Here's our round-up of what makes Gutenberg different from the current WordPress platform, and why it's a big deal.
Longtime users of WordPress will notice a change when version 5.0 is released. With the introduction of the new Gutenberg editor, the experience of adding and editing content is going to look quite different than before.
For many, change can be a bit scary. This is especially the case when there’s a major change to something we use so often. Our workflow can be interrupted by having to learn a new way of doing things. It is very much a natural reaction.
But not to worry! More than anything, Gutenberg aims to bring more efficiency and flexibility when it comes to content. And, while the interface is different, it may very well grow on you.
With that, here are some things you’ll need to know about this new editor. We’ll cover why it exists, how it will improve the process of creating content and how it will work with your existing website. Plus, we’ll even provide some information regarding how you can try Gutenberg before WordPress 5.0 comes out.
When WordPress was first released in 2003, its main purpose was as a blogging platform. In that era, writing a blog post was relatively simple. Content was generally text, with a few photos and hyperlinks thrown in for good measure. The WordPress editor was a perfect fit - a simple box where you could do everything you needed.
But over time, expectations have changed. Users now want to create more diverse types of content - custom mixes of text, multimedia and more advanced design elements. This is something that the “classic” editor doesn’t handle very well. As it stands, it is too easy to inadvertently break surrounding content while trying to add something more complex to a page or post. It also requires us to sometimes edit code - which isn’t a comfortable experience for everyone.
Gutenberg, in contrast, does things differently. It enables us to separate different types of content into what they refer to as “blocks”. Each block is a self-contained piece of content. For example, you may create an image block for the top of your page, with a text (aka “Paragraph”) block underneath. If you make a change to the text, it won’t affect the image block - and vice-versa.
There are blocks for several different types of content, including:
This is just a small taste of what’s available. What’s more, specific themes and plugins may come with their own custom blocks that provide extra functionality. For example, we may eventually see WooCommerce include a “Product” block that lets you easily display product information within a page.
Overall, Gutenberg is a response (perhaps even a necessary one, at that) to the changing needs of websites. Instead of working around the classic editor’s limitations, we’ll now have the flexibility to create content exactly the way we want.
Besides its different look, the other concern users have is that Gutenberg will somehow break or simply not work with their current WordPress theme. After all, no one wants to upgrade their website only to have things go haywire.
The good news is that Gutenberg should be compatible with just about every theme. Adding blocks of content should just work without the need to make any changes. There is a small catch, though.
While blocks will work (pardon the pun) “out-of-the-box”, there could be specific types of content that may not look quite as you’d expect. For example, the Cover Image block we mentioned above is meant to stretch across the width of a user’s screen. If your theme isn’t setup to handle full-width images, then you may get something short of that. It may take some custom work to get everything exactly as you’d like it.
For the most part, it is expected that Gutenberg will be compatible with the big plugins out there. But those that also place information on the page/post editor may be displayed on a different part of the screen than you’re used to.
This new setup reserves the vast majority of the edit screen to the content itself, with other settings being moved to a menu on the lower right. Clicking on a title will open it up for tweaking.
Beyond that, it’s worth noting that not every plugin is going to work smoothly with the new editor. So you may see a number of plugins being updated around the time Gutenberg is fully released with WordPress 5.0. Older plugins that have been abandoned may or may not work - the answers will be on a case-by-case basis.
As we often see with major changes to software, not everyone wants to upgrade. In the case of WordPress, it’s bad practice for security to leave an old version in place. But those who don’t want to use Gutenberg just yet can have it both ways.
The classic WordPress editor will be available as a plugin for the foreseeable future. This means that you can both upgrade to WordPress 5.0 when it becomes available and also keep on using the more familiar editor.
This is not only great news for those who don’t want to change their workflow, it’s also a big deal for those who may need to keep on using the old editor for other reasons. It may be that a certain plugin or customization that is vital to your site’s functionality isn’t Gutenberg-ready. This will at least buy you some extra time.
Granted, we don’t know how long the plugin version of the classic editor will be available. That may very well depend on how many people are using it. It would seem that this alternative setup would be around for quite some time, however.
If you’re interested in seeing what this new editor can do for you, it’s available as a plugin - that is, until it becomes fully-integrated into WordPress 5.0. It’s not recommended that you use the plugin on your main website. Instead, it’s better to try things out on a separate installation of WordPress if possible.
The plugin version is generally updated once a week, with new features and bug fixes being regularly added in. Those curious enough to try it will see things gradually improve as the editor evolves. Just in the few months that the plugin has been available, there has been a marked improvement in virtually every aspect of the software.
Just remember that, since this is not a fully-finished product, you use it at your own risk.
Looking at the whole picture, Gutenberg should be a reason for many WordPress users to feel excited. It’s going to add another dimension to content creation. The new editor will provide everyone with a means to more easily combine different types of content and customize it to meet their needs.
This is a great step forward for users who have felt limited by the classic editor. In fact, you might consider it an opportunity to do more with your website. You can expand the depth of your content without fear of breaking anything - something that wasn’t always possible in the past.
That being said, there will undoubtedly be a few bumps in the road as Gutenberg is sent out into the wild. With the sheer number of possible theme and plugin combinations out there, not everything is going to work perfectly from day one. But any hiccups should improve as time marches on.
And while this new editing experience will take some getting used to, don’t get discouraged. As with any change, there is a learning curve. But the more you use Gutenberg, the more intuitive it becomes.