Podcast Episode

496 – WordPress 5.5


Is there a plugin for that?

With more than 50,000 plugins in the WordPress repository, it’s hard to find the perfect one. Each week, I will highlight an interesting plugin form the repository.

For more great plugins, download my 50 Most Useful Plugins eBook.

WP Lookout is a plugin that tracks changes and updates to the plugins and themes you depend on.

New Changes in WordPress 5.5

  • What’s New With The Block Editor
  • Native Image Lazy-Loading in WordPress Core
  • Auto-Updates for Plugins and Themes
  • Extensible Core Sitemaps
  • Passing Arguments to Template Files
  • Updating Plugins and Themes From a .zip File
  • Additional Improvements for Developers Coming With WordPress 5.5

Thank You!

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Full Transcript

Business Transcription is provided by GMR Transcription.

On today’s episode we are going to talk about WordPress 5.5, right here on Your Website Engineer Podcast, episode no. 496.

Hello and welcome to another episode of Your Website Engineer Podcast. My name is Dustin Hartzer and I’m excited to be with you here this week, as we are going to be talking about the latest and greatest version of WordPress. We’ll talk about that in just a little bit but that’s gonna be the headline; that’s gonna be the big thing that we talk about today. It has been released. It was released on August 11th, 2020. We’ll get into all the details on what’s happening and what are some of the new improvements that you can expect in just a couple moments. I have a couple other news items that I wanna share, a plugin, and then we’ll get into the meat of the new WordPress 5.5.

The first thing that I want to talk about is P2ing. What is P2? P2ing is the new working. This is something that I’ve alluded to before, probably on this podcast. I’ve been working at Automatic for almost seven years now, and we use an internal tool – it was an internal tool. Now it’s an external, anybody-can-use-it tool called P2. It’s kind of the lifeblood of our communication within Automatic. It basically helps you to organize your files, your projects, your conversations all on one screen so your team can collaborate from anywhere. We have a woo support to P2. That has all the information that’s important to a woo commerce happiness engineer. You can @mention people so they get direct notifications. It’s all like a – think about – I guess it almost looks like Facebook, I guess. You start at the top and it’s got somebody that has a post and then you can leave comments down below. As you scroll you can continue to see older posts. It’s almost like a blog but in-line commenting. You can see when people are typing. It’s really pretty cool. It’s a cool place. We use this all the time. My weekly reports are posted onto a P2, so they’re logged and I can check on them later. I can see what kind of activity I’ve done in the last week.

This is something that is now open. It’s been something that Automatic was talking about for years, but now it’s a thing – if you’re interested in this type of real time or asynchronous communication – I guess it’s both real time and asynchronous – if you’re interested in this, head on over to wordpress.com/p2. That’s gonna give you all the details on how you can install it and what it looks like. It has been a game changer for communication. Brutally, we use this tool, along with Slack, to communicate with everything. I don’t get emails from my team lead asking me to do things. We list it on a P2 and then everybody reads it and can provide their comments. Everybody can see everybody else’s comments. It’s really cool. I honestly check my work email, Bob, twice a week if that. That’s mainly just to see what’s there. There’s not ever any messages that are urgent in there. That is P2. If you’re interested in more, head on over to, like I said, wordpress.com/p2.

Another thing in the news this week that you might have seen coming is that WordPress cancels all in-person flagship events until 2022. That is been something that is pretty big news. It’s cancelling the virtual event. WordCamp US was supposed to be virtual and that’s been cancelled. Online team continues to evolve to do certain events online but the flagship big things, WordCamp Us, WordCamp Europe, things like those things are going to just be cancelled so that we can fight the slow spread of the virus and things like that. There’s an article on WP Tavern with more details if you’re interested to read that.

Then the last thing this week is another article on WP Tavern that talks about major jQuery changes are on the way for WordPress 5.5 and beyond. With all the advancements made in Java script and newer, shinier frameworks and whatnot, it’s easy to forget that WordPress still relies on the aging jQuery library. It holds true for thousands of plugins and themes in the WordPress directories. It just talks a little bit about the struggles of keeping jQuery updated and things along those lines. If you’re interested in hearing about that history and some of the steps forward to make to get to the future, you can read that article on WP Tavern. There’s a link to it in the show notes for episode no. 496.

