Pixelgrade and WordPress 5.0: what you need to know

WordPress 5.0 is quite a big deal for the future of WordPress as a platform for building and growing your online presence. There is no getting around this: things are changing, for better or worse.

December 7, 2018
Reading time 6 – 9 minutes
Pixelgrade and Wordpress 5.0 - what you need to know

Let’s try a summary of the story behind this major release, just in case you haven’t kept tabs with the whole saga and instead focused on creating what you are passionate about. Good for you.

What’s the story behind this major release?

It all started about two years ago with a resounding alarm bell by Matt Mullenweg: what got us this far, will not get us much further. Things need to fundamentally change if we [the community] want it to stay relevant and thriving for the foreseeable future. WordPress needs to find its focus once again and realign with the way the web at large is evolving.

If there is one thing that stands out when people think about the main use-case WordPress fills in their online endeavors, that is surely “managing my content”. This is the “killer feature” WordPress has promised and delivered time and time again. It succeeded so much at this that most of the time we [developers] took it for granted and considered it a done deal. It is a dangerous mindset to be in, and the community has been basking in it for years.

So the people that drive and steer the development of WordPress made the courageous decision to reinvent how content is written and managed on the platform. No one treated it as an easy or uncontroversial feat, but not doing it would have put WordPress on a sure path towards obsolescence. Not a prospect that would help the free, open web.

Dozens of paid, full-time designers and developers, hundreds of voluntary contributors worked like crazy for two years to take the best of the Medium, Squarespace, Wix editing experience and do it better. A serious challenge by any standards, especially when we are talking about an open source project. This whole effort has been called Project Gutenberg or, how it’s more commonly known, the Gutenberg editor. To highlight the importance of getting it right, Matt himself took the lead for this update.

The development was done entirely in the open, with anyone invited to contribute in any ways possible. There were endless talks and articles about various challenges and decisions made along the way. As expected, the [developer/agency] community mostly split into three crowds:

  • the “this is going to break everything we’ve built over the years, and we don’t want you to force us to do extra work to make the transition” bunch; “why change it if it works” kind of thinking;
  • the “this is a good thing for the future of WordPress, but we need to be careful on how we manage the transition and not break our commitment to backward compatibility”;
  • and the “this is awesome and we will build a whole lot of new shiny things with it” camp.

The project leaders tried their best to listen and weight in the over-abundance of opinions and perspectives, but one would be foolish to think the end result could please everyone. Changing the editing experience has too many known and unknown consequences for that to happen.

As of December 6th, 2018 the new editing experience is in the WordPress core and available to all as the 5.0 release. This is the new reality of the platform and there is no going back.

How does Pixelgrade approach Gutenberg?

In all honesty, at first, we’ve panicked a bit at the prospect of a rebuilt editing experience that made obsolete much of the setup our products we’re relying on. With time, the ambitious goal of Gutenberg has grown on us and we’ve started to see all the possibilities and benefits this new paradigm introduced.

We believe the block editor (the rightful name for the editor) is a much-needed breath of fresh air for the WordPress platform and the ecosystem at large. We welcome the new approach as it aligns very much with our own in building a digital experience: focus on the user problem, keep things intuitive, and use standards you and others can build upon.

While all this is great for the future, there is still the thorny problem of already existing themes that were built with the old editor in mind, like many of our themes are. It’s our responsibility to deal with this situation and we don’t shy away from it.

We will do our best to ensure that our themes can be used with the new block editor and that any existing content you have published will just work. Our goal is to keep your site running with no or minimal hassle while giving you the possibility of staying on the latest and greatest version of WordPress.

Allowing you to update to the latest version is of great importance to us as besides Gutenberg, new versions come with many other enhancements and security fixes. We don’t want your site to be relegated to a dark corner of the web.

Considering the above, we have already taken precautionary measures to put the necessary logic in the Pixelgrade Care plugin that comes with all of our themes, and also in our Customify plugin that handles styling customizations. This is why it is crucial that you keep them updated.

We decided to wait a bit and let the new block editor gather some wide usage and allow for any problems to be ironed out by the WordPress core team.

When you update to WordPress 5.0, by default the old/classic editor will remain active if your theme hasn’t been updated to be compatible with the new editor. You can bypass this and switch to the Gutenberg editor from your dashboard by going to Settings > Writing. We don’t recommend it, but you can if you want to.

In terms of theme compatibility, our portfolio is split in two:

  • themes that used the regular editing experience without any custom fields; these themes have already been updated to be compatible with the Gutenberg editor and the transition should be painless.
    • The themes in this category are Patch, Hive, Gema, Noto, Vasco, Julia, Felt, Jason, and Silk.
  • themes that use custom editing experiences with multiple custom fields and meta boxes; these themes will be much harder to be made compatible and we will tackle them to the best of our abilities; some of them have such a custom workflow that the best option for them is to stick with the classic editor as too many things might break when switching.
    • The themes in this category are Rosa, Osteria, Listable, Fargo, Noah, Timber, Mies, Pile, Heap, Border, Lens, and Bucket.

Why have you made this decision?

Our main goal is to keep your site running smoothly, even if that means sticking with the old editing experience. We believe a good experience for your visitors outweighs the benefits of the new editor.

We also know from experience that after a major update, for a couple of weeks things are still in flow and very often there is at least one bug-fixing update that patches any uncaught glitches. This is why we haven’t rushed to release theme updates beforehand; things are likely to change a little bit.

It is not an ideal situation and we would very much like to be able to use the block editor for all of our themes. But the complexities need to be taken into account and balanced with the amount of effort involved. We want to be here for years to come, not sink all of our efforts into re-engineering our products and going bust. We hope you also want that for us.

Does my theme work with Gutenberg?

If you have updated to WordPress 5.0 and see the new editing experience, then your theme works with Gutenberg. If not, you will need to wait for a heads-up from us or a new theme update announcing this. We are working as fast as we can.

Can I safely update to WordPress 5.0?

Yes, but… When it comes to our themes, you can update to WordPress 5.0 and your site will not break, even if some of you might still see and be able to use only the old editing experience.

But, before you update you should also consider the plugins you are using and check that they have been updated to be compatible with the new version of WordPress.

Obviously, we can’t account for the multitude of possible scenarios that arise from mixing the new WordPress version, the new block editor, our themes, and who knows how many plugins active on your site.

That is why we recommend that, at least for complex WordPress installations, you back up your site and try the new version in a staging or test setup. Better safe than sorry.

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