See a quick video tour of what’s new in WordPress 5.5.
There is a full transcript with links below the video as well.
Get more tips and tutorials
Subscribe to BlogAid on YouTube
Transcript and Links
The WordPress 5.5 update includes
- Core WP enhancements like lazy load and auto updates
- Gutenberg editor enhancements
- New code libraries that previously had to be loaded externally, or made plugins bloated.
Lack of updates is the number one way sites get hacked.
Even so, I’m not crazy about the new auto updates function that is now available in WordPress 5.5.
It allows you to set plugins and themes to auto update.
Fortunately, this new feature is not on by default, and you want to keep it off.
That’s not to say that all auto updates are bad – far from it.
WordPress itself does minor updates automatically, and you want it to, as most of those are critical bug or security fixes.
The same goes with many popular plugins. They’ve been including an auto update feature for minor releases for years already too. I bet you didn’t even know they were turned on.
But what we don’t want are auto updates for major releases, which is what this new feature brings to the table.
You want to be in control of those because you want to first ensure you have a recent backup, and for plugins, you want to use the method I show in this tutorial for using WP Rollback that enables you to return to the previous version of a free plugin, should the update goof your site in some way.
Where to find Auto Updates
Let’s have a look at where to find the Auto Updates setting.
Go to your plugins admin page.
In the far right column you’ll now see links to select which plugins you want to enable auto-updates for.
If you have no intention of turning these updates on, you can get rid of the column.
Go up to the Screen Options tab and click to expand.
And then uncheck the box for Auto Updates.
Check Your Plugin Update Info Now
The other big caveat in this native auto update support is that plugin and theme devs can control that setting for either allowing or blocking the auto update feature.
It’s a good idea to click View Details on any plugin or theme update anyway, but now I think it is critically important to do so and see if that dev has elected to turn on major updates or not. Minor updates are okay, just not major ones.
Ensure You Have a Good Backup
And this makes it even more important to ensure you have a solid backup and restore strategy for your site.
See my Backup Checklist for details.
Zip File Plugin Updates
Some plugins, especially paid ones, require you to install them by uploading a zip file.
And sometimes, when they have an update, it may not go as expected.
So, now WordPress 5.5 will give you the option to install the update by Zip file as well.
It will properly auto detect that the plugin is already installed and that this in an update, so it won’t error out anymore with a message that the plugin folder can’t be overwritten because it’s already there.
Zip File Theme Updates
The same is true for updating paid themes. You’ll now be able to install an update on them via Zip file, if needed.
Why We Like Zip File Updates and Caveats with Them
Because WP Rollback only works on free plugins and themes, this new feature to update paid plugins and themes via Zip file is fantastic.
And I suggest you seriously consider downloading a fresh Zip file of your paid plugins, at least, so that you have your current version on hand should the update go sideways on you.
That way you should also be able to downgrade to the previous version, at least in theory. We’ll see how this works with various plugins.
For themes, if you have a parent framework, like Genesis, get a current zip file of it, in case an update goes haywire.
But for your child theme, it’s likely that you’ve had a lot of customization on it, so you may not want to roll back to the plain zip file of it.
Check with your theme designer for clarification and directives about how your theme will work with these Zip file upgrades and downgrades.
Native XML Sitemaps
WordPress 5.5 now also natively generates an XML Sitemap for your site. This is a directory listing of your content that is specifically formatted for search engine bots to read.
The slug to see it will be /wp-sitemap.xml
It’s very basic and most of us will want to continue using the XML Sitemap that is being generated by our SEO plugin, as it offers a better way to control what’s in the sitemap.
If you are using Yoast SEO, it already has a function to detect and turn off the native WP XML Sitemap. So, there’s no setting for you to check or change with this, in that case.
If you do want to use the native one, it has a different URL for access and you will need to update that path in your robots.txt file and in Google Search Console.
Native Lazy Load Images
Images are one of the biggest speed drags on your site.
Some browsers have started including a lazy load feature, and now WordPress is getting in on that too.
However, it is a very basic function and may not preserve your SEO image info.
So, if you are using a premium plugin like the paid version of WP Fastest Cache or WP Rocket, you’ll want to stick with using their far superior lazy load feature.
They offer you ways to control what gets lazy loaded, and they preserve your image SEO.
The lazy load option is turned on by default in WordPress 5.5 and you will have to test if your caching/optimization plugin auto detects it or not, or if there is a need to.
At this time, there is no way to easily turn off this native feature in WP that I know of.
WordPress 5.5 is also rolling more native code libraries into the core code and that will help lighten up plugins that make use of them.
One of the biggest code library changes is the addition of phpMailer. This is the underlying external code library used in plugins that deal with SMTP email issues.
