WordPress 5.9: Top 20 New Features & Improvements

WordPress 5.9 is slated for release on January 25, 2022, as the first major WordPress core release of the year. The biggest thing to know about WordPress 5.9 is simply this: Full Site Editing (FSE) using the WordPress block editor is here (well, if you want to use it or your theme supports it).

WordPress 5.9 represents the largest release of Gutenberg features since the initial Gutenberg launch in WordPress 5.0. In addition, WordPress 5.9 includes 99 enhancements and 100 bug fixes.

In this post, we unpack what’s new and noteworthy in WordPress 5.9 so you can get the most out of the latest version of WordPress.

Before You Update: Don’t Forget to Run a Backup Of Your Site!

Before running any major update of WordPress core, make sure to backup your website. We recommend making a Complete backup that includes your WordPress database, WordPress files, themes, plugins, media library, etc., before proceeding with the update.

Remember to backup these key parts of your site before updating to WordPress 5.9:

  • WordPress database
  • WordPress files
  • Themes
  • Plugins
  • Media Library
WordPress 5.9 includes several features and updates that re-emphasize the importance of having a solid WordPress backup strategy. A WordPress backup plugin like BackupBuddy can handle complete backups of your website so you can roll back from an update.

It’s Here: Full Site Editing (FSE)

The biggest news in WordPress 5.9 is the arrival of Full Site Editing (FSE). In a nutshell, Full Site Editing is designed to put you in control of your whole site, right from the WordPress admin.

The goal of the WordPress Full Site Editing (FSE) project is to utilize the power of Gutenberg’s block model in an editing experience beyond post or page content. In other words, the idea is to make the entire site customizable with the block editor. The Full Site Editing mode understands the structure of the site and provide ways to modify global elements like headers and footers.

Previously, all of these controls were handled exclusively by your WordPress theme, so baking this into WordPress core (with a block-based theme enabled) is a departure from the way WordPress previously handled site-wide styles for things like your site’s header, footer, blog, and blog posts.

There are some things to consider, though, before making the switch.

  • You need a block-based theme to actually use Full Site Editing. A block theme is a WordPress theme with templates entirely composed of blocks so that in addition to the post content of the different post types (pages, posts, …), the block editor can also be used to edit all areas of the site: headers, footers, sidebars, etc. Chances are: you aren’t using a block-based theme at the moment.
  • You don’t have to adopt Full Site Editing. If you aren’t ready for a block-based theme just yet, don’t worry. “Classic” themes continue to exist and work as always.

On that note, here’s what Ben Ritner, founder of Kadence WP, has to say about making the switch to full site editing:

“Most complex things are still not possible in full-site editing simply because complex tools/features have not been created/implemented in blocks yet. Also, most plugins that use custom post types don’t support it yet (e.g., WooCommerce). The plugins will function properly, however, they won’t be giving you any extra control.”

-Ben Ritner, What You Need to Know about WordPress 5.9

1. Introducing the Site Editor (Beta)

After enabling a block theme, a new menu item under Appearance called “Editor (beta)” will show. This editor unlocks the ability to visually edit site-wide styles and blocks for your homepage, templates, and template parts.

As you can see, the look and design is similar to the WordPress admin dashboard and post/page editor. Menu items are located the left and even more settings are available from the top toolbar.

The beta Site Editor is the entrance for editing:

  • Templates (single post, archive etc)
  • Template parts (header, footer etc)
  • Adjust Styles via the right sidebar

Let’s unpack each of these.

2. Template Editing + Creation

Full Site Editing with a block-based theme unlocks the ability to edit site templates. In WordPress, these have traditionally been the code files that control how important parts of your site are structured and styled.

For example, Twenty Twenty-Two adds these templates:

  • 404 – The “page” that displays when no content is found.
  • Single Post – How a single post displays.
  • Page – How a single page displays.
  • Home – Your home page.
  • Index – The “page” that displays all your posts.
  • Single Post (No Separators)
  • Page (No Separators)

Clicking on any of the template names in the list will allow you to edit the template in a similar editor as the post/page editor. Form here, you can tweak the blocks, colors, etc.

3. Template Part Customization

Template parts are another aspect of Full Site Editing that allow you to control specific site-wide components of your site, including the header and footer.

Template parts include:

  • Header – The Header template defines a page area that typically contains a title, logo, and main navigation
  • Footer – The Footer template defines a page area that typically contains site credits, social links, or any other combination of blocks.
  • General – General templates often perform a specific role like displaying post content, and are not tied to any particular area.

Click on any in the list to edit or you can add a new one.

