Another threat to retire the WordPress.com classic editor (August 2020)

WordPress.com’s blog of August 13th, 2020 is entitled The Classic Editing Experience is Moving, not Leaving.

Read it for yourself. It appears to be saying that WordPress.com users will shortly be forced to use the new block editor. However, they can continue to use the classic editor functionality by using the classic block. In essence, when you open a post or page in the new block editor for the first time your content will be contained in a single classic block. If you want to use all the block editor facilities then you would use the “convert to blocks” function at that point. However, if you want to continue to use the classic editor functionality then you simply leave it as a classic block.

In summary, it appears that you are being forced to use the framework of the new block editor, but you can continue to use the classic editor functions if you so wish.

The blog says that WordPress.com users will receive an email when you are to be moved to the new block editor.

I will update this post if I see any further information on this subject.

August 2020 Newsletter

Background

As mentioned in the April newsletter, WordPress 5.4 was officially released on March 31st, 2020. There have since been two maintenance releases, resolving security flaws, fixing various bugs and introducing a couple of enhancements: 5.4.1 came out on April 29th, 2020; and 5.4.2 on June 10th, 2020.

This newsletter primarily summarises WordPress 5.5 which was released on August 11th, 2020. See the official WordPress 5.5 release post for more detailed information or the WordPress 5.5 field guide if you are looking for something that is slightly more technical.

WordPress 5.5

Versions 7.5 to 8.4 of the Gutenberg project (alias the block editor project) have been included in this release. The main features are described below.

The block editor user interface continues to be refined. It includes: further use of colour in an increasing number of blocks; control of the font size in various blocks; the introduction of some inline image editing facilities; copy / relocate blocks more easily; refined drag and drop mechanism; multiple-block selection; and extended use of HTML anchors. Two new features have been introduced under the title of block tools: some blocks, notably the paragraph block, will have a line height option; and the cover block will have a custom unit option to control its size.

Note – HTML anchors allow you to specify a link which takes the user to a specified place within a post or page, as opposed to the beginning. An anchor was limited to a heading block, heading level two only if my memory serves me correctly. It has now been extended to other blocks, e.g. paragraph blocks.

XML sitemaps have been introduced to make it easier for search engines to crawl the content of a site comprehensively and quickly.

Auto-updating of themes and plug-ins. It is now possible for WordPress.org users to set up their sites to allow these updates to be performed automatically. Control can be exercised at the level of an individual theme or plug-in.

Lazy-loading of images means that they will happen only when the user nears them on the page or post. On a long page or post the user may not actually reach some images, which therefore will not need to be loaded, resulting in a bandwidth saving / performance improvement.

The block directory has been introduced which allows WordPress.org users access to individual third-party blocks. Before version 5.5, sets of blocks were stored in the plug-in directory. A complete set of blocks had to be downloaded even if you only wanted one of them. The new block directory now allows you to access only the block(s) that you want.

Block patterns have been announced although they have been present on my version of WordPress.com for a number of months! Block patterns make use of the group block feature to construct more complex, ready-made blocks which can be inserted into your page or post and subsequently modified. A limited number of such pre-built patterns are available for use. This may (or may not) be an initial step towards giving WordPress a true page-building facility.

Preview. It is now possible in the editor to see how your page or post will look on a desktop, tablet or mobile device. Once again, this feature has actually been available on my version of WordPress.com for several months.

Accessibility improvements are part of an ongoing project. There are 34 updates in this release. See the field guide for further details.

Collaboration Software

Automattic, the owner of WordPress.com, has been using P2, a home- built piece of software, to allow electronic collaboration between developers for sometime. They are now making a beta version of it available to WordPress.com users. If you are interested then read this blog in the first instance.

What is next?

It is difficult to be precise about what will be in version 5.6 of WordPress, which is due out in December, 2020. Various projects are simultaneously in progress, but it remains to be seen which of them will be considered ready to be released in the next version.

Navigation blocks (alias menus to you and me) and widget blocks were both due to appear in 5.5. However, they were pulled from the release late on. Perhaps they will make it into 5.6?

Accessibility improvements will continue to appear, and there will no doubt be an assortment of other refinements and enhancements.

