Gutenberg Contributors Call on Theme Authors to Test Using Block-Based Template Parts in Classic Themes

If you watched Matt Mullenweg’s Q&A session at WordCamp US last weekend, it’s evident that there are significant parts of the community still clinging to the Classic Editor who would be happy for it to be supported indefinitely. For whatever reason, millions users are not ready to switch – some prefer the old editor, don’t like blocks, don’t want to learn a new system, or simply find the newer versions of WordPress too confusing.

In recognition that some users may need a transitional bridge over to the block editor, with an opportunity to dip their toes into it without breaking their whole site design, Gutenberg 14.1 will introduce the ability for theme authors to use block-based template parts in classic and hybrid themes.

Anne McCarthy, who coordinates the FSE outreach program and Gutenberg testing, posted to the Make Themes blog, calling on theme authors to test it out.

“Gradual adoption options remains a focus for the project and, increasingly, there are more ways to adopt parts rather than the whole of a feature coming to the latest version of WordPress,” McCarthy said. “The aim is to allow folks to adopt what they need as they are ready in a way that is still future forward.”

Theme authors will need to specify block-template-parts theme support and use Gutenberg trunk or Gutenberg 14.1 when it’s released on September 15th, 2022. Then they can add block-based template parts as HTML files placed into the parts directory inside the root of the theme. These can then be output inside the theme’s PHP templates using the block_template_part function.

“Users will see a new ‘Template Parts’ menu visible under ‘Appearance,’ which displays a list of template parts,” McCarthy said. “From there, all theme blocks are available, but the environment is inherently limited compared to block themes. For example, users can edit existing template parts but not delete them or create new ones.”

McCarthy suggested a few use cases for adding block-based template parts to classic themes – enabling authors to offer a header template part that allows users to set a video or image background, adjust the focal point, move blocks around, or offer a footer with design blocks locked but content that is easy to edit.

“While this feature is currently aimed at providing options for themes, plugins can also explore extending this functionality to enable the same UI for users,” McCarthy said.

Block themes represent just 2.5% of WordPress themes in the directory, so this new capability is applicable to the majority of themes. Motivating classic theme authors to support this in their themes is another challenge if they don’t see the benefit to users or determine that the different editing experience would be too confusing. It may have an easier entry point through plugins, as users may be more likely to embrace a different editing UI for plugin functionality.

For more technical details and code examples for adding theme support, check out the post outlining how to test using block-based template parts in classic themes.

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19 responses to “Gutenberg Contributors Call on Theme Authors to Test Using Block-Based Template Parts in Classic Themes”

  1. For whatever reason, millions users are not ready to switch – some prefer the old editor, don’t like blocks, don’t want to learn a new system, or simply find the newer versions of WordPress too confusing.

    This makes it sound like the millions of websites using classic themes simply don’t want to switch or are just being stubborn. The reality is that FSE/no-code doesn’t make sense for a large number of websites running WordPress. It’s a cool feature to use when it does apply, but for the many developers trying bring high-end, reliable websites to clients, FSE is still extremely far from being a viable option. Very few agencies building dozens of sites per year are using full-on “block” themes (reach out if you are!)

    While we’re excited about the potential of the block editor, there are plenty of us who still need to control the entire front-end output of our website or support the “classic” sites our customers use that will be running for years to come. Even when block themes are finally a non-beta piece of software, there’s always going to be a need for “classic” themes in WordPress.

    This is the first new feature in a while that brings more of the Gutenberg functionality outside of the FSE bubble (something we wrote about on MasterWP https://masterwp.com/5-things-id-want-to-see-improved-in-wordpress-core/ ) and it’s a welcome change of pace.

    • I don’t think they’re being stubborn – many simply prefer the old editor. Instability of the block editor may be a big factor in that for some users, like you mentioned. I think it would be interesting to poll classic editor users to see what their reasons are. If you read the comments here regularly, though, you are almost guaranteed for someone to tell you every day why they are sticking with the classic editor. 😁

      • I definitely believe you get a lot of unnecessary block editor hate on here 😬 – just trying to clarify that there’s a huge crowd of us in-between: users who don’t use the classic editor, we use Gutenberg for posts and pages, but still can’t use “block” themes, so we haven’t been getting much from the focus on FSE the last few years.

