WordPress 5.5 „Eckstine“ (named in honour of Jazz singer Billy Eckstine) was released on August 11th as a result of contributions from 805 volunteers. The update comes with a lot of exciting features that promise to improve user experience – encompassing changes to the blog editor, SEO-enhancing sitemaps, plugin and theme management, and many more. In this article, we want to give you a brief overview of some of the most important highlights that were introduced.
Changes to the Blog Editor
The Blog Editor has undergone a variety of changes – besides new additions to the user surface like new icons, better colour contrast and easier navigation, WordPress 5.5 is giving you access to a block directory, block patterns and inline image editing.
The new block directory is a set of WordPress plugins that make it possible to search for and install new types of blocks. When you choose a block to add, it will be downloaded in the background and automatically activated and inserted in the content. It is located directly inside the blog editor, which makes it very convenient and easy to use.
Block patterns are essentially ready-made combinations of blocks with pre-configured settings that are arranged in a way that matches your website and looks attractive. These include, for example, text aligned with headings or media. This new feature will allow you to save time when editing the content and layout of a post without sacrificing its visual design and might encourage you to be more creative with your content overall.
Inline Image Editing
If you have previously spent a lot of time editing your blog post’s images, the new update will make this a little easier for you. While you can still make basic changes to your images in the media library, WordPress 5.5 now allows you to zoom in on, rotate and crop your photos, as well as adjusting height, width and aspect ratio without ever leaving the editor. This way, you can immediately see what they look like embedded in the rest of your content. This option definitely speeds up the process and makes image adjustments a lot more convenient. It has to be said, however, that this feature is not available in every block and is mainly restricted to the standard image block.
While photos and graphics make content seem much more appealing, websites with a lot of images sometimes tend to slow down pages. This is why WordPress 5.5 has introduced “lazy loading” as the new default. Essentially, this means that instead of loading all images at the same time, they will be loaded gradually just before they come into view. This will not only make the page load faster but also spare mobile users’ browsers from loading files that are meant for other devices, which can save some data. You could previously achieve this by installing certain plugins, but this feature will now be included in the core.
WordPress 5.5 also introduces XML sitemaps. These are files that – as the name suggests – act as a sort of “map”, giving search engines like Google or Bing directions to your website’s content elements in XML format. This will make it more discoverable and thus, more likely for search engines to index your posts and pages for people to find, which is a great improvement for Search Engine Optimisation. This feature will not cause any issues with performance or other plugins that add sitemaps.
The new version of WordPress has taken a big step towards more security – outdated plugins and themes pose a high risk for hacking attempts, since releases of new versions typically include important security repairs to fix vulnerabilities that can otherwise be exploited. Contributors have now made it possible to activate automatic updates for themes and plugins. Instead of manually having to check, users can stay up to date with the latest code with much less effort. As this feature is disabled by default, you will need to turn it on in the admin. If you want to activate it only for specific plugins, this will work as well. For themes, you need to go to the theme overview to enable updates. Auto-updates happen on the same day as they are released, therefore offering maximum protection in that area.
If you want to keep updating your themes and plugins manually, you can now do so by uploading a ZIP file.
Improved accessibility of the publishing experience is another major update coming with the new version – it is now possible to control meta boxes with your keyboard and instead of having to highlight text, links in modal dialogues and media screens can now be copied with a button.
It is always a good idea to check what the content that you have compiled will look like on your actual website before you publish it, and previews can help with that. WordPress 5.5 now allows you to preview pages and posts on desktop, tablet and mobile screen formats. This is a great and arguably vital improvement, since it is very important for your layout to respond to several devices – nowadays, more people access websites from mobile phones than from a desktop computer.
WordPress 5.5 has definitely introduced a lot of improvements that will make the navigation of the site as well as writing content and keeping up with new versions much easier. We have outlined some important changes, but there are far too many to cover them all – if you want to have a look at a complete overview of all new features, have a read through the WordPress 5.5 Field Guide.