WordPress 5.9 has finally arrived, bringing the next step in WordPress’s evolution.

It brings huge changes that you want to make sure you are prepared for.

What does this mean for you?

For developers, it means achieving the client’s vision and needs more closely with the default software. This translates to faster performance, better long term support, and a more consistent development process across WordPress sites.

If you’re a business owner, it means that the vanilla site should last longer before it starts showing stress fractures. Because the development process will be more consistent, it means your website can be future-proofed more easily.

This is a big update, so be especially careful in updating your website as it is more likely to break unconventional and older development setups.

Important: Ensure the site is backed up before updating anything, and ensure you have server access so the site can be restored quickly if you get locked out.

A New Default Theme “Twenty Twenty-Two”

As the first major release of 2022, WordPress 5.9 will ship with a new default theme called Twenty Twenty-Two.

This theme takes advantage of all the new full site editing that comes with WordPress 5.9 – which means that colours, typography, and the layout of every single page on your site can be customized to suit your vision.

The theme also comes with a bunch of ready-made patterns that are ready to use in the site editor or the block editor when creating content.

For a more in-depth dive into the Twenty Twenty-Two theme, see Kinsta’s blog here.

New Patterns & Photos Libraries

There is a new Pattern directory as part of WordPress.org’s open-source offering.

These are beautiful (and sometimes, a bit daggy) designs that you can simply copy and paste directly into your website.

WordPress 5.9 Pattern Library

The new Photos library hints that WordPress is beginning to look towards user ease of use, having everything available for people to build their own websites. All these photos are free, high-quality, CC0-licensed and community-submitted – suitable for use within WordPress sites and elsewhere.

This may be a direct move against market share threats from the likes of Canva or Squarespace by integrating everything into a one-stop shop.

WordPress 5.9 Photo Library

Gutenberg editor interface improvements

The new 5.9 update brought with it a lot of overall improvements to the Gutenberg editor. More polish to the UI means that fewer objects will be jumping around when you’re dragging items around.

The new List View also has drastic UI improvements with the ability to drag to reorder, delete and duplicate right in the panel.

New and improved default blocks

A lot of frustration in the past was with the limited controls WordPress offers with the default Gutenberg blocks, leading to specialised plugins that add bloat and loading times to the site.

WordPress has elevated the options to make a more holistic and flexible editor with each new release. WordPress 5.9 features new typography tools, flexible layout controls, and finer control of details like spacing, borders, and more to help achieve the design elevation needed.

New Navigation Block

The new Navigation block allows you to place a menu of links onto any page so that your visitors can easily navigate to other parts of your site. This is an essential new addition in order to make headers as part of the new full site editor.

It’s still missing granular controls such as hover colour, which would need to be hardcoded.

Previously, it was difficult to add links and styles to individual images inside a gallery block.

WordPress 5.9 ships with the revamped gallery block and now allows you to choose different styles for individual images in the gallery block. You can also easily link each image or the whole gallery block.

Gallery Block in WordPress 5.9

Improved Social Icons and Buttons

With previous versions of WordPress, it was a bit difficult to access controls of the parent and child blocks when working with social icons and buttons.

WordPress 5.9 now makes it easier by allowing child blocks to use the parent block’s toolbar.

Here is the full list of new theme blocks introduced in 5.9:

  • Navigation
  • Template Part
  • Header
  • Footer
  • Post Author
  • Next Post
  • Previous Post
  • Post Comments
  • Term Description
  • Archive Title

Full Site Editing

If you’re a developer and you haven’t heard this term yet, you’re about to hear a lot of it over the next year.

Full Site Editing is the concept of being able to edit anything across your website natively inside the default WordPress install.

For example, it has the ability to update the header or footer of your website using the default Gutenberg blocks. This cuts back on the reliance users will have on large, bloated page builders to achieve the same effect.

A new exciting feature of the site editor is the ability to create new styles for your theme that will be applied across your site. Simply click on the Style icon on the top right corner of the screen when editing any post or page.

To take advantage of Full site Editing, your theme needs to have WordPress Block Themes support. Kadence has promised this in the next couple of weeks.

We are working on a version of the Kadence Theme which will allow you to enable full-site editing if you choose. This will not be released the day WordPress 5.9 is. I currently expect this option to be available a couple of weeks after 5.9 is released.

However, note that I won’t recommend this for production sites as full-site editing is still too early in development. In my opinion, the full-site editing experience is still very clunky to use, but I expect this to mature over time.

Ben Ritner

You can see Adam at WPCrafter’s initial opinions on this new functionality below.

TLDR – Much like when Gutenburg was first released, it is clunky, too early for production, and time will tell.

Advanced updates in WordPress 5.9

Theme.json for child themes

In 5.9, theme.json supports child themes. That means we can build a child theme right in the WordPress Admin, without writing a single line of code. This dev note has all the details. Take a look!

Enhanced Lazy Loading

Lazy-loading images was first introduced in WordPress 5.5 in August 2020. Two years later in WordPress 5.9, the implementation has received some fine-tuning to improve performance. This means a more streamlined experience and faster loading websites. See the developer notes here.

And much more:

Final thoughts on WordPress 5.9

Full site editing is here, but no one is ready for it. Themes that utilise a lot more of the native Gutenburg blocks functionality such as Kadence are unsure how to proceed with such new and volatile functionality. WooCommerce, one of the largest eCommerce plugins for WordPress, also has no native integration yet.

Larger page builder companies such as Elementor and Bricks Builder are keeping their cards close to their chest – but the chances are they will overrule these new changes and keep forging their own path ahead.

Time will tell. We will keep a very close eye on these developments in order to deliver the best experiences to our clients and their customers.

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