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What’s Exciting about WordPress 6.1?

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What's Exciting about WordPress 6.1?
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Top Takeaways

  • Brian and Teron recall their impressions of 6.1 from the WCUS Q&A with Matt Mullenweg
  • They discuss stand out features, accessibility, and what’s going on under the hood.
  • Also determined – to what extent does this release move WordPress forward?

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Monet Davenport:
Welcome to Press The Issue, a podcast for MasterWP, your source for industry insights for WordPress professionals. Get show notes, transcripts, and more information about the show at masterwp.com/presstheissue.

With every new version of WordPress comes an array of ch...

Monet Davenport:
Welcome to Press The Issue, a podcast for MasterWP, your source for industry insights for WordPress professionals. Get show notes, transcripts, and more information about the show at masterwp.com/presstheissue.

With every new version of WordPress comes an array of changes, updates, and adjustments. Understanding each and every change and how they affect your sites can be daunting. So join Brian and Teron as they discuss the most exciting things coming to WordPress in 6.1.

Teron Bullock:
How you doing today, Brian?

Brian Coords:
I’m doing good. How are you doing today?

Teron Bullock:
I’m well. I’m excited. I know we have a great conversation today. We’re going to talk about WordPress 6.1, and I’m excited to jump into it.

Brian Coords:
Yeah, I’m excited too. This is kind of a pretty cool release, and I feel like there’s a lot to talk about coming out with WordPress 6.1.

Teron Bullock:
All right, so let’s get right into it. So, I want to paint the picture for everyone. We were both at WordCamp US in San Diego, and we were sitting outside the conference doors, and we were all waiting for Matt Mullenweg to come in and give us this announcement, as he normally does to end the WordCamps. Do you know what they call it, his address? I can’t remember the exact name, but I know-

Brian Coords:
Yeah, so it used to be that he would give a speech called the State of the Word, where he would talk about the full year, but in the last few years they’ve separated that. So the State of the Word usually happens now in December, and so he’ll probably do a small presentation then, and this one was really mostly a Q and A with just a short presentation at the beginning. And I think they just called it Q and A with Matt Mullenweg.

Teron Bullock:
Right. So we’re waiting on this Q and A from Matt, and it seemed like the anticipation in the room was surreal. It’s weird because on one hand, you had … It was like almost had a fever pitch, you had so many people who were just chomping at the bits trying to figure out, can we get in the room? What is he going to say? What’s going to happen? But then you had other people who were kind of like, “All right, here’s another conversation, here’s another address,” yada, yada, yada, like, “What can we expect?” So you had the people who were super excited, but then you had other people who were almost waiting to be disappointed.

And I found it, because this is my first WordCamp US, and so I found it to be really intriguing. I was one of the people that was on the side of like, okay, I’m expecting to see Elvis, Tupac, and Michael Jackson on stage or something, because it just was like really motivating to see as many people who were waiting to hear what people had to say about WordPress. And so I’m wondering, what was your experience before we even got into that room?

Brian Coords:
Yeah, well it comes at the end of the conference, so you’ve been there for a couple of days, and like every conference, it’s very exciting, but it’s also very exhausting. So you’re, a lot of socializing, a lot of talking to people, a lot of walking around, a lot of late nights, those sorts of things. So I’m sure I came into it a little bit exhausted and worn down, but also, it’s your one chance to see the defacto leader of WordPress sort of engage with the community. He’s a very busy person, so he has a lot of other companies and social platform to run, so I think people just like to see where his head’s at, what he’s thinking about, what he’s focusing on, because it’s kind of your one opportunity, apart from the State of the Word and apart from sometimes he does another Q and A at the WordCamp Europe, but that’s really in the US that one opportunity to see, what is he going to talk about? What are people going to ask him about? What is the topic of conversation in WordPress?

Teron Bullock:
Absolutely. So we get into the room, we all sit down, and then it’s like a quiet comes over the room, and he’s addressed or announced. And then like you said, this presentation shows up on the screen, and it’s WordPress 6.1. And when that presentation first rolled out, what was your initial thoughts?

Brian Coords:
Yeah, well the first thing I remember seeing, and I have a pretty terrible memory, but what I remember was a sort of animated video I think that showed a lot of the new features, and it ended with one of those slides that’s sort of like you see in Apple commercials or an Apple presentations where it’s one image and it shows maybe 10 or 12 features with kind of bright colors and icons and things like that to kind of highlight them.

