What to Expect with WordPress 5.6


  • 00:45 — Twenty Twenty One Theme
  • 1:51 — Block Editor Updates
  • 2:54 — Auto Updates for Major Releases
  • 3:31 — PHP 8 Support
  • 4:35 — Other changes

We’re nearing the end of 2020 and that means it’s time for the last major WordPress release of the year. WordPress 5.6 brings us a new default theme, Twenty Twenty One, updates to the block editor, some PHP 8 support, auto updates for major releases and other changes and fixes. So let’s go through what…

Hey there and welcome back.

We’re nearing the end of 2020 and we’re coming up on the next major release of WordPress. That’s right, WordPress 5.6 is slated to be released on December 8, and it will be the last major release of the year.

This release includes a new default theme, some updates to the block editor, auto updates for major releases, like this one, and PHP 8 support. But it will not include block based navigation or block based widgets.

So today we’re going to go through what you can expect when you update to WordPress 5.6 in early December.

But before we get started, if you want to see more videos about WordPress, web development, ecommerce and other website related topics, be sure to hit the subscribe button and to ring the bell for notifications.

Now let’s get started.

Twenty Twenty One Theme

So first things first, as this is the last major WordPress release of the year, we also get a new default theme: Twenty Twenty One.

At first glance, this theme is a lot like the last two default themes. It’s minimalistic and it really looks like a blank canvas for new users to get their feet wet with WordPress. And it’s sort of a playground to test out some of the new features coming out of the Gutenberg/block editor.

Twenty Twenty One will come with some block patterns to really show off that feature in the block editor. It’s something that can become really powerful in the new editor as people learn to use it, so I’m excited to see what the team is able to push out.

And one cool feature I’m excited for is the ability to have dark mode turn on or off for users depending on their settings. I love using dark mode for all of my technology so it’s easier on the eyes, so this will be a really cool thing to see.

Something that’s not in Twenty Twenty One yet, but will be released later in a similar default theme is full site editing. This is sort of the eventual end goal of the Gutenberg project, so I’m definitely curious to see how all of that works with a theme specifically built for it.

Block Editor Updates

WordPress 5.6 will bring in changes to the block editor up from Gutenberg 9.3 and below. There are too many changes to name here. But I’ve put a link in the description to the Gutenberg changelog where you can see the entire list of changes.

Among the biggest updates to the block editor is an improved version of the block mover. This was a frustrating change in WordPress 5.5 as it became very easy to confuse the block mover with the button to change the type of block. Those frustrations are a thing of the past now.

You’ll also get better positioning of video backgrounds in the cover block. There will also be character counts in the information panel, improved keyboard navigation, and other adjustments to help users find their way better.

And finally there are improvements to the block patterns, which includes adding in translatable strings if you want to release custom block patterns to the wider world.

As I mentioned earlier, unfortunately this release will not have block based navigation or widgets as the block editor team is still working on getting them in good enough shape to be ready for wider use. You can still test these out through the Gutenberg plugin if you wish.

Auto Updates for Major Releases

One feature that might catch your eye in this release is the auto updates for major WordPress releases. We’ve had the ability to do this automated update of minor WordPress releases in the past. And in WordPress 5.5 that functionality was added for plugin and theme updates.

Personally I’m pretty hesitant to use this feature. Auto updating for minor releases, plugins and themes is pretty risky as it is. And major releases can cause big issues, especially if there are potentially breaking changes.

This will be a nice feature to have, and you’re free to use it. But I would caution you before you make a decision to turn it on.

PHP 8 Support

In addition to WordPress 5.6 coming out in December, the next version of PHP, PHP 8.0, is slated to be released in late November.

Typically, the WordPress development team likes to make sure that the last major release of the year is compatible with the latest version of PHP coming out around the same time. And they are being very diligent with their testing.

But there are a lot of challenges. The biggest challenge is that PHP 8 is a pretty big change from last year’s PHP 7.4. There are enough breaking changes that it can be a hassle to make the necessary changes for a codebase as big as WordPress. And that’s before we get into the realm of plugins and themes.

I will not be updating to PHP 8.0 when WordPress 5.6 comes out. I might do it on a development site just to see what breaks or doesn’t break. But between the challenges with WordPress and potential issues with plugins and themes, it feels unwise to do so.

This is certainly something that pertains more to developers and coders, but this is just a heads up in case you are tempted to update to PHP 8 or have people telling you to do that.

Other items

As always, there are a few other smaller changes that might make a difference for you.

jQuery 3

First off, WordPress 5.6 finishes off what 5.5 started with migrating to jQuery 3. The last major release also had a plugin that you could use to check to see if there were any breaking changes with regards to jQuery and your plugins and themes. But it kept jQuery working.

This update eliminates the last part. When it comes out, some things might break on your website with jQuery. It’s a good idea to use that plugin to see if you might run into any problems down the road and to contact plugin and theme developers if so.

Rest Application passwords

Finally, WordPress 5.6 makes managing REST API passwords and authentication so much easier. There will now be an interface in core to manage passwords for different web apps you can give access to your REST API. This is mainly a developer-focused addition, but you might find it helpful.

Up Next

So what questions do you have about WordPress 5.6? What features are you looking forward to the most? What might you be concerned about? Be sure to leave those down in the comments section below.

If you want to test out WordPress 5.6 on a development or staging website, you can check out the video I did a while ago on testing out early versions of WordPress.

And to see more videos like this and to see other videos on WordPress topics, website development, ecommerce, digital marketing and other website related topics, be sure to hit the subscribe button and to ring the bell for notifications.

But until next time, happy WordPressing!

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