What Is New In WordPress 5.6

WordPress What is new in version 5.6 major release feature image

WordPress Version 5.6
Before You Upgrade

What is new in WordPress 5.6 major release Nina Simone cover image
WordPress 5.6

In this article, I will introduce you to what is new in WordPress 5.6 and some of the additions and changes that come with it. 

First and foremost, do not upgrade to a major WordPress release, like 5.6, for at least a few days after it’s been fully released. Not upgrading to the Major release right away will allow any themes and plugin creators that had not yet fully updated their product files to do so. So don’t break your site by updating too soon. 

As always, it’s just best practice to wait with the Major updates. 

However, the minor updates are mostly security patches, and you should update those immediately. 

Major updates wait a bit – Minor updates take care of those immediately.

But whether you follow that advice or not, always do a full backup of your files AND database before doing any updates. 

Now one of the big things with WordPress 5.6 is the second phase or the continued rollout of the jQuery updates within the core files of WordPress. 

And if you recall, the first rollout, that being with WordPress version 5.5, several months ago, around 1 million sites broke because those sites had themes and or plugins that had not yet updated their product files to work with that new jQuery update. 

And this is just one more reason not to update to the Major releases right away. 

Now there is a plugin that people used the last time to get their sites working again. This plugin is still updated and available for anyone that still needs it: Enable jQuery Migrate Helper (https://wordpress.org/plugins/enable-jquery-migrate-helper/). 

The problem here may not be with WordPress 5.5 or WordPress 5.6 but with the themes and plugins not being updated that you are using. 

If the creators of those plugins or themes cannot keep them updated, you might want to consider alternatives to those plugins and or Themes. 

Here is a video version of what you just read which will let you see ‘over-my-shoulder’ as I walk through these features.

Now there’s a lot to cover in the updates for version 5.6 of WordPress. 

Here are the main points of this first section on Upgrading to WordPress 5.6:

1. Major WordPress Updates, wait a few days before updating

2. Minor WordPress Updates are mostly security patches so update those immediately.

3. Try to use only plugins and themes that work with current versions of WordPress.

This article will cover the changes and additions to the block editor with the update to WordPress 5.6. 

WordPress Version 5.6 Changes In Blocks & Block Editor

I’ve got two different sites for this demonstration. 

One site is WordPress 5.6.  The other demo-site is still on version 5.5 of WordPress. Also, the WordPress 5.6 version demo site uses the twenty twenty-one theme, and the 5.5 demo site is on the twenty-twenty theme.

One of the many changes from version WordPress 5.5 is the page attributes. With the older version 5.5, we had the page attributes feature in both post and page editors. In the page editor, we were able to decide on different templates. Whereas the page in the new WordPress 5.6 version. Under page attributes, we do not have the option to select a different template. In the post editor, the page attribute feature is gone. 

What Is New In WordPress 5.6 and the missing Page Templates and attributes feature

Another small change is the word ‘document’ on the top left side of the editor’s right sidebar has changed to the type of ‘Document.’ If you are editing a Post, instead of the word ‘Document,’ it says Post. If you are editing a Page, instead of ‘Document’ it says Page.

A little bit of the research I’ve been doing, the missing attributes feature appears to be an oversight, and WordPress will fix it in the next major release, WordPress 5.7. Please don’t hold me to that. But that’s the way I understood it. 

The same is true for the ‘Document’ to Post, just like ‘Document’ to Page. You can see that they’re making the distinction between the two. So kudos to them for making that change. Aside from that, the only other minor difference you’re not going to read much about is under Options.

So as I hover over the gear icon in the top right corner of the right editor sidebar, you can see more tools and options in the older version. The newer version, it’s just called options, not more tools & options. 

When we go to the bottom of what used to be called the More Tools & Options sidebar, we have the Preferences section called Options in the previous WordPress version 5.5.

Okay, that’s all of the oddball changes I could locate. 

Now for the changes that you want to pay attention to—beginning with the cover block. 

Whenever you use an image in the cover block, it now has the repeat background feature and the fixed background. You can also use a video in the cover block. Before I get to that, I want to point out that the video block has a new addition. 

In the Video Blocks’ inline toolbar, you can add text tracks. These text tracks can be subtitles, captions, chapters, or descriptions. 

When we transform or change this from the video to cover block, you see, just like any other cover item being an image or a video, you can add the text right here on the object itself. 

Click outside of that, and we are on the actual video, or image, in this case, video. When using a video in the cover block, you don’t have the repeat option; you can adjust the focal point. 

In the block settings sidebar, move the cursor on the image or video to adjust the focal point.

The other way to adjust the focal point is to use the percentage boxes either left or top. 

Next, the heading block has a new addition to its inline toolbar. And that’s the ability to add a wide width or a full width. This feature is theme-specific. Not all themes will to fully support this, at least not at the time of me covering this. I’m sure that’s going to be changing soon. 

Another newly added feature is in the inline toolbar. 

Whenever we select several blocks, we now have a new transform tool option that allows us to transform multiple blocks into a column or group block with one mouse click. That might come in handy. 

Next up is the change within the spacer block. 