So I remember seeing that, and my initial response was just seeing that it was all features for the block editor. It was really all features that were very Gutenberg-centric, and there are a lot of really great Gutenberg features in this release, but there’s actually a ton of other features that people should really get excited about that maybe weren’t featured in there, which a lot of them maybe aren’t as visual and exciting to look at as these Gutenberg features, but I just remember thinking, “Oh, this is very, very much centered on one part of WordPress,” which is the visual design tools that are coming out in WordPress, the spacing and the layouts and the templates and stuff.

And so those things made a really good image and are really cool looking, but it also didn’t have … Sometimes Apple will show another slide with just a giant list of like, “Oh, and we did about 300 performance fixes,” or whatever, and I think I would’ve loved to see that too, because I think people would’ve been pretty surprised that there’s a lot of under the hood developer-centric stuff coming out as well.

Teron Bullock:
I agree. I think that it definitely leaned heavy on the block editor, and I think I got the initial impression that, like you said you had, which was, is there anything else? Not that the block editor is a good or a bad thing, that’s obviously personal preference. I just, I felt kind of like since we’re a agency that obviously … I shouldn’t say obviously, but we’re an agency that uses the classic editor a lot. And so I found myself saying, “Where do we fit in, in this update?”

Brian Coords:
Yeah, and I was just going to say, and even, I don’t even know if I’d say that we use the classic editor a lot, but we use ways around the block editor a lot. You know? Sometimes we use the block editor and sometimes we use a lot of custom fields and things like that, where you’re not seeing the block editor or the classic editor, but you’re seeing custom fields and sort of like deeper developer integrations too.

Teron Bullock:
That’s actually a good point. So I guess moving a little bit further into the conversation of this update, and it looks like the direction that clearly WordPress is moving into, which is using this block editor, when we look at the methodology like we use, using the ACF fields, and like you said, we’re kind of negating either the classic editor or the block editor, do you see a future in this particular approach or do you think that we may have to adjust a little bit and move more towards the block editor?

Brian Coords:
I think that eventually the block editor will be the only way to build a WordPress website. I do think that. I think that that’s, it’s going to get there. And when I look at this release, 6.1, what it feels like to me is … It’s kind of a cleanup release where there’s not one or two big cool new features particularly. There’s definitely a lot of cool new stuff, but there’s nothing groundbreakingly new, but instead there’s a ton of just necessary improvements to everything in the block editor. So, all the settings for all the different blocks are so much more consistent with 6.1 than they were before. Things like spacing, margins, padding, typography, things that people have been pretty vocal that are important, those are more consistently applied to blocks, and there’s some really cool ways that you can control and change things like spacing, things like fluid typography.

So I think what’s going to happen is the block editor will get to a place where it will actually be a better experience to develop for than using ACF fields, and most people will move to a place where you’re using the block editor and you’re using ACF fields for your blocks, and really getting the best of both worlds. And it’s releases like this with all the little like, just getting things into a better shape that was really needed, and so I think that that’s what we’re seeing here.

Teron Bullock:
Okay. So for anyone who envisions a future where they’re afraid that ACF fields may be taken away, the way that you at least see it right now is that that’s not something they should have to worry about.

Brian Coords:
No. I mean, the funny thing about the classic editor is it’s a plugin that you can turn on, but all the plugin does is just turn off the block editor and bring back what’s already still in WordPress, which is seeing a WordPress post without the block editor. So that feature’s still in WordPress core, and WordPress will never take away something that it already gave you because they’re very committed to backwards compatibility, so I don’t think you … I would be surprised if anyone ever couldn’t possibly use Advanced Custom Fields with no block editing at all. I think that feature will always still be there.

But I think that as technology improves, as people who grew up using smartphones and apps and things like that become the dominant people in the economy, I think what’s going to happen is people are just going to look at a website built with a bunch of custom fields and feel like it’s not good enough for them. It’s not modern enough. Why do I have to fill out something here and then go to another page and edit it there?

And so I can see that the block editor is trying to solve that and trying to make editing your website feel very fast and modern and visual, and I think the only issue is that it’s just not there yet. It’s just, I wouldn’t say go use it for every website right now, but I could see if they do more releases like this that really do a lot of things under the hood and a lot of things across all of the block editor, I could see us getting to that place.