Another major project that is currently in progress is Full Site Editing (FSE). It is in its infancy at the moment, and so it is not totally clear how the detailed design will look. However, it can be said that in the FSE world everything will be a block. So, not just the content, as at present. Headers, menus, footers, sidebars et cetera will also be implemented as blocks. The basic idea, as I understand it, is that an outline of the site will be displayed on the screen. Clicking on a particular area of this outline will take you into the relevant editing process. I am sure that it will all be much more complex than my one line description makes out! I consider that FSE is likely to appear sometime in 2021, i.e. it is extremely unlikely to be in 5.6. Have a look at this useful article in wpengine to gain a better understanding of the background to FSE and the general direction of travel.

Confusion over retirement of old WordPress.com editor

Please note that this post does NOT refer to the WordPress.com blog dated August 11th, 2020.

A blog was published by WordPress.com on May 18th, 2020 which says ..

On June 1 we’ll be retiring our older WordPress.com editor and transitioning to the more recent (and more powerful) WordPress block editor. Want to know how this may affect your site and what you can expect? Read on.

Reading on only confused the hell out of me. Are they going to remove the Classic Editor on June 1st?!

One of the subsequent comments / replies finally clarified what they mean ..

Comment – As long as I can still fire up and use the Classic Editor, I’m fine . . .

. . . but this post is a bit confusing in that regard.

You open with saying you’ll be retiring the old editor on June 1st.

You then make the exaggerated claim we’ll love the block editor (I don’t know any blogger that loves it; I certainly don’t). The most asked question I get is how to fire up the Classic Editor.

You close the post with saying we can still use the classic editor.

What am I missing? What are you retiring on June 1st? Bottom line: are you keeping the classic editor or are you about to make many users unhappy?

Yes, yes, I’m not supposed to ask questions here . . . but then, why post at all?

Reply – Thanks for asking! Sorry for the confusion. To clarify, there are currently three editors available on WP.com. The older editor that we’re retiring looks like this: https://a.cl.ly/L1u7ldwB The two editors that will remain are the block editor which looks like this: https://a.cl.ly/BluZe4w5 and the classic editor, which looks like this: https://a.cl.ly/L1u7ldNK

To explain in words that I can understand .. at the time of writing, in addition to the new Block Editor, WordPress.com has two different front-ends which relate to pre-block editor times: the original vanilla-flavoured version where the dashboard has white text on a black background; and an “improved” version called Calypso (although that name is seldom used in any of their material) that was introduced in 2015. This newsletter includes images of both front-ends.

In essence, new WordPress.com users from around 2016 were presented with the Calypso interface, while older users usually had a choice of either.

This was all before the introduction of the new Block Editor in late 2018. The dashboard for the Block Editor is based on Calypso.

Their blog is effectively saying that it is Calypso which is being retired. This will leave the original front-end, now known as the Classic Editor, and the Block Editor.

The question is .. what will Calypso users see on June 1st, 2020? My money is on the Block Editor in an attempt to get them to transfer to it. If this happens then click on the three dots icon (near the top-right-hand corner), scroll down to the bottom of the menu and click on “Switch to Classic Editor” if you do not wish to use the Block Editor.

I will check to see what actually happens on June 1st, and make any necessary modifications to this post.

April 2020 Newsletter

This newsletter coincides with the release of WordPress 5.4.

Contents

WordPress 5.3 Maintenance Releases
WordPress.com Changes
WordPress.com Block Editor UI Redesign
WordPress 5.4 Release
What is Next?
Accessibility
Notes on Using WordPress Forums

WordPress 5.3 Maintenance Releases

Just for information. There were two maintenance releases back in December 2019, 5.3.1 and 5.3.2, which comprised a small number of security and bug fixes.

WordPress.com Changes

Several recent changes have been made to WordPress.com which are not part of the Gutenberg project.

My Home is displayed on the Calypso interface after you have clicked on My Site(s) as part of the login process. It contains a number of quick links which allow faster access to various parts of the system.

Page Layouts. When you add a new page you will now be presented with a screen which allows you to pick a layout for it. I would personally call it a template, but WordPress uses that term in a different context. There is quite a wide range of layouts. If you are not interested in any of them then simply select the blank layout. This blog describes the feature in more detail.

WordPress.com Block Editor UI Redesign

This appeared in my WordPress.com account last Thursday (March 26th, 2020). The general layout looks more professional. It includes redesigned icons, better spacing, text colour options and a range of initial block patterns that can be incorporated into posts / pages. See the relevant blog for more information.

I must admit that I am confused with the timing of this introduction. The features recently appeared in Gutenberg 7.7 which, when you read the section below on the WordPress 5.4 release, you will see is post WordPress 5.4?!

