ClassicPress at a Crossroads, Directors Consider Re-Forking WordPress

ClassicPress is polling its users to determine the next step for the software. The project is a pared back fork of WordPress based on version 4.9 that uses the TinyMCE classic editor as the default option with no block editor. It’s run under a non-profit organization called the ClassicPress Initiative.

In July 2022, the project appeared to be on the rocks when its directors resigned, saying that the community felt they were now hindering the progress of ClassicPress. The organization was struggling to meet its required financial support but has since rallied and is in a more stable place after moving the donation process to Open Collective.

In a recent forum post titled “The Future of ClassicPress,” one of the project’s directors, Viktor Nagornyy, presented the community with two paths: re-fork ClassicPress using WordPress 6.0, or continue as-is.

“Over the past few years, our core team has been working on improving ClassicPress and backporting features from WordPress,” Nagornyy said. “As WordPress continued to evolve, ClassicPress got a bit behind in adding new features as the focus became PHP 8+ compatibility.”

An exploratory fork of WordPress 6.0 with the block editor removed exists in a GitHub repository called WP-CMS. It is not finished but could potentially become ClassicPress 2.0. This option has the benefit of helping the project catch up to WordPress and improve compatibility with more recent versions of PHP, and open up more plugins and themes for users that require 5.0+ in order to be compatible. The downside is that it will take months to complete with ClassicPress’ limited number of contributors and ClassicPress 1.x would need to be maintained in terms of security for some time.

The alternative is continuing to maintain the project as it is with no requirement to maintain separate versions. Nagornyy identified the cons of this approach:

  • Our small core team will continue to focus on PHP compatibility
  • Backporting from WP is prioritized, so new ClassicPress features might not happen
  • We won’t be able to catch up with WordPress, functions/features will be missing
  • Plugins/themes compatible with WordPress 5+ would be incompatible with ClassicPress

The project is now at a crossroads considering the two options, which has forced the community to reexamine the purpose of ClassicPress.

“So the real question is ClassicPress a Pre-Wordpress 5.0 or just WordPress without Gutenberg?” founding committee member Daniele Scasciafratte said.

“Considering also that CP is based on a codebase of 5 years ago and the web is moving on, I think that we should move to Re-Fork and find a way to automatize it as much possible and simplify it.”

ClassicPress core committer Álvaro Franz, who is also the author of the WP-CMS fork based on WP 6.0, said he is unwilling to help with a continuation of the current version.

“I don’t see the point in working on an outdated version of something that has already been improved by many great developers at WordPress (as stated by @Mte90, there have in fact been A LOT of improvements),” Franz said. “But I can take care of v2, since I already am the author of the mentioned fork, I can help with keeping WP-CMS up with WordPress and then using that as a base for CP v2.”

WordPress core contributor Joy Reynolds commented on the thread, indicating that ClassicPress has a grim future ahead if it keeps struggling to backport all the improvements made after 4.9. She contends that continuing on the same path leads to a dead end, given the project’s small contributor base:

The whole point of backporting from WP is because they have thousands of developers, millions of users testing every combination of version and plugin and host to find problems (plus a testing team), a security team, and a performance team. CP has none of that and it’s kind of silly to not take advantage of their efforts. But the more things we ignore or fall behind on, the harder it is to backport anything.

There are many things that continue to evolve, outside of WP, like PHP, Javascript, CSS, HTML, and various bundled tools (like jQuery and TinyMCE and PHPMailer and Simple Pie and Requests…).

CP can’t stand still at 4.9. That’s dead. But if you tried to backport all the PHP8 stuff, you’d find it very difficult because of all the formatting changes they made, plus all the bug fixes, plus all the new features. The new fork bypasses the backport problem by taking it all at once and deleting the block stuff that is unwanted.

I personally think that CP doesn’t have any features of value that WP doesn’t have. It has a bunch of fixes and a few features from WP, but it’s a dead end, especially with the limited roster of people who contribute code.

In a contrasting comment, ClassicPress founding committee member Tim Kaye distilled why the poll seems to be so divisive.

“If all that people want is WordPress without Gutenberg, there’s absolutely no need for ClassicPress at all since there’s already a plugin that provides what you’re looking for,” Kaye said. “It’s called Classic Editor.

“The idea that the question is whether CP should essentially mirror a stripped-down version of WP or not is therefore entirely misconceived. Those who desire that objective should be using that plugin. It’s really that simple.

“CP (and the work that goes into it) only makes sense if it’s its own CMS with its own decision-making process and its own features.”

Former ClassicPress contributor @ozfiddler, who likened working on the project to “polishing the brass on a rudderless ship,” suggested ClassicPress identify a destination before choosing between two paths.

“But then, that’s the problem with CP – it never really knew where it was going, beyond ‘WP-without-Gutenberg,’” @ozfiddler said. “So, it means you get statements like this listed as a con for one of the options: ‘We won’t be able to catch up with WordPress.’