      • I recently asked few people (big website owners with 100k> organic pageviews/month) who still like using Classic Editor over Block Editor and most of the responses were –
        1. If something can be done using the existing Classic Editor, why would they bother to learn Block Editor.
        2. Had a bad experience in the start and gave up eventually. Seems like Block Editor was buggy in the start.

        Here are all the responses – https://imgur.com/a/vWSMX9u

        There are many preparations that need to be done when asking people to shift to new technology. Education and Bug-Free Product seems to be the most important of it. If the people are not shifting, probably its not because they’re stubborn, but because they’ve found their way of using WordPress.

    • We went all-in reasonably early with blocks (one early effort was running Gutenberg on WP 4.9) and tried to embrace each major new feature as Gutenberg evolved. After only just pulling off a reasonably complex project with a custom FSE theme, it became obvious we can’t continue working with WordPress or we’ll slowly but surely go out of business. Modern WordPress means exploration, development, and maintenance time has increased and can no longer be accurately quoted. We see the key problem being this: though WordPress has always been our first choice to build a website with, we were never building a “WordPress website”. Modern WordPress is all about building WordPress websites.

      It’s back to the Classic Editor for us, after what now seems a wasted and miserable 4 years, while we look for an alternative CMS that can return us to a position of being able to make and keep promises to our clients with confidence.

  2. As a user, I like this idea. I thought that I was excited about full-site editing, but when I opened a block theme and tried to start creating pages, it was a bit overwhelming—if I could start by adding template parts into a more-familiar experience, I would have been a lot more confident.

    For the one site that I am creating from scratch (my first ever), I am using Chaplin, a block-friendly classic theme, and am getting more comfortable. I also work on an Elementor-based Astra-themed site (but new pages that I create don’t use Elementor, but the WordPress editor; much less confusing), and a couple of other sites with different configurations.

  3. Considering the development and support costs, it’ll be interesting to see if theme authors believe it’s worthwhile to update existing themes – particularly if they’ve already built in support for a page builder.

    Is there enough demand from users?

  4. I use the block editor on every new project and generally enjoy it. But I also prefer the control I get with classic themes. Block themes just aren’t as flexible or even necessary for me at this point.

    I think the ability to add support for block template parts could be the best of both worlds. Provide clients with the access to things they’ll need, while keeping the rest under wraps.

    Perhaps this will become more of the standard than having a binary choice in themes?

  5. As long as I read this kind of discussions, for years now, I’m always wondering:
    What is wrong with the classic block?
    Telling People to use the classic block if the prefer the classic experience can’t be that much of of an effort.
    What point am I missing?

  6. In my opinion, the FSE rollout was not ready for prime time upon introduction, way to buggy, and WordPress.com Support wasn’t prepared to manage often unclear questions regarding the new format. This was certainly my experience. While I’ve tried many such themes, I’ve had to revert back to the Twenty Twenty One theme (which uses Block Editor Styles), in order to retain integrity of images – for both Single post & Portfolio project views. It is discouraging to find that, while FSE is the future of WordPress, no theme currently can accommodate the presentation of Single post displays of Featured Images that are of portrait (vertical) orientation. All such images are forced within predefined column widths, causing massive over scaling and reduced image clarity when viewing on devices other than phones. In fact, all FSE themes within the theme directory negate inclusion of such images in the Live Demo views. While I very much enjoy the capacity of FSE to customize my site as I would like it to be presented, at present it isn’t worth the switch. Herein, the idea of themes including block-based template parts within hybrid themes in an interesting proposition.

  7. I embraced the block editor from the beginning. Though a bit challenging at first, I enjoyed putting the pieces together much like a puzzle. When FSE came into the picture, I tried to embrace the idea, however, I found it to be too frustrating. The blogs that I see using FSE all look alike and have no personality. I feel the appearance of one’s blog sets the stage thus the reason I prefer theme templates,
    I know of several bloggers that just gave up because of the block editor for various reasons. It’s unfortunate for them and for WordPress.

