What to Expect from WordPress 5.5

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It’s that time again! Set to launch this August, WordPress 5.5 will be the second major WordPress release of 2020. There are some major changes in this new version; and if you plan to update yourself, make sure you do a proper backup before attempting an update.

Any major WordPress update could potentially break things, but this one has a number of new features that have the potential to cause problems. Extensive testing has been done; but always, always do a backup first! If you need help updating your site, get in touch with us. We’d be happy to help! Below are the big changes coming with WordPress 5.5.

Auto-Updates

Photo image of an old fashioned electronic typewriter with a paper in the scroll that says the word update.

WordPress Core currently supports auto-updating, but WordPress 5.5 will introduce auto-updates for themes and plugins, as well. There are a number of plugins that already offer this ability (I’ve even written one), but this change brings it into the core and will provide settings to opt in or out of these updates.

For small WordPress sites with only a few plugins or customizations, auto-updates is going to be great. It’ll help keep sites more secure by keeping key parts of the site updated.

However, I’ve learned working here at Maintainn that if you have custom code in your theme or plugin, simply turning on auto-updates is usually a recipe for disaster. Plugins don’t always play well together, especially when there’s a major WordPress version change. Use this feature with caution. If you need help, reach out to Maintainn. This is what we do!

Sitemaps

Sitemaps will be part of the WordPress 5.5 core. We don’t yet know how popular plugins like Yoast SEO will interact with this. I suspect at first we’ll see an option to use either the default WordPress sitemaps or Yoast. Long term, I expect plugins like Yoast will leverage the new code.

Lazy Loading

A photo image of a green hammock with two sneaker-wearing feet peaking out.

Lazy loading is being added as a part of core, as well. Lazy loading is a common practice of only loading images once a user scrolls to reach those images on the page. It helps speed up the site. Popular plugins like WP Rocket provide this functionality to WordPress.

This is going to leverage the new ‘loading’ attribute on the ‘img’ tag which has been pushed by browsers like Chrome and Edge. This new standard uses browser level code vs. JavaScript, which improves performance as well as broader compatibility.

The ‘loading’ attribute will support two values initially: ‘eager,’ which means load the image now and don’t wait; and ‘lazy,’ which sets the image to load only when a user scrolls to that image on the page. Lazy-loading will be enabled by default to any images loaded in content, excerpts, comments, widgets, wp_get_attachment_image() and get_avatar. Naturally, there’s also a filter to completely disable the feature or modify it for greater control.

Updated Gutenberg

Gutenberg 8.4 will be part of the WordPress 5.5 update. If you don’t already know, Gutenberg is the new Block Editor introduced back in WordPress 5.0. The Gutenberg update brings a number of enhancements to image editing, multi-block controls, adding the block directory, along with a number of other improvements and bug fixes.

jQuery

The letter J shaped by stones written in sand.

This version also sets in motion a plan to (finally!) update jQuery in WordPress. The end goal is to drop jQuery in the WordPress Admin area in favor of vanilla and allow developers to enqueue jQuery as needed for their projects.

This change could have a major impact on tons of plugins, as this version of jQuery has been with WordPress for quite a while. To give developers time to update themes and plugins, as well make sure the transition goes smoothly, the WordPress core team has a plan in place to spread the changes out over version 5.5, 5.6 and 5.7.

Improved Accessibility

WordPress has been criticized in the past for not making accessibility a priority, but we’ve been seeing major improvements in this area with each release. WordPress 5.5 introduces even more changes to make WordPress available to everyone. UPDATED: For more details on the accessibility changes coming in 5.5 you can read the Accessibility Team Meeting Notes. Thanks to Deborah Edwards-Onoro for the link!

Don’t wait to update to WordPress 5.5!

As with any release, there are even more changes that range from minor tweaks to security updates. So, it’s always advised to run the latest version of WordPress whenever possible. The same goes for plugins and themes; keep your software up to date! You’ll also get the benefits of any performance improvements made in new versions.

If you have questions, or need help with getting your site updated, you can subscribe to one of our maintenance plans, and we’ll make sure your site is updated and stays updated.

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