcome to Learn WordPress.

In this tutorial, you’re going to learn about testing your WordPress plugins for PHP version compatibility.

You will learn why it’s important to test for PHP version compatibility, where to find information about PHP version changes, as well as two methods to test your plugins.

Why test for PHP version compatibility?

WordPress is written in PHP, and as such, it needs to be able to run on at least the minimum supported version of PHP that is available to web hosts. While WordPress has a specific minimum requirement for PHP, older PHP versions will eventually reach end-of-life by the PHP developers, and will not receive any security updates in the near future.

For example, the current version of PHP required to run WordPress is 7.4, which reached end-of-life status on the 28th of November 2022.

WordPress core itself is considered compatible with PHP 8.0, and the WordPress core team is working on making WordPress compatible with PHP 8.1 and PHP 8.2. However, they cannot guarantee that all plugins will be compatible with current or future versions of PHP.

As a plugin developer, it’s therefore important to have a process in place to test your plugins for PHP version compatibility.

Where to find information on PHP version changes

In order to know when and how PHP versions are going to change, it’s a good idea to refer to the official PHP website at https://www.php.net/.

On the Supported Versions page, you can find information about which versions are currently supported, at what level of support, and which versions are end-of-life.

At the time of this recording, all PHP 7.x versions or end of life, PHP 8.0 is supported for security fixes only, and PHP 8.1 and PHP 8.2 are actively supported, meaning bug and security flaws will be fixed. Note that PHP 8.0 will only be supported for security fixes till November 2023, which is around the time PHP 8.4 will be released, and then PHP 8.0 will be considered end-of-life.

In the Appendices section of the PHP documentation, you can find the guides on migrating from older PHP versions, which list all the changes between the old version and the new one. For example, the Migrating from PHP 7.4.x to PHP 8.0.x guide lists all the changes between PHP 7.4 and PHP 8.0.

Example plugin

For the purposes of this tutorial, let’s imagine you’ve developed a simple plugin.

 * Plugin Name: WP Learn PHP8
 * Description: Learn to get a plugin ready for PHP 8
 * Version: 1.0.0

 * Posts fetcher class
class post_fetcher {

    protected $posts;

    public function post_fetcher() {
        $this->posts     = get_posts();

    public function fetch_posts() {
        $post_html = '<div class="post">';
        foreach ( $this->posts as $post ) {
            if ( array_key_exists( 'post_title', $post ) ) {
                $post_html .= sprintf(
                    '<h4><a href="%s">%s</a></h4>',
                    get_permalink( $post->ID ),
        $post_html .= '</div>';
        return $post_html;

 * Shortcode to render posts
 * Uses the post_fetcher class
add_shortcode( 'wp_learn_php8', 'wp_learn_php8_shortcode_render' );
function wp_learn_php8_shortcode_render() {
    $post_fetcher = new post_fetcher();
    $post_html = $post_fetcher->fetch_posts();
    return $post_html;

The plugin registers a shortcode, which fetches a list of posts and displays the post title of each post whenever the shortcode is used. The post_fetcher class handles the fetching of the posts.

Testing the shortcode on a page, you can see that it works as expected when running PHP 7.4.

How to test for PHP version compatibility

There are a few ways to test for PHP version compatibility, which require different combinations of newer PHP versions and the installation of various tools. For the purposes of this tutorial, we will look at one manual way and one automated tool.

Manual compatibility testing

The manual method involves you setting up a WordPress environment with the PHP version you want to test for, and then testing your plugin in that environment.

Setting up this environment can be done in a few ways, but the most common option would be to use a local development environment that supports changing PHP versions, such as Mamp, Laragon, LocalWP, and DevKinsta.

For the purposes of this example, we’ll test on PHP 8.0.

A quick way to check that you’re on the right version, is you create an info.php file in the root of your WordPress install and use the following code:


Then, navigate to the info.php file in your browser, and you should see the PHP version displayed.

Once you have your test environment set up, you need to enable WordPress debugging.