Teron Bullock:
Yeah, I like it. I honestly think that with releases like this, which we’ll get more into in probably further releases, I think that the road map that they have ahead is a good one where you can have the no code approach, but you also going to have developers use the same tool and still create beautiful websites in the process.

So I want to just move forward just a little bit and go into the different categories that they’ve improved upon with this release. So, we came up with four different areas, one being the block editor, the other being the default theme, three being the performance, and four being other developer stuff. So let’s start with one, since we have been talking with the block editor, which is what would be the, I guess the number one feature that stands out to you in that category?

Brian Coords:
Well, I think for me, I think that one of the things that’s made the block editor hard from a developer point of view is that in WordPress we’re very used to being able to control everything as a developer, so I can use filters and I can use actions to really change anything in WordPress. I can change what happens when someone logs in. I can change what happens when you save a post. I can do all of that because WordPress is extremely extensible and that’s like the power of it.

And so I think a lot of developers feel like they’re not really sure they can do a lot of that with the block editor. But in this release, we’re starting to see some of that stuff come out. So there’s, just like WordPress has hooks, there’s stuff coming out with React hooks, which are just ways where you can kind of mess with blocks and sort of customize them using hooks and filters in React the same way you do in PHP.

There’s options getting a lot better for locking blocks or controlling what parts of blocks can be edited, controlling templates so that your end user could edit the content or swap out an image, but they can’t move things around or change the layout or that sort of thing.

So, a lot of those things that developers really were used to controlling with ACF fields and writing your own code, we’re starting to see the progress of that come out in the block editor. And then along with that, a lot of the backend tools that you can use to create blocks or things like that are getting really good too, and so a lot of that stuff is happening and that’s that kind of developer stuff that’s going to eventually become so good and powerful and easy to use that it’ll feel just like WordPress usually feels.

Teron Bullock:
Absolutely. I want to expand on one of those updates that you said, which was the ability to lock the blocks and allow certain content to be editable. This is a tricky conversation, but I guess my point of view is that I like this idea because there are certain clients that you will pass a site to and you want them to just be able to edit the content and nothing else. You don’t want the visuals to change. But then there are other clients who want to be able to change those blocks around and do different things, so I like the idea of being able to lock down certain content or certain structure, but then also allowing it to be available for other users.

Brian Coords:
Yeah. One of the things that we do is we build a site for somebody who doesn’t know a lot about websites, and they want to know that what we built them is going to be fast, it’s going to be powerful, it’s going to show up in search results and have all of the correct SEO, it’s going to be accessible and use the correct tags in the correct place and that sort of thing.

So in that sense, a client of an agency doesn’t really want to be able to break their SEO, they don’t want to move things around so much that they can’t do all of these things. So I think what we’re seeing with the block editor is they’re creating all of the power to do anything you want, to build anything you want, but now they’re trying to bring in what developers want, which is the controls, the ability to lock it, the ability to quickly say, “This is editable, this isn’t. This stays here. Here’s some templates, put them in whatever order you want, but don’t break them,” that sort of thing.

So I think there’s definitely room to have all of the freedom and let the user do whatever they want, but in a lot of cases, the user doesn’t want that freedom. They want to know that an expert put their website together in a way where it’s going to check all those boxes.

Teron Bullock:
Absolutely. I think another update that I like the idea of is the ability to add specific things like margins and padding across blocks. I guess we’ll call them like global styles or settings across the blocks. I know that I’ve helped a couple of people who wanted to get introduced into WordPress and they started with the block editor, and the first question they had was, “Why doesn’t all these blocks, the particular blocks I’m using, why don’t they have margin? Or why are certain features showing up but then in other blocks they’re not there?” And I think that was very confusing, and I think that the streamlining of that is something that is going to be beneficial.

Brian Coords:
Yeah, I think that’s probably the key feature for this release is just putting all of those in one place, and then if I can change the font here, why can’t I change it here? Those sorts of things. And it kind of goes both ways too because like we were saying before, I don’t build a site at an agency wanting somebody to be able to change the font. When I build a site at an agency, I want the font size, or I want to have limits to these things. I want to have a little bit of constraints around it. So that’s what we’re kind of seeing here is a lot of that freedom by making sure everything is consistent across all the blocks, but also the ability to control those.