WordPress 5.4 Release

The latest version of WordPress was released to WordPress.org users on March 31st, 2020. It will follow shortly on WordPress.com. It incorporates 10 Gutenberg development releases, from 6.6 to 7.5.

FYI – Gutenberg releases appear approximately once a fortnight. They are mainly for internal use by the WordPress developers although they are available as a plugin on WordPress.org for anybody who is brave enough to play with it (but this is absolutely not recommended for typical users or for use on production sites).

WordPress 5.4 could be best described as a release which concentrates on polishing the block editor. It includes:

  • A new Social Icons block which allows you to incorporate links to multiple social media sites by using their standard logos. This is the sort of thing that you see on many websites nowadays, viz. a row of social media icons
  • The revised Buttons block now allows you to set up multiple adjacent buttons
  • Various updates to the ongoing accessibility and privacy projects
  • Full screen mode in the block editor is now the default on a new WordPress installation or on a new device. This means that the sidebars to the left and right of the display of the post / page are not shown. If you do not like this setup (and I do not) then you can change it by clicking on the three dots menu item in the top right-hand corner and un-checking the full screen mode.

See the Release Blog for further information, while the WordPress 5.4 Field Guide contains much more technical information, if you are interested.

What is Next?

A quick reminder on the overall Gutenberg project. It is said that it will consist of four phases:

  • Introduction of the block editor in phase 1
  • Expansion of the block editor to encompass other parts of the system in phase 2, e.g. menus, widget areas and the Customiser
  • Collaboration and multi-user editing in phase 3
  • And multilingual support in phase 4.

We are currently in phase 2, and tentative dates for further releases in 2020 are August for WordPress 5.5 and December for WordPress 5.6. I consider that this phase will probably go into 2021. Obviously, any talk of dates is purely speculative at the moment, given the COVID-19 virus.

It might be useful to know that work on the various aspects of phase 2 goes on in parallel. Decisions on what will be incorporated in any given release depend on the stability of the relevant software at the time, and on whether it fits coherently into the overall design at the time. For example, the navigation block (the menu in old money) was considered to be ready to go into 5.4. However, it did not fit coherently into the current design, and so it has been put on one side for the moment.

Work on the full-site editing feature continues. A prototype was developed back in September 2019 if you want to take a look at how it might possibly appear. I suspect that it will be WordPress 5.6, probably later, before it is likely to be released.

The block directory, a home for third-party blocks, is currently planned for inclusion in WordPress 5.5. It will primarily be for use by WordPress.org users.

The ability for WordPress.org users to control the automatic updating of plugins and themes is also slated for WordPress 5.5.

Finally, XML Sitemaps can be used by search engines to discover the content on a website with less fuss. A WordPress prototype, implemented as a plugin, has recently been developed. Presumably, it will eventually appear in the core WordPress product at some point.

Accessibility

Here are some notes if you have an interest in this subject:

  • The majority of the current development work in this area tends to relate to the use of the WordPress software, not to the website that you create / update. In addition, any new features are likely to be limited to use with the new block editor, not with the classic editor
  • However, there is a WordPress project which has been set up to look at accessibility on websites. Their Accessibility Handbook may provide some useful information
  • There is a theme review team which checks new themes for various things, including accessibility. If a theme passes the checks in this area then it is deemed “accessibility ready”. This relates to the theme itself, not necessarily to the website that you design with it
  • If you are interested in WCAG compliance read this document from gov.uk

Notes on Using WordPress Forums

There is a set of forums for WordPress.com users and a separate set for WordPress.org users.

You can browse any of the forums without logging in. However, if you wish to participate, e.g. start a new topic, then you will need to log in with your relevant account details.

The forums are manned by a mixture of Automattic employees, WordPress contributors, volunteers and ordinary users like you and me.

Beware that if you ask a question which relates to the other set of forums, then you will be politely requested to redirect it.

November 2019 Newsletter

WordPress Version 5.2 was launched back in May 2019. Three minor versions (5.2.1 through to 5.2.3) subsequently followed at intervals, consisting mainly of bug fixes with the occasional enhancement. 5.2.4, a security fix release, appeared a month ago.

The latest major version, 5.3, has just been made available to WordPress.org users on November 12th, 2019. It will follow shortly to WordPress.com users. The main focus of this release is to polish current interactions and to make the user interface more friendly. A new theme, Twenty Twenty, is included in the release.

