Inserting Special Characters Into the Block Editor

For users of the Classic WordPress editor who often needed to insert special characters into their posts, life was once simple. Click the “Ω” button in the editor to open a modal with a list of characters not found on a standard keyboard. The user then only needed to click on the character they wanted to insert and go about the business of writing their post.

For users who made the move to the block editor and were accustomed to inserting special characters at the click of a button, life became more complicated. The answer to their woes was to first insert a Classic block and use its special character inserter, which kind of defeats the purpose of using the new and shiny block editor. Another option was to use the special character app/program packaged with their computer, which assumes all users know the keyboard shortcut for it or how to run the program.

By many accounts, this would be considered a standard feature for any text editor. When WordPress is at a stage of trying to sell a new editor, it should be prepared to include features that users of the old editor consider standard. The lack of a special-character inserter could have been written off as an oversight if people were not asking for it.

People were asking for it.

Fortunately, the requests caught the attention of the 10up team. In September this year, they released the first version of their Insert Special Characters plugin. It has since gone through a couple of updates and works well across browsers.

The plugin is simple and does its job much better than the previous Classic editor inserter. Instead of just handling the basics, the team went above and beyond what was necessary to launch the plugin.

The plugin adds a new sub-menu item to the text toolbar titled “Ω Special Characters.”

Screenshot of the special characters rich text menu item.
“Special Characters” rich text menu item.

After clicking the link to insert a special character, a modal box appears on the screen. The box provides hundreds of special characters to choose from. It sorts them under Miscellaneous, Math, Latin, and Arrow categories while providing a search filter to narrow down the list. The box can also be reached by typing ctrl/cmd + o on the keyboard.

Screenshot of the special characters insertion modal.
Special characters insertion modal box.

Like many modals, the box pops up in a weird position from time to time, depending on where the insertion point is on the screen. Outside of that, I found no major problems with the plugin.

The plugin also provides a hook for other developers to manipulate the tabs and available characters in the modal.

This does beg the question of whether the feature should be implemented in the core block editor now. If the core team puts it in at this point, one would hope they would make it competitive with the plugin. Anything less would be a letdown.


7 responses to “Inserting Special Characters Into the Block Editor”

  1. At the suggestion of another frequenter of the Tavern I downloaded this plugin. A quick and easy fix to a problem that, in my opinion, shouldn’t exist at all.
    It’s also quite hackable; I didn’t need the arrows or more Dingbat-style characters (and as a Brit there was no way I was going to leave it as “Math”), so it also helped me understand Gutenberg plugins a bit more.

  2. They promised that the block editor would provide, at the bare minimum, the same functionality that the Classic Editor provided. It doesn’t. The lack of the Character Map functionality, which is extremely useful, was raised by multiple people yet they still refused to add it. This functionality should be in core. People shouldn’t have to add a separate plugin just to get back functionality that they had in the Classic Editor.

  3. While I like the block editor, it does some things better, it can’t do everything.

    The block editor is not a religion it is just another way to build a website but the way some have caught the block buzz it seem to be the ideology to suggest blocks only at the cost of every other tried and tested approach.

  4. This is a neat plugin. Kudos to 10up. Hopefully this is the first of many plugins they create for the new editor.

    Once the block directory launches and discovery improves this plugin will hopefully be able to help more people.


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