WordPress 5.0, or How I learned to stop worrying and love the future

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At Oxide we use WordPress to build client web projects. We love WordPress because it’s such a versatile tool to build websites. It comes right out of the box with a very mature content management system that’s simple to hand off to clients to maintain themselves. One of our main goals with any web project is to make it as extensible as possible for clients so they don’t have to come back to us to maintain content or make small changes. We never want our clients to feel nickel-and-dimed after a site is launched, so we put a lot of thought and work into making sure clients feel empowered to use their website once we hand it off to them.

WordPress solves so many of these problems, and we don’t have to sacrifice design since WordPress is such a blank slate. I’ve spent a large chunk of my professional life learning WordPress and tweaking my knowledge to hone my skills into an efficient process.

It never ceases to amaze me how I always have something new to learn. I suppose that’s true no matter what industry you work in. But the world of web is constantly changing, and WordPress is no different. One of WordPress’ greatest strengths is its massive community of users and developers. It seems like no matter what problems I encounter, someone else has encountered the same problems and shared how to fix them.

The strength of WordPress’ community is also one of WordPress’ greatest weaknesses. The history of web development is a fluid state of constant change. Like a river flowing toward the path of least resistance, change in web development comes quickly and usually with the goal of moving toward the path of least resistance. Efficiently working through a project should always be a main goal for a web developer. And, with the tools and frameworks available these days, you’d be amazed at the scale and scope of cool work a skilled developer can create.

If the history of web development is like a river, then surely WordPress is like a tributary on that river that’s been dammed up. It’s just been sitting there getting bigger and bigger, but not really moving forward toward the path of least resistance.

Because the community of users and developers is so huge, progress is challenging. It’s not exactly WordPress’ fault. It’s more of a consequence of its own success. The WordPress community is so big that it is resistant to change. And WordPress operates largely on consensus. Big progressive changes are difficult to pass without getting everyone on board.

Recently, the team behind WordPress has quietly pushed it toward progress. Version 4.4 saw the introduction of the REST API, which opens up all sorts of possibilities. The REST API essentially extends the WordPress backend as a remote data store. The most exciting use of the REST API is that it allows us to create Single-Page Applications that utilize the WordPress backend. Single-Page Applications are the present and future of web development (at least the near future).

But it seems the majority of WordPress users and developers have never interacted with the REST API in a meaningful way. In some ways, I’m sure that’s how the team behind WordPress wants it. It’s a sneaky way of forging a path toward progress without upsetting the massive apple cart that has become the WordPress community.

On the other hand, WordPress is on the verge of releasing version 5.0. WP 5.0 is the not-so-sneaky way of forging a path toward progress. WP 5.0 will no doubt upset the apple cart. It’s going to be an earth-shifting change, and I get the impression that most WordPress users don’t have a clue it’s about to change.

WordPress 5.0The new version of WordPress features a new set of editing tools and utilizes React.

One of the most useful features of WordPress in its current form is its simple dummy-proof content editor. Anyone with a basic knowledge of CSS can get the WordPress editor to do anything you need it to do. WP 5.0 will adopt a whole new content editor, named Gutenberg. (You can try it out here.)

I know what you’re thinking: A new content editor hardly seems earth-shifting. It’s a huge change, though. And given that the WordPress team named their new content editor after the inventor of the machine that contributed most to the advancement of civilization, they expect it to be earth-shifting.

It basically turns the WordPress content editor into something between a page builder and a rich content editor. Oh, did I mention that it will most likely break any site built before WP 5.0!? From what I understand, though, getting a site compatible with the new content editor should be workable, so broken sites should be fixable as long as you have the patience to work through it. And there will always be an option to revert to the old editor.

From what I can tell, reactions to these changes are going to range from excitement to curiosity to “OMG MY HAIR’S ON FIRE!” Me specifically, I’m a little nervous how the WordPress template hierarchy will change. The template hierarchy is one of my favorite features of WordPress. It makes my life so much easier because it keeps the files structure nice and tidy. I always know exactly where every single bit of code belongs because I know the template hierarchy so well.  I see WP 5.0 changing how things get structured.

What I’m most excited about is WordPress’ embrace of a more modern front-end framework — specifically React. The new editor uses React to render page content. I’ve wanted to learn React since before I started at Oxide almost two years ago, but never really had the time to do it. So I’ve been taking time between web projects to learn it. React and other frameworks like Angular are certainly the future of front-end web development. At the very least, it will keep Oxide up to date with modern front-end web development — like a cushy pontoon boat floating down that river.

As it happens, I have a lot to share about the future of WordPress and how Oxide is embracing these changes. In future blog posts, I’ll be going even further in-depth on the subject. So stay tuned to learn more!

13 Oct 2019

‘Enter’ to submit

Introducing Gutenberg

Recently, I wrote a post on the Oxide blog about the future of WordPress. Big changes to the web’s most used content management system are getting closer and closer (yet we still don’t know exactly when the changes will officially be part of the WordPress core). If you had the chance to read that post, you’ll know that I laid out some ideas and predictions on the impact of WordPress’ new editing experience, aptly named Gutenberg (after the inventor of…