To do this, edit the wp-config.php file, and update the line which defines the WP_DEBUG constant, setting it to true

define( 'WP_DEBUG', true );

Additionally, add the WP_DEBUG_DISPLAY constant and set it to false and add the WP_DEBUG_LOG constant and set it to true, so that errors are logged to a debug.log file in the wp-content directory.

define( 'WP_DEBUG_DISPLAY', false );
define( 'WP_DEBUG_LOG', true );

Then, test your plugin, by refreshing the page. Notice that the shortcode functionality breaks.

If you look at the debug.log, you’ll see the following error displayed:

[16-May-2023 12:07:35 UTC] PHP Warning:  foreach() argument must be of type array|object, null given in /home/ubuntu/wp-local-env/sites/learnpress/wp-content/plugins/wp-learn-php8/wp-learn-php8.php on line 21

Now, if you go to line 21 of the plugin file, you’ll see the following code, you’ll see that it’s trying to loop through the $this->posts property, which is null for some reason. The reason might not be immediately obvious, so you might have to dig into the Migrating from PHP 7.4.x to PHP 8.0.x guide.

In the Backward Incompatible Changes section, you see the following change:

Methods with the same name as the class are no longer interpreted as constructors. The __construct() method should be used instead.

So in this case, our class constructor method needs to be updated.

Once that’s fixed, refresh the page, and you’ll see that a more serious error has occurred.

Time to check the log.

This time we have a new error:

[16-May-2023 12:14:59 UTC] PHP Fatal error:  Uncaught TypeError: array_key_exists(): Argument #2 ($array) must be of type array, WP_Post given in /home/ubuntu/wp-local-env/sites/learnpress/wp-content/plugins/wp-learn-php8/wp-learn-php8.php:22
Stack trace:
#0 /home/ubuntu/wp-local-env/sites/learnpress/wp-content/plugins/wp-learn-php8/wp-learn-php8.php(42): post_fetcher->fetch_posts()
#1 /home/ubuntu/wp-local-env/sites/learnpress/wp-includes/shortcodes.php(355): wp_learn_php8_shortcode_render()
#2 [internal function]: do_shortcode_tag()
#3 /home/ubuntu/wp-local-env/sites/learnpress/wp-includes/shortcodes.php(227): preg_replace_callback()
#4 /home/ubuntu/wp-local-env/sites/learnpress/wp-includes/class-wp-hook.php(308): do_shortcode()
#5 /home/ubuntu/wp-local-env/sites/learnpress/wp-includes/plugin.php(205): WP_Hook->apply_filters()
#6 /home/ubuntu/wp-local-env/sites/learnpress/wp-includes/blocks/post-content.php(54): apply_filters()
#7 /home/ubuntu/wp-local-env/sites/learnpress/wp-includes/class-wp-block.php(258): render_block_core_post_content()
#8 /home/ubuntu/wp-local-env/sites/learnpress/wp-includes/class-wp-block.php(244): WP_Block->render()
#9 /home/ubuntu/wp-local-env/sites/learnpress/wp-includes/blocks.php(1051): WP_Block->render()
#10 /home/ubuntu/wp-local-env/sites/learnpress/wp-includes/blocks.php(1089): render_block()
#11 /home/ubuntu/wp-local-env/sites/learnpress/wp-includes/block-template.php(240): do_blocks()
#12 /home/ubuntu/wp-local-env/sites/learnpress/wp-includes/template-canvas.php(12): get_the_block_template_html()
#13 /home/ubuntu/wp-local-env/sites/learnpress/wp-includes/template-loader.php(106): include('...')
#14 /home/ubuntu/wp-local-env/sites/learnpress/wp-blog-header.php(19): require_once('...')
#15 /home/ubuntu/wp-local-env/sites/learnpress/index.php(17): require('...')
#16 {main}
  thrown in /home/ubuntu/wp-local-env/sites/learnpress/wp-content/plugins/wp-learn-php8/wp-learn-php8.php on line 22

If you look at that line in the plugin, you’ll see that it’s trying to use the array_key_exists() function on the $post variable inside the foreach loop, but this variable is an object, not an array.

If you look at the Backward Incompatible Changes section of the migration guide and search for array_key_exists, you’ll see the following change:

The ability to use array_key_exists() with objects has been removed. isset() or property_exists() may be used instead.

