1. WordPress 5.3 “Kirk” Release

WordPress 5.3 “Kirk” Release

WordPress 5.3 was released on 12 November 2019.

5.3 is a major release that includes 386 bug fixes and 151 enhancements.

Code named “Kirk” in honour of jazz musician Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

It brings significant new features:

  • improved wp-admin accessibility
  • 150 Gutenberg editor enhancements
  • automatic image rotation (plus more!)
  • improved Site Health
  • administration email verification
  • improved PHP 7.4 support
  • improved timezone date and time functionality

Improved wp-admin accessibility

52 accessibility updates were made in WordPress 5.3.

The most noticeable are changes to:

  • color contrasts on form fields and buttons
  • focus styles on form fields and buttons
  • content behavior on text zoom

150 Gutenberg editor enhancements

Updates to the new “Gutenberg” block editor continue with WordPress 5.3 – with a massive 150 enhancements introduced.

Updates were focused on usability, accessibility and image handling.

For more information see Block Editor Theme-related updates in WordPress 5.3.

Automatic image rotation (plus more!)

WordPress will now attempt to automatically rotate images using image orientation EXIF meta-data.

How uploaded images are handled by WordPress was also changed to decrease server load and avoid critical errors which would previously fail multiple images being uploaded when only one failed.

For more information see Updates to Image Processing in WordPress 5.3.

Improved Site Health

31 updates were made to the Site Health feature – which informs WordPress administrators of performance and security issues for the install – with a focus on server health such as PHP version.

Most notable is the change to the health grading – which was a percentage. There were concerns that the percentage indicator was misleading.

The health grading now shows one of two statuses – needs improvement and good.

And the WSOD emails can now include basic debug information – with a filter for plugin and theme developers to add their own logs.

For more information see What’s new in Site Health for WordPress 5.3.

Administration email verification

Administrators will now periodically be prompted to confirm their email is still valid. Which will reduce the risk of loosing access to a WordPress site through not knowing the administrator login details.

This prompt appears when administrators log in to wp-admin.

Improved PHP 7.4 support

WordPress 5.3 included 5 updates addressing PHP 7.4 support.

This involved depreciating functions which are no longer supported in PHP 7.4.

As a consequence – the native PHP JSON extension is now required to run WordPress.

Improved timezone date and time functionality

Now that the minimum supported PHP version has raised – timezone date and time handling can be moderized to improve this basic, but important, functionality.

The wp_date() function has been introduced which provides a completely new way to handle date localisation.

For more information see Date/Time component improvements in WordPress 5.3.

How to install the update?

As a major release 5.3 will need to be installed manually.

You will need to install by logging into your WordPress administration console and go to the Dashboard -> Updates page.

As always, backing up the site before installing updates is highly recommended.

WordPress 5.2 “Jaco” Release

WordPress 5.2 was released earlier this week, on 7 May 2019.

5.2 is a major release that includes 229 bug fixes and 59 enhancements.

It brings significant new features:

  • Site Health
  • PHP fatal recovery (WSOD protection)
  • Update package signing
  • Gutenberg updates
  • wp-admin accessibility updates
  • New dashboard icons
  • Plugin compatibility checks
  • Core widgets converted to blocks

Site Health

The new Site Health feature is one of the best things to be added to WordPress for a long time.

It gives administrators:

  • updates recommendations – for both the server (PHP version and HTTPS) and WordPress
  • maintenance recommendations (e.g. remove inactive plugins and themes)
  • configuration and health checks (e.g. background update checks working)
  • a place to view, copy, and share important debug information

It can be accessed from the wp-admin in the Tools -> Site Health menu.

PHP fatal recovery (WSOD protection)

Previous to WordPress 5.2 – when WordPress experienced a fatal error it would stop working – showing what was known as the “white screen of death” (WSOD).

WordPress 5.2 changes how this happens – instead front end users will see an error message which reads

The site is experiencing technical difficulties.

and the site administrator will receive an email notifying of the error and include a special link to access the wp-admin in “recovery mode”. This allows the site administrator to safely fix or manage fatal errors without needing access to the server.

For more information on how this works see Fatal Error Recovery Mode in 5.2 and Site Health Check in 5.2.

Update package signing

WordPress 5.2 includes the first part of the “update package signing” feature – which will ensure updates to WordPress, plugins and themes are downloaded correctly before they are installed.

This will be tested with the next WordPress 5.2.x release.

Future updates will include error detection and fallback mechanisms as well as making UI options will be added.

Gutenberg updates

WordPress 5.2 continues the development of the new “Gutenberg” editor – including performance and UX improvements.

  • No more TinyMCE in blocks
  • Block Management UI
  • Performance more than doubled in async mode
  • All widgets ported to blocks
  • A lot of improvements to existing blocks (cover block with inner blocks, focal point picker,…)
  • Stability improvements
  • Zero-config scripts to help authors create blocks

For the full list and details see What’s new in Gutenberg? (17th April).

wp-admin accessibility updates

WordPress 5.2 includes various accessibility updates to the wp-admin.

These updates improve the HTML markup used to present information in the wp-admin.

For more information see Notable Accessibility Changes in 5.2.

New dashboard icons

After three years of no changes to dashboard icons – 13 new icons have been added as well as 18 that were previously unavailable due to missing css declarations.

Plugin compatibility checks

Since 2017 the WordPress plugin directory has allowed plugin developers to specify the minimum supported PHP version – but this was not enforced in WordPress, allowing users to install incompatible plugins.

WordPress 5.2 will now use this information to determine if your site’s version of PHP is compatible.

If the plugin requires a higher version of PHP than your site currently uses, WordPress will not allow you to activate it, preventing potential compatibility errors.

Core widgets converted to blocks

All default widgets are now available in Gutenberg as blocks.

This paves the way for the Gutenberg interface to be used in other areas of WordPress – such as the widget editor.

How to install the update?

As a major release 5.2 will need to be installed manually.

You will need to install by logging into your WordPress administration console and go to the Dashboard -> Updates page.

As always, backing up the site before installing updates is highly recommended.

WordPress 5.1 “Betty” Release

WordPress 5.1 was released today.

5.1 is a major release that includes 303 bug fixes and 156 enhancements – launching the first “site health check” functionality and further performance improvements for the Gutenberg editor.

Site Health Check

The Site Health Check project is a collaborative multi-team project with a focus on encouraging better site maintenance.

The main goal is to increase the increase the PHP version supported by WordPress. With plans to make PHP 5.6 the the minimum version in April 2019.

In WordPress 5.1 notices are displayed to administrators of sites running on less than PHP 5.6. WordPress will also start honoring plugin PHP version requirements.

Gutenberg performance

Since the release of Gutenberg in 5.0 the performance and experience has continued to be improved.

In 5.1 Gutenberg should feel a little quicker to start, and typing should feel smoother.

Multi-site metadata

A new database table – wp_blogmeta – has been added for storing metadata related to sites.

This provides an official place for shared metadata for a multi-site WordPress installation.

wp-cron improvements

5.1 introduces a change in behaviour for cron spawning on servers running fastcgi and PHP 7.0.16+.

The change improves handling of big cron jobs by having wp-cron.php return a response immediately, allowing additional requests to run at the same time.

There were also a number of developer focused changes – with new functions and standardising return values of existing functions.

Developer love

5.1 is packed with useful updates for developers, including:

How to install the update?

As a major release 5.1 will need to be installed manually.

You will need to install by logging into your WordPress administration console and go to the Dashboard -> Updates page.

As always, backing up the site before installing updates is highly recommended.