And what’s cool is now when you build blocks with ACF and stuff like that, it’s pretty easy to say give me the same typography settings that the other blocks have, or give me the same alignment settings or padding settings, so you can just build your ACF blocks and say, I’m going to want typography, I’m going to want these things, and then it kind of just builds it in for you and it just kind of spits out a lot of the code that you would’ve had to write yourself anyway. So not only do those settings exist, but if you’re getting to the place of building your own blocks, you can also just use them, and they should hopefully just work right out of the box.

Teron Bullock:
Absolutely. If all goes well, I think that, like you said, that is definitely going to be a key feature. You had spoke a little bit earlier about the new addition to fonts. Could you expand on that a little bit more?

Brian Coords:
So this is the fluid typography feature. This one, I put this, sometimes there’s categories of changes that are very cool, but I’m not … They don’t personally appeal to me because I’m not sure when I would use them. So another one was they added these kind of color filters to images a few releases back, these duotone filters. It’s a thing that looks really cool, but I’m not sure when I would use it, but I understand other people would use it. That’s how fluid typography is for me. I can’t wrap my head fully around why I would want it, but it’s a very cool feature.

But essentially, instead of font sizes that change at different view ports, so like I have a mobile font size and a tablet font size and a desktop font size, instead it’s almost like a very fluid scale where as the browser slowly shrinks in size, the font kind of slowly shrinks in size as well. So if people are loading in those, you know those weird angles, like somebody loads a website on their phone but then they turn their phone sideways and you didn’t really design for that size and it looks a little funky, so fluid typography helps in those situations because the font size will be a little bit bigger, but it won’t be tablet size bigger where it’s suddenly too big. And so it’s definitely a cool kind of modern CSS feature that it’s there if you want to use it.

Teron Bullock:
I think that also helps for the non-developer to kind of deal with the issue of responsive design. So you know, you could still switch those font sizes, but you don’t have to know a lot of code in order to make this happen.

Brian Coords:
Yeah. And there’s been a few popular full site editing themes that I’ve tested out where I go down on mobile and then the title of an article is just so big it’s like one word per line. And that looked super cool on a big desktop screen to have this giant title font, you know? But on the mobile screen it’s like, it’s just a little ridiculous. So I can see something like fluid typography being super helpful there where when I’m on a mobile phone, I don’t need a 72 point font for my post title.

Teron Bullock:
Exactly.

Monet Davenport:
Thank you for listening up to this point. Press The Issue by MasterWP is sponsored by LearnDash. Your expertise makes you money doing what you do. Now, let it make you money teaching what you do. To create a course with LearnDash, visit learndash.com. Our mission at MasterWP is to bring new voices into WordPress and tech every day. The new MasterWP Workshop Series does just that. Our new live and recorded workshops on everything from code to design to business turn WordPress fans into WordPress experts. Find the workshop for you at workshops.masterwp.com. Use the code PODCAST10 for a 10% discount. Now, back to the podcast.

Teron Bullock:
All right, so let’s move onto our second area, which is the new default theme. What stood out to you about this new default?

Brian Coords:
Yeah, so there’s probably two, I think, killer parts of the default theme. The first one is that when you submit a theme to the repository, you can tag your theme to be accessibility ready, which means that it meets a very strict set of standards for accessibility. When we took over the Understrap theme, that was one of the first things we did was go through and do a ton of changes just so we could earn that accessibility ready tag, which just means kind of going above and beyond everywhere in the theme to make sure it’s going to be accessible if somebody uses it just by default.

So the new theme that’s coming out with this new release is going to have accessibility ready as its tag, which is, I think, the first time this has happened for a WordPress core theme, and including the fact that they went back and applied it to the previous theme as well. So, last year’s theme will also be accessibility ready, but this is the first year that we’re seeing that on the default themes. So it’s just really cool because it’s … There’s no reason the default theme should not be accessibility ready, honestly, so it’s pretty cool that they just finally sat down and said, “Let’s just make sure this is going to happen.”

Teron Bullock:
I agree. According to their notes, they said that they took care of 28 different tickets that expanded over 13 different components, so it looks like they really took the time to put the focus on accessibility, as they should.

