WordPress 5.6 is the next major version of WordPress which is now available. Like previous versions, WordPress 5.6 brings improvements to the Gutenbergm block editor but not all the new features are about blocks. There are a few additions to WordPress Core like a new default Twenty Twenty-One theme, automatic updates to major releases, better support for PHP 8.0 and REST API authentication app passwords. UI improvements, lots of bug fixes and a fair amount of changes for developers.

New features in the Gutenberg editor

In WordPress 5.6 several Gutenberg plugins have been merged into one core, so you should notice a handful of improvements to the editor. Improved block patterns, word count in the info panel, improved keyboard navigation, improved drag and drop interface and much more.

Controlling the position of background videos

Until now we had this possibility, but only for static background images. WordPress 5.6 allows you to do the same if you put a video in the background.

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Updating block patterns

WordPress 5.6 also includes several improvements to the block patterns added in Gutenberg 8.6. The layout, text and colour of the header and paragraph have been updated. The header within two columns of text has been moved from the text block and placed above the columns. The Quote template includes an image at the top and a separator at the bottom.

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What you will probably notice in the context of patterns is that they have been sorted by categories. Over time, as the number of patterns grows, we will certainly appreciate this functionality more.

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Supports subtitles for video

If you create video content and publish it on your site, you'll probably be happy to know that WordPress 5.6 will also allow you to publish subtitles in .vtt format.

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Transforming blocks into columns

An interesting feature that allows you to transform selected blocks into columns. Just select two blocks and turn them into columns:

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The effect of such an operation:

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These are some of what I think are the most significant improvements to the editor. What else?

New default theme Twenty Twenty-One

WordPress 5.6 has a brand new default theme called Twenty Twenty-One. Minimalist with a single column layout, it uses system fonts and a sparing colour palette based on pastel background colours.

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Application passwords for REST API authentication

Application Passwords is a new system for sending authenticated requests to various WordPress APIs. Passwords are 24 characters long and consist of upper and lower case letters and numeric characters, which can be generated manually or via the REST API.

To manually generate a new application password, go to Profile and scroll down the page.

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You can cancel generated passwords at any time.

Improved support for PHP 8

PHP 8.0 offers quite a few new features and optimizations, making it a milestone in the evolution of the language. The newer version of PHP introduces many updates that shatter backward compatibility, and many outdated features have been officially removed. This means that adding PHP 8 support to WordPress is a major challenge.

In fact, even if the WordPress Core authors do their best to make WordPress 5.6 compatible with PHP 8, we should not expect every possible problem to be detected. The goal is to reach a point where the entire WordPress ecosystem is compatible with PHP 8, which is a difficult topic at the moment.

You will certainly still have to wait until most of the ecosystem that is themes and plugins you use are fully compatible with the latest version of PHP. This may take quite some time.

WordPress hosting accounts are already ready to work with PHP 8, but before this option is made available we will give time to developers of key themes and extensions to adapt their products to the new PHP version.

jQuery

There may be issues with some plugins and themes, due to changes that have been made to the jQuery library and the jQuery Migrate tool. If you've noticed that something doesn't work quite as it should after an update, the issue is probably related to this theme. If this is the case, you can try to resolve the issue by installing a plugin: Enable jQuery Migrate Helper. As soon as the authors of the plugins and the theme you are using catch up, you will be able to abandon this plugin.

Summary

WordPress 5.6 is a major release with lots of features and changes. I'm excited to see how this system evolves becoming more and more useful from version to version. I didn't mention the new features for developers in the description above, but developers are surely already well aware of the improvements in this area that they will be able to take advantage of after updating WordPress to version 5.6.

How do you like the changes and the direction of evolution?

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