A major new release for WordPress dropped today -- perhaps the one with the biggest impact in WordPress history!

Should you upgrade?

Probably not just yet. At least not if you have content to publish.

What's the big deal?

The big deal is that it is a completely new editing interface, using an entirely different technology stack. WordPress's new "Gutenberg" editor is not built on the old PHP, jQuery, and simple Javascript that it has used for well over a decade. WordPress has gone totally modern -- Gutenberg is a React application that runs pretty much entirely in your browser, and uses web services on the back end to store the content.

This is a pretty radical change, technically. And it's the way a lot of the web is going -- towards browser-based apps, instead of applications that do most of the heavy lifting on the server.

React is perhaps the most popular of the current trendy Javascript toolkits. It was created by Facebook, and is getting extremely widespread adoption. What's a bit curious about WordPress's move here is that it's using it for the administration interface, the back end, and not the front end. So you, as an author, blogger, or editor, will have a vastly improved editing experience. Or at least that's the point.

Why is this a problem?

Overall, this should be a good thing. However, there are several problems with this approach. What comes to mind as immediate issues:

  • There are major accessibility issues with the new editor.
  • This is perhaps a bigger change than any previous back end change -- it will take time to re-learn how to manage your content, which could be disruptive to a publishing schedule.
  • It completely replaces page builders -- leaving large questions about how to manage pages you've laid out with one of the many other page building options out there.
  • Like other page builders for WordPress, the more layout you do in an editor along these lines, the harder it might be to re-use your content -- this firmly moves WordPress into more of a page builder and less of a content management system.

Accessibility Issues

According to WordPress's own accessibility team, the new editor is a big failure when it comes to accessibility. Changing font-size of a paragraph without a mouse takes 34 key presses, for example. The entire interface heavily relies on hovering over elements to find options.

Learning the new interface

Just upgrading your WordPress site may throw you into an entirely unfamiliar editing experience -- if your goal is to publish content, you will need to set aside some time to learn how to use the new interface effectively.

Plugin compatibility

This is a fundamental change to how you edit content, and it may not be compatible with your layout builder of choice -- or your theme. While your existing content shouldn't change with an upgrade, you might have challenges editing your existing content after an upgrade -- and what you see in Gutenberg may or may not translate to your existing theme.

If you're starting with a brand new site, you've got a clean slate -- but for existing sites, upgrade with great care.

Content management

WordPress has long touted itself as a content management system, but I would argue that page layout builders of pretty much any kind are making content management more difficult -- instead of making content consistent so you can re-use it in a variety of ways, you are building one-off pages that might prove problematic when you want to reskin your site. If you've manually selected colors and layout options on each page, and then change your brand's style guide, you may have a lot of re-work to do to get a fresh look on your site. And if you're embedding data that might be structured -- such as staff lists, product offerings -- if you don't plan out that structure, you might end up with a lot of manual updating to do when your staff or products change.

 

There are ways to address all of these issues, and it's early days for this release. The point here is, don't rush out and upgrade your production WordPress site and not expect to have problems!

What should I do?

Here's what we are advising and doing with our WordPress clients.

  1. Install the "Classic Editor" plugin on your current site, without upgrading. Configure WordPress to use this plugin for everybody from the start. The Classic Editor is what is default in all of WordPress before 5.0, and if you have that installed and active, it should allow you to upgrade and not have your admin experience taken over by Gutenberg. But DON'T UPGRADE YET!
  2. Make sure all your current layout plugins, editing plugins, etc are unaffected after enabling the Classic Editor. Use it in production for a couple weeks.
  3. Make sure you have solid backups, and know how to roll back your site if there's a problem.
  4. Upgrade to 5.0 on a test site after you're confident your site works unchanged with the Classic Editor. Run through and test everything before applying the upgrade on your production site.
  5. Put 5.0 on your production site, and run as long as you like with the Classic Editor -- you have until the end of 2021 to continue with what you have.

If you would like to try out Gutenberg, you can certainly run it on a test copy of your site, and see whether it works as expected with your theme and plugins -- as well as see what happens with pages using other layout builders. I expect many of these plugins will get updated to work with Gutenberg over time -- but don't be one of those people fighting their sites over the holidays because they applied their updates and were surprised!

And if you need solid testing for your site, our Protection Plan includes dev and stage copies of your site where you can experiment, and we take screenshot tests of your important pages, showing you every pixel that changes with any update.

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Comments (7)

Marco Mijatovic

I like how you suggested putting WP 5.0 on a test version of your website first, so you could check whether it's compatible with existing plugins and themes or not.

10 Dec, 2018

Hi John, Thanks for the post. I think WP 5 has some issues in plugin compatibility. I didn't update yet. Should I update?

Thanks!

05 Jan, 2019

Hi,

We're not seeing any issues with plugin compatibility, if you have installed the "Classic Editor" plugin... many of the layout plugins break if you do not...

So install that first, and then definitely upgrade -- WP 5.0.1 is a security release, so if you haven't upgraded that far, you should as soon as you can...

Cheers,
John

06 Jan, 2019

Is it crucial to update to 5.0 for security? Not sure if our template is compatible and looks like it would cost a bit to change over. Just wondering if its worth the trouble.

01 Feb, 2019

Well, you should get to 5.0.1 at least, because yes, there's a security update. They did release a new 4.9.9 with the fix, so make sure you're at least on that.

We haven't seen any trouble upgrading the sites we run to 5.0, after installing the Classic Editor plugin -- that should keep your site functional without needing any other changes... but be sure to try it on a copy of your site first!

02 Feb, 2019

WordPress is a free and open source content management system based on PHP & MySQL. There are many feature having WordPress which makes this platfrom very user frienldy.

22 Apr, 2019

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