WordPress 5.6 “Simone” is out now! It’s the last major update of 2020 and it’s packed with lots of changes. We’ll get an overview of what’s changed, as well as demos of auto-updates, Block Patterns, Column improvements, a walk through the new default theme Twenty Twenty One, and more.
- What’s New in WordPress 5.6? (Video)
- WordPress 5.6 “Simone”
- WordPress 5.6 Field Guide
- 5.6 Core Editor Overview
Joe: Hey everybody. Joe Casabona here. Welcome to another episode of the WordPress Year in Review podcast. Now, we took a couple of weeks off for the Thanksgiving holiday after our speaker tracks or our WordCamp US speaker series ended. Now, this podcast is going to focus more on the news and events surrounding WordPress this year. It’s going to be more of an audio form of the kind of stuff I’m writing.
This week, I want to talk about the latest major release and the last major release of 2020. And that is WordPress 5.6 “Simone”. That has come out, as I record this, yesterday. So it came out December 8. And there’s a lot of great stuff in Simone. I released a video on my YouTube channel, which I will link in the show notes, which is a little bit more show and tell. But here, I just want to go through the news.
So it’s the latest and greatest WordPress release, according to Josepha Hayden over on the blog post. Now, the first notable thing about 5.6 is that it is the first-ever all-women release squad for WordPress leading the development of new features, squashing bugs, doing the documentation in the design, which we’ll get to in a little bit. So congratulations to everybody who contributed to the release of WordPress 5.6. I’ve been playing around with it during the release candidates cycle and I’ve got to say I’m pretty happy with it. It works really well. There’s a lot of really great features here, and we’re going to go through a couple of them.
First of all, maybe the biggest news, at least the most visible news is that there is a new default theme. That new default theme is Twenty Twenty-One. So I really love what Mel Choyce and the design team did for Twenty Twenty-One, the new default theme. So first of all, it is a level AAA accessibility rating, which is the highest accessibility rating that it can get, which is super duper impressive. I think that’s really great.
Just to read an excerpt from the announcement post here. Twenty Twenty-One is a blank canvas for your ideas, and the block editor is the best brush. It is built for the block editor and packed with brand-new block patterns you can only get in the default themes. Try different layouts in a matter of seconds, and let the theme’s eye-catching, yet timeless design make your work shine.” So it’s a really stripped down and simple theme. And that’s what I like about it.
It’s using the system fonts. So whatever default fonts you have in your browser are what it’s going to use. Of course, if you are savvy at modifying themes, creating child themes and whatnot, you can overwrite that. And then it’s pretty much a single column theme with a header and a footer. The color palette is this pastel green, which you can change in the customizer, but they do present some recommended pastel colors. The two font colors are two shades of grey. So it’s really stripped down, really simple, and it allows you to focus on the content. And that’s really where the power of Twenty Twenty-One comes in, is with the new block patterns.
Block patterns were introduced in WordPress 5.5, but they’ve been expanded on in 5.6. Twenty Twenty-One adds lots of unique block patterns. There’s a links area one where you can create links, and there’s a header and things like that. Really, again, just nicely executed. There is an overlapping images, blocks pattern, there’s overlapping images with text and a lot of other design elements that you can create nice looking websites with. There’s like a contact information block patterns.
The focus of Twenty Twenty-One is really the block patterns, the simplicity in its design. And the focus on fast, it’s very fast. Again, it’s not loading any other fonts. It’s pretty much a blank canvas. So the big load times are going to come from the images and the videos that you might upload. But it’s really beautiful and easy to…you can focus on the content at hand.
My recommendation here is to take advantage of the block patterns for this theme and create some reusable blocks. At this point, we can’t create block patterns easily without code, but you can create some reusable blocks and get around it that way. Other changes from the block editor, there are some stylistic changes, there were some feature ads. You can now change the colors of the list block, so you can change the background color and the text color. Background images in the cover block can now be repeated to form patterns. You can create sharper gradients, which I demonstrate in the video. You can define your image sizes in the media and text blocks. You can add subtitles to videos, which is great. They’ve also renamed the options panel to the preferences panel. And they’ve added some new preferences there.
So there are lots of changes to the block editor. One I didn’t highlight in the video but I do want to talk through is you can get ahead of time zone snafus when scheduling a post with time zone hints. So this basically just adds a little text next to the time that you’re scheduling your posts for to let you know what time zone the post is going to be scheduled in. I know I’ve had that problem before where I forgot to set the time zone for a new website and I thought I was publishing in Eastern time but it was actually like London time. So happy to see that. It’ll make it a little bit more explicitly clear exactly what time your post will get published. I think that’s a small but meaningful change.
