What’s New in WordPress 5.5.1

What’s New in WordPress 5.5.1?

WordPress 5.5.1 was released yesterday with 34 bug fixes, 4 enhancements, and 5 bug fixes for the block editor.

Version 5.5 removed 19 legacy JavaScript localization objects, in favor of using the new functions and utilities found in the i18n package introduced in WordPress 5.0. One of the most notable changes in this maintenance release is the inclusion of a backfill for these now deprecated JavaScript globals, which were causing errors with many popular plugins and themes.

“If we only count plugins or themes with more than 100k installs or more, some of these already have an incredible impact, which is why we decided to patch this as fast possible.” Joost de Valk said in an update compiling a list of affected extensions, with the the help of Omar Reiss.

Themes impacted include Astra (1 million+ installs), Storefront (200k+), Hestia (100k+), and dozens more. A small selection of the popular plugins that were impacted include Advanced Custom Fields (1 million+), SiteOrigins Widgets Bundle (1 million+), AMP for WP, (100k+), WooCommerce Services (1 million+), Ocean Extra (600k+), and Rank Math SEO (400k+).

Theme and plugin developers still need to update their code to use wp.i18n but in the meantime the legacy code will not block JavaScript execution. De Valk said the new plan is to remove this fallback code in two major versions, so developers need to have their code updated by the time WordPress 5.7 rolls around in 2021.

“It sounds like a question that also ought to be addressed is how such wide-spread breakage could happen, and how it can be prevented in future,” David Anderson commented on the announcement regarding the backfill. “What part of the release process ought to have flagged up that this was about to happen, how did that part fail, and how can future similar failures be prevented.” Jake Spurlock suggested a retrospective on WordPress 5.5 might be a good idea.

Three weeks after WordPress 5.5 was released, the Enable jQuery Migrate Helper has more than 100,000 active installs. The plugin is available as a stopgap for users who experience problems with jQuery after updating to WP 5.5. Although several bumps along the road are expected for users during WordPress’ process of updating to use the latest version of jQuery, the official support forums were inundated with reports of broken sites after 5.5 was released. Many users found out about the plugin after hours of troubleshooting and hunting for a fix. This is another issue that would be helpful to address in a 5.5 retrospective.

This maintenance release also removes the ability to alter the list of environment types in the new wp_get_environment_type() function. Contributors decided that introducing new types wasn’t the intention of the feature and that it makes it so that theme and plugin developers cannot rely on a set, predictable list of types. They are now limited to production, staging, development, and local, with definitions for each available in the announcement.

“By limiting the set of environment types in this way, WordPress core, plugins, and themes can change their behavior depending on this setting,” Joost de Valk said.

WordPress 5.5.1 also fixes XML sitemaps paginating incorrectly, adds the site environment to debug information, and improves a number of other features that shipped with defects. The full list of changes is available on the release page.

What’s New With The Block Editor

With the final release of WordPress 5.5.1, ten versions of the Gutenberg plugin will be added to the core, bringing a huge number of UI improvements, features, enhancements, and bug fixes affecting every aspect of the editing experience, from usability to functionality and performance.

It’d be close to impossible to mention all these changes here, so in this post, you’ll just find a hand-picked selection of our favorite new features and improvements.

New UI Design

Each version of the Gutenberg plugin brings small and not-so-small improvements that are silently changing the overall editing experience. A lot of these changes are now going to be merged into WordPress core. So, when you first launch the block editor in WordPress 5.5.1, a slightly different interface should grab your attention.

Inline Image Editing

A new editing feature has been added to the block editor with Gutenberg 8.4 allowing users to edit images directly from the Image block.

Now it’s been merged to core and, as of WordPress 5.5.1, you can crop, rotate, zoom and adjust image positions without the need to launch the Media Library resulting in a faster editing experience.

If you use to publish tons of photos, no doubt you’ll enjoy this feature.

Block Categories and New Block Inserter Panel

A redesigned block inserter panel shows up blocks and patterns by categories, significantly improving the editing experience and making blocks and patterns easier to find (Gutenberg 8.3).

