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.
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.