“When I was contributing to CP I always thought that the ambitions greatly outweighed the available resources. I occasionally suggested a drastic pruning back of the project, but this was always met with widespread disapproval. I still think that if CP is going to survive at all (and I very much doubt it) then you will need to define a narrower subset of users and focus your limited efforts on catering to them.”

ClassicPress’ poll and the 80 comments in the discussion offer a glimpse into the frustrating reality of maintaining a fork of a fast-moving, large project like WordPress. So far there are 31 votes and Nagornyy plans to close it within the next few days if it doesn’t receive any new votes.

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19 responses to “ClassicPress at a Crossroads, Directors Consider Re-Forking WordPress”

  1. I was excited when CP was created. But then I found that the purpose of eliminating Gutenberg was not worth the effort to use a different software simply because it’s very easy to do that with WP.

    CP needs to redefine its purpose. Otherwise, it’s always behind WP no matter what people choose.

  2. Yep, as the article sums up, classic press is pretty much a waste of time until the classic editor plugin is no longer supported.

  3. It’s an interesting quandary. As evident in the discussion many hurdles and many more to come.

    Despite all criticisms I would have of the Gutenberg project I have found it a more wise decision to stick with the main version of WP. I like to distinguish the block editor from Gutenberg because as a basic editor it is a pretty good replacement for the older editor.

    On top of this, there is still plenty of scope to continue working in the classic way, if you want. I actually use the block editor for post content as it is pleasantly useful for this. Where I have issues is with how there is a jump to FSE before many functional workflows and responsiveness has been treated properly. One big gap for example is the lack of an interface set up just for data entry, using just custom fields and having the block editor component hidden as it is surplus to requirements in this type of workflow. Interesting how WooCommerece hasn’t yet presented us with a Gutenberg look for editing products?

    Giving it full consideration I think sticking around, assessing and appraising the development with the Gutenberg project and challenging it in a critical manner is a better bet, postponing a fundamental fork to a later date. That fork should be to either adjust to WP as it is or, move to something other than WP, if such a viable option can be found.

    • “One big gap for example is the lack of an interface set up just for data entry, using just custom fields and having the block editor component hidden as it is surplus to requirements in this type of workflow. Interesting how WooCommerece hasn’t yet presented us with a Gutenberg look for editing products?”

      That’s the elephant in the room in the WordPress world. Four years have passed since the release of WP 5.0, and yet there’s not a word about adding an interface for custom post types where the main content is custom fields (i.e. WooCommerce).

  4. This is a tough one. So many people have contributed to make ClassicPress work. But it seems that, without a really clear mission, maintaining it is going to be a massive task.

    I guess the question is: Aside from sidestepping Gutenberg, what is the purpose of ClassicPress?

    If it’s vital to stay compatible with all current WordPress plugins and themes, then forking 6.0 makes sense. But can that effort be sustained for the foreseeable future?

  5. I agree with Tim Kaye. ClassicPress has no future if the sole aim is to be a Gutenberg-free version of WordPress. Why use CP when you can use the latest WP with a plugin? Instead, CP has to evolve to become a separate CMS, just as WP did all those years ago. Given its current very limited resources, CP will never be able to keep up with WP and forking 6.x makes no sense to me. I also agree with @ozfiddler that ambitions need to be tempered.

    I’ve been watching CP over the 4 years since it was first conceived. For a while, it looked promising and I even set up a couple of CP sites, but this lack of clarity is killing it. Sadly, I’m done with it.

  6. Well now I have to keep it open for a bit longer 😂

    A lot of people really don’t understand why ClassicPress happened (and continues) and it wasn’t really Gutenberg, that was the last straw. The real reason was the lack of community-driven governance, aka dictatorship. Automattic’s commercial interests drive decisions now, Google sponsored contributors pushing nonsense (WEBP) into core, etc. Now SQLite in the core? Whose going to embed WordPress in their smart toaster? 😂 If WordPress followed its own philosophy we wouldn’t have most of these features in the core, it would remain light and plugins would continue to offer functionality.

    But Automattic got investors, needed to start competing with website builders like Wix and SquareSpace, and also with plugins such as Beaver Builder and Elementor. Why build it themselves if they can leverage WordPress community to build it for them, it’s cheaper.

    What I really don’t understand is how closed-minded some WordPress users are when it comes to forking WordPress. Open source thrives on forks, look at Linux OS’s. WordPress is a fork! Forks fill specific needs their upstream parents can’t or won’t.

    It’s not WordPress vs ClassicPress, the question is “what’s the right CMS for the user’s needs?” ClassicPress will never surpass WordPress, it doesn’t need to. It fills specific needs of its users whose needs were neglected or not fulfilled by WordPress (or other CMS).

    I use WordPress most of the time, but the times I need something lighter and leaner, I use ClassicPress. It’s a great option for headless and static generator sites. I know ClassicPress is used to power intranets, ecommerce sites, blogs, business websites, etc.

