WordPress 5.5 – New Features Explained

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WordPress 5.5 “Eckstine” in honour of Billy Eckstine, the second major release of 2020 was unveiled on August 11. The release includes automatic updates for plugins and themes, a block directory, XML sitemaps, lazy loading, and update Gutenberg to the latest release version. At the helm of affairs is Matt Mullenweg as the Release Lead, and Jake Spurlock as the Release Coordinator.

In this article, we will focus on introducing some of the main features of the coming release.  

Auto-updates and email notifications for WordPress themes and plugins

This was a long-standing demand of the WordPress community and has finally been included in the coming release. Currently, auto-updating is available only for WordPress core and WP users have been overcoming the lack of this feature for themes and plugins with the help of Easy Theme and Plugin Upgrades. It will now be very easy to update the plugins and themes via the Zip file. We have discussed this feature in detail in one of our previous articles

Email notifications will be sent after each attempt to auto-update a plugin or theme regardless of outcome (success or failure). Users can filter the emails using the auto_plugin_theme_update_email hook. Notifications can be disabled using filters:

  • auto_plugin_update_send_email
  • auto_theme_update_send_email

Notifications are enabled by default (true) and so returning false to either of the above filters will disable it.

Improvements in Gutenberg

Gutenberg or the WordPress Block Editor was introduced in 2018 and has since undergone many updations. The latest 5.5 version too is no different. let’s look at some of the major updates expected.

New Device Preview Options

Editor content can now be previewed in different screen sizes. There is a new dropdown with “Desktop”, “Tablet”, and “Mobile” options along with the previous front end preview option. The drawback is that it does not work for theme editor styles and on screen sizes below 600 pixels. 

Desktop Preview
Tablet Preview
Mobile Preview

If you want responsive styles for your blocks in the editor, use the #start-resizable-editor-section and #end-resizable-editor-section. Editor will pick up the styles between these markers and render them correctly when resized.  

Image Editing in the Block Editor

WP5.5 enables the editing of images right in the block editor. The new image editor is more user friendly and can crop, rotate, adjust aspect ratio, position and zoom images without leaving the editor. You can also select and change the attributes of multiple blocks of same type all at once. 

Image editing is done through Rest API and edited images are saved separately as new attachments after editing. Thus both the original image and edited image are available for further edits.

New Block Patterns

Block patterns are a new feature introduced in WP 5.5. They are ready-to-use templates that assist you to easily create elaborate and complex layouts to design beautiful web pages. Theme authors can finally say goodbye to complicated theme settings and lengthy tutorials. They don’t have to downplay their skills for the untechnical average users. They can design to their heart’s content in the block editor and just register it as a pattern. This feature is sure to rock the world of designing.

Custom Line Heights and Custom Units

WordPress 5.5 has two new block tools – Line Heights and Custom Units. With Custom Line Heights, users can define custom line heights for headings and paragraphs. Theme authors can use this feature by defining the custom-line-height theme support flag. 

Custom Units are for using more types of measurements such as px, em, rem, vh and vw to define the height of Cover blocks. Theme authors can opt-in into this feature by defining the custom-units theme support flag.

Improvements in Editor Accessibility

To make the editor more user friendly, WP 5.5 has changed the look and feel of the editor. It will have a clean and simple design with simple iconography, color palette, focus, and general interface. Keyboard navigation on Gallery blocks, copy/paste block experience and screen reader are just some of the areas that have been improved. 

UI enhancements and a new block directory

Old UI
UI in WP 5.5

Other changes in the Editor include UI enhancements and a new block directory. The UI improvements include changes like newer icons, borders around toolbars, focus highlighting and a more noticeable (+)sign. 

The new block directory has WordPress plugins that will allow installing new third-party individual blocks into the editor. To add a new block, just search for the block, add it and continue writing without leaving the editor.

New Default XML Sitemaps & the new esc_xml() function

In a move that would help SEO to a great degree, WordPress 5.5 comes with built-in XML Sitemaps that are enabled by default. Rendering sitemaps on the frontend requires the SimpleXML PHP extension. Otherwise, an error message will be displayed instead of the sitemap. You can also customize, remove certain posts or simply remove sitemap if you wish.

Along with the new XML Sitemap feature, a new esc_xml() function has been added to the core to filter a string cleaned and escaped for output in XML. To support this, wp_kses_normalize_entities() has been updated.  

Lazy-loading Images

Images increase the load time of a website and reduce SEO scores. One way to improve the situation is by optimizing the images by Lazy Load. It means that images are only downloaded when the user scrolls down to that specific image. This is helpful to save bandwidth and browse with slow internet too. 

Till now, lazy-load was enabled using plugins in WordPress. This is about to change and images will be lazy-loaded by default using the native HTML loading attribute. The loading attribute has two possible values – eager and lazy. If you don’t want an image to lazy-load, specify, loading=”eager” or it will lazy load by default.

Other features

WordPress 5.5 also introduces more support for JavaScript i18n, an option to register default values for metadata, removes jQuery Migrate 1.x and allows post boxes and meta boxes to be reordered using the keyboard. 

You can download the latest version from here. Also, don’t forget to add your wishlist of WordPress features for the 5.6 release. Plans are already afoot for an all-women release squad for WP 5.6!

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