WordPress 5.6 “Simone” Includes New Twenty Twenty-One Theme and Improved Editor

Nina Simone, American singer and songwriter.
Nina Simone
License: CC0 | Credit: Noord-Hollands Archief / Fotoburo de Boer

WordPress 5.6 “Simone,” named in honor of American performer and civil rights activist Nina Simone, was released today and is now available for download. The release was led by an all-women release squad, a first in WordPress history. The new version includes many enhancements for the block editor, accessibility improvements, application password support for the REST API, and a new default theme.

This release saw contributions from 605 volunteers who were involved with almost 350 Trac tickets and over 1,000 pull requests on GitHub.

The following women formed the release squad for the 5.6 release:

  • Release Lead: Josepha Haden. Cohort: Chloé Bringmann and Angela Jin.
  • Release Coordinator: Dee Teal. Cohort: Thelma Mutete and Laura Nelson.
  • Triage Lead: Tonya Mork.
  • Core Tech Lead: Helen Hou-Sandì. Cohort: Amy Kamala and Ebonie Butler.
  • Editor Tech Lead: Isabel Brison. Cohort: Chandrika Guntur, Anchen le Roux, and Rebecca Hum.
  • Design Leads: Ellen Bauer and Tammie Lister. Cohort: Anyssa Ferreira, Estela Rueda, Tracy Apps, and Sophia DeRosia.
  • Design Tech Lead: Shital Marakana.
  • Accessibility Lead: Sarah Ricker. Cohort: Hauwa Abashiya.
  • Marketing and Communications Leads: Abha Thakor and Yvette Sonneveld. Cohort: Nalini Thakor, Meher Bala, Olga Gleckler, Larissa Murrillo, Michelle Frechette, Breann McDede, and Afshana Diya.
  • Documentation Lead: Shawntelle Coker. Cohort: Daisy Olsen, Meher Bala, and Winstina Hughes.
  • Documentation Review Lead: Michele Butcher-Jones. Cohort: Nidhi Jain and Laura Byrne Cristiano.
  • Default Theme Design Lead: Mel Choyce-Dwan. Cohort: Ellen Bauer.
  • Default Theme Development Lead: Carolina Nymark. Cohort: Kelly Choyce-Dwan and Jessica Lyschik.
  • Default Theme Wrangler: Jessica Lyschik.
  • Test Lead: Monika Rao. Cohort: Allie Nimmons.
  • Support Lead: Bet Hannon.

At times, the 5.6 development cycle felt a bit rocky. Block-based widgets and nav menus, features expected to ship, were punted for a second time to a future release. These were hard decisions, but good leadership means making tough calls to hold off on features that are not ready for production.

“You know, I was really hopeful for it too, and that last-minute call was one I labored over,” said Josepha Haden after pushing block-based widgets back. “When I last looked, it did seem close to ready, but then more focused testing was done and there were some interactions that are a little rough for users. I’m grateful for that because the time to discover painful user experiences is before launch rather than after!”

Despite dropping what would have been major transitional features from the classic WordPress theming paradigm in preparation for WordPress 5.7’s expected site editor, the release still has a lot to offer.

Block Editor Enhancements

Block pattern categories dropdown select.
New dropdown for selecting block pattern category.

The Gutenberg plugin development team continues to make small but vital improvements to the block editor. They have also tacked on many new features in the past few months. Features from Gutenberg versions 8.6 – 9.2 are included in the update, along with bug fixes and performance improvements from 9.3 and 9.4.

Much of the work this development cycle has been focused on the upcoming site editor. There was some initial hope that a beta version of it would land in the 5.6 release. It was a part of the proposed scope. However, the feature is still months away from being ready. This is not a bad thing. It needs more time to mature, and there should be no rush in integrating a feature that affects so many pieces of the platform.

What end-users will see with this update is a more polished editor. Whether it is extra options for blocks or a dropdown select for block pattern categories, hundreds of minor changes have all led to a better overall experience.

WP Tavern has covered nearly every major Gutenberg plugin release this cycle — looks like we missed 8.8, sorry. Catch up with anything you missed about editor changes from the following posts:

Twenty Twenty-One Theme

Block patterns in the Twenty Twenty-One theme.
Inserting a Twenty Twenty-One block pattern into a post.

Twenty Twenty-One, the new default theme for the upcoming year, takes full advantage of all the latest and greatest features of the block editor. While last year’s Twenty Twenty theme had a successful launch, the development team behind the new default has had more time to explore building themes in the block era.

