Advanced Custom Fields Acquisition Review – Eight Months In

Advanced Custom Fields always felt like the plugin that belonged in core. So how has ACF fared in the eight months since the acquisition?

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When Delicious Brains acquired ACF eight months ago, initial reactions were bittersweet. Bitter because Elliot Condon had built probably the most important plugin in the history of WordPress (sorry, Yoast and WooCommerce) and had done it right. He balanced backward compatibility with an amazing pace of releasing new features and seemed to intuitively understand ACF’s audience, evidenced by great decision-making, prioritizing, and respect for his customers. ACF is a plugin that is not only essential to use, but also enjoyable. Every time I think I hit the limits of ACF’s functionality, I find another well-documented filter or action hook that has exactly what I needed.

The acquisition was also good news because in the shortlist of companies you can trust with a product like this, Delicious Brains has earned its spot. Products like WP Offload Media and WP DB Migrate Pro are not only rock-solid, they also show that this team can handle plugins that touch core WordPress behaviors at the deepest of levels. For example, I couldn’t imagine launching WordPress websites in a world without the Better Search Replace plugin.

Since we have an interest in acquisitions here, we wanted to see how ACF has fared in the eight months since the acquisition. We’ve seen two major releases, a ton of minor releases, and one upcoming beta with some interesting features. Here are a few highlights so far.

5.10 – HTML Escaping and ACF Block enhancements

The major focus of their first major release was moving ACF Blocks to the newer Block API v2 and cutting down on the number of server requests it takes to preview a block inside Gutenberg. Making anything for the block editor is like trying to hit a moving target. The fact that our agency still has sites running ACF Blocks built years ago is a testament to their quality. (I can’t say the same for sites we’ve inherited with hand-coded custom blocks, which seem to have a much shorter shelf life.)

This release also worked on escaping HTML from the plugin, and as any WordPress dev will tell, escaping and sanitizing data is always tricky to get right. 

5.11 – WP Rest API Support

As someone who has had to roll their own REST API support for custom fields in the past, this was amazing news. The WordPress REST API is a very handy tool, but extending it often requires more lines of code than you’d expect. The ability to expose your custom field groups to the REST API opens a world of development possibilities, from simple JavaScript interactions sprucing up your frontend to fully headless WordPress installations.

Behind the scenes, they also finished updating the codebase to follow the WordPress Coding Standards and updated some of the build tools. That’s the sort of maintenance work that usually doesn’t get as much attention, so kudos to the team on that.

5.12 Full site editing support and ACF Blocks inside the Query Loop Block.

We’ve talked about the full site editor here before, and specifically discussed how hard it is to customize and use your own code. The idea of using ACF Blocks inside the customizer actually blows my mind. The Query Loop block, for example, is a surprisingly difficult Russian nesting-doll of blocks that I’ve never successfully been able to tame. The idea of injecting an ACF Block inside of it is pretty incredible.

I haven’t seen a more long-term roadmap beyond that, so if anyone on the inside wants to share, I’m all ears.

Final Thoughts

This list is by no means a full accounting of the updates and bug fixes since last summer, but it does give us a pretty decent idea of how Delicious Brains views Advanced Custom Fields. These features are, of course, very developer-centric. They leverage even more of what we would consider the “modern” WordPress features, like the block editor, full site editing, and the REST API. They help bridge the gap between what WordPress is trying to accomplish as a CMS and what its blind spots are (sorry Fields API).

Advanced Custom Fields always felt like the plugin that belonged in core. The functionality was a no-brainer because its basically a drop-in replacement for writing tons of repetitive code, code that mostly would’ve been trying to tame the back-end of WordPress. Typically, the point of a CMS is to save development time on the backend – user management, creating content, defining global settings. ACF empowers developers to focus more on content and presentation and lets our end-users reliably manage content.

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Brian is the Technology Director at Understrap and Howard Development & Consulting. Located in Southern California, Brian is a former college instructor and full-stack developer who brings his unique academic perspective to Understrap Academy. Brian is a graduate of California State Polytechnic University Pomona and California State University Fullerton. His work has included projects for Harvard University, The World Bank, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

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