  8. Developing Themes on WordPress is now more complex than building sites on NextJS + TailwindCSS. There are many things missing and some things messed up. Like Menus and Widgets. You can no longer create stunning mega menus. The block styling scattered all over the web pages, SVG used internally by WP shows up on all pages. On the other hand, the development cost have shot up, react developer costs 5x more than PHP developer. WordPress no longer remains a viable option for developers / small agencies to make any money. Further it’s confusing to the end user as well. I think the team knows it, the lethargy shows up, it’s a drag. The only good thing is that they are keeping up with the updates. Can anyone enlighten on what other options you are looking at ?

    • I’m too interested in checking out other platforms equivalent or similar to what WordPress was until recently, that is, mainly based in PHP and a minimal use of JS.

      • Our small shop has whittled PHP-based options down to two, currently evaluating Twill https://twill.io/ and CraftCMS https://craftcms.com/ for new CMS-powered sites. At this stage I think it’s looking like we’ll go with Twill, it’s been a complete delight to work with for the type of site we tend to build.

  9. Once it’s WYSWYG I might reconsider. Now, you never know what the result actually looks like, or how you should to fake the backend to get the desired Frontend.

  10. Years into a project something is presented to users as a Beta (for the Editor with a beta tag warning too) . That’s a wrong for a product that is used millions. Alpha and Beta should only be seen by a select few and those who explicitly want it. For a product that loves the mention of ‘do not use in production’ when referring to its early releases presenting Editor Beta to everyone borders on the “wth”.
    As a very recent example is a question I got from a user trying to change the site title color/font for the twenty twenty two theme. Using list view a change was made under home header site title, much to the user’s surprise (and mine too) the change was reflected on other pages as well, if you are familiar with the theme you will know what that means for non home pages. This will be an immediate bad impression for a most basic change. A more experienced WP user should not need to go beyond supporting or teaching the user about the list view and how to navigate it.

  11. I have yet to meet a client asking for Gutenberg. The theme I use had had a page builder now that works and requires about 5 mins training. It does everything Guts does and more. So why? Its also a paid supported plugin, if it breaks, which it never has on hundreds of sites it has support via the theme and the plugin devs. So this cant be overlooked, where do you go when Gutenberg is not working in a real world scenario. I cant trust this plugin, I cant recommend it and frankly I cant use it. I have built sites for decades, its one of the oddest and silly HTML editors I have ever seen. I still cant wrap my head around every paragraph being a block.

  12. As a developer that builds about 16 sites a year, I can’t get behind the block editor. I build sites for clients that want to be able to take what I buil and then be able to update and make structural changes on their own after that as they add posts and pages to meet their own business needs,

    The block editor UI is terrible – users need a solution that is much easier to visualize what they are building. My clients don’t want to have to spend a lot of time figuring out the block editor. I ran some experiments with my user base. I asked them to try building a page with a relatively simple structure and content using the block editor – and then try the same thing using Elementor. Every single user preferred Elementor (and probably would prefer any of the major page builders) – their comments were that they preferred the easy way to see what they were building and the components that were available to them.

    FSE just added more complexity for my users. I’m not ready to quit on WordPress – I think it is still the best solution for CMS/SEO, but don’t plan on adopting FSE or block editing until it gets to the point that my clients can feel comfortable with it.

  13. The framing of the reasons people aren’t adopting Blocks is quite ignorant of the realities on the ground. I wish the discussion would be more nuanced about the mismatch Blocks based WP has with an important sector of the WP Ecosystem.

    I have a business building websites for small-mid sized companies and non-profits. I still use Classic Editor and build Classic themes, mainly because the results that can be achieved are a better match to the requirements of my clients.
    That’s particularly true when there is any complex added functionality that needs to be custom built. I’m fine with new tech — I build APIs and JavaScript apps, too. But, for my market, the changes in WordPress introduced over the last few years totally miss the mark. It doesn’t solve the business challenge.

    I think Block stuff is great for a layperson who wants to build a personal blog etc…, but those aren’t people who would hire my company. I need a platform where custom sites can be built without too much added dev cost. And, WordPress seems to have moved away from that market. So, I’m left researching other solutions that fit my market. It’s too bad, because WordPress was pretty much perfect before all of this React nonsense.

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