WordPress 5.5 “Eckstine” Introduces Block Directory, Block Patterns, and Automatic Updates for Themes and Plugins

WordPress 5.5 “Eckstine” landed today, named for American jazz singer Billy Eckstine. This release introduces major improvements for the block editor and the security of WordPress. It was made possible by the contributions of 805 volunteers (with 38% of them being new contributors.) The 5.5 update is a testament to the stability of WordPress during uncertain times, as well as its unstoppable, distributed contributor base, who continue to get things done despite the pandemic’s unique challenges.

WordPress continues refining the editing experience with more than 1,500 updates from 10 releases of the Gutenberg plugin included in 5.5. (The plugin is where all the magic is tested prior to landing in WordPress releases, and features are periodically rolled in.) Some of the most notable changes include inline image editing, device previews, and smoother block movement with better drag-and-drop, block movers, block selection, and block relocation.

Block Patterns are making their debut in WordPress 5.5, with a handful of default patterns already available in the block inserter. This new feature helps users build pages faster by allowing them to instantly place sets of blocks that are already artfully arranged. We have written extensively about why block patterns will change everything and it will be exciting to see what developers do with them now that the feature is in core.

Block Directory Enables Block Discovery and Installation Inside the Editor

WordPress recently launched a block directory for single-block plugins and users can now search for and install blocks directly inside the editor. Selected blocks are downloaded seamlessly in the background and automatically activated and placed in the content. The advantage is that users don’t have to break their workflows in order to install new functionality. Blocks installed via the editor can also be uninstalled from the plugins page in the admin.

Search for and Install Blocks from the Block Directory

Block patterns, combined with the new block directory, will make page building much faster inside the editor by enabling users to quickly spin up layouts and add blocks on the fly.

WordPress Security Takes a Giant Leap with Automatic Updates for Themes and Plugins

Version 5.5 introduces a new UI for enabling auto-updates for themes and plugins. This is an exciting new era for WordPress that brings a higher level of website security while requiring less effort from users. Those who choose to get on the automatic updates train will no longer have to log into their sites and be greeted with a slew of nagging update notices. These updates will happen the same day they are available, so users don’t have to check in as often and sites are better protected from plugin and theme vulnerabilities getting exploited.

WordPress uses wp-cron to fetch updates for plugins and themes twice per day. The feature ships turned off by default in WordPress 5.5, so users will need to visit the theme and plugin pages in the admin to enable automatic updates. The bulk actions menu dropdown now has options for enabling or disabling auto-updates on all plugins, but users can always enable the updates for select plugins if they have any concerns.

Other notable updates in WordPress 5.5 include the following:

  • XML Sitemaps: WordPress now includes extensible core sitemaps, and many users will no longer need a plugin for this functionality. This basic implementation was completed in a way that will not impact performance or cause conflicts with other plugins that add sitemaps.
  • Lazy Loading Images: WordPress images will now wait to load until users scroll them into view, speeding up performance, especially on mobile.
  • Improved Accessibility: Metaboxes can now be moved with the keyboard, assistive devices can see status messages in the image editor, copying links in media screens and modal dialogs can now be done with a click of a button, and more.
  • Update Themes and Plugins by Uploading ZIP files: – Users can now update plugins and themes manually by uploading a ZIP file, an improvement for scenarios where one does not have server access.
  • Final Dashicon Library Update: The Dashicons project has been discontinued in favor of the new Icon Component. This last update to the library adds 39 block editor icons and 26 other icons.

For a more technical breakdown of some of the changes under the hood, check out the developer notes and the 5.5 field guide.

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21 responses to “WordPress 5.5 “Eckstine” Introduces Block Directory, Block Patterns, and Automatic Updates for Themes and Plugins”

  1. Wow!

    I did notice a marked improvement in the speed of page loads.

    Great job WP 5.5 contributors!

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  2. Another observation after updating to WP 5.5:

    I cannot enable auto-updates for all plugins. For example, Restrict Content Pro, BBQ Pro, Blackhole Pro, Newspack Blocks, WP Retina 2x Pro, and some extensions to the main plugins will not allow Auto Updates.

    After enabling updates for all plugins; 26 plugins are now enabled for Auto Updates while 17 plugins are not enabled and can’t be enabled.

    Am curious if anyone else experienced this behavior when enabling Auto Updates for plugins?

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    • This is probably due to the fact that we, the developers, need to now hook into another filter to enable automatic updates. Give it time, those premium plugins will eventually offer the same functionality.

