On August 11, 2020, a brand new WordPress 5.5, code name Eckstine was released. WordPress 5.5 is one of the biggest WordPress releases in recent years, with a massive number of new features and improvements.
I will not list what is new in WordPress 5.5, I want to try and review the new WordPress from the user and developer standpoint, and point to the real highlights of this release, and again talk about some things that are problematic (to say the least).
To get a detailed overview of all the WordPress 5.5 changes, I recommended checking out the official WordPress 5.5 page and blog post over at WordPress.org.
I want to talk about the great new features and updates to WordPress first, and leave all the bad stuff for the end (and that is mostly Block Editor). This new WordPress is an excellent release, and I understand why many users on social networks are calling WordPress 5.5: the best update in years. But, when you take good with the bad, that is far from the truth. All the mess block editor brought in WordPress 5.5 is just too much.
Still, it is a good trend for the future, where WordPress release would be more focused fixing core issues, modernizing the code base, bringing changes that linger in TRAC for years.
Updates and plugin installations
WordPress 5.5 now has easy to use option to enable auto updates for plugins and themes. I am not a big fan of this, but I see how it may be very useful. But, the real highlight here is the ability to install plugin updates via the install plugin dialog and uploading ZIP file. If the plugin in ZIP is already installed, you will see a dialog allowing you to replace it!
And more good things
PHPMailer class has been replaced (finally), and this requires a lot of plugins using it to be updated. I have already done that to Dev4Press GD Mail Queue Free/Pro plugin. Many other third-party libraries are also updated. And jQuery is on the road to be replaced with the latest version in WordPress 5.6.
Developers can use the new method to define production/live or staging/development environment and implement things based on that in plugins or themes. From experience, this can be a big help when testing new plugins or developing features that can cause issues on live websites.
All templates loading functions now can pass settings from place of call into the loaded templates.
Too bad some of the changes are not backward compatible, and the developers that need to support older WordPress versions can’t take advantage of some of the changes in WordPress 5.5.
The block editor has seen a lot of changes, and while there are some nice additions, there are some very bad issues related to usability and intuitiveness of the everyday use of editor. And, I really wanted to like the changes in the editor. Based on previews posted in the last few months, block editor looked better, but that all falls down when you start using it, overall, it is worse then it was before, much worse.
Let’s start with the block editor’s most important addition since the block editor was added to WordPress 5.0: block patterns. This should have been part of the editor since the very beginning, and it takes a lot of heavy work when making the most out of the equation because you can easily create and (re)use complex layouts.
But, no matter how good patterns are, the changes in the block editor have almost undone the good with a lot of bad usabilities it brings. And the list of bad usability is long.
- Once again, when editing on the desktop, you get the ‘three scrollbars.’ How is that still a thing? Once scrollbar for the content of the editor, one scrollbar for the sidebar and one scrollbar for the whole page.
- To make matters worse, if you switch preview mode to mobile or tablet, the content area changes, and it no longer includes metaboxes; metaboxes are fixed to the bottom, and content is left with a small window in the middle, that can be completely gone if you have one or two metaboxes open. I know block editor developers hate meta boxes. Still, in the real world, they are handy, and every website I have seen and worked on, uses at least one ore more metaboxes, and they need to devote some time and fix the way content and metaboxes layout is handled.
- With new preview options, the handy preview of the content on the front end is no longer working as before. Previous versions of block editor – when you open a preview, this preview window would be automatically updated when you save changes in the editor, and now that no longer works, and you need to refresh the preview window to see the changes.
- Blocks Drag and drop is completely gone! Yeah, I don’t believe it too, but I have found no way to move the blocks with drag and drop, because, blocks no longer have handles or bounding boxes.
- Yeah, blocks no longer have bounding boxes when in the editor. Box missing is not a big issue with simple blocks but makes use of patterns complete hell. Add a few patterns or complex nested blocks. Now, try to move them around. The problem is that using a mouse only, you can’t select the pattern or parent block anymore, because you have no idea where to click. The only way to select the parent of a block is to choose a block with a mouse click and use the keyboard arrows to move up and down until you stumble to the (invisible) parent box, and then use the parent toolbar to move it. For some blocks, you can click on the block, and the blue block border will appear, but that doesn’t work with most blocks.
- Adding new blocks inline was so easy and intuitive, and now that is gone too. If you click the plus icon in the content to add a block, you will see only a few blocks listed. When you click to browse all button, you will again get the right sidebar for adding blocks, and your focus needs to jump all over the page to find what you need.
- Type to add block is somehow worse now. Previously, you start typing ‘slash i,’ and the first thing you get was Image block. Now, that is way down the list. I expect to have blocks listed with some logic, and not using plain search – show all blocks that have ‘i’ in the name.
- I have noticed a significant performance issue – my laptop fans are spinning while I write in the new editor, compared to previous versions where they were not. I measured Chrome CPU and memory use with new and old editor, and the new one uses almost 30% more memory and more CPU to push it to run the fans. And in my case, the editor needs 22 seconds to load and get ready for writing, and that is almost 4 seconds more than WordPress 5.4. I read on WordPress.org how the new version of the block editor is faster and more stable, but I can’t see that.
- Again, with no third party blocks loaded, I still see tons of errors in the browser console when the block editor is running. When I reload the page, they are gone, and after a while, they start popping up again. They are mostly React related, and after two years, that still happens.
I can go on and on, but you get the picture. Editor block was getting along nicely from WordPress 5.0 to WordPress 5.4, and now, we are back where we started – the list of issues is getting longer and bad things outweigh the good.
For me, all the great things in WordPress 5.5 have been diminished by the editor changes.
This was requested a lot over the years, and finally, sitemaps are part of the WordPress core. But, they are very basic, and just about any plugin out there adding sitemaps is better than the core solution. If you already use a plugin for sitemaps, my advice is to continue using it and disable core sitemaps.
Yeah, this is a significant release, that would be truly great if not for the block editor changes that somehow made it much worse. Block editor is still not ready for the prime time, and all the work currently done to take block editor into full site editing experience is not viable. All the plans laid out for the block editor two years ago are way behind, and we still don’t have functional menu replacement or widgets replacement done with blocks.
Many other developers and I have said this before, and I will repeat it now, knowing that it will make no difference: stop adding things to the block editor – and fix it first. Make the editor stable, don’t remove things that work and replace them with nothing, make the editor work as it is, and only then it will be able to rise to the full site editing. Right now, casual users coming from previous versions of WP are perplexed with the editor in WP 5.5. Changes in the editor should be smaller; we don’t need editor interface remade every year.
And, even with all the issues with the block editor, I recommend the new version, because it brings a lot of useful features. If you don’t like the block editor, you can still use the classic editor to replace it. On my websites, I use both. On this website, blog posts are written in the block editor; everything else is not.
Well, I hope next WordPress will be again focused on things that are not the editor, and that we will get many more great features. Check out the WordPress 5.6 planning post here.
Let me know what you think about new WordPress and especially changes in the block editor.