Brian Coords:
Yeah. And I think a lot of people are getting very vocal about accessibility, which is good because it’s just applying a lot of pressure to prioritize it because WordPress is made by contributors and, for the most part, companies sponsor a lot of those contributors, and so the more that people are vocal saying, “Hey, this is really important to us,” then the more we can hopefully pressure a lot of the big wealthier companies in the area to start putting people into those accessibility teams and making it more a part of the process.

Teron Bullock:
Absolutely. So with this default theme, what is it going to be, 2023 probably, if we’re going with the naming scheme convention that they’ve normally used, I’m sure that’s what they’re going to … Yeah, looking in the notes.

Brian Coords:
Yeah.

Teron Bullock:
2023. So with the 2023 theme, do you think that this will be an answer to another theme like Hello theme or any other theme that one would use with a normal full site editing suite like Elementor?

Brian Coords:
So yeah, that’s kind of the other big exciting thing about 2023 is that it comes with what they call these style variations where, instead of … It’s one theme, but it’s actually not very opinionated. The 2022 theme from last year was a really beautiful theme, but it was very opinionated in its design. Actually, I wouldn’t even say very, but it was opinionated in its design.

2023 kind of has almost no strong opinions about design, but then it comes with these dozen or so style variations where basically a bunch of settings in the block editor are set to different colors, different fonts, and they’re very curated by some really talented designers in the WordPress ecosystem. So you can install 2023, you can have a sort of blank canvas, or you can pick these sort of presets that will make your site look very cool, very different, very surprising that it’s all in one theme. And so I think long term, what that means is that 2023 could be that sort of starter theme for anybody who’s doing a new full site editing project, so in the same way that Astra or Hello work for Elementor and other page builders, you kind of want a theme sometimes that doesn’t have a lot of opinions and it just lets you kind of design the site the way you want. And so it’s really cool that it does that, but it also comes with these sort of preset style variations that can get you started.

Teron Bullock:
And the importance to something like that for anybody who may be new to WordPress is that the way WordPress is designed is that you can’t use WordPress unless you have a theme. So, having a theme that doesn’t restrict you in many ways, or like you said, it’s not very opinionated, allows you to be able to start building sites in the way you want without having to fight against the theme in order to do the things you would like to do.

Brian Coords:
Yeah. And anybody who’s ever modified a site where they kind of picked an off-the-shelf theme and you’re trying to get it to do what you want, but it’s not really doing exactly what you want, and that’s kind of always been the struggle. Obviously in an agency, we want our themes to be extremely opinionated because our clients don’t want to change the design, they don’t want to break the brand guidelines, they don’t want to break the accessibility, but it’s nice to see that we can also have in this full site editing world something that you can start from scratch and then you could build something and potentially have those controls and locking mechanisms we talked about earlier, get more mature, then you can get it exactly how you want and then kind of freeze it there.

Teron Bullock:
I like the idea of a theme that’s kind of like a Swiss Army knife of themes, you know, you can kind of use it in the way that you want to use it, a theme that can mature with you as you grow in your skills as a developer, or even if you’re a designer who builds sites. As you grow with WordPress, this theme should be able to grow with you.

Brian Coords:
Yeah, and I think some of us get afraid of getting locked into, if you build a site with Elementor, you’re kind of locked into Elementor and you have to do things their way and make changes their way, and you don’t really have a lot of control about what comes out of the front end. So as long as the block editor keeps rendering very lean, clean code, which we didn’t talk about the Style Engine, but that’s another piece of this where the code that’s coming out of the front end in a block editor theme is for the most part really lean and clean and performant, then you’re not feeling like you’re trapped in, in somebody else’s tools that you … one of these themes that tries to do everything but ends up loading a ton of extra stuff you don’t need.

Teron Bullock:
Let’s expand on that because is that something that is new to this update? Because I know that that is a problem with a lot of page builders is that they add a lot of bloat to code. So, you’re saying with this new Style Engine, or with the Style Engine, that a lot of the bloat has been taken away. So is that something that’s been added this go round or has it been there?

Brian Coords:
So, the HTML that comes out of Gutenberg, the block editor, is generally very clean. So let’s say you wanted to make a heading tag, like an H1 on a page. If you’re using something like an Elementor or a Beaver Builder, you’ll have an H1, but then there’ll probably be like five or so divs that it’s nested inside because they need a div for the container and the row and the column and the controls and all these things, and so you end up with a lot of extra HTML on the page. Right?