The Release blog contains an overview of what is included in WordPress 5.3, while more technical information can be found in the WordPress 5.3 Field Guide.

New Features in the Block Editor

Development continues with new versions appearing every fortnight as Gutenberg plugins (Gutenberg being the project name). Gutenberg versions 5.4 through to 6.5 have been incorporated into WordPress 5.3, along with bug fixes and performance enhancements in 6.6 and 6.7  Changes include:

  • Improved handling of large images which have been uploaded via a camera. WordPress will now reduce the size of big images to a default of 2560 pixels.
  • The cover block now supports a greater range of nested blocks. It also has a resizing option and the ability to have a solid colour background, as an alternative to an image.
  • The group block supports the concept of nested blocks.  A group can be saved as a reusable block.
  • The columns block includes various improvements: up to 7 columns in a block; the ability to size individual columns; and support for colour. 
  • Typewriter experience keeps the user’s place on the screen by automatically scrolling down appropriately as he types, thus avoiding the problem of typing right at the bottom of the screen, or even worse beyond the bottom when you cannot see what you are typing.
  • A Social Links block has been introduced
  • Widgets. There are now 9 widget blocks which can be incorporated into the main content area of a page or post: calendar, latest posts, categories, search, shortcode, archives, latest comments, RSS and tag cloud. The idea of legacy widgets in blocks which was being mooted appears to have been dropped.

Other Changes

Site admin email verification. This new screen will be displayed once every 6 months. It has been introduced because of problems where sites do not keep this email address up to date, resulting in important emails not being delivered to the current site admin.

Page templates. I have recently discovered on my WordPress.com account which runs the block editor that “add new page” now produces a display of various possible page templates that can be used. As I am not interested in any of them, I simply select the blank template.

Discouraging search engines. The method employed to keep a site secret, where this was required by the site owner, was only moderately successful. A change has been made to make it more likely that search engines will not display such sites.

Improved date / time component handling.

Site Health Check (WordPress.org users). Further features have been added.

PHP Support (WordPress.org users). PHP 7.4, which is due out shortly, will be supported.

Fixes. WordPress version 5.3 includes a lot of bug fixes and minor changes, generally making the product more reliable, while ironing out some of the idiosyncrasies.

Accessibility improvements for WordPress users. There are 50 updates in this area, including improved media controls, darker field borders and improved button styles.

My experiences with the block editor

I have been using the new block editor on my own website (bkthisandthat.org.uk) and on several other sites since January 2019. I have discovered a couple of minor bugs which I have reported, but I have generally found it to be stable.

My only concern at the present time is with tables. Before the block editor the user had to handcraft HTML tables. There is now a table block. However, HTML tables with empty cells or images will not convert correctly to a table block. The table block itself is somewhat rudimentary. In particular, it does not allow column widths to be specified, nor does it allow an image in a table cell.

I have dabbled with the media and text block and with the columns block. Neither is perfect at the current time. The media and text block does not appear to adhere to the margins that are used in the theme, at least not in my theme. The columns block is just about usable.

What will be next?

Gutenberg development has four phases:

  • the block editor
  • customisation
  • collaboration, allowing multiple users to co-edit content in real time
  • multilingual

Phase two (customisation) is currently in progress which includes headers, footers, menus and sidebars. A proposed design under the umbrella title of “full site editing” was put forward in September where these various elements, as well as the main content section, are each called block areas. The block editor would be able to display all block areas, just as a post or page might appear on the screen, and to work on any of them. Alternatively, a specified block area could be displayed on its own and worked on. At a very rough guess, it is likely to be mid-2020 before such a major change appears, always assuming that the idea is carried forward.

Auto-updating old versions (WordPress.org users). WordPress supplies security fixes back as far back as version 3.7, which was launched in October 2013. However, the effort required to support these old versions is an ever-growing problem. It is now proposed that, unless they deliberately opt out, old WordPress.org sites will be automatically updated (one version at a time) until they are on version 4.7. There has been much animated debate on this subject. It remains to be seen if the proposal will be adopted.

May 2019 Newsletter

WordPress Version 5.2, was made available on May 7, 2019. In summary, the functional enhancements in this release are mainly aimed at WordPress.org users although work has also gone into improving the general block editor experience. The changes will be incorporated into WordPress.com shortly, where appropriate.