The theme makes use of more visual artistry. It will not be for everyone. It offers a wide range of color schemes for end-users, but it lends itself best to bloggers and other creators who prefer a bit of flair with their website’s design.

The best thing is that it pushes the envelope with the block patterns feature, which was not available when Twenty Twenty landed a year ago. Older default themes will be getting the block-pattern treatment. However, Twenty Twenty-One will be the first default built with custom patterns in mind from the get-go.

For users who cannot wait for the site editor to land in WordPress, expected in some form in the 5.7 release, there is an alternate Twenty Twenty-One Blocks theme to tinker with.

Application Passwords for the REST API

Despite being a part of the core platform since 2015, the REST API has lacked support for application passwords. Such a feature is vital for third-party applications to communicate with WordPress. Previously, requests had to be run through cookie and nonce-based authentication. Else, they would need to use the legacy XML-RPC API. This limitation has also affected the mobile WordPress development teams, making it tough to support the block editor, which relies on the REST API.

The application passwords feature will make it easier for applications to make API requests as well as request and revoke credentials.

The REST API promised a future for all types of applications built upon and around WordPress. However, this vision has not panned out over the years on a broad scale. With a major limiting factor removed, perhaps there is still hope for robust applications in the coming years.

18 responses to “WordPress 5.6 “Simone” Includes New Twenty Twenty-One Theme and Improved Editor”

  1. I am really rooting that this all-female release squad will help encourage people from underrepresented groups to give contributing a try.

  2. Exciting times. We are a big fan of WordPress and how accessible it makes things for everyday bloggers. We run a female-first blog! #girlpower

  3. Unlike 5.5, this is a pretty low-key release, with almost nothing remarkable about it (I don’t care for the Twenty themes, sorry). Even in the Gutenberg department, with most of the work put into the yet-to-be-released FSE feature.

    • Over 1,000 PRs and almost 350 closed Trac tickets is nothing to scoff at. The release might not feel as feature rich as some others, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes we need a low-key release or two. In my experience, those types of releases tend to have less breakage while continuing to move the platform forward.

  4. Thanks very much for this great new release. The new ttone theme looks awsome and gutenberg rocks! I use wordpress since 2005 and never had a single problem. Please keep up the good work.

  5. The new theme will definitely not be for everyone, but I like it and it fits well into the collection of Twenty Themes from the last years.

  6. Hi. I would like to change my website to this new look. However, I have Divi and hate it. Once I change the theme, I see code all over the place. I am not techy and don’t what to do. Any suggestions are appreciated!

    • Honestly, my suggestion would be to keep using Divi, which you probably hate because you haven’t learned to use it. You can have any look you want with it. The notion that themes can just be “switched” is just not true; it’s always a huge project. You didn’t use the Divi Builder on every page of the site, right? It’s only the Builder pages that will have all that Divi Code.

      • I am trying to learn it on my own as sadly I was stuck with it. The web guy who I hired then fired stuck me with something I knew nothing about it. I

    • There was, probably still is, a Divi Builder plugin. This plugin deals with (i.e. parses) the shortcodes used by the Divi theme so that you can more easily switch themes.

      The plugin is/was available from Elegant Themes. It might be called something different to Divi Builder but you will recognise it when you see it. This plugin will enable you to change your theme without losing too much of the content layout though there will be differences and you will need to go through your content to remove the Divi shortcodes, which, with the Divi Builder plugin installed, you ought now to be able to do leisurely.

      If that doesn’t work for you.. you will need to do the work the long way.

  7. I wonder how many people these days start with WordPress so they can have a blog. Each time they come up with a new default theme, it’s a blog theme and it almost seems to me that WordPress Corporate has no intention of being more than a blogging platform.

    I don’t know, I thought with their purchase of WooCommerce they were finally looking at being a goto business system. But maybe their bread and butter really is the blogger and I’m an outlier?

    • Agreed. I don’t know anyone who starts a blog in this day and age of social media. WPTavern is the only blog a I visit nowadays. Somewhere there must be a thriving blogging community that I’m missing out.

    • Automattic, a separate entity from WordPress, owns WooCommerce. That company also contributes many resources to the WordPress project.

      Yes, there is still a huge world of bloggers with new ones coming every day. It’s still very much an important part of the platform. We have also had default themes not specifically catered to blogging. Twenty Nineteen, for example, is much more general purpose. Twenty Twenty, while it works for blogs, was geared more toward building landing pages with the block editor. But, they are just default themes. There are 1,000s of other themes for more specific needs.

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