The Block Directory and Block Plugins

With the implementation of the block directory, you can find, install, and add third-party blocks directly from the block inserter.

When you search for a block, if you haven’t it already installed, you’ll be prompted a list of plugins available in the Plugin Directory. Those plugins are called “block plugins” and you can add them to your editor with a single click.

Block Patterns

Back in March 2020, Gutenberg 7.7 and Gutenberg 7.8 introduced block patterns and the block patterns API for themes and plugins.

Block patterns are predefined block layouts allowing users to quickly add complex structures of nested blocks to their pages. Their intent is to help content writers and site admins to overcome the “blank page syndrome” and build professional layouts and advanced views with ease.

We should see block patterns at their best with full-site editing.

Native Image Lazy-Loading in WordPress Core

Lazy loading is an optimization technique that defers loading of non-critical resources. This means that the browser is instructed to load visible content on page load and defer the downloading and rendering of images placed below the fold until they are actually needed.

Native Lazy Loading in WordPress

As Felix Arntz reported in an old blog post on Make WordPress Core blog a JavaScript implementation of lazy loading in WordPress was initially proposed a couple of years ago, but it never became part of the Core. The new implementation of native lazy image loading removes any compatibility concern and now the new feature can safely be merged into the Core with WordPress 5.5.1.

Lazy Loading for WordPress Developers

Developers can override the default behavior using several new filters. Among those filters, wp_lazy_loading_enabled and wp_img_tag_add_loading_attr are the most useful for developers:

  • wp_lazy_loading_enabled turns the loading attribute on and off. This filter can be applied globally or per tag.
  • wp_img_tag_add_loading_attr filters the loading attribute value and provides a way to control lazy loading per image.

Auto-Updates for Plugins and Themes

One of the greatest concerns for site owners is site security and keeping your software up to date is a common recommendation every site owner should take into account.

WordPress Automatic updates have been available as a feature since WordPress 3.7. Now, the problem here is that while automatic updates are enabled by default for core maintenance and security releases, before WordPress 5.5.1, many site owners didn’t take advantage of auto-updates for plugins and themes.

Reason being that this feature required basic knowledge of WordPress development. In fact, developers could fine-tune their update preferences by defining one or more constants in wp-config.php or using a filter in a plugin.

Now with WordPress 5.5.1, site admins can toggle plugin and theme auto-updates on and off with a single click directly in their WordPress dashboard.

Auto-Update Functions and Filters for Plugin and Theme Developers

A new function and several filters allow WordPress developers to customize many aspects of plugin and theme auto-updates.

Extensible Core Sitemaps

A sitemap is simply a list of URLs allowing search engines to quickly crawl your website.

Sitemaps are quite similar to robots.txt, with the difference that a robots.txt file excludes content from being indexed, while a sitemap provides a list of URLs to be indexed by search engines.

Before WordPress 5.5.1, sitemaps could be only added to WordPress websites using a plugin or other tools.

Now, WordPress 5.5.1 brings a brand new XML sitemaps feature to WordPress Core.

The new feature adds basic functionality, but it comes with a good number of hooks and filters allowing plugin developers to further extend built-in functionalities.

Updating Plugins and Themes From a .zip File

I know what you’re thinking: it may seem quite “unexpected” to see this feature appearing in conjunction with automatic updates. Nonetheless, it does make sense.

Before WordPress 5.5.1, when lacking a one-click update feature, site admins could only upload plugin/theme updates via FTP/SFTP or file manager. That was mostly true with custom plugins/themes or with extensions hosted on third-party marketplaces.

Starting with WordPress 5.5.1, you can update plugins and themes by uploading a .zip package from your computer within your WordPress dashboard.

If you want to update a plugin, browse to Plugins > Add New screen and click on the Upload Plugin button. Then, if you have the plugin installed on your website, a new screen lets you know that “This plugin is already installed” and shows the current version and uploaded version details.

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