Then today I wanted to share a plugin. This is actually by a friend of mine, Chris Hardie. He used to work at Automatic and he started this thing called WP Lookout. It is a free plugin. It is also a service. The free plugin will allow you to track updates and changes to plugins and themes that you depend on. It sends information about the plugins and themes to your site, to your WP Lookout account where you can receive notifications about changes and updates. It’s free to sign up, but there’s limitations. You can monitor up to 20 plugins. You can use those 20 plugins across as many sites as you like. You can subscribe via RSS or you can have a ping to Slack in different things, so you can find and you can get the notification that your plugin needs to be updated. That’s kinda cool and that’s something that I wanted to share: WP Lookout. You can find that in the WordPress repository. You can also find out more about the service over at wplookout.com.

Today, let’s go ahead and talk about WordPress 5.5. It seems like it’s been a while since there’s been a big release, but I don’t know, it seems like it’s been a while since it’s been Christmas of 2019. It’s really hard to – this year has been kind of a crazy year, and so 5.5 is right here on us. You probably have gotten notifications in your WordPress site admin panel to update to the latest version. I know that my test sites have been pinging me, saying it’s time to update. But it brings many changes to WordPress core. It’s got several features in core that we’re gonna talk about. And it is the second release of 2020. Hard to believe it’s the second one. There’s some notable features that we’re gonna talk about.

The block editor. Let’s go the high level. We’ve new things with the block editor. We got native image lazy loading. We’ve got auto updates for plugins and themes. We’ve got extensible core sitemaps. We can pass arguments to template files. We can upload – update plugins and themes from a zip file. There’s additional improvements for developers in this release, as well.

Let’s go ahead and talk about some of these new things with the block editor. There is a – I guess each version of Gutenberg – remember Gutenberg is a plugin and the core team works on the Gutenberg plugin and they keep adding features and adding features. Then when they’re ready, they take those features and then roll them into WordPress core. Gutenberg has just been incrementally getting improvement. Some are small, some are not so small. They just really change the overall editing experience. Some of these include the simplified block toolbar. There’s a stronger color contrast between some of the elements. There’s new icons. There’s block movers. There are surrounding elements. There’s device previews, so you can preview right inside of the editor. There’s improved drag and drop. There’s improved and unified block focus and style across the whole UI. There’s the ability to format multiple blocks at once, so if you wanted to turn something red you can highlight multiple blocks and select the text color to be red. And there’s better performance on everything. That’s really cool.

I love the new version to be able to look at the tablet version or the mobile version right there inside of the post or the page. That’s just really, really helpful. You don’t really think about it but you’re like “I wonder what this will look like.” Instead of previewing it and using the console and all these different things or even going into the customizer, you can do this right on the page itself when you’re editing a post or a page.

Also, things that are now in there: you can do subscript and superscript. You’ve never been able to do that before. You can add the numbers above or below, depending on what kind of thing that you’re trying to do. There’s a toolbar button that now shows when you hover over the last item that allows you to select parent blocks of media and text. That’s kinda cool. That’s a neat feature.

There’s also, now, the ability to do some gradients. You can do a background gradient. That’s really neat. And there is some height control. There’s some padding, some link control.

Some of these things will take a little bit – you’ll need a line of code inside your theme’s functions.php file or a code snippet plugin. That basically will turn on some experimental features, like the custom spacing or the link color. You can also set custom units and custom line heights. If you wanted to have something that you can set in pixels or EMS or REMS, all these values for the cover block and some things like that, those are all included now inside of WordPress in the new block editor.

Now, you can even, insides of WordPress 5.5, you can crop, rotate, zoom, and adjust the image positions without the need to launch the media library, which will result in faster editing experience because you don’t have to go to another screen. If you publish tons of photos, you’ll probably enjoy this feature. You can crop it. You can turn the image, if you want, a little bit. You can do some really cool things. All of those buttons are right there above the image, which makes it really, really easy to navigate and do exactly what you need to your images right there.