They also made it so that you can display the buttons in the editor as text only instead of icon only. So instead of the “Plus” you’ll see the word “add.” Instead of the back arrow, you’ll see undo and things like that. I think that’s really great. They’ve also added the word count to the information panel. That’s something that I know I’ve been curious about. Of course, they squashed a lot of bugs and things like that too.
Aside from the theme and the Block Editor, I think there are two important coding notes that we should be mindful of in WordPress 5.6. First is jQuery. jQuery is being upgraded in WordPress core. It started in 5.5, it continues in 5.6, and it will finish in 5.7. So we’re at the midpoint here. jQuery versions and jQuery Migrate are both changing as we move along. So jQuery Migrate is actually tentatively planned to be removed in WordPress 5.7 or later, depending on testing. But 5.6 includes a major upgrade to the jQuery library.
There are two ways that you can test jQuery. The jQuery Migrate…I actually didn’t look into this before recording, but the jQuery Migrate plugin is designed to help you upgrade, make changes, move to jQuery. So the jQuery Migrate plugin is there to help you in this transition. What the WordPress core team is recommending is you can run a jQuery test. Again, I show you how to do that in the video. You can run a test to make sure everything’s working properly or you can download the jQuery Migrate plugin to make sure everything’s working properly. So be mindful of that.
The other big code thing in WordPress 5.6 is PHP 8 has come out and WordPress 5.6 has begun support of PHP 8. Now, it can’t fully get there, right, because lots of themes and plugins rely on things that are deprecated in PHP 8. And of course, every host is not going to upgrade every server to PHP 8 on day one. But 5.6 is where we as users need to be mindful of if our site could break because of PHP 8. If you are unsure about what that means you can always reach out to your hosting company, they will know exactly what that means. And we as developers need to make sure that we can support PHP 8 in the best way that we can. So making sure that our code is compatible with PHP 8 or making sure that anything that’s deprecated gets replaced and things like that. So jQuery and PHP 8 are both in 5.6 or changes to them are in 5.6 in some way. So we need to just be mindful of that. As you upgrade, make sure you test and things like that.
Sponsor: This episode and this entire series is brought to you by GoDaddy Pro. Now, GoDaddy Pro has two great offerings to talk about here. They offer a robust suite of free tools to web developers and designers to help you save time managing all of your clients and sites. With GoDaddy Pro, you can easily shop for your client, monitor your clients’ websites, and manage all of their WordPress websites in one place. Exclusive time-saving tools let you bulk update WordPress core plugins and themes on multiple sites with one click, as well as automate WordPress backups, cloning and migrations, and so much more. Get real-time performance, security, and uptime monitoring across all of your client websites.
Members also receive a 30% discount on new qualifying products. When you pair GoDaddy Pro with qualified WordPress and eCommerce hosting plans, the benefits are even greater by including access to all premium features at no additional cost. And now, they offer a WooCommerce hosting option too. They combined their secure hosting platform and partnered with WooCommerce, the world’s leading eCommerce platform built on WordPress to offer you GoDaddy WordPress eCommerce hosting.
Included in your plan is over $1,000 worth of premium WooCommerce extensions to get your clients selling with an online store that truly reflects their unique brand. So, for a limited time, they’re offering you, the listener three months of GoDaddy WordPress eCommerce hosting for only $1. You can take advantage of that deal over at wpreview.io/godaddy. That’s wpreview.io/godaddy. Three months or $1, that is about as low risk as you could possibly get, especially for such valuable hosting. So definitely check it out. Thanks to GoDaddy Pro for their support of this podcast and the entire WordPress Year in Review project.
Sponsor: This episode is brought to you by Nexcess. You count on having a WordPress or WooCommerce site that’s predictably fast, secure, available, and affordable. But finding everything you need from one provider can be tough. At Nexcess, they’ve got you covered. For more than 20 years, they’ve invested time and resources into developing and integrating exclusive tools that make WordPress run better automatically.
How do they do it? By including special features like no cost auto-scaling when traffic spikes, automatic plugin updates with visual comparison technology to skip updates that would break your sites, and cloud accelerator technology that makes even the most dynamic sites run faster. Add that to their automatic backups, proprietary CDN, Integrated iThemes Security Pro, and free migrations and you won’t have to look further for the platform that does it all.
They pride themselves on delivering the kind of support you need whenever you need it. Hands-on elevated 20/7/365 service. Their support team is made up of people who have been in the trenches and review and support thousands of stores like yours. I recently moved my WooCommerce site to their managed platform and I have been the beneficiary of everything I just talked about earlier. From the special features to the incredible support team that helped me migrate from my old host, I couldn’t be happier being on Nexcess. They know we’re working hard to grow our businesses. And they’re our proven partner to help us get there site by site, side by side. Other platforms say it, but they do it. Their managed WordPress and managed WooCommerce are predictably awesome solutions because at Nexcess better is built in. You can learn more at wpreview.io/nexcess. That’s wpreview.io/nexcess.