This means that previously it was possible to use array_key_exists() on an object, but now it’s not. So we need to update our code to use property_exists() instead.

property_exists( $post, 'post_title' )

If you refresh the page, you’ll see the shortcode is now working again.

And if you check the debug.log, no new errors have been reported.

Automated compatibility testing using PHPCompatibility

While the manual method works, it’s a tedious process, and it would be preferable to automate the process somehow.

There are a number of automated or command line tools that you can use to test for PHP Compatibility, but one that is quite useful is the PHPCompatibility tool, which is a set of rules for the PHP_CodeSniffer tool.

What’s great about PHPCompatibility is that you don’t have to configure a different PHP version to use it. You can use it with your existing PHP version, and it will check your code against the rules for the PHP version you specify.

To install and use PHPCompatibility, you need to install Composer, which is a dependency manager for PHP projects. For Composer to work, you also need the CLI version of PHP installed on your system.

Installing Composer is outside the scope of this lesson, but you can find instructions on the Composer website for both macOS/Linux and Windows operating systems.

You can find ways to install PHP on your system on the PHP website under the Installation and Configuration section.

You can check that you have PHP installed by running the following command in your terminal:

php -v

Similarly, you can check that you have Composer installed by running the following command in your terminal:

composer -v

Once you have Composer installed, you can initialize the Composer project by running the following command inside the plugin directory:

composer init

This will initialize a new Composer project in your plugin directory. You can accept the defaults for most of the questions, but when it asks you to “define your dependencies (require) interactively and define your dev dependencies (require-dev) interactively?”, you should answer no. You can also skip the PSR-4 autoload mapping.

If you’re already using Composer for your plugin, you can skip this step.

Next, you need to require PHPCompatibility, which requires PHP_CodeSniffer by running the following command.

composer require --dev phpcompatibility/php-compatibility:"dev-develop"

You’ll be installing the develop branch of PHPCompatibility tool, which at the time of creating this tutorial contains the latest version of the code. Once version 10 of PHPCompatibility is released, you can leave out the specifying of the develop branch.

Then you need to require the WordPress coding standard rules for PHP_CodeSniffer:

composer require --dev wp-coding-standards/wpcs

Once you’ve set up your dependencies, you’ll need to install them by running the following command:

composer install

With all this installed, you can run the PHPCompatibility tool on your plugin file.

The recommended way to do this is to run PHPCompatibility against a specific base version of PHP. In this example, you can run it against version 7.4 of PHP and above by setting the testVersion runtime variable to 7.4-.

./vendor/bin/phpcs --runtime-set testVersion 7.4- -p wp-learn-php8.php --standard=PHPCompatibility

This is what the output looks like

E 1 / 1 (100%)

FILE: /Users/jonathanbossenger/wp-local-env/sites/learnpress/wp-content/plugins/wp-learn-php8/wp-learn-php8.php
15 | ERROR | Declaration of a PHP4 style class constructor is deprecated since PHP 7.0 and removed since PHP 8.0

Time: 46ms; Memory: 10MB

Notice how the same error is reported as the manual method, but this time it’s a lot more specific. It tells us exactly what line the error is on, and what the error is.

So now we can fix the class constructor error.

However, notice that the second array_key_exists error is not reported. This is because the PHPCompatibility tool is an open-source project that relies on contributions, based on the changes in PHP versions. At the time of recording this tutorial the array_key_exists removal has not yet been added.

Pros and cons of using PHPCompatibility

As noted, one of the downsides of using something like PHPCompatibility is that it’s not always up to date with the latest changes in PHP versions. Additionally, it requires familiarity with the command line, which not all developers may have.

However, it does have some benefits, such as being able to scan your entire codebase, without needing to install and configure additional PHP versions, and being able to automate the process.

As such, combining something like PHPCompatibility with the manual testing process we’ve already discussed, is a good step closer to ensuring your plugin is compatible with current and future versions of PHP.

Happy Coding.

Workshop Details


Jonathan Bossenger

WordPress Developer Educator at Automattic, full-time sponsored member of the training team creating educational content for developers on Learn WordPress. Husband and father of two energetic boys.