There is a redesign block inserter that will show blocks and patterns by categories, making it easier to improve the editing experience and making blocks and patterns easier to find. If you wanted to see that when you open up a new block you can see the blocks that you use regularly. You can see different types of pattern blocks and things like that. Those are all much easier to use in the new block editor.
Then there’s also – there’s a block directory. I’ve talked about this before. You can find and install third-party blocks directly from the block inserter. If you search for a block that you haven’t installed, you’ll be prompted with a list of plugins that you can install right from the plugin directory. These are called block plugins and you can add them to your editor with a single click. That’s pretty cool. That’s a new feature that’s in the new versions.

And then block patterns. I referenced this just a little bit ago, but block patterns are predefined block layouts allowing users to quickly add complex structures of nested blocks to their pages. The intent is to help content writers and site admins to overcome the blank page syndrome and build a professional layout and advanced views with ease. This is something that’s here in this new version. It allows you to build out a structure – I’m gonna experiment with this a little bit with the show notes for yourwebsiteengineer.com. Is that something that I can create a template type thing to do a block pattern and fill out all that information so there’s a lot less copying and pasting while I’m getting ready to publish my show notes? That’s something to think about.

The block patterns are actually fairly limited, right now, but they have regular blocks likes text and hero and columns and buttons and galleries and features and testimonials and uncategorized. So, you can set these up and you can set up a pattern. Again, I use mostly text blocks, so that shouldn’t be a big problem. But I’m going to try that when I get a chance to get that all updated inside of yourwebsiteengineer.com.

Moving on, there is, like I said, a new thing with native image lazy loading in WordPress core. It’s an optimization technique that defers the loading of non-critical resources. This means the browsers are instructed to load visible content on the resource page and defer the downloading and rendering of images placed below the fold until they’re actually needed. Before native lazy loading, web developers had to do some fancy things with JavaScript to make it work. Now, it’s becoming the standard. There’s no sense of loading all those images lower on the page when they’re not even viewable. There’s no custom code or anything needed. It’s just in WordPress 5.5.

Let’s see, what else. There’s more things here that are coming. Auto updates for plugins and themes – now, there’s a new section over on the right when you go into plugins, and you can enable auto updates. You can enable that for all your plugins or just some of your plugins. You can do that for themes, as well, to make sure that your themes are always up to date. That’s nice. You can get that all set up so that you are ready to go.

There’s also a feature now, and there’s a filter that you can add, if you are developing custom code or custom plugins. You can output HTML in that section where it says, “Enable or disable auto updates.” For example, if I have – I talked about a few works ago, when I was saying all my plugins, I have a plugin that is the Your Engineer Website Podcast feed. In that one I would say “custom HTML” or “custom plugin,” and in that way I won’t be prompted to update because there’s never gonna be an update for that plugin unless I actually create an update. There’s some little bit of code that you can add to do that, if you’re interested.

Let’s see, what else. There’s extensible core sitemaps. WordPress 5.5 brings a brand new XML sitemap feature to WordPress core. It basically adds functionality but it comes with a good number of hooks and filters allowing plugin developers to further extend built-in functionality. The sitemaps are enabled by default and they provide the following object types: home page, post page, core posts, custom post type, core taxonomies, custom taxonomies, and author archives. It’s gonna do all of that for you, set up those sitemaps, and get those all set up for you without having to do anything else.

I mentioned about passing arguments to template files. Before WordPress 5.5, passing data to template files was only possible via global variables and a few other non-optimal options. Now, with WordPress 5.5, there’s an args parameter that allows template-loading functions to be updated easier; get header, get footer, get sidebar, get template part, get local template, and load template. You can now set variables in these template files to make them accessible in any other part of your theme. I haven’t dug into this at all but this makes a lot of sense and I’m excited to see how that’ll help and speed up the development of getting new themes into the repository and whatnot.

And then probably the last thing on my list here and probably my most favorite one is now you can update plugins and themes from a zip file. Basically, if you already have the plugin installed, normally what you have to do is you have to uninstall the plugin and then upload the new plugin. Now, you don’t have to do that. You can go ahead directly from the plugin upload screen. You can upload the latest version and it’ll overwrite the old version. This is a feature that has been asked for for years and years and years and it’s finally available. That is gonna be my favorite, highlight feature of WordPress 5.5.

If you have any other things that you’re really excited about leave a message in the show notes for episode no. 496. That’s what I wanted to share with you today. Take care and we’ll talk again soon. Bye bye.