WordPress 5.6 “Simone” has now been released, named after the legendary performer Nina Simone. Let’s see what it has in store for you.
Major Gutenberg Block Editor Updates
We see a significant update to the WordPress block editor, with multiple versions of the Gutenberg plugin being pushed out directly into WordPress Core. Besides bugfixes and better performance, we will get changes to block patterns, the user interface, and block functions in general.
Greater layout flexibility
Block patterns were an addition to Gutenberg in WordPress 5.5. They are pre-defined combinations of blocks that allow users to quickly and easily add complex layout elements to the page. Now theme developers can make preconfigured block patterns to help make setting up standard pages on your site a breeze.
For example, there’s a new Quote pattern that adds an image and separator above and below the text. Another addition is Heading and Paragraph that makes for easier content creation. It saves you the trouble of adding Heading and Paragraph blocks separately.
For easier placement of block patterns, there is now also a drop-down menu to filter them by category. This makes it easy, for example, to select only the patterns your theme ships with.
Block UI Changes
As well as the above, there have been improvements to the UI to streamline working with the blocks. One such improvement is the ability to select several blocks and then convert them to columns.
You can now display background patterns on Cover blocks, and also control the focal point of the video/image used – eg top-left or centre-right – the addition of video focal points is new to 5.6.
Better video captioning
You now have the ability to add subtitles to your video content, just upload them within your post or page, and make videos more accessible for anyone who needs or prefers to use subtitles.
Even if you’re not an expert, you can start letting others know about your site’s commitment to accessibility! The new feature plugin includes template copy for you to edit and publish, and it’s written to support different contexts and jurisdictions.
It’s time for the new annual default theme launch
Twenty Twenty-One is designed to be a blank canvas for the block editor, it is simple and un-opinionated, yet still refined and feels like a fresh canvas, waiting to be painted.
As well as using a native system font stack to reduce load time keeping the theme simple and fast. It also uses a limited colour palette: a pastel green background colour, and two shades of dark grey for text – additional colour palettes will also be bundled in.
This theme is designed use make use of ‘patterns’ that were introduced with WordPress 5.5. Twenty Twenty-One will come packaged with a bunch of unique patterns designed explicitly for the theme.
What’s more, this default theme puts accessibility at the heart of your website. It conforms to the WordPress accessibility-ready guidelines and addresses several more specialized standards from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 at level AAA. It will help you meet the highest level of international accessibility standards when you create accessible content and choose plugins which are accessible too!
Site Health Tool Updates
The Site Health tool has seen a considerable revamp. We see a new validation tool that checks issue responses and tosses invalid ones. This reduces the likelihood of the health tool throwing fatal errors. Additionally, WordPress 5.6 comes with the ability to schedule site health checks. This way, you’ll no longer run the danger of a test running during times of high site traffic. Finally, there are many under-the-hood improvements that make use of the REST API.
Changes to Automatic Updates
With this latest version, you can enable automatic updates for major releases as well as minor core updates as well as theme and plugin updates. The goal is to increase security for the large part of the web that WordPress powers. One note of warning though, we would only turn this feature on, on your staging site to test that nothing breaks before pushing it to the live site. Luckily in existing WordPress installations that update to version 5.6, this is an opt-in feature rather than on opt-out feature for new installations.
Under the hood
PHP8 support (Beta)
WordPress 5.6 marks the first steps toward WordPress Core support for PHP 8. Now is a great time to start planning how your WordPress products, services, and sites can support the latest PHP version.
Updates to jQuery in WordPress take place across three releases 5.5, 5.6, and 5.7. As we reach the mid-point of this process, run the update test plugin to check your sites for errors ahead of time.