WordPress 5.0: How and When to Update

WordPress 5.0 is being released tomorrow, December 6th. This release contains a major change to the WordPress editor. The new editor, code-named Gutenberg, is a substantial leap forward in functionality. It uses a new block-based system for editing which allows you to embed a wide range of content in your posts and pages, and gives you a lot of flexibility in laying out those blocks on the page.

Once Gutenberg and WordPress 5.0 have stabilized, they will provide long term benefits to WordPress users and the community. But in the short term, this change may introduce challenges for some WordPress site owners. In this post we will discuss a few points that will help you decide when to upgrade to WordPress 5.0, and to formulate a successful strategy for making the transition.

Why is WordPress changing the editor?

The WordPress core development team has been talking about Gutenberg for quite some time. The goal, according to Matt Mullenweg, is “to simplify the first-time user experience with WordPress — for those who are writing, editing, publishing, and designing web pages. The editing experience is intended to give users a better visual representation of what their post or page will look like when they hit publish.”

Overall, we agree that Gutenberg will be a giant leap forward in using WordPress to create content online. But, as Matt stated, the goal is to simplify the experience for the first-time user. For the rest of us who have assembled a number of tools to fill the gaps in the older editor’s shortcomings, this will be a period of adjustment.

Potential Problems With Legacy Plugins and Themes

WordPress has been around for over 15 years, and in that time millions of websites have been created using the current editing framework. Often, sites are created and never updated to more modern themes. There are a large number of abandoned plugins installed on WordPress sites – plugins that are no longer being actively maintained by their developers.  No one is testing these abandoned plugins or older themes to see how they will behave with Gutenberg.

Adding to the complexity, many of these sites may be hosted on managed WordPress hosting services that will auto-update to the new WordPress version.

Some WordPress site owners may be unable to effectively edit pages they had previously published. Some may be unable to access their edit screen. There may be server 500 errors or white screens for some users. Or everything may run smoothly, even with legacy plugins and a legacy theme.

With over 60,000 unique plugins in the WordPress plugin directory, it is not feasible to test all of the plugins with the new editor. Actively maintained plugins are, for the most part, being tested by the plugin authors. Abandoned plugins will not have been tested, so it is up to you to test whether WordPress 5.0 will work with these plugins.

The same applies to themes. Many themes are actively maintained by their authors. In other cases, a theme may have been created as a single project for a customer or created for the community and then left unmaintained. These unmaintained themes have not been tested with Gutenberg and WordPress 5.0.

If you do anticipate compatibility problems with WordPress 5.0, you can keep the current WordPress editor by installing the WordPress Classic Editor Plugin. We recommend you do this ahead of time, rather than try to use the new editor with incompatible code. But it’s also worth pointing out that Gutenberg and WordPress 5.0 are a significant step forward in editing power and flexibility. So it is worth investing the time to make your site compatible, modifying it if needed, and then reaping the benefits of a brand new block-based editor.

Will Wordfence work with Gutenberg?

Yes. Wordfence does not interact with the editor, so it will not be impacted by Gutenberg. Our QA team has thoroughly verified that Wordfence is ready for Gutenberg and WordPress 5.0.

Because you do have Wordfence installed, you will receive a notification that WordPress is out of date and requires an update. Please keep in mind that this is no ordinary update. This is a major change to your content management system, and we recommend that if you’re not ready for the new editor, wait to update WordPress. Yes, you will receive security warnings from Wordfence because the basic premise has always been to keep open source software updated. If you are not entirely ready for WordPress 5.0, however, there is no harm in staying on the current version while you get ready.

The current version of WordPress core is 4.9.8. If you remain on this version, you will continue to receive security updates from the WordPress core team. The current policy of the WordPress security team is to back-port security fixes to all auto-update compatible WordPress core versions. That means that all versions of WordPress core will continue to receive security updates all the way back to WordPress 3.7. This is not an open-ended policy and may change in the future.

How do I know if I am ready?

Do you have a testing environment for your website? Have you tried the new Gutenberg editor? Are you using a modern version of PHP? Great, you’ll likely be prepared for WordPress version 5.0. As with all major releases, we recommend updating your test environment first to look for problems.

Look for anomalies with all of your page layouts. It also makes sense to go back in time on your test environment and review older posts and pages to ensure they’re ready for the new editor.

As always back up both your site files and your database prior to any update, especially an update of this magnitude.

If your hosting provider auto-updates

If you’re on managed WordPress hosting, your hosting provider will automatically update WordPress for you. Your managed WordPress provider should be taking backups for you. Check with your hosting provider to see what support they will provide for the new WordPress editor and when they will be updating to WordPress 5.0. Some hosting providers, like Page.ly, are waiting until January of next year to do the update.

If you’re using a page builder or premium theme

If your site uses a page builder like Visual Composer, Divi, Beaver Builder or any other tool that uses shortcodes, check with the developer to ensure that your tool is ready for Gutenberg. Many page builders come bundled with premium themes. You may need to check with your theme developer to ensure that you have the updated versions installed on your sites.

What are the security implications of Gutenberg?

We are not currently aware of any security issues with WordPress 5.0 or Gutenberg. The project is being moved into production at a rapid pace which increases the risk of a security issue emerging, because this reduces the amount of time available for testing and debugging.

At this phase in the evolution of WordPress, there are a large number of security teams globally that have eyes on the code and are actively conducting research to determine if there are vulnerabilities in new WordPress releases. As soon as an issue emerges, our team will react and release a firewall rule in real-time to protect our Premium Wordfence customers.

Once WordPress 5.0 is released, there will likely be a series of smaller releases that will emerge over the following weeks. We recommend that you monitor the official WordPress blog and if they announce a security update, upgrade as soon as possible.

Overall This is Good News

As mentioned above, Gutenberg and WordPress 5.0 are a major leap forward in the evolution of WordPress. Rapid innovation does not come without risk or inconvenience to a such a large user base. Our team is excited to embrace the new WordPress and to use it ourselves. By following our recommendations above, you can reduce the risk of this transition and migrate smoothly into 2019 with a powerful new editor for WordPress.

 

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