So Gutenberg is very performant in that when you add a heading tag to a page, you’re getting your H1 tag, and usually like a little HTML comment that shows some of the settings but is hidden, and that’s it. And so it’s, in that sense, it’s a lot less code on the page.

So that’s kind of always been there from the beginning, I think because they have that goal in mind. That’s why some of the stuff takes a little longer than we would like. The Style Engine is a similar mindset, but for CSS. And so the idea here is normally WordPress would add a layer of CSS, and then if you want to overwrite it, you would add your themes CSS file, and you would just use more specific selectors, and you would write a selector that’s more specific and you would overwrite the CSS that was for the previous that was loaded from the core. And then a plugin might come in and say, actually, we’re going to add some extra even more specific CSS for how your buttons should look, how your forms should look. So, you’re just adding CSS on top of CSS.

The idea behind the Style Engine is, and this is very new in 6.1 and it still has a long way to go, but the idea here is if I know what blocks you have on the page and I know all of your style choices, I know what your padding and your margins and your font and your font sizes, and I know your colors and I know all of this, the Style Engine can just spit out the final necessary CSS for the blocks that are on that page and nothing else, and it can just generate that CSS on the fly, and you can add all of your opinions and your choices, but you’re not doing it by just layering extra files of CSS on top of each other. You’re doing it under the hood, doing all the work, and then only giving the end user the CSS that’s needed. So that’s just one example of where a major performance gain can happen through these tools as they get a little more mature.

Teron Bullock:
That sounds very interesting. From a nerd’s perspective, I’m super curious to how they were able to accomplish this. Are they using JavaScript under the hood? What are they doing to be able to determine what blocks and what styles are on the page before they render out that CSS? Because if done incorrectly, then that could also work against you as far as performance.

Brian Coords:
Yeah. So I’m not an expert. That’s a good question. I should look into how the Style Engine actually creates it and processes it, because that is interesting. What I know is that they’re, instead of writing CSS, you have to end up writing everything in these JSON files. So your theme has a theme.json file, your block has a block.json file, and you’ll basically, when you look at it, it’s actually like some of the ugliest code you’ve ever seen and it’s kind of like, oh, so like it’s a big JSON file and you’re adding all these settings deep down into it, and it’s not as fun as writing CSS and it’s not as intuitive.

But then in JavaScript, a machine can take all of that, do all of the work, spit out a style sheet that only has what’s necessary, and in the end of the day, the end user gets a better experience. So, it’s a completely different way to do things, but you can see the benefits if it’s powerful enough.

Teron Bullock:
Absolutely. So let’s move on to our third phase, which is performance, since we’re speaking about performance. They said that they took care of 45 different tickets and the most significant improvements happen to the WP_Query and also to the REST API. Would you care to speak on either one of those two?

Brian Coords:
Yeah, so for performance, there’s kind of two interesting things to talk about. One is this WP_Query improvement, that essentially WordPress is always making gains in caching. And so one of the nice things about WordPress is you can jump in anywhere, you can figure out what the post is and get some extra data, and you can do all these kind of cool things with hooks and filters, but sometimes it ends up that you’re getting the same data from the database a ton of times.

So, one of the things they’re doing is, in the last few releases, just going through a lot of these places and just caching as much as possible so that if you run the same query more than once, the data is already sitting there. It doesn’t have to go to the database and do that whole process. And so that’s been happening. This release has it for WP_Query, which is sort of the central most important query happening in WordPress. So, it’s going to make probably a lot of peoples’ installations move a little bit faster, depending on, assuming everything was written the right way for your plugins, for your theme, that sort of stuff. But that should be a big performance improvement, just getting that query to be a little faster.

Teron Bullock:
Absolutely. Like you said, this is the most important query in WordPress, so if you can speed that up, then you’re speeding up the performance on the site overall.

Brian Coords:
Yeah. And the improvements to the REST API, there’s a bunch of them, but they’re kind of similar in that thing of just let’s only load the data that we need and let’s cash it where we can, and they’re just improving a lot of that because if you use the block editor, you know that that’s constant usage of the REST API. So as much performance as they can put in there is going to make a lot of our lives a lot easier.

Teron Bullock:
Absolutely. And so closing out, moving to our last category, which is other developer things, other things developers may be interested in, if you could think about all of the updates that are in this new release for developers, what would you say is the one that sticks out to you the most?

