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WordPress 5.0 & Gutenberg: What you need to know


If you haven’t already heard, WordPress 5.0 is about to be released.  It includes one of the biggest changes to the WordPress ecosystem that we have ever seen – Gutenberg.  Gutenberg is an entirely new content editor and methodology that has been built from the ground up and sets the foundation for the future growth and evolution of WordPress.

What is Gutenberg?

Gutenberg is a new content editor that is being introduced in WordPress 5.0 that uses “content blocks” to provide a more intuitive way to create and publish your content.  Think of each content block as a container that holds your content and can be arranged on a web page.  This should simplify the content management process by reducing or eliminating the need for shortcodes, meta boxes, widgets and some customizations – something that has been a challenge for many WordPress users.

Gutenberg has been available to users of WordPress as an optional feature plugin since version 4.9.8.  However, with WordPress 5.0, Gutenberg is being included as the default editor so, if you get 5.0, you’ve got Gutenberg.  Initially, WordPress had planned on launching WordPress 5.0 and Gutenberg on November 27, 2018 but the release has been postponed, most likely until sometime in January of 2019. 

Why is WordPress doing this?

Largely, in response to the popularity of competitive website frameworks that already have similar content creation and publishing tools.  Despite the fact that WordPress is the most popular website Content Management System (CMS) on the planet, other web frameworks have introduced content management tools that are easier to use, particularly for the non-technical authors and editors.  If WordPress wants to keep its position in the web world, it needs to continue to evolve and innovate – hence Gutenberg.

The other factor is that site builder plugins like WPBakery and Beaver Builder, have demonstrated that users want a more visual and intuitive content management experience.  By introducing Gutenberg, WordPress has an opportunity to set the foundation for visual content management standards that can help further this experience.

Am I required to use Gutenberg if I upgrade to WordPress 5.0?

No.  Even though Gutenberg is included by default with WordPress 5.0, you will have access to the existing pre-5.0 editing experience via the Classic Editor plugin.  The plugin restores the WordPress editor and Edit Post screen to their previous pre-Gutenberg look and feel and should allow the use of the plugins that work with them.

For some websites, particularly larger sites that have multiple content creators or publishers, moving to Gutenberg may be something that is purposely delayed, until the content creation process can be efficiently integrated into their publishing workflows.  WordPress has stated that they will provide support the the Classic Editor plugin through the end of 2021 so there is plenty of time to make the change or transition to Gutenberg.

How do I upgrade to WordPress 5.0 & Gutenberg?

Updating to WordPress 5.0 truly can be as simple as pressing the update button but we do not recommend doing that.  Unlike other recent smaller WordPress updates, 5.0 is a larger full version release, which inherently brings with it a higher likelihood of possible issues.  Websites running a larger number of plugins, complex themes, or with more customization have lots of moving parts and can experience breakage even with smaller updates.  Knowing this, we recommend that you proceed with caution and test your website with WordPress 5.0 in a staged test environment before publishing it to your live website.

If you are a client that participates in our WordPress Maintenance Plan, you are familiar with our standard process for maintaining and updating your website.  For those that don’t participate in the plan, you will be responsible for managing the update and testing process, or finding someone else to.  Our high level process is as follows:

  1. Backup your website, including all themes, plugins, etc.
  2. Setup a staging/development website that is an exact copy of the live website.
  3. Apply updates.
  4. Test for design and functional integrity.
  5. If issues are found, determine necessary steps to resolve the issue.
  6. If no issues are found, apply the updates to the live, production website.

What if WordPress 5.0 breaks my website?

As noted above, even smaller updates can occasionally cause problems or breakage on a website.  Sometimes, the fix is as simple as contacting the developer of a plugin to let them know about the issue – they often already have a fix in process or ready to go.  In such cases, the updated plugin can be installed and retested to confirm that it indeed fixes the issue. 

If your website uses older plugins that are no longer supported or if you have customized your theme or plugins, you may need to have a developer apply a fix or replace the plugin in order to resolve the issue.  In such cases, you will need to have a developer identify the problem and estimate a cost for the resolution.  Unfortunately, this is a reality of owning a website and, much like a house needs upkeep, so does your website. 

Will Gutenberg and WooCommerce work together?

WooCommerce will support Gutenberg and WordPress 5.0.  Currently (December 2018), WooCommerce has their Products Block feature plugin that is their first iteration of incorporating Gutenberg support.  Additionally, WooCommerce 3.5.1 must be installed before WordPress 5.0 is installed. 

That being said, if your WooCommerce store has a large number of extensions or plugins or you have had custom development done, you will need to thoroughly test your website.  Although WooCommerce is owned by WordPress and they have done a lot to ensure a seamless integration of Gutenberg, all features of Woo or its extensions, may not be supported initially.

Will Gutenberg replace my current visual page builder?

No, it won’t – at least not yet.  We really don’t know if or when Gutenberg will evolve into a full website customization tool that allows for design control the way that current page builders do.  Currently, it is focused on the standardizing how we enter, manage, and customize content, not on how it is visually display it on the front end.

We are confident that the major page builders that exist today will continue to work with WordPress 5.0 and Gutenberg.  As future updates or changes are introduced, we anticipate that the page builders will also update and evolve to complement, extend, or co-exist with Gutenberg.

Will existing content be affected?

All of your existing content should remain as it is, (WordPress is calling this the “classic format”), even if you decide to start using Gutenberg for future content management.  You do have the option to convert your classic format content to blocks from within your posts but we don’t fully know yet how well this conversion works so I would caution you when doing so.  Even shortcodes should continue to work in their own blocks, which will hopefully make them easier to work with and understand.

How can I best prepare for this?

Change, especially one as significant as WordPress 5.0 and Gutenberg are, can be intimidating and stressful.  While we can’t predict exactly what will happen once the update is applied to your site, we can try and make it as smooth as possible.

  1. Ensure that your website has been backed up and updated and tested with all the latest updates to WordPress, your theme, and all plugins.  If you haven’t done this yet, you need to plan on doing it soon – it should be a regular part of your website maintenance and management.
  2. Use some of the available learning resources to familiarize yourself with the features and capabilities of Gutenberg. WordPress has a handbook and the Gutenberg News site has a plethora of tutorials and resources that are good starting points. 
  3. Take Gutenberg for a test drive.  You can test and play with Gutenberg on WordPress.org via a live demo. 
  4. Keep creating excellent content.  In the end, the best content editor has no effect on the quality of the content itself.  There are sure to be some bumps with this update but the bottom line is that no editor on the planet makes bad content better. 

If you have additional questions about updating your WordPress website or you would like to chat about how we can help, please don’t hesitate to let us know, we are happy to help.