Our PHP versions popularity research – and unexpected results

The hosting industry is linked to PHP as more than 80% of all the websites on the Internet use this programming language. This affects the development of any hosting software, including control panels like Plesk. We make a product for server management automation, creating and configuring websites and applications. And therefore, for using PHP. One of our key tasks at Plesk is to continue support of outdated PHP versions.

The PHP Version Problem

The hosting industry, like any large market, is quite inert. So transition to new PHP occurs very slowly. Even though Plesk provides users with the latest PHP versions within 48 hours of their release, millions of sites continue working on older versions. Hence, solutions that can provide their support are still in high demand. That’s why Plesk continues to support EOLed-brunches from PHP 5.5 to PHP 5.2 inclusive.

At the same time, we realize that outdated PHP versions pose risks of not just poor performance and functionality, but also vulnerabilities. Ones that can occur at any moment and cost the site owner a lot. You should be pushing your clients to upgrade to at least PHP 5.6. Because, in case of vulnerability like in PHP 5.2, this can cause hacking of thousands of sites. And you’ll get blame for using unsafe software.

Therefore, starting with the new Plesk Onyx 17.8 version, released in March 2018, obsolete PHP versions are marked as outdated in the UI.

We decided we could stop supporting the old PHP completely – if only we were sure the percentage of sites running it was negligible. You know, so as not cause frustration among users. For this reason, we researched which PHP versions are most popular among Plesk users.  The results were quite curious.

No country for old men?

We started analyzing stats available for the last two releases of Plesk Onyx. Thus covering about 15% of sites running on these Plesk versions. Old Plesk versions users probably also use older PHP, but that’s not really a problem for us. What we’re really interested in are the preferences of those using the latest Plesk versions. And therefore being the most loyal to the product of the audience.

We can’t make customers who run unsupported versions of the product on unsupported operation systems to update. Moreover, in their situation, old PHP versions is probably not the biggest problem. Eventually these users will have to switch to new versions of Plesk. And their sites will also be available for our analytics.

Our latest PHP Versions Research Results

Currently the latest versions of PHP are 7.1 and 7.2. They are actively supported by the vendor. So reported bugs and security issues are fixed and regular point releases are made. Versions 5.6 and 7.0 are marked by the vendor as “security fixes only”. These branches are supported for critical security issues only. New releases are only made on an as-needed basis.

Finally, PHP 5.4 and 5.5 haven’t been supported since 2016. And their users are advised to upgrade as soon as possible in order to avoid possible security vulnerabilities. Let’s see whether users actually follow these recommendations. And ultimately, what scares our users most: updating their PHP or becoming a victim of potential vulnerability.

Today the ratio of PHP versions for all sites of our sample looks like this:

As you can see, the overall picture is not so good. The latest versions 7.1 and 7.2, which are recommended by the vendor, don’t even make top 3. Rather, they’re lagging behind. This begs the question: how much does this picture differ from country to country? The largest countries where Plesk popularity has traditionally been high are Germany, the USA and Spain. Let’s start with them.


Germany is in no hurry to update PHP. The latest versions aren’t very popular (only 14% domains in total). However, the situation in Germany is better than the worldwide one. With PHP 7.0 taking second place instead of third – one good point.

PHP versions in Germany

USA and Spain

The United States appeared to be even more conservative than Germany. The situation here is very similar to the worldwide ratio (but in the USA, to its credit, PHP 7.2 share exceeds the PHP 5.2 one). Meanwhile, the situation in Spain isn’t too different from US.

PHP versions in USA
Php versions in Spain

PHP 5.6, 5.4 and 7.0 also form the top-3 in Great Britain and France. Is there anything else we can be interested in? Of course, there is! Let’s look at some countries where our customers turned out not to be so predictable.


The trendiest country in our sample is Lithuania. PHP 7.1 is on the top for this version. Which is recommended by vendor as the actively supported one. This is the best result among the considered countries. Nowhere else do we see this version, as well as PHP 7.2, emerge as a winner.

popular Plesk PHP versions in Lithuania

Next in our leaderboard are Korea, Denmark and Sweden with PHP 7.0 as the most popular version.


A whole 52% of Korean domains working on Plesk use PHP 7.0.

PHP versions in Korea

Denmark and Sweden

In Denmark, PHP 7.0 walks ahead by not so large a margin as in Korea – with only 35% of domains. Most domains in Sweden are relatively safe. Because 79% of them are working on up-to-date PHP versions from 5.6 to 7.2. Keep it up, Sweden!

PHP versions in Denmark
PHP versions - Sweden

Netherlands and Japan

Netherlands showed a good result too. PHP 7.0 took the second place here. We can’t help but mention those countries where, for some reasons, the latest PHP versions are not popular. One of these countries, surprisingly, is Japan. Here, the most common PHP version is 5.4, followed by 5.3.

PHP versions - Netherlands
PHP versions - Japan

Other European countries

We detected a rather retrograde picture in Latvia, where the most popular version is PHP 5.4. PHP 5.3 in Greece and Russia, and PHP 5.2 in the Czech Republic.


However, everything pales in comparison with China where 44% of sites work on PHP 4.4! We’ve seen nothing like this in any other country.

PHP versions in China

In total, 80% of Chinese sites use an outdated PHP. We also found this high popularity of old PHP in Japan and Mexico – with 63% for both.

The rating of the most ‘conscious’ countries with the largest share of PHP 5.6+ is headed by South Korea – 87% of sites. The second place is occupied by Sweden (79%), and third by Denmark (72%).

Table of all countries and corresponding PHP versions

Php versions by country

What the PHP Popularity Research Results mean for Plesk customers

The stats above prove that now’s too early to talk about ending support of PHP versions 5.2 – 5.6. At the same time, we should definitely push customers in this direction. From our side, we at Plesk do our best to make the transition to the new PHP as comfortable and painless as possible. Besides warning of outdated PHP, we do the following:

  • For default settings, we take into account which PHP version is provided by OS vendor.
  • If the OS vendor doesn’t provide the latest PHP version, we add the set of PHP handlers and provide a complete set. Including old and new versions.
  • In new installations, we offer the latest PHP versions. But we don’t switch automatically while upgrading from old Plesk versions, so as not to break working sites.

These steps already work because in our stats we see an upward trend in popularity of the latest PHP versions. PHP 7.0 replaced 5.5 from the top 3, and PHP 7.1 entered top 5 list.  This means we’re heading in the right direction. So will you move forward with us?

Do you prefer an old PHP to a new one? Please share in the comments!


  1. I do preffer newer PHP versions, but as a Hoster, I cannot force my customers to update to a newer PHP Version. They start Hosting their site with PHP 5.3 and keep this Setting.

    I recomment updating to PHP 7 or 7.1 where I can, but this is their job.

    I would love to see support for PHP >= 5.3 for some month and then keep PHP >= 5.6 for two years.

    For us Hosters, it would be nice to see wich Domains are using wich PHP Version 🙂

  2. We also have a problem with clients using older software. While we push them to update not all will. Which brings up a question. If we move from Plesk 12 to the latest will the clients running phone 5.4 or whatever continue after the upgrade or do we have to go back domain by domain and reset their php

    • Hi Daniel, we don’t switch PHP version automatically to not break any customer’s site. We just notify customers that they use an outdated PHP version and provide them an opportunity to make the right choice.

  3. What are the data sources?

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