WordPress 5.9 – Expected Features

WordPress 5.9 is getting ready in the WordPress lab and the version is proposed to have some great features and a new default theme – Twenty Twenty-Two. In September, Josepha Haden Chomphosy published a planning roundup of WordPress 5.9. According to the proposed schedule, WP 5.9 will have a general release on 14th December, 2021. According to her, the scope of WP5.9 include the following suggested roadmap: 

  • Blocks + intrinsic web design
  • Navigation menus
  • Interface for theme.json
  • Refining editing flows for block themes
  • New default theme
  • Additional design tools

There are also a few roadmap hopefuls as well.

  • Pattern insertion + creation
  • Unzip/Rollback Failsafes
  • PHPUnit Tests
  • Improved compatibility with PHP 8.0 and 8.1

Earlier this year, WordPress released WordPress 5.7 Esperanza and WordPress 5.8 Tatum and WordPress 5.9 will be the third major release in 2021. The release of WP5.9 is led by Matt Mullenweg while Jonathan Bossenger is the Technical Writer and Josepha Haden is the Marketing & Comms lead. Other names are yet to be announced. The WordPress 5.9 Development Cycle has all the details.

This article will cover all the most important features and changes that are anticipated in WordPress 5.9. 

Improvements in Full Site Editing

The main goal of 2021 is getting full site editing to all WordPress users. Full site editing provides a collection of features that bring the familiar experience and extendibility of blocks to all parts of your site rather than just posts and pages. The first version of full site editing was included in WordPress 5.8 and WP5.9 will have it extended. 

Blocks + Intrinsic Web Design

blocks for wordpress 5.9
  • For pattern and theme builders, the lack of responsive tools at a block level has always been an issue. This would possibly be solved without increasing interface complexity. 
  • The block model is a good case to apply some intrinsic design principles, since a block can occupy a place in many different layouts and containers, for which prescriptive media queries that don’t take context into account are inflexible. 
  • Each block area should be intrinsically responsive allowing blocks to compose together, wrap, stack, and organize themselves to fit the different spaces and screens. For this to work well, container blocks need to absorb more layout controls. (Container queries might help expand this further in the future.)
  • Typography tools need to become more fluid and internally support algorithmic clamping. Whenever possible, patterns should just work and accommodate themselves.


patterns for wordpress 5.9
  • With the introduction of the new directory, there’s a growing need to expand the inserter integration to accommodate broader categories of patterns and the experience of browsing them.
  • There’s more work to be done within the setup flow of single and multi-block selections. This also includes improving the mechanisms for transforming to and from patterns, which are still in the development stage.
  • Creation flows with patterns also need expanding from template parts and blocks to pages and templates.

The navigation block and navigation screen projects have been underway for quite some time and are a main target for 5.9. With the principal tracking issue about to be completed, a large part of the remaining work is to improve the user experience, reduce complexity, and test as much as possible on themes.

Interface for theme.json

WP5.8 introduced the scaffolding necessary for themes to take the reins over how various aspects of blocks render and how the interface is controlled. Naturally, the next step is to develop the user interface that will allow users to interact with these style properties. It should be appreciated how important it is to leverage the global reach of CSS rules as we combine it with the power of blocks. The current structure deals with two large groups of design targets: blocks and elements. Elements represent things that can be styled globally and across blocks (such as “text”, “links”, “captions”, etc).

Refining Editing Flows for Block Themes

  • A large percentage of the infrastructure and features needed to build block themes are established. The UX and design needs the most attention, though, starting by mapping into a clearer information architecture all the possible flows that are to be supported (editing templates, parts, styles, pages, etc).
  • Continue to process and take into the design process all the feedback gathered from users and theme builders.
  • Begin defining transition flows from existing widget areas to block areas when
  • appropriate, and explore the various aspects of theme switching.
  • Finalize and commit all remaining blocks under the “theme” category.

New Default Theme

Twenty Twenty-Two will be the default theme for the coming year and it will be integrated with WordPress 5.9. The theme is designed as a light, resilient and reliable theme with a hint of playfulness. Twenty Twenty-Two is designed in such a way that its default appearance is not going to be the endpoint. Each user deserves a website that is truly unique, built on a well-designed, solid foundation, and this new theme is going to help them achieve their needs. 

Additional Design Tools

The effort to bring better and more consistent design tools are still in progress. These tools need to integrate smoothly with both the block API (through the “supports” mechanism) and theme.json. One of the main goals is consistent access to similar tools across blocks, including third-party ones.

Modifications in Lazy Loading Images

The core’s Lazy Loading Images will be improved in the WordPress 5.9. Initially WordPress themes used to come with lazy loading images, where images and iframes that are not needed at the moment are loaded with a delay. But, in WP5.9 this will be modified by excluding first images or iframes in the code from lazy loading. After testing on 50 most popular WordPress themes, it was discovered that adding it to the first image or iframe element provided an average improvement in the LCP Core Web Vitals score by an average of 7%.

Test WordPress 5.9 Beta

The Alpha version of WordPress 5.9 is now available for testing, but you should remember that this is not a stable release and you should not try this version on a production site. Beta 1 is expected to be released on November 16, 2021 followed by Beta 2 on November 23. These will be more stable than the Alpha but you could still test it in a non-production environment.

How to Contribute

To get involved in WordPress core development, go to Trac, and pick a 5.9 ticket. For any help, you can check out the Core Contributor Handbook.

Wrapping Up

From the looks of it, WordPress 5.9 will be a game changer with the said features and quite sophisticated default theme. The version will be released in December and users can surely experiment it on your websites. 

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