Install Multiple PHP Versions on Ubuntu 16.04

As a default, Ubuntu 16.04 LTS servers assign the PHP 7.0 version. Though PHP 5.6 is coming to the end of life in December of 2018, some applications may not be compatible with PHP 7.0. For this tutorial, we instruct on how to switch between PHP 7.0 and PHP 5.6 for Apache and the overall default PHP version for Ubuntu.

Step 1: Update Apt-Get

As always, we update and upgrade our package manager before beginning an installation. If you are currently running PHP 7.X, after updating apt-get, continue to step 2 to downgrade to PHP 5.6.

apt-get update && apt-get upgrade

Step 2: Install PHP 5.6
Install the PHP5.6 repository with these two commands.

apt-get install -y software-properties-common
add-apt-repository ppa:ondrej/php
apt-get update
apt-get install -y php5.6

Step 3: Switch PHP 7.0 to PHP 5.6
Switch from PHP 7.0 to PHP 5.6 while restarting Apache to recognize the change:

a2dismod php7.0 ; a2enmod php5.6 ; service apache2 restart

Optionally you can switch back to PHP 7.0 with the following command: a2dismod php5.6 ; a2enmod php7.0 ; service apache2 restart

Verify that PHP 5.6 is running on Apache by putting up a PHP info page. To do so, use the code below in a file named as infopage.php and upload it to the /var/www/html directory.

<? phpinfo(); ?>

By visiting (replacing the x’s with your server’s IP address), you’ll see a PHP info banner similar to this one, confirming the PHP Version for Apache:

Example of PHP Info page

Continue onto the section PHP Version for Ubuntu to edit the PHP binary from the command line.

Step 4: Edit PHP Binary

Maintenance of symbolic links or the /etc/alternatives path through the update-alternatives command.

update-alternatives --config php

There are 2 choices for the alternative php (providing /usr/bin/php).
Selection Path Priority Status
* 0 /usr/bin/php7.0 70 auto mode
1 /usr/bin/php5.6 56 manual mode
2 /usr/bin/php7.0 70 manual mode
Press to keep the current choice[*], or type selection number:

Select php5.6 version to be set as default, in this case, its the number one option.

You can now verify that PHP 5.6 is the default by running:
php -v

PHP (cli)
Copyright (c) 1997-2016 The PHP Group
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with Zend OPcache v7.0.6-dev, Copyright (c) 1999-2016, by Zend Technologies

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