4. Site-wide Styles

Another big feature for Full Site Editing available in the Editor (Beta) is Styles, the ability to customize your site’s colors, typography, layouts, and more. With Styles, you can tweak your site, or give it a whole new look with options for everything from a new color palette for your buttons, or choosing a new font.

You’ll find Styles available from the top toolbar of the Editor (Beta) by clicking the circle icon.

The new Styles Panel opens several settings options, including

  • Typography – Manage the typography settings for different elements, including text and links.
  • Colors – Manage palettes and the default color of different global elements on the website. Palettes are used to provide default color options for blocks and various design tools. Here you can edit the colors with their labels. Includes background, text, and links.
  • Layout – Add padding

5. Site-wide Block Styles

Also included in Styles is the ability to set default styles for all blocks. This can be extremely useful for client sites, for example, especially if you’d rather not let a client tweak too many styles or add their own.

You’re given the option to customize the appearance of specific blocks anytime they are used, like:

  • Headings
  • Lists
  • Quotes
  • Buttons
  • Covers
  • Pullquotes

6. Twenty Twenty-Two, the First Default Block Theme

WordPress 5.9 comes packaged with Twenty Twenty-Two, the first default block theme in the history of WordPress. Twenty Twenty-Two represents an example for everyone of the vision for how a theme + Full Site Editing should work together.

Twenty Twenty-Two WordPress Theme

From the WordPress 5.9 welcome screen:

“This is more than just a new default theme. It’s a brand-new way to work with WordPress themes. Block themes put a wide array of visual choices in your hands, from color schemes and typeface combinations to page templates and image filters — all together, in the site editing interface. By making changes in one place, you can give Twenty Twenty-Two the same look and feel as your brand or other websites — or take your site’s look in another direction.”

As for the design, Twenty Twenty-Two has a bold and modern nature-inspired 17-color palette and gradient styles. In addition, the theme uses the lightweight Source Serif Pro for headlines, paired with a sans-serif for support.

7. New Navigation Block

WordPress 5.9 sees the introduction of a Navigation block that allows users to create, manage, and reuse menus built with various blocks from page links to site logos and more. With its inclusion in 5.9 and all its recent enhancements, the Navigation block is no longer considered experimental.

The new Navigation block gives you the power to choose an always-on responsive menu or one that adapts to your user’s screen size. Whatever you create, know it’s there to reuse wherever you like, whether in a brand new template or after switching themes.

Just note that the Navigation block is available now not just for template parts. You can use the block inside any post or page as well.

8. Removal of Customizer, Menus, and Widgets (If Using a Block-Based Theme)

Because of the new features block themes offer and the ability to edit your content directly, the Customizer menu will be hidden from your dashboard unless you’re using a plugin that requires it.

The WordPress 5.9 About page explains:

“When you use any of the new block themes, you no longer need the Customizer. Instead, you have all the power of the Styles interface inside the Site Editor. Just as in Twenty Twenty?Two, you build your site’s look and feel there, with the tools you need for the job in a fluid interface that practically comes alive in your hands.”

Read this GitHub issue for additional context.

Block Editor Improvements + New Blocks

WordPress 5.9 represents the largest release of Gutenberg features since the initial Gutenberg launch in WordPress 5.0. WordPress 5.9 incorporates 12 versions of changes to the Gutenberg plugin into WordPress core since the last release until the code freeze which was Gutenberg 11.9.

Finally! WordPress 5.9 bakes in new typography tools, flexible layout controls, and finer control over details like spacing, borders, and more for blocks. Previously, block settings were just so limited, especially if you wanted to fine-tune details.

For example, the default paragraph block now includes color options for text color with a hex preview, background color, expanded options for typography such as line height, letter case, letter-spacing, etc.

List view is one of the most useful features of the block editor, especially if you are using more complex layouts (like with Kadence blocks.) List view had several limitations, but WordPress 5.9 greatly improves usability.

For example, in WordPress 5.9, you can now drag blocks around right in the list view. This makes moving blocks in the WordPress editor so much easier.

Especially for more complex layouts, this is extremely helpful. Now, simple controls let you expand and collapse sections as you build your site — and add HTML anchors to your blocks to help users get around a page.

In addition, now you can expand and collapse nested blocks, which is helpful for navigating complex block structures.

11. A Better Gallery Block

Now you can treat every image in a Gallery block the same way you would treat it in the Image block.

By clicking on an individual image in your gallery, you can style it differently from the next (with different crops, or duotones, for instance) or make them all the same.