Brian Coords:
So I’m going to pick sort of a weird one. It’s not even that … It honestly doesn’t change anything but it’s … So for context, when you go into WordPress and you look at the list of all the posts on your site, that is called a List Table where it’s just literally an HTML table and it has all the posts on your site, and you can kind of page through them and you can filter them down and reorder them, and these List Tables exist all throughout the backend of WordPress, when you look at all your comments, when you look at all your pages, when you look at all your categories and stuff.

So this is not even really a change, but the WP List Table has always been considered private and you’re not supposed to use it and only core WordPress is supposed to use it, and so one very, very minor change is that they basically removed the comment saying that it was a private class and you’re not supposed to use it, because they’re aware that we all use it all the time. I’ve built a bunch of custom WP List Tables.

And when they say that it’s private, it means that they can make some breaking changes to it, but it’s been so heavily used, they know that they just can’t do that. So it’s kind of just admitting the obvious, but I just, I find that to be just a funny kind of nice little thing that just says, okay, we get it. You’re using the List Tables. We’re not going to pretend that you’re not. So I kind of like that one.

Teron Bullock:
I mean, it also makes sense because now you have some comfort in knowing that they can’t just make a breaking change, like you said, and then crash the site or something. So, that’s always a good thing.

Brian Coords:
Yeah. And what I’ve been kind of playing around with is the … Listing a bunch of posts in the WP List Table is actually not super easy, but it’s a nice … We use it. It’s a nice little feature. But coming out with this WordPress 6.1, there’s a lot of improvement on the JavaScript side of WordPress and a lot of cool tools for developers where you could skip over this whole WP List Table PHP for making your own lists, and there’s now tools where you can do it in JavaScript and make these really cool interactive lists of posts and pages that you can edit right on the screen without leaving, and you can do all of this in some of the new WordPress JavaScript, and it’s honestly easier and it’s less code and it’s kind of a nicer experience because it’s a lot faster and snappier because it’s all in JavaScript.

And so those are developer tools that are also coming out. I don’t know if I would say they’re coming out in WordPress 6.1, but they’re being developed alongside WordPress, and I could just see a day where we don’t even look at those old lists of posts and those old tables and you could just turn on a fancy new JavaScript one that’s just a lot faster and a lot cleaner and a lot more modern.

Teron Bullock:
Absolutely. That actually brings me to an adjacent topic. WordPress is fairly known as a PHP vehicle, and it seems like the more updates that we get, especially now that they’ve introduced Gutenberg and the block editor, et cetera, it seems like they’re moving more towards a JavaScript, becoming more of a JavaScript vehicle. One, would you say that that’s so, and two, do you think that there would ever be a point where we would have WordPress without PHP?

Brian Coords:
I would say that yes, that’s true, and I would say that no, because we will always have PHP. The way that your WordPress website puts information in the database and pulls it out is PHP. And I think no matter what happens, that will always exist. Basically everything goes through the REST API now and that’s PHP, and I think that that’s always going to be there, and you’re always going to be able to write PHP to modify the way WordPress works and to build new post types and new data types and settings, and I think a lot of that will always be in PHP.

I think the JavaScript part is anything that an end user, whether they’re logged in or on the front end, interacts with, that will be a lot more JavaScript based in the future I think, especially logged in backend of WordPress will eventually be built in JavaScript, but the actual functionality will still happen at that PHP level. And I think, for better or worse, it’ll be pretty cool because there’s very few websites you are logging into on a daily basis that are not using a ton of JavaScript to feel like an app, to feel snappy, to see changes happen instantly, that sort of thing.

So, if you are building something that’s going to live on the backend of WordPress, like a plugin or something like that, then yeah, I mean, you’re going to probably set up a nice layer of data in PHP and then you’re going to build all of the visual stuff with JavaScript, and a lot of what WordPress is coming out with now is tools to make that process very easy, easier than it ever was in PHP actually. You could make a settings page now in JavaScript and it almost is easier and better looking than the ones you can build with the built in PHP stuff. So, I hope that answers, but I think it’s just the expectation that we’re all going to have to learn more JavaScript than we would’ve liked to before. You know?

Teron Bullock:
Absolutely. I think it’s interesting because normally when you think about React, you normally find that the backend is kind of paired with Node because if you learned JavaScript in order to build a React app, then if you’re dealing with your backend, it’s just a natural progression to work with Node and just use that kind of same JavaScript in order to run the backend.

