Editor Will Default to Fullscreen Mode in WordPress 5.4

Screenshot of the WordPress editor in fullscreen mode.
WordPress editor in fullscreen mode.

Riad Benguella announced on the core development blog last week the editor in WordPress 5.4 will ship in fullscreen mode by default. While some form of fullscreen or distraction-free writing has existed for years in the core platform, this marks the first time WordPress will make it the default experience.

Not all installations will see the fullscreen editor upon upgrading. The editor will be in fullscreen mode the first time a user opens the editor in a new installation, on a new device, or whenever WordPress resets a user’s preferences.

Some people were not happy with the timing of the code change, regardless of their feelings about whether it was a good decision to switch to a fullscreen experience by default. The change was slipped in three weeks after a feature and enhancements freeze for the WordPress 5.4 development cycle. This was also the same day that the first WordPress 5.4 release candidate was released. Some argued that the development cycle should remain sacred, that last-minute changes should be punted to the next cycle. Doing so would provide an appropriate level of testing and preparation. The shock-factor would also be lessened when more people are aware that a change is coming.

“I would have expected this to sit in the plugin for a cycle or two, and dropping an alteration to the editor’s behavior this major into core several hours before 5.4 was promoted to Release Candidate is very confusing to me,” said software engineer K. Adam White. “What about this change made it have to happen today, rather than following our release process and bundling this enhancement with 5.5?”

Matt Mullenweg, WordPress co-founder and 5.4 release lead, chimed in and accepted responsibility. “This is on me as release lead — I’ve been meaning to get this in for a while but it got lost in the shuffle,” he said. “I’m very comfortable with the decision to have fullscreen by default given the user testing we’ve seen and other qualitative feedback, which I’ve also heard is similar to what folks like GoDaddy have found in their testing. The code change is minimal so if during the month of March we need to revert it, shouldn’t be a problem.”

Late changes can catch people who provide support or manage client websites off guard. Joost de Valk, founder and CPO of Yoast, noted that such changes also force extra work on people who maintain courses and other materials around the editor.

The Fullscreen Experience

Admittedly, I have never used fullscreen mode since the block editor landed. I tested the earlier iteration when the classic editor was still the norm. I did not care for it then, but I also did not care for the classic editor. Instead, I always wrote in an offline editor. I was not the ideal test candidate for the feature. Since then, I have not given it much thought.

When testing the fullscreen mode in WordPress 5.4, I was a little shocked by the change. It felt like I stepped outside of my WordPress admin panel. However, that shock quickly wore off. The experience was not much different from working within the normal editor.

The only thing that was a poor user experience for me was clicking the arrow button at the top left of the editor. I had wrongly assumed the button would open the WordPress admin menu. Instead, it took me back to the posts management screen. The button does have a “View Posts” tooltip that appears when you hover it, but I tend to move fast and clicked it before I understood its purpose.

Closer screenshot of the fullscreen post editor and its toolbar.
Top left button in editor returns users to posts management screen.

I was prepared to open a ticket to address this problem. However, the Gutenberg team was already on top of the issue and have merged a fix within the plugin that uses the WordPress “W” icon. It is unclear if this change will make it into WordPress 5.4. It would be ideal to avoid the same issue I ran into.

Finding these types of problems and addressing them is one of the primary reasons that we should avoid major changes to user interfaces late in the development cycle. If we are lucky, this is the worst problem that arises this time around.

The fullscreen experience would also be nicer if there was a button or keyboard shortcut to quickly switch modes. Currently, users must click the “⋮” button for tools and options. Then, select the editing mode.

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28 responses to “Editor Will Default to Fullscreen Mode in WordPress 5.4”

  1. Hopefully you can turn this off? Have never used the full screen editor and have no plans. Now I have to teach a team on this change.

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  2. Louis says:

    Another example of discussion and democracy NOT being present whenever MW decides to do something.

    Matt’s way or the highway. That’s what it is. It is his to do with as he pleases. Nobody using WordPress should be surprised. He’s got the market share, he has the power. Either we get used to it or …. well …. we get used to it.

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    • It should be noted that the decision-making structure for WordPress has never been democratic. It is more based on merit with the project lead, the final decision-maker, at the top.

      I am willing to take Matt at his word that the feedback and testing show that fullscreen mode is a better experience, but I would rather see the data behind that. I am not a fan of pushing such a change so late in the dev cycle, particularly if it’s something that could have waited and become a better experience (e.g., perma-storing the preference via user metadata).

      Criticism of ideas and decisions is discussion worth having in the comments. Simply being critical of a person is not and tends to lead the discussion astray.

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  3. Still I would recommend you to try Gutenberg if not for something else than playing around with differen blocks. It is the future and it’s not going away.

    I still play around with both of them but I find myself using Gutenberg more and more. Classic Editor is fine for now but it will disapperar sooner or later.

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  4. Sue says:

    Now, all my images in the editor display as a horizontal/rectangle image. Then when I preview, they are square in live mode. I hate the horizontal image as it does not show the real look of the image. Can this be changed?

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  5. T Piwowar says:

    With so many broken and missing bits in WP it is sad to see time wasted on such uselessness. Why should I need to add 50 plugins to run a very basic community website?