When we add the spacer block to the editor window & go into the block settings sidebar, the spacer allows us to make it as small as one pixel. You can adjust the size of that spacer bar either inside the settings block or by mousing over it; Left-click hold-and-drag your mouse to whatever size you want. 

The list block is next on my list of additions or changes. 

The List Block now has in the color settings, a gradient option, and the other options that it had before WordPress 5.6. 

And getting back to the inline toolbar, you’re going to find on all of the inline toolbars, right next to the up and down arrow, you’ve got these two rows of vertical three dots. These two rows of three dots are the grab tool feature, which allows you to drag the block. When I left-click-hold and pull this, there is a blue line that shows up. That blue line lets me position this a little more quickly than just clicking on the up and down arrows. You might find a use for that also whenever you’re working inside of groups. 

Here is a video version of what you just read which will let you see ‘over-my-shoulder’ as I walk through these features.

Another significant change and addition to the WordPress 5.6 version is the new default theme called Twenty Twenty-One. 

WordPress 5.6 And The New Default Twenty Twenty-One Theme

Continuing where we left off in the previous article on the WordPress 5.6 version upgrade’s additions and changes, this article will look at the new default theme called Twenty Twenty-One.

The first thing I want to cover in the new default WordPress Theme is the new patterns. Some of these new Block Patterns are theme-specific. You will see these new Patterns in both pages and posts. 

When you open a post or page editor window and select the pattern section, the very first item at the top is a drop-down box. And within that drop-down box, the very first item is the name of your active theme. 

NOTE: See the video below for a visual of what I’m talking about.

The other categories here are pretty much the same, at least ways right now. What’s inside of those different categories may not be.

When you look at the different Block Patterns within those other categories, you will see they have inherited the active theme’s colors. The one thing I want to point out here, though, is the theme-specific patterns for Twenty Twenty-One. 

You’ve got a lot of new Block Patterns in Twenty Twenty-One. 

So definitely check through these. Like any Block Pattern, once you’ve brought it into the editor window, you can customize it however you want. When we look at the Twenty Twenty default theme and go into the theme-specific patterns, you see, you’re kind of limited. 

But still, no matter what the pattern is, it’s a great starting point. 

The Block Patterns are just one of the changes or additions to the new Twenty Twenty-One theme. Because there’s a lot of attention paid to the accessibility guidelines, that way, everybody can benefit from your content, no matter how they’re accessing it. 

When you go to the WordPress 5.6 About page and scroll about halfway down the page, you will see the information I’m talking about regarding the Twenty Twenty-One theme & the accessibility guidelines. 

So kudos to the folks at WordPress for focusing a lot of attention here. And you’re going to see how this plays out in the WordPress Customizer. Before I get to that, I also wanted to talk about the pre-selected color palettes. 

They’re all in pastel. So if you’re not a fan of the pastel colors, don’t worry. You can always use the built-in color picker to customize those color palettes even further. You also have several gradients presets to choose from or customize further.

So, getting back to the accessibility guidelines concerning the Twenty Twenty-One Theme and the background colors.

When you choose your custom color, the text will automatically adjust color to make sure the contrast between the background color and the text color can still be read by the site visitor no matter how they’re reading it. 

And again, it’s all done automatically. 

You don’t get that little error popping up saying, hey, the background color you chose makes the text look funky. I’m paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it. 

Now, in WordPress 5.6 it automatically adjusts the text color for you. 

You may have noticed the check box for the Dark Mode feature. Let’s have a look.

Select the dark mode option by clicking on the box next to it. You have the prominent ‘dark’ color displayed and a toggle button in the lower right corner of your browser window. The toggle button is not just in the admin area. It is on the front end as well. Posing as a site visitor, open your dark-mode post or page in a new private window. 

As a site visitor, you will see I can turn off your dark mode, and it automatically switches to your dark modes alternate color. But if it’s one of those funky colors, maybe I prefer the dark-mode. I can now turn it back on as your site visitor.

The Twenty-Twenty-One default theme is a minimalist, well-performing, and accessible WordPress default theme that works with many use cases.

Designed with the block editor and Full Site Editor (FSE) (https://fullsiteediting.com/) in mind, this new default theme is easy to customize. As more Full Site Editor features come online, the Twenty Twenty-One default theme will become more powerful.

So far, I’ve talked about several of the goodies in WordPress 5.6. 

The new default Twenty Twenty-One theme, what to do before you upgrade to a major release like WordPress 5.6, and some of the Blocks and Block Editor additions and changes.  

Here is a video version of what you just read which will let you see ‘over-my-shoulder’ as I walk through these features.

Next, I’ll cover some of the ‘Under The Hood’ and miscellaneous additions and changes to WordPress with the release of the WordPress 5.6 version.

WordPress 5.6 Non-Block Related Updates

WordPress version 5.6 has stuff under the hood, so to speak, that I’m covering in this article. Like the expanded auto-updates feature. The improvements to the Site Health tool. And a couple of other things that most of us are not even going to notice.

I will begin with the Site Health tool. 