Joe: Now, those are the big changes that I’ve highlighted elsewhere. There are also a bunch of other changes that I think are worth noting that I’ll just run through really quick. First of all, there’s the site health check inside WordPress got 11 updates, mostly enhancements to how components and validations are handled. So there are several developer notes on that and how it works. But that’s worth checking out. The site health checker is a great tool to make sure everything is working appropriately. There are also a lot of developer updates, things like changes to the blocks API application passwords to connect to REST API’s and things like that. So things are a little bit more secure as far as connecting to REST API’s.
Of course, I left out a big update up until this point. And that is auto-updates. This is something I covered extensively in the video. So if you’re consuming both you’ve gotten the rundown of this. But I do want to explain it here because it is important.
The scope of auto-updates changed in the beta period. I think it was beta three that the scope changed. So something important here. In the WordPress dashboard, if you go to dashboard updates, you will see a link now where you can manage what auto-updates, if it’s every version of WordPress, or if it’s just security and maintenance updates, which are already on by default. So the change in 5.6 is that you will get major updates to core. Those have been traditionally left off or left out because they introduce big changes that could break.
I’m going to try to make this as clear as possible. But there are several paths that auto-updates can take based on your installation and your settings. If you are installing WordPress today, starting with 5.6 or higher, auto-updates for major versions of WordPress will be on by default. So you will have to opt out of those on the dashboard updates page. If you are upgrading to 5.6 from an existing installation, the behavior will remain the same as it is today. You are already opted in to minor updates, that’s maintenance and security updates. But you’ll have to opt in to major updates.
The only points where this takes precedence, right, the UI or what you do in the dashboard is if you have…there are two ways in code to set the updates preferences. One is a constant. One is a filter. If they are in use by either you or your hosting company or agencies, they will take precedence. So if your hosting company says, “I don’t want anybody upgrading automatically to major updates of WordPress,” then major updates will be turned off. Same thing if you had your site developed by an agency and they’re like, “We want to make sure we want to be able to test before you upgrade to major versions of WordPress, we’re going to add some code to make sure it doesn’t,” that will always take precedence.
So the chain of command is any code that sets the option, followed by automatically being opted in for new installs, and then you are automatically or you would need to opt in to current installations. That’s the auto-update. Gosh, I mean, I didn’t almost forget it. I have it written down in my outline. But that’s a big one. So thanks for sticking with me this long to make sure you get the latest and greatest.
And then I’ve already mentioned the REST API authentication. So third, party apps can connect to your site seamlessly and securely with application passwords. I mentioned PHP 8 and jQuery. Those are the major changes in WordPress 5.6. Again, I’ve tried it out. I’ve played with it. I think it’s really good.
One of the big block features I did not mention was columns. Columns has gotten more control, more features. So there’s now a single column block, which is nice. And you can select multiple blocks and turn them into columns. I would just warn you, and again, this is covered in the video, I would warn you that if you do that and then you reduce the number of columns, let’s say from four to two, anything in columns three and four will be deleted. You will lose that content. That was frustrating, and just something to keep in mind. You can undo it easily with Ctrl Z or Command Z depending on if you’re using Windows or a Mac. But just keep that in mind because it scared me for a minute. I thought I lost content I was working on. So those are the other changes.
Then the last thing that I do want to mention here is Twenty Twenty-One supports dark mode. I think that’s fantastic. I kind of gush in the video over it because it’s something that’s available to all developers – all website developers. But if you’re using a premade WordPress theme, a theme from the theme directory, or one that you downloaded, it would be pretty hard to kind of ret…not retcon, but to bolt on dark mode support there. You would want it supported natively in the theme because then you can more seamlessly switch between color preferences.
Another nice thing about Twenty Twenty-One is they make generous use of CSS variables, which is great because that, again, allows you to more easily customize the site using let’s say the CSS editor in the customizer. So again, I kind of started off with Twenty Twenty-One and how great it is. I’m ending with and how great it is. But those are the major features that I wanted to cover here on the podcast.
Thank you so much for listening. I appreciate it. If you want to get the Show Notes for this episode, you can head over to wpreview.io. Also big thanks to the sponsors for this entire series, GoDaddy Pro and Nexcess, two fantastic choices for hosting in the WordPress space. Take a look at both of them, see which one works best for you. I use both. I’m a big fan of both. Thank you to all of the supporters of this project, especially the people who pledged $100 or more to make sure this project is seen through to completion. I deeply appreciate it. You can see everybody who’s pledged over at wpyearinreview.com/supporters. You can also get there from wpreview.io. So, thanks so much for listening, and until next time, get out there and build something.