WordPress 5.2

The Block Editor (aka Gutenberg)

Changes include:

  • Another wodge of widgets now have block versions. They are: RSS, Amazon Kindle embed, search, calendar and tag cloud
  • In addition, a legacy widget block has been introduced. This will allow you to incorporate widgets that were developed for old WordPress (pre-version 5) into blocks. However, I note that it is described as “experimental” at the moment
  • The cover page block now acts as a container which can contain multiple blocks. For example, it may have three blocks: a title, a paragraph of text, and a button, as well as the cover image itself
  • Disabling / enabling blocks. This is called block management. It is probably aimed at WordPress.org users who have incorporated collection(s) of third-party blocks into their system. For example, they may have installed a collection of blocks that includes a gallery feature. They only want the gallery feature and are not interested in the other blocks. They can disable those unwanted blocks to reduce the memory requirement
  • Performance improvements, particularly reducing the time taken to load large posts / pages.

Site Health Project (WordPress.org users)

This is an ongoing project, principally for WordPress.org users. WordPress version 5.2 includes Improved Fatal Error Protection which aims to catch serious errors before they produce the “white screen of death”, allowing a login to admin to potentially resolve the problem.

In addition, there are two new pages in the admin interface (under tools) that allow you to check out the health of your site via a number of tests.

PHP Support (WordPress.org users)

This subject seems to trundle on and on! 5.6 is now the minimum version of PHP that can run WordPress. However, as I have mentioned before, the PHP people only support version 7.0 and above. Unless there are mitigating circumstances WordPress.org users should be on version 7.0 or above.

WordPress 5.2 will not now be installed on your site if you are not on PHP 5.6 or greater. This minimum version requirement is likely to go up to 7.0 before the end of the year .. famous last words!

Similarly, WordPress will now check that any installed plugin is compatible with the version of PHP that you have installed. If it is not then the plugin will not be activated.

Fixes

WordPress version 5.2 includes a lot of bug fixes and minor changes, generally making the product more reliable, while ironing out some of the idiosyncrasies.

Other Recent Changes in WordPress.com

The following items are not related to the version 5.2 release, per se.

  • If you use the Calypso interface, you may have noticed that they have just changed the layout of the menu system
  • Contact form. I said some months back that there was no facility within Wordpress.com to add a contact form in the new block editor. A form block has now been added (not sure precisely when it appeared)
  • More admin dashboard colour schemes are available .. if you are in to that sort of thing!
  • Fyi it is no longer possible to purchase a custom domain if you are only using the free plan. Individuals who previously did so are not affected by this change.

My experiences with the block editor

I have been using the new block editor on my own website (bkthisandthat.org.uk) and on the Ascot Volunteer Bureau website since January 2019. I have found it to be stable. The current issues for me are:

  • Slideshows are not currently supported in blocks
  • The table block is not particularly satisfactory at the moment (although there are workarounds)
  • The converter (from classic editor format to blocks) annoyingly decouples an image and the adjacent text (where they are side by side), although they can easily be re-coupled.

There is no pressure at this time for users to convert to the block editor. As I said last time, it has been stated that the Classic Editor will be supported until December 2021. Perhaps the end of this year may be a useful time to assess the current state of play and possibly consider converting.

What is coming up?

Sidebars and footers. It is important to realise that the implementation of widget blocks thus far has been limited to their use in the main body of the screen. What has not been mentioned is the use of widgets in sidebars and footers where we have historically used them. WordPress has now issued a Blocks in Widget Areas RFC (Request for Comments). This means that they have a draft design for handling widgets in sidebars and footers, and they are asking for some feedback before continuing. It may be late summer or autumn before any agreed design is actually implemented.

Navigation Menu. Work continues on the Implementation of the navigation menu as a block, but it is unclear to me where they are with this. They were struggling to agree on a design when last I heard.

Block directory. As mentioned earlier, third-party blocks are currently installed as plugins, usually in collections that consist of multiple blocks. I get the impression that this is seen as a short-term solution. There are design discussions on implementing a separate block directory whereby they can be incorporated individually into your site. This facility will be principally aimed at Wordpress.org users.

Wp-admin dashboard. There is a proposal to revamp it, using blocks. It remains to be seen if this gets off the ground, and if so when. WordPress.com users who use the Calypso interface will not be affected by this possible change. See this post if you are unclear about the different WordPress.com dashboards.

