What do you need to know about WordPress 5?

The popular content management system WordPress usually schedules two major updates a year. However, the latest iteration WordPress 5, which could be with us as early as November 19th, is more of an overhaul than the usual modest update WordPress users have come to expect.

The reason is the replacement of the familiar native content editor (pictured below) with a completely new block-based editor, the Gutenberg editor.

classic editor

Introducing the Gutenberg editor

Unlike the standard word-processing based WordPress editor, Gutenberg uses the concept of content blocks. This will be familiar to anyone who has ever used a hosted website builder and the need to protect their market share against these competitors is one of the reasons behind the WordPress change.

Here is what you can expect to see once the changes have gone live:

Gutenberg editor image

Gutenberg allows the user to create blocks for text, images, videos, lists and other types of content. These can be finely edited and dragged around the canvas for a much more intuitive, visual-based editing experience. One of the most welcome changes will be the ability to select block background colour and there is even an accessibility prompt which will warn you if the text and background colour combination will be difficult to read.

Blocks will be used for composing both posts and pages and will transform the way users interact with the platform. Although it is already possible to create WordPress sites without any coding, fine tuning designs has always meant going beneath the hood to tweak CSS and other parameters.

Gutenberg makes it much easier to make such changes without straying outside of the editor.

Other changes in the WordPress 5 update

Although the Gutenberg switch is the headline-grabber, there are a number of small but, in their own way, significant additional changes. These include:

  • An improved front-end editor to allow easier editing on the fly – even via mobile device
  • Improvements to the rest API making it simpler for developers to create apps which integrate with WordPress sites
  • More mobile-first themes
  • Improved security
  • Image cropping tool (it is possible to crop images in the existing version but it is a long-winded process)

Getting prepared for the change

So what can you do to get ready for the release of Wordpress 5? If you'd like a safe and simple way to try out the Gutenberg editor, you can visit the demo Frontenberg page.

If you believe it will work well on your site, you could download the beta version of the Gutenberg editor on to your WordPress installation, making sure to back up your existing website in case of issues. Once you have installed the new editor, there will be no going back to the existing one although there is a plugin you can use if you really want to go back to the familiar interface.

In reality this should all be done on a copy of your live site, so for now you'll probably need the help of a developer to make the switch. If you're planning a new WordPress website, consider using a Gutenberg-ready theme, or discuss the new content editor with your developer while planning the project.

As third-party developers get their heads down to ensure themes and plugins are Wordpress 5 compatible, it is a good idea to look through the development notes of the ones you use or to reach out to them for an update on progress. If you aren't confident they will be ready on time, you might want to start researching alternatives to avoid a last minute panic.

WordPress 5 and the future of website design

Given WordPress's huge presence in the web design space, the switch to Gutenberg will inevitably have an impact on the industry as a whole. This is, in general, expected to be positive in nature, especially for website designers and developers.

While page builders are nothing new, even in WordPress, designers were previously forced to rely on third-party plugins to overcome the limitations of the native editor.

This means that one of the strengths of an open source platform – interoperability – was diluted since each website could be using a different plugin. While it is possible for web designers to pick up an existing WordPress project and work with it, this often means getting used to the peculiarities of a new plugin.

Once Gutenberg is integrated with WordPress, the popularity of third party page builders will inevitably wane and most websites will be built using the native content editor.

The impact on WordPress ongoing support providers is more difficult to predict. On the one hand, the additional flexibility and simpler design interface may give business owners the confidence to manage their own sites. On the other, site maintenance will be faster and easier, saving developers time. The market is also likely to grow as WordPress competes more directly with website builders.

Wordpress 5 could be with us as early as November 19th but there is scope to push that release date back, even as far as late January 2019. Only then will the impact of this bold move be truly felt by designers and WordPress site owners alike.

Topics: Content management systems, Wordpress

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