February 2019 Newsletter

Contents:

  • General Observations on WordPress 5
  • My WordPress 5 FAQ article
  • Latest WordPress Releases
  • Recent Queries on WordPress
    • Shortcodes
    • Portfolios (of pictures)
    • Notes on Changing Theme
    • Clickable Images
  • PHP
  • What Next?

General Observations on WordPress 5

It is interesting that Automattic (the WordPress.com people) have hardly mentioned Gutenberg, the new block editor. There has been no big announcement for what is possibly the most far-reaching change yet made to WordPress. To my cynical mind, this says that any big push to get users to adopt it will not happen until they are confident that: it is stable enough; it contains all of the functionality that is in WordPress 4; and their support mechanisms are geared up to cope with a potentially increased workload, as people do migrate.

So, perhaps a useful strategy for WordPress.com users is to wait until they do make a song and dance about it, before considering any switch to the new block editor. You can stay where you are, simply by not clicking on any invitation to switch to (or try out) the new block editor.

WordPress.org users who wish to play safe at this point in time can either (a) not upgrade to WordPress 5 or (b) upgrade to WordPress 5 but install the Classic Editor plugin so that you do not have to use the new block editor.

A brief word on my own experiences. My main website lives on WordPress.com. I decided to adopt Gutenberg, the new block editor, in early January. There are a couple of bugs which affect me but I can work round them. I have not experienced any significant problems so far. I also look after a small, straightforward website for Ascot Volunteer Bureau. I converted it to the new block editor a month ago without problem.

My WordPress 5 FAQ Article

In lieu of any useful, concise material thus far on migrating to WordPress 5 (or not), I have penned this article to describe what options are available to users. It is in the form of FAQs. I will maintain and update it, as necessary, until such time as something better appears. Any questions or feedback on its content is welcome.

Latest WordPress 5 Releases

I had previously mentioned the 5.0.1 and 5.0.2 bug fix releases which came out before Christmas. The focus in 5.0.1 was on security fixes, while 5.0.2 included a range of performance fixes. 5.0.3 followed in early January, comprising 37 bug fixes and 7 performance updates.

WordPress 5.1 was released to WordPress.org users on February 21st, 2019, and will follow to WordPress.com users shortly. It is difficult to discern any particular focus other than attempts to polish the new block editor, and to make the software more error-free and robust. In addition to some performance improvements, the other item worthy of note is a site health check feature. This an ongoing project whose objective is to improve the stability and performance of WordPress. It is aimed at WordPress.org users. The first version was initially implemented as a plugin which has now been put into the core WordPress software. Further enhancements in this area will follow later this year.

WordPress.com users will probably have noticed a recent cosmetic change which allows you to alter some colours on your dashboard. It seems to be mainly for Calypso users, as far as I can see. Further details here.  

Finally, I note that a facility to copy a post or page has appeared in the editor that is invoked via the wp-admin dashboard .. not before time .. and it has reappeared (having disappeared for a while) in the editor that is invoked via the Calypso dashboard.

Recent Queries on WordPress

This section contains topics that have been brought up recently by individuals who receive these newsletters.

Shortcodes

Shortcodes (I would call them macros, but I am an old geezer) have been used to implement various features in WordPress. Examples include contact forms, galleries and displaying recent posts. A full list of shortcodes in WordPress.com can be viewed here.

A couple of people have experienced problems when trying to edit or delete content that is implemented using shortcodes.

You need to switch from the visual view of the relevant post or page to the text / HTML view. Shortcodes are encapsulated within parentheses: consisting of the shortcode name along with a list of associated parameters, e.g. email address and text boxes on a contact form. If you wish to remove the entire shortcode then simply delete everything from [ to ], including the parentheses.

The ease with which a shortcode can be edited varies. Contact forms and displaying recent posts are relatively straightforward, whereas galleries should be deleted and recreated from scratch.

Re the new block editor, each shortcode appears in a separate block. Just remove the entire block if you wish to delete it. I get the impression that shortcodes will eventually be replaced by specific blocks that provide the same functionality, but who knows how long that may take.  

Portfolios (of pictures)

This topic is relevant to individuals who have lots of photos on a single post or page. I have spoken to a number of users who manage (somehow) to squeeze lots of photos into a single post or page using the Twenty Ten theme. Twenty Ten can still be used although it is no longer a supported theme. At some point these users will have to change their theme. Hence these words.

WordPress.org users can find lots of plugins that provide sophisticated gallery facilities.

WordPress.com users can use the portfolio option to display multiple photos. When it is active you have posts, pages and portfolio pages. There are various themes which make explicit use of portfolio pages. However, it is in fact possible to use the portfolio option with any theme although I would guess that the effectiveness (how good it looks) will vary from theme to theme. Read this WordPress.com support item for further information on portfolios and the themes which explicitly use them.

Notes on Changing Theme

Writing the above section has reminded me that I keep meaning to pen some thoughts on the general topic of changing theme.

Beware that some or all of your current theme customisations may be lost when you switch to a new theme:

  • Header Image. The main issue here is that the current image size may not be compatible with the size that the new theme would prefer
  • Widget areas. Obviously, if a widget area (say the left-hand sidebar) exists in your current theme, but it does not exist in the new theme, then you may well lose the widgets within it. Less obviously, a single widget area (say the right-hand sidebar) may be lost even though the new theme also has a right-hand sidebar – it depends on how aware the new theme is when it is activated
  • Menu. While your menu settings will almost certainly be retained, the new theme may start off by using a default (perhaps empty) menu. You may have to tell it to use your menu. The other possibility is that you may have to reconstruct your menu(s). For example, the new theme may not have as much space as the current theme (across the screen) to hold all the top level menu items. In which case you may have to redesign your menus to fit in with the new theme, e.g. by using sub-menus
  • CSS modifications, where used, are theme specific. Any existing modifications will disappear in the new theme.

It is good practice to make a note of your various customisations before you change a theme. You can then re-apply them (except for CSS), where necessary, in your new theme.

Clickable Images

It is possible to make an image clickable. Two reasons to do so spring readily to mind:

  • To link to another page, either on your site or anywhere else on the Internet
  • To display a larger version of the image in order to make parts of the image more distinct, or to make any text readable. Note that the image displayed will be the size of the original version.

In edit image mode you will find a link option. To link to another page or post, select Custom URL and enter the URL of the page. To display a larger image, select Media (assuming that the original is in your media library) and enter the URL of the image if it is not already displayed.

PHP

This applies only to WordPress.org users. In April 2019 the minimum version of PHP that WordPress will run on will be PHP 5.6. However, as I have mentioned before, version 5.6 is no longer supported by the PHP people. Unless there are mitigating circumstances, you should be on PHP 7.0 or greater, as they are the only versions that are currently supported by the PHP people.

What Next?

The development of widget blocks appears to be proceeding rapidly. However, the use of blocks for menus is not proving to be straightforward, and no agreement has yet been reached on how it will be implemented.

There is currently no set date for WordPress 5.2, but it seems likely that it will appear around the end of April. Similarly, there is no agreed scope for it at the moment. Jungle drums indicate that it may include: the first appearance of core widgets in blocks; further work on polishing the new block editor; and improvements to the Site Health Check.