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  6. Tro says:

    This is a step in the right direction. I’m very happy to hear this. Now that full screen is the default, the Gutenberg contributors can better work on making the content look like the live page, to make Gutenberg a WYSIWYG page builder.

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  7. David Brown says:

    Yet another poorly-thought-through change in a release cycle that has been a case study in how to not build software.

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  8. Michael says:

    Great article and I’m not worried about the change. In fact, I like it that way. Also, Classic or Gutenberg are welcome in my book

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  9. Ben says:

    It would also be nice if editor preferences were a user meta setting stored in the database and not just stored in local storage as this is right now. Local storage is not very… permanent. Simply changing browsers (or even running the browser in private mode) will cause users to end up in radically different editing experiences without warning. I foresee lots of forum support questions about how to get out of full-screen editor mode and then even more with “why does it keep switching back”.

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  10. I am really happy that wp team is coming up with full-screen editor option in next release. I tried it using the beta tester plugin. It gives us a smooth and realistic editing experience like new google sites. I am also looking forward to trying the front end editor.in WP.

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  11. Lee says:

    Ah, yes, this will be as useful as that full-screen mode in the classic editor that everybody didn’t like.

    Forcing creators to use full-screen mode is an example bad UI design decision making. End-users must be in full control of their dashboard settings.

    Overriding the end user’s preferences and settings is rarely ever a good idea and is often forever remembered in all the wrong ways.

    Remember that time WordPress wanted to force people to use Gutenberg..?

    Remember that time WordPress wanted to force people to use full-screen mode..?

    Remember that CMS everyone used to use. What was it called..? WordThingy or something..?

    I’m a fan of Gutenberg. I predicted WordPress would move toward the page builder + minimalist theme stack many years ago. Long before Gutenberg arrived. But, keep making bad decisions like this that remove choice from end-users or that override end-user settings and WordPress will go the way of that other CMS.. what was that CMS called again.. WordThingy or something?

    Let end-users make their own decisions. Offer full-screen mode as an option. Give it big button to switch it on and off. Don’t tell people they must disable it after they have become accustomed to never having need to enable it, ever.

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  12. Bastian says:

    One of the most mystifying things about the WordPress team is their persistent fascination with fullscreen/non-distracting/whatever modes.

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  13. Ben Sibley says:

    Anyone who wants to use the Fullscreen mode is already using it. If they believe people aren’t using it because they don’t know about it, then add a tooltip over the menu (which most users probably never open) and tell them about it.

    Changing the user’s settings without their approval is not in the spirit of “democratizing publishing”. This is going to piss off a lot of people. And honestly, everyone will get over it, but a massive number of people are going to have their workday disrupted and have to search the interface to find a hidden button to return the menu and likely need to Google the solution. The end result is people learning that WP updates stink because they change their settings without asking and disrupt their workflow.

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  14. Rod Olman says:

    Lots of negativity here. Why? Ever since Gutenberg was forced into the core WordPress has been one opaque, secret decision after the other.

    Making the editor full-screen per default, without the option to permanently disable it, is just another breaking change (not to mention the various CSS breakages between GB versions which forces theme and plugin authors to go through their code again after each GB release).

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  15. From my point of view, and based on the tests I have done, for the full screen format to be useful, we need to solve at least two very important things first:
    1. That the canvas in which the blocks are inserted also occupies the width of the screen. This would be extremely useful for working with groups of blocks, especially when they include multiple columns to which text must be added. If the full screen leaves a canvas just as small as previously anchored in the center of the screen, what’s the point?

    Replace the upper left button (arrow) so that the administration menu reappears instead of taking you to the list of entries, which does not make any sense in the editor.
    By inertia, the user is used to collapsing the admin panel and customizer menus and redisplaying them by clicking an arrow they expect to find …

    I really think that those in charge of programming do not use the block editor too much in their day to day … they are obvious things that they leave behind while they want to advance in other functions that are not so necessary yet.

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  16. avviano says:

    Add this code to your functions.php file in your theme editor to get rid of default fullscreen mode in WordPress 5.4+ :

    if (is_admin()) { 
        function jba_disable_editor_fullscreen_by_default() {
        $script = "jQuery( window ).load(function() { const isFullscreenMode = wp.data.select( 'core/edit-post' ).isFeatureActive( 'fullscreenMode' ); if ( isFullscreenMode ) { wp.data.dispatch( 'core/edit-post' ).toggleFeature( 'fullscreenMode' ); } });";
        wp_add_inline_script( 'wp-blocks', $script );
    }
    
    add_action( 'enqueue_block_editor_assets', 'jba_disable_editor_fullscreen_by_default' );
    }

    Code credit: Jean-Baptiste Audras

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    • Antony Smith says:

      Thanks for the tip, it’s gone straight into my base theme. However I find the fact this snippet has to exist, plus the hacky method of adding some inline JS, incredible. This setting should, without doubt, be stored as user meta.

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  17. Kevin says:

    This was such a frustrating move. The default should not be full screen. There is no view page option in full screen. Yes, you can preview but that’s obviously not the same. So, if I jump into a page to edit and it’s in full screen mode, I can make the edit but I still have to get out of full screen mode in order to “View Page.” Makes no sense unless I’m a complete idiot and missing something.

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  18. Tyler Smith says:

    I strongly dislike this change. I’m a WordPress power user so I might not be the target audience for this update, but this slows me way down and it’s super frustrating.

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