After being delayed for more than a month, WordPress 5.9 is here as the first major release of 2022. And it's a big one that ushers in the era of Full Site Editing. There's also a new theme, a Block Patterns directory, and lots of features. So let's dive in.
Hey, everybody. Welcome to WP Review for January 27th, 2022, Long Live Full Site Editing. WP Review is a show that provides analysis of what's happening in WordPress and what it means for users and business owners in the ecosystem. My name's Joe Casabona. And as always, this podcast is brought to you by GoDaddy Pro. You'll hear about them later on. But for now, let's talk about WordPress 5.9.
Now, right off the bat, if you want a more visual walkthrough, definitely check out my YouTube video called: What's New with WordPress 5.9? I will link that in the show notes which you'll be able to find over at [wpreview.io] or in whatever podcast player you happen to be listening to right now.
So first, let's talk overview. There are some big changes in 5.9, and we'll cover them here as well as some of my opinions that didn't make it into the video, which was a little bit more factual. You can see everything that's new on the about page in your WordPress install, which is over at [wp-admin/about.php].
But, here are the big ones:
The new theme:Twenty Twenty-Two: The departure of the customizer and full site editing, and global site styles. It's also worth noting that I'm not covering the developer changes. I haven't looked too much at them and I don't have strong opinions now that I'm not developing day to day. But I am considering creating a block theme and documenting the process. If that interests you, you can become a member over at [joincreatorcrew.com] for as little as 50 bucks a year. And let me know if that's something that you're interested in. Again, that's [joincreatorcrew.com].
So first, let's talk about the new theme, the new default theme, Twenty Twenty-Two. I think the theme team has been doing a fantastic job over the last few years, and this year is no different. 2022 or TT2’s main job is to showcase full site, editing and comes with several editable templates and sections, including headers and footers. But most notably, if you're doing a clean install of 5.9, you'll notice the customizer is surreptitiously missing.
According to Make: “WordPress removes the customizer from the appearance menu if a block theme is enabled. Why? Block themes are customizable within the site editor rather than the customizer”. And indeed pretty much every aspect of the site can be edited through the site editor for block themes, including the Title, Tagline and Logo. That's because the site editor includes blocks for each of these and more, and they are changed at the global level. But if you're using a plugin that requires the customizer, It will still show up. And as more plugins update, I'd expect to see more things controllably by either blocks or the site editor or dedicated admin menus (which hopefully will not lead to more admin clutter).
Now, I'm wondering if this is the right move. I'm pretty much thinking out loud here, but what is the long-term plan for plugins that use the customizer? Of course for anything that changes the look and feels it would make sense that they move to the Site Editor either in the global style section or through templates of some sort. The Site Editor is the natural air to the customizer. But what I'm thinking about here are the big customize everything themes like Kadence and Astra. They make considerable use of the customizer and they'll have to completely re-imagine those themes as they transition from Traditional to Block Themes.
For a long time, the edict was any theme options should move to the customizer, and away from specific dedicated theme pages. I suppose if a plugin that didn't need to use the customizer did use it, they could just as easily create an options page, preferably as a sub-menu to one of the preexisting top-level menus in the admin. Or they can convert it to a block or area in the site editor. Perhaps, this is a move that will further decouple plugins from themes. And that's a very good thing.
Now, let's talk Full Site Editing and Global Styles. WordPress 5.9 is officially the release that introduces the world to full site editing. And while the Site Editor has the Beta label slapped on it, for many new users this will be unavoidable. And hey, Gmail had a beta label for over 10 years.
I've gone over full site editing ad nauseam in the linked video and in my own Master of Full Site Editing course; going through that feature in particular, is much more suited for a visual medium anyway.
So here, I want to take the time to discuss what Full Site Editing means for theme development and WordPress users. In short, I think this is going to make things a lot easier for everyone. It will allow them to focus on certain important tasks instead of trying to get an infrastructure in place that should be easily repeatable. Justin Tadlock has a great piece on WP Tavern entitled: If This Is Modern WordPress Theme Development, Sign Me Up.
In that piece, he discusses his experience building a block theme from scratch. My favorite bit is this, when talking about the fact that he didn't need to node or react or js - whatever anything. “It felt like I had been transported back to the mid 2000’s, just with a better system in place to take care of all the complex bits. For once, I could almost entirely focus on the design.”
This echos similar sentiments to a talk I gave last year about what theme creators could focus on with the advent of Full Site Editing or FSE. Spoiler alert: design is a big part of it. And notice I used the word “Creator” there and not Developer. Because the same thing can be said of site builders who don't know code. Take a block theme, make some customizations, maybe even copy the theme .json file that's generated, and you have a starting point for all of your sites. Imagine giving no-code folks the power and flexibility to use their skills across any theme or site, not just the Astra or Kadence theme or not just sites that use a specific page builder like Elementor or Beaver Builder.
We can have a true no-code WordPress designer - akin to what we see on Squarespace or Wix (but probably with the same opinions about which hosting is good and which hosting is bad).
Now, there are a few things I'm currently ignorant about. When it comes to theme development, I'm still woefully ignorant. As a matter of fact, I still do things the old way, in part, because I haven't had to develop a theme from scratch more or less since I left Crowd Favorite, which was, (if I check my notes) 5 years ago.