    The real tragedy is that WordPress no longer follows its own philosophy, yet it’s still listed on the website:

    “The core of WordPress will always provide a solid array of basic features. It’s designed to be lean and fast and will always stay that way. We are constantly asked “when will X feature be built” or “why isn’t X plugin integrated into the core”. The rule of thumb is that the core should provide features that 80% or more of end users will actually appreciate and use. If the next version of WordPress comes with a feature that the majority of users immediately want to turn off, or think they’ll never use, then we’ve blown it. If we stick to the 80% principle then this should never happen.”

    ClassicPress is staying true to the WordPress philosophy.

    We’ve made mistakes, but we’re learning and improving. Community has funded ClassicPress, so they want it and we continue building it for them.

    If you believe in open source and WordPress philosophy without cherrypicking, ClassicPress is always in need of core contributors 😉 Plus, our new ClassicPress-powered plugin/theme directory is going live soon.

    Remember, you can use both, you can support both, and the world won’t end 😀

    Happy Holidays!

  7. To quote ” …already a plugin that provides what you’re looking for,” Kaye said. “It’s called Classic Editor.”

    The issue is that it’s inevitable that the Classic Editor, including other plugins that disable Gutenberg elements, will come to an end as WP progresses.

    I’m still watching to see where CP goes; I’m working on releasing at least 1 CP-dedicated theme. But, for the most part, my themes at Rough Pixels still work (or at least from my testing) on CP.

    As I mentioned, we are nearing the point where WordPress will no longer work for pre-WP 5.0 users as it relates to themes and plugins. Soon, the customizer won’t even exist.

    I’ve written a few articles on my blog at RP about ClassicPress, but this latest post “ClassicPress at a Crossroads…” does raise an eyebrow.

    The team really needs to have a “clear” mission; as some have said, not having Gutenberg in it is not enough.

  8. WordPress + Jeff Starr’s Disable Gutenberg : everything fine.

    ClassicPress : most of the plugins I need don’t work.

    It’s an easy decision.

    For a while I was hopeful about CP, but now I can’t think of any use case where it would be a better choice than WP+DG.

    • Yeah it’s probably good to point out that “Gutenberg” is a lot more than an Editor. It’s also a CSS framework (powered by theme.json), block based themes (aka FSE), and blocks+blockEditor. The classic editor plugin just replaces the block editor with tinyMCE. It does not disable things like SVG tags for duotones being output on the frontend of every WP site (whether you use them or don’t). If you don’t plan to use things like duotones or the WP css framework (theme.json), you probably want to be looking at the Disable Gutenberg plugin, not Classic Editor.

      • Then it’s just as well I didn’t actually refer to the Classic Editor plugin, isn’t it? Sarah’s actually misquoted me there, though she has included the correct hyperlink to the plugin to which I did allude: Classic Editor +. The + is the important bit!

  9. I love gutenberg! when it first arrived, I was against it, it took a bit of understanding and time, now I cannot have my blog without it. I think CF would´nt survive i in the long run. WordPress is with the time and moves forward. (I am 63years old blogger, blogger since 2002) .

  10. I fail to see, as I always have, what the point of this entire thing is. Why can WordPress simply not retain the ability to choose your editor? Be that the classic editor, which isn’t that great by the way, miles and miles behind the latest version of TinyMCE which is actually a great tool. Or, page builders like Beaver Builder, they seem to be getting on just fine without freaking out and attempting to maintain a separate version of WordPress to support themselves.

    You don’t like Gutenberg? Fine, you don’t even have to use their blocks beyond the basic text and HTML stuff. Seems to me like everyone threw their toys out of the pram up front and have refused to budge from their position on it and willing to waste considerable time and effort over it.

  11. Hey, I’m the author of WP-CMS. I still believe the project makes sense: a version of WordPress without Gutenberg (and without the whole Blocks/FSE experience).

    It doesn’t have to be a competition (and it never could compete with WordPress anyways), but it can be a leaner version, for people who are already disabling Gutenberg via plugins, for developers who want a different approach to the way they develop their projects (closer to “the classic” experience, but yet… modern!).

    Eventually, it won’t make sense to run a fresh copy of WordPress to then go and install a plugin that “disables” half of it. What’s the point? Why not have a version that covers that specific usecase?

    I’m using alternatives to WordPress now, but since WP-CMS is very easy to maintain, I’ll keep dedicating time to it. For fun, to stay updated with what goes on in WordPress, and also because I believe in the concept, be it called ClassicPress, WP-CMS or WhateverPress. I don’t care. The problem is, ClassicPress wants to become “something else”, with different versions and different features. And that’s a waste of time… because it will end up being an frozen-tweaked version of WordPress 4.9, if they keep the current flow.

  12. To go back to the original title of this article, ClassicPress is at a crossroads. It needs to adapt or die.

    One of the biggest obstacles to using CP is, and always has been, the lack of a robust, supporting ecosystem. Without this, it will very likely die. Forking WP 6.x will give a temporary reprieve but that’s all and it’s not sustainable.

    If it were up to me (which it isn’t), I would continue with the current CP core and then put all effort into building up the ecosystem.

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