12. Built-in Block Patterns Explorer

WordPress block patterns are ready-to-insert, predefined WordPress block layouts. Block patterns are a grouping of WordPress blocks that allow users to create any number of complex layouts by only clicking a few buttons.

The WordPress Pattern Directory is the home of a wide range of block patterns built to save you time and add core site functionality. With the increasing number of block patterns available in the pattern directory and bundled with themes, there is now a full-screen modal pattern explorer that can be accessed via an Explore button in the pattern inserter.

With a near full-screen view that draws you in to see fine details, the Pattern Explorer makes it easy to compare patterns and choose the one your users will expect. This explorer allows users to find patterns in a bigger, more advanced tool.

Just click the “Explore” button in the Patterns tab after clicking into the block inserter.

13. Font Weights for Heading Block

As one of the finer controls for blocks, now you can choose font weight (appearance) for the heading block. Additionally, now you can control line-height and letter-spacing, as well as letter case.

Performance Improvements

WordPress 5.9 includes several improvements for performance. You can check out all the performance improvements in WordPress 5.9 here, including some impressive speed comparisons.

14. Block Inserter Performance Improvements

The block inserter got a good performance boost! You’ll likely see a difference when searching and inserting blocks with speed and ease.

Image source: WordPress 5.9 Performance Improvements

15. Improvements to Lazy-Loading Images

Lazy-loading images was introduced in WordPress 5.5 and later expanded to also cover iframes in WordPress 5.7. In the upcoming WordPress 5.9 release, the implementation for both received some improvements to increase performance.

Specifically:  

“An analysis taking into account 50 popular themes showed that the enhancement brought LCP improvements across the board, up to 30% faster page load.”

Improvements for Developers

WordPress 5.9 has many developer-focused updates. Here are a few noteworthy features and enhancements in this update, along with notes on for devs in the WordPress 5.9 field guide.

16. Resources for Building Block-Based Themes

As WordPress 5.9 introduces block-based themes that use blocks to define the templates that structure your entire site. The new templates and template parts are defined in HTML and use the custom styling offered in theme.json.

The theme-experiments repository has an Empty Theme that is a good boilerplate to start your first block theme from. There is also a command-line script to help generate a block theme to get you started:

17. Updates for Settings, Styles, and theme.json

WordPress 5.9 has changed theme.json v1 introduced in WordPress 5.8 to a v2. The existing v1 theme.json files will still work as expected, and they’ll be transformed at runtime to the v2 format by WordPress.

You can check out the live specification document for a detailed description of the theme.json file capabilities.

18. Multiple Stylesheets for a Block

Now you can register more than one stylesheet per block. You can use this to share styles across blocks you write, or to load styles for individual blocks, so your styles are only loaded when the block is used. Find out more about using multiple stylesheets in a block.

19. New Hooks and Functions to Work with Posts, Post Types, and Taxonomies

In WordPress 5.9, new hooks and functions are added to help developers to work with Posts, Post types and Taxonomies.

20. New API to Access Global Settings and Styles

Finally, following the introduction of a theme.json API in WordPress 5.8 and its corresponding JavaScript API, WordPress 5.9 comes with a PHP public API to read data from theme.json.

Join Us Live for the WordPress 5.9 Launch Event

Join Timothy Jacobs, iThemes Security Lead Developer and WordPress Core Committer, to learn about the new features that the latest version of WordPress offers. We’ll talk about Full Site Editing, a host of block editor improvements, and numerous under-the-hood changes that make this the best WordPress yet.

WordPress 5.9 Launch Event – What You Need to Know About the Latest WordPress
Tuesday, January 25 @ 1:00 -2:00 p.m. CT

Register now

Can’t make the live webinar? Go ahead and register and we’ll email you the replay.
See webinar time in your time zone.

How to Update to WordPress 5.9

WordPress 5.9 is due to be released on July 20, 2021. As soon as the update has been released, you’ll see the WordPress version update available in your WordPress admin dashboard on the Updates page. Again, don’t forget to backup your site before you update WordPress!

Not seeing the 5.8 update yet? Stay tuned! Follow the make.wordpress.org release blog posts here for the latest update to read the official WordPress 5.9 release post. You can also check out the WordPress 5.9 Field Guide from the core team.

Need to update multiple WordPress sites to WordPress 5.9? iThemes Sync Pro allows you to manage multiple WordPress sites from one dashboard. You’ll see the Core update available from your Sync dashboard.

Have something to add to this list? What are your favorite new things in WordPress 5.9? Happy updating!

WordPress 5.9

The post WordPress 5.9: Top 20 New Features & Improvements appeared first on iThemes.

This content was originally published here.