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WordPress 5.6 released – pros and cons

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WordPress 5.6 was released last week and will be the last major update for 2020. Here are some of the changes and new features included with the release.

New Default Theme

The Twenty Twenty-One theme is included with WordPress 5.6 and it’s.. interesting looking. As usual, we’ll be ignoring this as we specialise in custom designed themes to match your branding.

Gutenberg and Blocks

In my opinion, Gutenberg is a hot mess and most of our clients are utterly confused by it. WordPress are moving towards a whole site approach to using ‘blocks’ where we can use them for headers/footers etc. While this is great for getting a site up quickly, it’s easy for these kind of things to turn into a mess. We turn off Gutenberg on our own sites and most client sites, as we specialise in custom designed themes to match the client’s branding. All these ‘premium’ themes and page builders lead to generic, slow sites and often tie you into yearly license costs too. If the plugin/theme developers go bust, or get bought, then you can be left with a site needing a rebuild.

Instead of Gutenberg, we use the incredible Advanced Custom Fields plugin to create a simple page builder that gets clients up and running in minutes rather than hours, with the minimum of code overhead.

Automatic WordPress Core Updates

Auto updates can be a good idea for some plugins that are constantly updated for critical security issues, but having auto update on WordPress core is asking for trouble unless you check your site every day. We manage a lot of WordPress sites, and letting updates settle for a week or two is often advisable so any bugs and incompatibilities can be worked out. Auto updating could lead to broken sites or even a white screen of death, which could trash your search engine placements.

Developer Tweaks

Better support for PHP 8 is included, as well as REST API security/performance improvements and the included jQuery library gradually being updated to a modern version over the coming months.

Summary

There are some big changes in WordPress 5.6 and it’s a mixed bag in my opinion. The developer updates are welcome but I’m skeptical that full site editing using blocks is a good idea for a lot of people. Many of the new features Automattic are adding these days are going to be turned off or ignored for the sites we build. WordPress is a great content management system but risks becoming too complex and opinionated out of the box for many users. I’d love to see a stripped down developer version released that doesn’t include the Gutenberg editor and leaves design decisions to theme designers.

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