But now we have a situation where we’re going from the backend, like you said, being PHP and the presentational level being more React-ish. I’m not sure how deep the blocks are in the React, because I haven’t dove deep enough into the blocks yet, but I know there’s some level of React that’s being used there. And so it’s just interesting to see the progression, but still they haven’t moved away from PHP, which with the time that I’ve spent in WordPress, I’ve become more of a fan of PHP. Because I’ll admit, the first language that I’ve learnt was JavaScript, but like I said, moving and spending more time into PHP, I found a fondness for it, so I’m glad to see that they’re not moving completely away from it.

Brian Coords:
Yeah. And I mean, if you think about when you load WordPress and you load the block editor, a ton of PHP has to happen before the page loads, and then the JavaScript kicks in and starts loading everything more visually. So you’re looking at a ton of stuff made in JavaScript, but that page still didn’t exist until a bunch of PHP ran and generated the kind of bones of the page and got all the data out of the database and picked which JavaScript to load and that sort of thing.

So, it might just be a case where some people on your team might get more involved on the PHP side and they’re going to make sure that everything loads the data exactly how you want it in a nice REST API endpoint, and then people who are really in the JavaScript and other side, they’re going to build the interactive user interface, just taking what you provided in that PHP REST API endpoint, and it’s just going to require more skills and maybe different skills.

But if you’re asking about React, the way WordPress works is when you learn PHP through WordPress like I did and like you probably did, you’re learning a very specific type of PHP where people who are not in WordPress might scoff and say, “That’s not real PHP, that’s the WordPress version of PHP,” just because we have so many custom little functions and things that help us make our job easier and that are really just unique to how WordPress does things, and maybe we don’t have all the cool modern PHP features like namespaces and stuff that the true PHP people learn.

The same thing’s happening with JavaScript, and WordPress is very heavily using React and it’s built on React, but it’s also adding an extra layer of just things that only will exist in WordPress’s special version of React. And it’s probably going to make it easier for us to learn React by doing it the WordPress way, and then all the non-WordPress people in the React world will say, “Oh, that’s not real React because you’re just doing the WordPress version of it.” But you know what? It turns non-developers into developers and it is fun and it feeds your family, so I don’t worry about listening to them, but I think that’s what we’re going to start seeing happen.

Teron Bullock:
Absolutely. And more inclusion, more inclusion. We’re always for that, so.

Brian Coords:
Yeah.

Teron Bullock:
It’s a good thing. So to leave it on this note here, I guess I’ll ask, do you think that this release, 6.1, does it help move WordPress further or is it more like a meh release?

Brian Coords:
I think if you were expecting full site editing to be a completed feature that we could say, “All right, it’s good, it’s ready, use it on any site you want,” you would probably not be super excited. If instead you’ve been working in WordPress and you’ve been using a lot of the new block editor features, just even on classic themes, which we didn’t talk about, but there’s a lot of block editor stuff coming that classic theme developers can still take advantage of, I think you would maybe look at this as a release where you go, “Okay, they’re cleaning up the bugs, they’re getting things situated the way it needs to be. There’s maybe some light at the end of the tunnel. There’s clearly going to be some improvements that I’m going to noticeably feel when I update WordPress. They won’t be big killer features, but everything should just feel a lot nicer and a lot more mature.”

And so in that sense, I think I like a release like that because it might not seem like it, but after a few weeks you’ll be like, “Oh, man, I’m so glad these typography settings are finally everywhere,” those sorts of things.

Teron Bullock:
Absolutely. And I think that this release is definitely moving it further, at least for me. I’m excited for it. So I would like to leave it to you, the listener, chime in. Interact with us on Twitter, let us know, do you feel like this release is moving WordPress further or is it just an okay release?

So on that note, Brian, it was a pleasure talking to you as always. I think that this is a great conversation and I can’t wait for us to pick it back up on social media.

Brian Coords:
Thank you. Thank you for talking all things WordPress with me today.

Monet Davenport:
Thank you for listening to this episode. Press The Issue is a production of MasterWP, produced by Allie Nimmons, hosted, edited, and musically supervised by Monet Davenport, and mixed and mastered by Teron Bullock. Please visit masterwp.com/presstheissue to find more episodes. Subscribe to our newsletter for more WordPress news at masterwp.com.

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