Now, most if not all, the improvements to the Site Health tool, we’re not even going to see, but at the very least, I want to take this time to remind you that you do have a Site Health tool. By the way, if you haven’t used it in a while, now would be a good time to check it out. 

Now, granted, whenever the Site Health tool first came out a couple of ‘Major’ versions ago, it did have its fair share of issues, but it has improved with age. 

Just as a reminder, in the admin area under Tools, we’ve got the site health link, or on your admin dashboard; if you have the Site Health module activated, you can access it there.

If the Site Health module does not show in your admin dashboard, you can activate it under screen options by checking the box is ticked next to Site Health. However, you access the Site Health tool; you’ll end up on the Site Health display page. Once you are on the Site Health page, you can see how that circle is blue. That means it is running a check on your site. Now, if you haven’t been here in a while, then it might take a little bit longer to turn green, or yellow, or red, depending upon what issues it might have found. 

Sometimes the Site Health tool will find nothing wrong. Other times it may find critical and or just recommended issues to address. In my case, it’s found recommended improvements, nothing urgent, only some items I can improve. So, in other words, if I’ve got more pressing matters on my plate, then I’ll go ahead and take care of those instead of messing with this stuff. 

When you open one of the reported items, it gives you some pointers on what you can do to improve that particular item. 

So definitely worth checking out. Of these two items, that covers the Status item. 

I’m going to come back here later on and show you the other item, the Info section. 

One of the most significant improvements to the Site Health tool is one item that we, as users, will not be seeing. 

The Site Health used to work through your site’s admin Ajax, which sucked up many resources from your hosting account that has now changed to running on a dedicated REST API endpoint. So your overall site performance improves as a result. 

Next up is the application passwords feature. 

Now, this feature allows third-party apps like plugins to connect to your site by way of an encrypted connection via a password that you set. And you can revoke this access at any time. Let’s go and have a look at where this is. 

Go to Users—your Profile. Then at the bottom of your Profile page is application passwords. 

Now just a quick note, I want to emphasize this is not nor should it be your login password. But instead, it should be a string of characters, challenging to guess as any other strong password should be. You put in the name of that plugin or application and then click on the ‘Add New Application Password’ button to add a new application password to that item. Then repeat that process with other applications that require application passwords. 

Since this is relatively new, I do not have any applications or plugins that require this feature or work with this feature. So I can’t show you how it works in action. But at least now you’ll know what they’re talking about and where to go to set it up and monitor it whenever a particular plugin or application says, hey, you need to set up an application password for this to work. Again, that’s under your Profile in the Users section. 

Now another under the hood item is the support for different PHP versions. 

Without getting too deep in the woods here, know that you should be using a PHP version that begins with the number seven, ideally 7.4. 

And of course, that number is going to go up as time goes on. My point here is that you do not want to be using an outdated and unsupported PHP version like version 5.6 because one of the updates to WordPress 5.6 is the dropping of support for PHP 5.6. That makes it a security risk for every site that uses it. Don’t be that site owner.

If you’re not sure what version of PHP you are using, let’s head on back over that site health tool. And we’re going to get to there from our Tools, Site Health and click on the Info link.

And we scroll down a bit. This information tells us all about the stuff that makes our site work. 

For example, under server, the PHP version, ideally this should be 7.4, but as long as it’s not PHP version 5.6, I would look pretty silly if it was, but this tells you a little more about the stuff that makes your site work. 

Now, I’ve saved the best for last. And I say that jokingly. 

And that is the auto-update feature that started in WordPress version 5.5. WordPress version 5.5 began with the auto-update function for themes and plugins. WordPress 5.6 has now added the auto-update feature for the Major updates to the WordPress core files. 

Remember, we do NOT do major updates immediately. We do minor updates directly. Those minor updates are mostly security patches. The Major updates like WordPress 5.6, for example, we hold off on for a few days. 

So we do not want our sites auto-updating the Major updates themselves. So, in other words, you want to disable or make sure that that feature inside of WordPress 5.6 is disabled. 

Let’s have a look. In your WordPress admin Dashboard in the flyout, click on Updates. Your Updates page is where you’ll end up with any updates to plugins or themes or Major versions, or even minor versions.

Here is where you will see the auto-update feature for Major versions. 

In existing sites, this link will say: Enable automatic updates for all new versions of WordPress.

That tells you that this is currently disabled. 

When it’s enabled, it will say this: Switch to automatic updates for maintenance and security releases only. 

That is what you DON’T want it to say. So you want to click the link that says: Switch to automatic updates for maintenance and security. 

That’s the minor releases & that is what we want. 

Okay, so again, this is on existing sites. 

However, if you have a brand new site, this is going to be automatically on.

You want to come in and disable that. That way, all you have automatically done is the maintenance or security releases. 

So existing sites you’re set, leave it the way that it is. Brand new sites you want to disable this so that it will say: 

“This site is automatically kept up to date with maintenance and security releases of WordPress only.

Enable automatic updates for all new versions of WordPress. “

That is most everything dealing with the miscellaneous speed and security enhancements to the WordPress 5.6 version. 

Here is a video version of what you just read which will let you see ‘over-my-shoulder’ as I walk through these features.

Thanks for checking it out, and have a great day.

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