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      • Thank you Dovy! I will be patient.

        Btw, I actually received an email today notifying me that the Simple History plugin updated automatically. I like these notifications. Auto updates is going to save me a lot of work!

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    • David Artiss says:

      As you may have realised from the fact that most of those plugins are “Pro” versions, automatic updates don’t work, by default, for code hosted outside of the WordPress.org repository.

      In a nutshell, it can’t update code that it doesn’t have access to the source for – hence the hooks that Dōvy mentions).

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  3. Stefan says:

    What a great update. Yay auto-updates 🙂

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  4. Bastian says:

    Just a question. How can I disable the activation of auto updates for a specific plugin? Is there any hook available?

    Thanks

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    • David Artiss says:

      The updates are not automatic. If you go to your plugins screen, you’ll see that you can enable auto-updates individually. You can also disable it.

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      • Bastian says:

        I know I can enable auto-updates individually. What I’m asking for is a way to remove the link to enable them for a specific plugin, so the only option to update it is manually.

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  5. Joe says:

    Those are amazing feature so finally we won’t need to disable/remove old plugins and themes to update them to latest versions.. This was so annoying time consuming issue.
    There is also an uldate related to wordpress cache.. In WordPress 5.5 a new function was added called wp_cache_get_multiple() with the capability to get multiple cache keys in a single request. The function wp_cache_get_multiple() accepts an array of keys and fetches multiple cache values from the same group.

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  6. “These updates will happen the same day they are available, so users don’t have to check in as often and sites are better protected from plugin and theme vulnerabilities getting exploited.”

    I think that “same day” will prove to be a mistake. The next time a plugin with a lot of users releases a version with some fatal error that got through their testing (e.g. incompatibility with some other plugin, or specific old PHP version), automatic updates will mean that the number of people affected will be much larger. I’d have suggested that it be something like 2-3 days. That, of course, still means a larger window of vulnerability if the release was a security one – but these things are always trade-offs. (If plugin authors had the facility to tag their releases as security/critical ones that would help towards a solution).

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  7. Although I did like most of the features, I do not like the fact that converting a paragraph block into an H3 block requires two clicks.

    The dev. team should introduce a dropdown or accordion for the Heading tab so that users can directly select the desired heading level instead of first converting the Paragraph block into H2 (which is the default heading level) and then onto something else.

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  8. stefanos says:

    I think the auto-update will cause unnecessary headaches and let me explain why…and I hope I’m wrong.

    If an auto-updated plugin is problematic, imagine how customers will feel when they work on their website without knowing an update runs behind the scenes, and all of a sudden they get these messages about “something went wrong” and have no idea how to access their websites.

    I have had a situation like that with WooCommerce…twice please!

    I immediately went on my hosting service, read the logs, and found the problem.

    Imagine now being a standard user that is not a WordPress developer how they would feel.

    I honestly have mixed feelings about this, not denying about it.

    Closing, I would like to ask the WP Dev Team: how is the auto-update procedure goes?

    a) Does it save a backup of the current plugin state before the upgrade?
    b) How does it prevent possible corruption during upgrade procedure?
    c) Does it come with a rollback mechanism? It would be really helpful to rollback to the previous working version!
    d) Is there any individual log mechanism for each plugin upgrade? It can be helpful to keep an eye in the whole procedure in case something goes wrong or should I look in my log files as a standard procedure?

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  9. “Didn’t feel a thing.” Thank you!!!

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  10. A in LA says:

    Auto-updates often result in crashing due to caching. Is there a way for the auto-update to disable caching during the processing of any updating?

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    • (Apologies to the moderators – I accidentally clicked on “Report” instead of “Reply” at first – there’s no way to cancel that!).

      Very possibly your caches are due to PHP opcode caching. Happily WP 5.5 now includes a call to tell the opcode to flush upon a plugin update, so we should all see much less of those particular fatal errors.

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  11. Brian says:

    I just updated to 5.5 today. Thank you to the all the WP contributors for continually to improve and advance the best platform.

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  12. Dennis says:

    Auto updates are ideal for small blogs. But if you run a large website with lots of custom scripts then you have to be sure of compatibility before updating any plugin. The good news is that you can disable auto update.

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  13. Peter says:

    Lazy loading images sound good, for sure it was highest time.

    And the first thing i really like ever since Gutenberg project has started is the Block Patterns tab. Actually i never thought there will be anything i like in GB!

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