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What is PHP4 Hosting?

Still using PHP 4? Many hosts have upgraded to PHP 5 and no longer provide support for PHP 4. You may still be able to find a host that supports it. You just need to do a little legwork.

If you have a website that runs on PHP 4, you’ll need to look for a web hosting provider that still supports that generation of PHP. If you’re unable to upgrade your website to PHP 5, there are still hosts who support earlier versions.

PHP 4 vs. PHP 5

Did you know that PHP was originally an abbreviation for Personal Home Page? The scripting language hearkens back to the early days of the Internet, when people weren't yet building entire websites, but home pages, where they would share photos, maybe family news, or whatever other tidbits of information that were important to them.

Websites have come a long way since then, and so has PHP, which now stands for PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor. (Yes, the first P in PHP now stands for PHP, making it a recursive acronym. It must be that developer sense of humor at work.)

PHP is a server-side scripting language designed specifically for web development. It’s used to run a lot of well-known software, including the top four CMSs: WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, and TYPO3, plus a host of applications including Facebook.

PHP has seen numerous versions and iterations since it was first released in 1995. PHP 4 was released in 2000, and soon saw widespread adoption. PHP 5, the current generation of PHP, was first released in 2004, but took a little longer to catch on.

Then in 2008, many open-source projects chose to band together to transition to PHP 5 and drop their support of PHP 4, forcing web hosting servers to upgrade to PHP 5 to stay competitive. That same year, development of PHP 4 was officially halted, and no further patches or updates have been released since then.

But there are still some websites and software out there that run on PHP 4. And finding a web hosting provider that supports PHP 4 may be an easier, cheaper, and faster solution for you than upgrading your entire to PHP 5.

Finding a PHP 4 Host

Many web hosts have now moved on to PHP 5, and no longer support PHP 4, so trying to find a compatible host for your website might be a bit tricky. It’s technically possible for a host to support PHP 4 and 5, but it might require some workarounds in your software in order to access the right version.

Before you sign up with a hosting provider, double check with them to see whether they're still supporting PHP 4. If you can’t find a suitable host that supports PHP 4, you may need to consider upgrading your site to PHP 5. It may not be as much work as you think: PHP 5 was designed to still be backwards-compatible with PHP 4, so your website may still work with very few or no changes. If you have the resources to update to PHP 5, there are plenty of benefits including active development and improved security features.

If you're adamant about continuing to use PHP 4, check around. You may find a host that plans to continue to support it. Or you may at least be able to find one that supports it with plans to phase it out, which will give you a little more time to make the necessary changes to your site without any downtime.

PHP 4 Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is PHP4 hosting?

    PHP4 hosting is a niche service for users who require an outdated version of PHP on their server. Hosts have already upgraded to PHP5, in fact, the whole industry has moved to PHP 5 years ago. However, if you absolutely need PHP4 hosting, you should be able to find some hosts willing to cater to your needs.

  • Why would I need PHP4 support in this day and age?

    Practically the only reason anyone would need PHP4 hosting today is legacy support for old sites and software. Perhaps you have a few outdated websites that you still need to keep alive, but you don’t want to waste resources updating them? Maybe your business commissioned a few PHP4 projects years ago, and now you’re stuck with them while the original coders are long gone.

  • What’s the difference between PHP4 and PHP5?

    PHP5 offers a lot more features and capabilities. It has been around for a decade and is very mature at this point. PHP5 has a completely overhauled object model, new class constants, a lot more automated functions and so on. It supports more functions and extensions than PHP4.

  • Isn’t PHP 5 supposed to be backward compatible with PHP 4? Why would anyone need PHP 4 hosting today?

    You are right – PHP5 is backward compatible with PHP4, however, it is not that simple. There are a number of issues that could prevent PHP4 code from executing on PHP5 correctly. For example, the array_merge() function can cause a few problems if your PHP4 coder did not follow best practices. Objects also need to have cloned keywords and PHP5 does not consider an object with no properties empty. Certain classes can also be problematic, i.e. you need to declare your classes before use. Also, the get_*() function is case sensitive in PHP5, which wasn’t the case in PHP4.

  • How old is PHP4 anyway? When was PHP5 released?

    PHP4 is ancient by tech standards. It was released in 2000 and soon became the de facto industry standard. PHP5 was released just four years later, in 2004, but its adoption was relatively slow. PHP5 adoption picked up in 2008 when a number of big open-source projects decided to transition to PHP5 and drop support for PHP4. From then on, the writing was on the wall for PHP4. Official development of PHP4 was halted in 2008 and no updates or patches were published since then.

  • Can a host support both PHP4 and PHP5?

    Anything is possible, at least in theory. This would require a lot of work on your part to make sure that your project uses the right version of PHP. This may be problematic and virtually impossible on many webhosting packages. In case you really need a PHP4 server for legacy support, chances are you will have to find one or set one up yourself, without PHP5 support.

  • What about security? Is using PHP4 risky? Can I do anything about it?

    Yes, using PHP4 is inherently risky. Since there was no development since 2008, there was no way to address security issues with new patches and versions. This means that exploits may go unchecked for years, placing you at risk. There is really not much you can do, short of migrating to PHP5.

  • Ok, I guess I will finally have to update my old projects and migrate to PHP5. How hard is this?

    It depends on your skill level, but the process itself is not too complicated because PHP5 was designed to be backward compatible. In other words, you won’t have to make many changes, just address some potential issues and that is it. The process is well documented and you should have no trouble finding useful resources online. In case your PHP4 projects were developed using best practices, chances are you won’t have much to do, so it depends on the quality of the original PHP4 code as well.

  • My host won’t help me out, or I might have to get an overkill hosting plan to use PHP4. Is it still possible to find PHP4 hosts?

    It is, but it is getting harder with each passing day. At the end of the day, it’s all a matter of demand – fewer people need PHP4, so fewer hosts are offering it. Depending on your needs, it may be very tricky to find an adequate host willing to deal with PHP4. This is especially true if you are looking for shared hosting on the cheap.

  • I need shared PHP4 hosting. Dedicated and VPS plans are out of the question. Do any hosts still offer shared PHP4 hosting?

    Yes, you can probably still find some hosts that may have PHP4 support on their shared plans. However, most of them will not guarantee that PHP4 will continue to be supported on their plans. This is true of almost all such hosts – so in choosing a PHP4 host you are really not solving the issue, you are merely delaying the inevitable transition to PHP5.

  • What about online PHP4 to PHP5 code converters? Do they really work?

    It depends on the original PHP4 code. Generally speaking, most PHP4 to PHP5 converters work, but their track record is mixed and can be described as a hit-and-miss affair. Luckily, you will find a lot of information on PHP4 to PHP5 migration online, so you should be able to find a lot of useful tips and guides.

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