WordPress 5.9 “Josephine” – What can we expect?

As a long-time lover of WordPress, I like to keep my eye on new developments with the software. Naturally, each new release brings with it excitement and anxiousness over what new features will be released. Barring anything unusual, there’s a major release approximately once every four months (around 120 days), starting from the initial scope meeting to the final release.

The development of this new version – version 5.9, named Joséphine after international jazz musician Joséphine Baker – started way back in June 2021, and the final product was released today. It was originally scheduled for release on 14th December 2021, but issues at the beta release stage meant that development was pushed back for a few weeks. This helped to make sure that the features were properly tested and released as early as possible, rather than releasing something half-baked now and waiting until the next major version, scheduled to be released in April 2022, before everything was polished.

Version 5.9 was released with further development in Phase 2 of the Gutenberg project included. So what can we expect from this newest release of the Web’s most popular content management system?

Full Site Editing

Part of Phase 2 of the Gutenberg project was to extend the capabilities of the Block Editor to be able to edit areas of the whole site, and WordPress 5.9 will see further work in that area. This will mean site managers can edit the header and footer of their sites without leaving the page.

Specifically for WordPress 5.9, we are seeing improvements in the editor, including:

  • Blocks + intrinsic web design
  • Navigation menus
  • Interface for theme.json
  • Refining editing flows for block themes
  • New default theme
  • Additional design tools

It was hoped that there would be improvements to the navigation block experience, but this will be pushed back, possibly to the next major release. Instead, the focus will be on improving the Navigation Block itself rather than a lighter experience.

Global Styles Interface

WordPress 5.9 also comes with new tools to change design elements like typography, colours, and spacing across your site and your theme, through a theme.json file that were introduced in WordPress 5.8. It came with a number of features that helped with modifying the editor to make editing posts and pages easier, unlock specific features in content blocks, and preset colour palettes for themes. Version 5.9 sees that functionality built upon with new tools and interfaces in the editor.

New Theme

The last major release of the year will come with a new default theme – Twenty Twenty-Two. Twenty Twenty-Two will be built for full site editing (FSE) first with a goal of all theme styles being editable through Global Styles. The developers have said the theme “is designed to be light and resilient, with a hint of playfulness” and it has been “designed to be the most flexible default theme ever created for WordPress.”

Screenshots of Twenty Twenty-Two, the new default theme for WordPress 5.9
Screenshots of Twenty Twenty-Two, the new theme for WordPress (Source: Make WordPress Core)

Lazy Loading Images

Improvements were added to the lazy-loading-images feature, which was introduced way back in WordPress 5.5. This function allows for images to be loaded only when they need to be displayed rather than as soon as the page opens, meaning that you aren’t loading tens of images all at once, only the one that needs to be displayed right now. There are some scripts and plugins that can do this, and WordPress 5.5 saw the first time this was brought into Core. WordPress 5.9 has seen ways to improve page load times by reconfiguring which images are lazy-loaded and which are not by default.

Other changes to WordPress 5.9

As with every other release, there are a number of smaller changes and bug fixes that have been announced, some of which will benefit developers more than users and editors. Such changes will include improved support for PHP 8 and an update to jQuery 3. Pinterest will (finally) be added as a supported oEmbed source, and site owners will be able to display the login screen in different languages. Finally, there will be major changes to the Gallery Block to ensure that image galleries have the same functionality as single images.

What will happen in 6.0?

It was hoped that other changes would be released with 5.9, but it is likely that these will be pushed to either the next major release or future releases to make sure they are properly implemented. These would include:

  • Pattern insertion + creation
  • Unzip/Rollback Failsafes
  • PHPUnit Tests
  • Improved compatibility with PHP 8.1

None of these features or improvements has been confirmed as officially earmarked for the next major version, and there are possibly other features that would be included as well.

What are you looking forward to with this new release? What would you like to see in WordPress 6.0? Head down to the comments below and let’s discuss.

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