Accessibility

Finally, a few words on this subject which deals with improving the experience of individuals with disabilities. Please be aware, if you are not already, that WCAG 2.1 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) was issued in June 2018. Public Sector bodies, including central and local government, plus some charities and some non-government organisations (not sure precisely what “some” means at the moment), must comply with these guidelines by September 2020. There are two strands that concern us:

  • Using WordPress itself. An accessibility audit on the new block editor has just been carried out. It was commissioned by a 3rd party outfit called WPCampus. The report finds various problems although it has to be said that the study was based on WordPress 5.0.3, and that work has been carried out in the area of accessibility since that release. I expect that further work will be undertaken in the coming months. I will monitor what happens here and report back
  • The website that you create. It is your responsibility to address WCAG 2.1 compliance if it applies to your organisation. I will relay any useful information that I hear. Obviously, I would appreciate any information that you may discover on the subject.

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.

WordPress.com front-ends

I refer to WordPress.com’s front-end dashboards at different times. This short item is simply to explain that WordPress.com has two different front-ends.

The original front-end to WordPress is invoked through the wp-admin dashboard. This is still the case for WordPress.org users and for older WordPress. com users. Here is an example ..

WPBeginner.com

In 2015 Automattic, the owners of WordPress.com, introduced an alternative front-end, called Calypso. They will try to persuade you to use it rather than the wp-admin dashboard. They say that it is faster. I must admit that I have not found it so, and it is also missing some of the features that can be found on the wp-admin dashboard. Anyway, it is there and some of you may be using it. Here is an example of the Calypso dashboard ..

Calypso dashboard

Some users may find that there is an option on the Calypso dashboard (probably at the bottom) to switch to the wp-admin dashboard if you should wish to do this. An alternative method, if this option is not shown, is to change the url by typing wp-admin after the domain name.

FAQs on WordPress 5 and Gutenberg

This set of FAQs is aimed at individuals who might describe themselves as modest WordPress users who may not have not been keeping up with the development of Gutenberg. It is not aimed at expert users.

I have penned it because I have not found a succinct summary of the options that are available to existing WordPress users of the TinyMCE editor (which has been at the heart of WordPress for many years) now that WordPress 5 and the Gutenberg editor (aka the new block editor) have been released. Note that the old editor is now referred to as the classic editor.

I will maintain the information in this post until such time as somebody writes a better summary. Feedback on errors, omissions et cetera is welcome.

PS I have now found some frequently asked questions in the WordPress.com support pages.

The article is split up, as follows:

  • General
  • WordPress.org users
  • WordPress.com users
  • Other

Last updated on 22nd August, 2020.

General

What is the Classic Editor?

Prior to WordPress 5, the TinyMCE software was used as the editor. With the advent of WordPress 5 it is now generally referred to as the Classic Editor. I will use the Classic Editor term from now on in these FAQs.

What is Gutenberg?

Gutenberg is the name of the project which developed the new block editor in WordPress. In essence, all content is split into blocks; there are text blocks, image blocks, embedded blocks .. everything is a block. The first test version (0.1) of Gutenberg appeared in June 2017, and at the time of writing we are on version 5.3. The software was initially implemented as a plugin which WordPress.org users could incorporate into their sites to try out.

What is in WordPress 5.0?

In late 2018 Gutenberg was incorporated into the core WordPress software. This was a Major Major Major Major change (apologies for the frivolity – people of a certain age may know who he is!? .. no looking it up in a search engine!). Version 5.0 was released to WordPress.org users on 6 December, 2018, and WordPress.com users started to see it two weeks later.

Why does WordPress.com not mention WordPress 5.0?

Automattic, the owners of WordPress.com, tend not to mention versions of WordPress. They also tend to use the term “new block editor” rather than Gutenberg.

WordPress.org users

What if I do not want to install WordPress 5?

There is no reason why you have to install it. There may be valid reasons not to, e.g. you want to wait until you are confident that it is stable; or you may be using plugins that are not yet compatible with WordPress 5. Whatever the reason, there is no pressure at this time to move from WordPress 4 to 5.

Can I stay on WordPress 4 and just use the Gutenberg plugin?

This is not recommended. The plugin will continue to exist but it will be used in the development of Gutenberg V2 when widgets and navigation menus will be turned into blocks. So, it will not be stable, apart from possibly introducing unwanted effects.

What preparation do I need to do prior to installing WordPress 5?

The minimum preparation should be to check that your theme and plugins are compatible with WordPress 5.

