New Features in WordPress 5.5 (Core + Gutenberg)

The new version of WordPress 5.5 is a major release with a release date set to August 11, 2020, that brings great improvements to the WordPress block editor called Gutenberg and many other improvements to the WordPress core.

The WordPress version 5.5 release is considered the next major release of the year 2020.

Here is the list of the major improvements with WordPress version 5.5:

  1. Major Update to the Block Editor AKA Gutenberg
  2. Lazy Load Images to Save Bandwidth and Boost Performance
  3. Default XML Sitemaps
  4. Enable Auto Updates for Themes and Plugins
  5. Miscellaneous Changes to the WordPress Core

Major Update to the Block Editor AKA Gutenberg

One feature lacking in WordPress was a missing real WYSIWYG editor. Adding a post in the admin section in a rich text editor and then viewing a different version on the frontend was not intuitive. To overcome this, WordPress introduced the block editor, a.k.a Gutenberg, in 2018. The aim of Gutenberg in WordPress was to enable the editing in place so you can see actually how your content is going to look to the end-user.

Since the initial launch of Gutenberg, with each release, the WordPress development team has been making significant improvements to make it intuitive and user friendly, making fixes and loading it with the necessary features. WordPress version 5.5 brings substantial improvements to the block editor (Gutenberg). See the list of some of the significant enhancements below.

Gutenberg (block editor) UI Improvements

With the new design and new icons to the layout, the new block editor makes it easy to focus on creating the content while previewing the actual output.

The Block Directory

One great feature added is the block directory. When you create a new section and need a block, say slider, or social icons, you can click on the Add Block button, allowing you to search for the block.

If the related block isn’t available, you will notice an error saying, “No blocks found in your library. These blocks can be downloaded and installed:” but then the system searches for the relevant blocks and gives you the option to download the suitable blocks from the directory.

Block directory in WordPress 5.5

Preconfigured Block Patterns

The block patterns are predesigned layouts like dual buttons, hero section, multi-column layouts, and the good thing is that you can create and save your patterns by utilizing them on different pages on your website.

The block patterns also enable the theme developers to provide predesigned and preconfigured blocks that you can easily plug and play into your website’s layout.

Drag and Drop for the Blocks

The drag and drop is one of the missing features for the block editor. You had the option to click on the up and down arrow in the earlier versions to move the blocks. Now you get a drag and drop interface that makes it super intuitive to move your blocks from the top of the page to the bottom without clicking multiple times on the down arrow.

Inline Image Editing

Until WordPress 5.5, there was an option to edit the images, but you had to go to the Media library to edit the image. Since version WordPress 5.5, you can edit the images inline without leaving the block editor. You can scale, crop, rotate, and resize the image while working on your content in the block editor itself.

Preview by device

Another great feature added is to preview the updates on the tablet and mobile devices.

Device previews make it super easy to see how your site will look on any device.

Lazy Load Images to Save Bandwidth and Boost Performance

Images, in general, take longer to download, increasing the page load time. Optimizing the images for the web can help boost the website’s performance and decrease page load time.

Lazy loading image is a technique that helps the page load faster by downloading only the images visible in the viewport on the page load, thus preventing all of the hidden images on viewport not to loading until the user scrolls towards the bottom of the web page.

Optimizing the images for the web may not be sufficient to boost the performance, and thus implementing the lazy load technique can be a game-changer.

Many plugins are available on the WordPress plugin repository that helps developers and non-techies apply the lazy load technique.

WordPress enabling native lazy-loading by default would significantly impact performance and user experience for millions of sites without requiring any technical knowledge or even awareness of lazy-loading as a concept.

Lazy loading images will save much bandwidth and improve the performance of WordPress hosting servers. Regardless of the default implementation, the developers will have the option to override this behavior globally and on a per-image basis.

Default XML Sitemaps

You want search engines to crawl every page of your website. But sometimes, pages end up without any internal links pointing to them, making them hard to find. An XML sitemap is a file that lists a website’s essential pages in XML format, making sure search engines can find and crawl them all.

WordPress 5.5 comes with a native XML Sitemap functionality. That means now there is no need for an external plugin to manage the Sitemaps on your website. The Core Sitemap plugin has been developed as a separate plugin that is now a part of the WordPress core since version 5.5. A file called wp-sitemap.xml will be generated that makes the following content type indexable:

– Homepage – Posts page – Core Post Types (Pages and Posts) – Custom Post Types – Core Taxonomies (Tags and Categories) – Custom Taxonomies – Users (Authors)

Additionally, the robots.txt file exposed by WordPress will reference the sitemap index.

Enable Auto Updates for Themes and Plugins

If you are familiar with WordPress, you should be well versed in the WordPress ecosystem. WordPress has two most important features, “Themes” and “Plugins,” for those new here. You can use a theme to style your website (using thousands of free and paid themes). On the other hand, you can install a plugin to add many features depending on your website needs (like caching, social media widgets, custom pagination).

Before version 5.5, you are managing the updates to a theme of plugin required manual efforts (unless you are hosting the WP site on managed hosting like WP Engine, which keeps the WordPress core, plugins, and themes up to date all the time). With the new WordPress 5.5 version, there is a feature to enable the auto-update to the plugins and themes, and you can decide which plugins or themes you want to be updated automatically.

To enable the auto-update for a plugin, visit the Plugins -> Installed Plugins section and click on the “Enable auto-updates.”

Enable auto-updates for WordPress plugins

Similarly, to enable the auto-update for a theme, visit the Appearances -> Themes, click on a particular theme, and click on “Enable auto-updates.”

Auto update WordPress theme

Miscellaneous Changes to the WordPress Core

  • Updates to the external libraries PHPMailer, SimplePie, Masonry, Twemoji, Moment. (View Details)
  • Support for additional file formats HEIF and HEVC
  • Added 65 new dashicons (View Details)
  • Accessibility related improvements
  • Updating themes and plugins using a zip file now shows the comparison of the currently installed version with the uploaded version so you can compare the version and make a decision.

I hope this article provided a good understanding of the updates to the WordPress 5.5 version. Stay tuned for the information on the future version of the WordPress CMS.

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