I don't know if there's a true theme .json exporter. I don't know how much can be done on the Site Editor and easily moved from one site to another. Well, spoiler alert: when I wrote this, I didn't. But we'll find out later that I do know now. I do know this though. If it's not native functionality right now, someone is working on a plugin for that exact thing.
In trying out global styles for 5.9, I liked what I saw, especially when it came to color control. This whole experience has been vastly improved since I released my course. What I expect to see soon and where I felt it's lacking is with typography and structure. Perhaps, it's the opinion of the core team that setting default styles is part of the theme creator's job. And changing them is as easy as making modifications in a block. In fact, you can change global styles at the block level. I can get behind that sentiment. But it's unclear how more fonts would be introduced into the theme from the font selector. That's definitely something I'd like to see and we'll be testing it more. Though, again, maybe theme creators don't want their painstakingly selected fonts messed with. Structure at this point is just site padding, which I have to assume will change with future iterations of the site editor.
And I'll also note here that I know the team did their absolute best that they could to ship a working version of the site editor without letting 5.9 slip even further into the year. These aren’t complaints. Just observations. And as you'll see soon, these are in the works for fixes.
Now, before I get into everything else worth noting, let's take time to hear from this show’s sponsor.
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All right. So let's talk about everything else worth noting. I've covered a lot of ground here and I've only really talked about two things. So here's a much faster roundup of everything else. That includes: The Block Patterns Directory, the Navigation Block, Reorder with List View, Better Block Controls (and rows), Heading Links, and the Gallery Block.
These are all things that have been introduced or see improvements in WordPress 5.9. I actually expected the Block Patterns Directory to get its own section, but it doesn't work quite like I expected. Yes, the navigation and discovery got a lot better. And TT2 comes with tons of patterns for both the content and the site editor. But the directory itself only sends select patterns to your WordPress site for perusal. These are the featured patterns. My expectation was that you'd be able to search it from within WordPress, all of the theme or plugin directory. Indeed, that was within the original scope. Perhaps, it got pushed due to the delay or perhaps that two is in Beta. This speculation is the (most proof that I'm a WordPress pundit and not a journalist. A journalist would actually sift through Slack and make to confirm all of these musings). But either way, it will be exciting once all of this from the submission process to searching within the block editor is ironed out
The small-f feature I'm most excited for is reordering in the list of view. I have list of view open most of the time I'm in the Block Editor. being able to reorder from there is a Godsend. And better block control and the roadblock are nice as well. Though, It's worth noting that the row isn't the same as what you'd see in a page builder or even Kadence blocks. A row is basically a discreet, horizontal section. Columns are not inherently tied to rows. And in fact, the columns block has many of the same controls as the roadblock. You can think of the row block As a different color or call out section. A hero section. But I would strongly recommend you take things for a spin in all of my tests upgradings went smoothly. But don't take my word for it. You should absolutely back up and test before upgrading to a production site.
Okay. Let's talk about WordPress 6.0. And I know what you're thinking already. Hot off the heals of the release, we got a preliminary roadmap from Matias and Shira, prominent contributors to the WordPress open source project over the last few years. From his post on Make: “The overall aim is to consolidate and expand the set of customization tools introduced in 5.9 for creating themes with blocks, with a special focus towards usability and refinement. This new release could be considered a conceptual wrap for Gutenberg: Phase 2. This doesn’t mean the customization phase would be concluded with it, but that its main features would have been established.” From the rest of his post, which I will put in the show notes over at [wpreview.io], the main focus preliminarily will be on:
improving the template browsing and creation
Exposing site structure beyond just the Navigation block
Decoupling templates from specific themes
Complete the scope of global styles, introducing and including easy export and import. And,
Embracing style alternatives driven by .json variations.
Now, if you've been listening to me this whole time, first of all, kudos to you. I appreciate it. But you might notice that some of the things I mentioned just earlier have shown up in the preliminary map for 6.0. I promise you I didn't come up with those thoughts after reading what's happening in 6.0. A lot of what I said above will be actively worked on in 6.0. I think this makes perfect sense. If 5.0 was about the Block Editor and easy content creation, then 6.0 will be the era of theme transcendence, allowing us to create truly portable designs. WordPress will be the embodiment of the CSS Zen Garden over 20 years later. It's a truly exciting time to be working in WordPress.
Now, before we go, I do want to…for my recommendation, I don't really have one this week. I just wanted to talk about the release. But I did participate in both the release candidate 4, the dry run release, and the actual release, which happens in the WordPress Slack core channel. I helped by testing where I could mostly upgrade in the beta tester plugin and with WP CLI as well as testing some of the features which I was doing for my video anyway. And it was a truly exciting experience. It reminded me again of doing these big site launches that we would do when I worked at Crowd Favorite. Working with a team, a pretty large team, from what I understand for this one was rewarding and fun. And it was, it felt like a team sport.
And when it was finally released, even though I did much less than anybody else, I would say, I was proud to have contributed my time a little bit where I could. Shout out to Tanya Mark who was the (I'm going to say the release coordinator) I think developer Lead is her official title. But again, I haven't confirmed that. But, shout out to Tanya Mark, and Sarah Gay, who was basically behind the wheel, making sure everything went as smoothly as possible.
Okay. That is it for this episode of WP Review. Thanks so much for listening.
To get even more WordPress insights and to subscribe to this show, head over to [wpreview.io/subscribe]. You can find the show notes over at [wpreview.io]. And if you liked this episode, share it with a friend.
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Until next time. I'm Joe Casabona, and I'll see you out there.