If you use such a plugin, you will need to check with them to see if they will have an update for the WP core code change and/or if you will still even need that plugin, as WP itself may be able to handle the function that it provides.
There will be 65 new Dashicons added in WP 5.5.
These are the little symbols used for things like share button social media platforms, and email and phone icons in your header and such.
Too many plugins and themes still use FontAwesome for this, which is an extensive external library that really slows down your page load time.
Go with plugins and themes that use the native Dashicons wherever you can. They are far faster.
PHP Compatibility Scan Improved
I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Site Health Check feature in WordPress.
In particular, I’m not at all fond of the PHP compatibility scanner because it’s telling folks that they have a critical security error if they are not using PHP 7.4.
That’s not true.
They have a critical security issue if they are using any PHP version below 7.2.
New PHP versions are not considered stable when they first come out.
Beyond that, many themes and plugins are not tested on them for months and months.
So, everyone is not ready to go up to the latest version of PHP at the time that Site Health Check thing says do so.
What’s rolling into WP 5.5 is a faster PHP scanner.
Your best bet is to keep reading my Tips Tuesday posts to know when it’s safe to update your PHP version.
And I give you a tutorial on how to check and change your PHP version too.
When a visitor clicks your site’s custom logo in the header, it will take them to the homepage of your site.
But, if they are already on the homepage, there is no need for that link.
So, it is being removed in WP 5.5
Theme designers, you may want to check your CSS and see how that link is being called for the homepage template now.
And that function may differ in some themes where the site owner chooses to use a static home page too.
So, worth you testing it.
See the new Gutenberg Editor features.
New Block Directory
The Add Block interface has changed.
You’ll see two tabs, one for Blocks and the other for Patterns, which we’ll get to in a moment.
There is also a new Search for a block field that accesses the new Block Directory.
If you don’t already have a block like the one you need, you can search for one to install here.
It is pulling from this new Block Directory.
This is like the directory in WordPress for things like regular plugins and themes. It contains a searchable list of plugins that contain blocks for the Gutenberg editor.
It is searchable from within the Gutenberg editor too, which is very handy, just like you can search for regular plugins and themes.
User Interface (UI) Improvements
The Block editor interface got a bit of a facelift with things like:
- Borders around toolbars
- The Add block tool looks like a button now
- As you mouse over block choices, it’s easier to see focus highlight with the new borders
Easier Parent Block Selection
Breadcrumbs at the bottom of the page for selecting blocks are great, but there is now an even easier way to select individual blocks when they are nested.
All block selection is now in the block toolbar above it.
As I hover over the toolbar for the Heading block, there is a parent block tool above it, where I can click to select the parent block, which in this case is a Group block.
Easier Block Movement
The little up/down arrow movement/placement handle that was off to the left side of a block has now been moved to inside the block’s toolbar.
More Background and Gradient Support
We love color on our pages, and now Gutenberg will natively support background and gradients on more blocks.
The newest blocks to get the feature are:
- Media & text
If you have been using specialty blocks to get this type of styling support, they may be affected, but only in how their core code will now be based on native Gutenberg.
It may also change their interface a bit for selecting these styles.
Inline Image Editing
You can now access the image editing tools from within the image block to do things like crop and resize. I’m almost sad this feature has been added. Your very best bet for speed is to properly size and optimize your images prior to upload, not here in the editor.
Another new feature are Block Patterns.
These are akin to Reusable Blocks and Reusable Templates in that they are pre-configured blocks with styling that can be included anywhere on a page or post with a simple click to insert them.
There are several already available for you to use.
The difference with Block Patterns is that theme designers can construct them and match the theme’s style perfectly.
I can see this being used right away by designers to add optin and CTA blocks that look great and have them already available for theme users to insert.
There are already tons of Block Patterns available for use where you can download the code and insert into your site. But those are on 3rd party sites.
But now that there is also a Block Patterns API that allows easy transport of the code into the theme from an external source, expect these things to go boom, just like block plugins have done.
Gutenberg Ninja Course
My Gutenberg Ninja course is THE premier course for quickly learning the real-world blocks that you’ll actually be using every day.
Plus, I show you how to build all manner of pages so you’ll never need to use a page builder again.
Now you can see what your site will look like on different devices via a new simulator feature in WP 5.5.
When you click Preview, you now have a choice for viewing on:
- Or Mobile
Clicking one of these gives you the preview right there.
You can also select the old default, which was to preview in a new browser tab.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of What’s New in WordPress 5.5.
I hope you’ll subscribe to the BlogAid YouTube channel so you never miss helpful info like this.
And be sure to visit BlogAid.net for more tips and tutorials, and I’ll see you online.