What if I am happy to install WordPress 5 but I do not want to use the Gutenberg editor?

There is a Classic Editor plugin. If you install it, this will ensure that you continue to use the Classic Editor which will be supported until at least December 2021. At the time of writing, more than 4 million users have installed this plugin.

Do I have to convert all my content to Gutenberg?

This assumes that you intend to embrace Gutenberg and its features. It is important to realise that all existing content will be correctly rendered on your website without you doing anything. For example, there is no need to do anything with old posts that are never going to be altered. So, the answer is no.

How do I convert a post or page to Gutenberg?

When you open a post or page for the first time in the Gutenberg editor the content will be contained within a single block, called a Classic Block. This acts just like the Classic Editor with one or two exceptions. If you wish, you can keep it as a single Classic Block within Gutenberg. Alternatively, you can convert it into multiple native Gutenberg blocks. To do this, click on the three dots icon that is on the toolbar which is related to the Classic Block and select the “Convert to Blocks” option.

What if I want to mix and match the Gutenberg and Classic Editors on a per individual post or page basis?

This is not possible. Gutenberg will act as the editor unless you have installed the Classic Editor plugin. The only option within Gutenberg is to keep the post or page as a Classic Block, thus allowing you to edit it using the features of the Classic Editor.

WordPress.com users

What does the WordPress.com blog (dated August 13th, 2020) relating to the classic editor experience mean?

Read it for yourself. It appears to be saying that WordPress.com users will shortly be forced to use the new block editor. However, they can continue to use the classic editor functionality by using the classic block. In essence, when you open a post or page in the new block editor for the first time your content will be contained in a single classic block. If you want to use all the block editor facilities then you would use the “convert to blocks” function at that point. However, if you want to continue to use the classic editor functionality then you simply leave it as a classic block.

In summary, it appears that you are being forced to use the framework of the new block editor, but you can continue to use the classic editor functions if you so wish.

If and when this change occurs, the following questions which relate to the use of the classic editor will no longer be relevant, as it will no longer be available.

What if I do not wish to install WordPress 5?

WordPress.com is a hosted service and you have no control over which version of WordPress that you use. You will be using WordPress 5, whether you know it or not.

What if I do not wish to use Gutenberg?

So long as you do not click on anything that encourages you to switch to the new block editor (or to try it out) then you will continue with the Classic Editor. It has been stated that the Classic Editor will be supported until at least December 2021.

Can I control which will be the default editor?

If you are a new user (post 19 December 2018?) then Gutenberg will probably be your default editor. If you are an existing user then the Classic Editor will be your default editor unless you switch to Gutenberg. At the time of writing this switch can be done in two places: in the panel at the top of the editor screen which is invoked via the wp-admin dashboard; or in the three dots settings options (top right-hand corner of the editor screen) if you are using Calypso.

Can I switch back to the Classic Editor?

Yes. However, beware that there are no guarantees that any block editor features that you may have used (and saved) will work with the Classic Editor.

The switch option can be found in the Gutenberg editor screen by clicking on the three dots icon (near the top right corner of the WordPress window). The “Switch to Classic Editor” option is at the bottom of the list. Beware that this option may be hidden (off the bottom of the screen) if the window size is too small or the font size in use is too large to display all the options in the list. If it is hidden you can now (from WordPress 5.3) scroll down the list. This was previously a bug which I had reported.

Can I mix and match the Gutenberg and Classic Editors on a per individual post or page basis?

Yes if Gutenberg is the default editor and you use the wp-admin dashboard. It is not currently possible if you use Calypso. In the wp-admin dashboard:

  • creating a new post with the Classic Editor. Do not click on add post in the wp-admin dashboard, as that will bring up the Gutenberg editor. Click All posts instead, and select Classic Editor from the Add New dropdown box at the top left of the screen (as shown on the left).
  • If you are editing an existing post and Gutenberg is the default editor then clicking on the name will bring up the Gutenberg editor. However, hovering on the line below the name will display various options, including the Classic Editor, if you want to use it rather than Gutenberg. See the screenshot below.

Do I have to convert all my content to Gutenberg?

This assumes that you intend to embrace Gutenberg. It is important to realise that all existing content will be correctly rendered on your website without you doing anything. For example, there is no need to do anything with old posts that are never going to be altered. So, the answer is no.

How do I convert a post or page to Gutenberg?

The process is slightly different, depending on whether you are using the wp-admin dashboard or Calypso.

Wp-admin dashboard. When you open a post or page for the first time in Gutenberg the content will be contained within a single block, called a Classic Block. This acts just like the Classic Editor with one or two exceptions, e.g. there is no insert contact form option. If you wish, you can keep it as a single Classic Block within Gutenberg. Alternatively, you can convert it into multiple native Gutenberg blocks. To do this, click on the three dots icon that is on the toolbar which is related to the Classic Block and select the “Convert to Blocks” option.

Calypso. When you open a post or page for the first time in Gutenberg you will get a message asking you if you want to convert the content to blocks or not. If you answer in the affirmative then the conversion will be done. If you click on cancel the content will be displayed as a single Classic Block, and you will have the features of the Classic Editor. You can convert it into multiple native Gutenberg blocks at some later date if you wish. To do this, click on the three dots icon that is on the toolbar which is related to the Classic Block and select the “Convert to Blocks” option.

Other

Do I need to check the results after I have converted a post or page into blocks?

Yes. It may be necessary to do some manual changes. What follows is a list of issues that I have discovered with the converter. It is obviously not meant to be a comprehensive list, and some of them may disappear as (and when) changes are made to the converter:

  • images will probably need to be resized
  • slideshows on WordPress.com did not get converted in 5.0. I do not know if this is still true. If it is then you will need to recreate your gallery. Note that there is now a slideshow block which you will find in the Jetpack list of blocks.
  • any handcrafted HTML tables are converted to table blocks. However, beware the following
    • images in table cells are not supported
    • each column is the same width which may not be appropriate
    • empty cells are not converted, and can screw up (technical term) the appearance of the table.
  • if you have an image alongside text you will probably find that they have been decoupled, i.e. the text appears underneath the image. To couple them, align the image to the left or right depending on which side you want the image to reside.

Please contact me if you have any queries. I would also appreciate it if you could let me know if you discover any information which is now out of date.

Second December 2018 Update

Sorry to write another newsletter so soon but there is a lot going on. Version 5 has been available for WordPress.org users for two weeks, and there have been two bug-fix releases so far. WordPress.com users appear to be just catching sight of it now.

WordPress.org users

There have been two bug-fix releases of WordPress V5 so far:

  • 5.0.1 (released on 13 December, 2018) focused on security fixes. They have also been applied to previous versions of WordPress, back as far as 3.7
  • 5.0.2 (released on 19 December 2018) focused on performance improvements. There were 73 bug fixes.

5.0.3 has a target date of 9 January, 2019. Note that if you have installed V5 and have the auto update facility enabled then these bug fix releases will be installed automatically.

The plugin directory now contains a section at the beginning for block-enabled plugins. There is talk of putting them in a totally separate directory.

WordPress.com users

It looks as if WordPress V5 has just started to reach WordPress.com. If I sound not altogether confident, that is because Automattic never mentions versions of WordPress, nor do they mention Gutenberg (it is simply called the new block editor). The reasons for my claim are:

  • The appearance of new invitations to switch to the new block editor. The old invitation to try out Gutenberg which appeared on the main dashboard has now disappeared. If you use the dashboard to invoke the editor then this new invitation appears across the top of the screen when you go into edit post or page. If you use Calypso it appears in the right-hand sidebar within the editor. Beware that if you do make the new block editor your default editor there is no way to switch back at this moment
  • Twenty Nineteen, the new default theme which uses Gutenberg, has now been made available to all WordPress.com users.

I said in the last newsletter that there appeared to be no way in Calypso to invoke the classic editor for a specific post / page if you had set Gutenberg to be your default editor. I now see that the more settings button within the Gutenberg editor (3 dots icon top right) has a feature which allows you to switch to the classic editor for the currently opened post / page.

The bottom line for WordPress.com users is .. if you want to continue with the classic editor, as least for the moment, do not accept any invitation to try or switch to the new block editor.

What Next

There is talk of version 5.1 in late February although it is not clear to me precisely what the scope of this release will be, other than more bug fixes and a PHP upgrade notice for WordPress.org users.

Gutenberg V2. General design ideas are being kicked around for the implementation of widgets and menus as blocks, which will happen later in 2019. The Gutenberg plugin will remain in existence for WordPress.org users to test these changes.

Links

Here are some useful links ..

Release notice for WordPress 5.0

Support Article on Gutenberg in WordPress.com

A recent explanation of Gutenberg blocks (15th Nov 2018)