WordPress, the world’s most popular free and open source site builder and content manager, expects to roll out WP 5.0, its latest and arguably most ambitious update this year. This update will include Gutenberg, a new content editor for WordPress that promises to change the way content is created and displayed on WordPress sites – and ultimately, the way sites themselves are designed and developed.
In a major shift away from the venerable TinyMCE editor now included in every WordPress install, Gutenberg operates on a system of customizable and movable blocks that offer users more flexibility and control over the way content appears on a page. But, for all its promise and the reassurances of WordPress developers, the Gutenberg project has raised a number of questions about compatibility with existing WordPress content and its potential to handle all aspects of site design and development.
From Text Boxes to Blocks
TinyMCE—also known as the Classic Editor— the current content editor familiar to WordPress users around the world, has been a part of WordPress for over a decade. Consisting of a single text box framed by a set of editing tools, The classic editor allows users to input text in either Text or Visual modes, and to insert other kinds of content such as images or video from the site’s media library or external sources.
It’s a functional, word processor style interface that contains all kinds of content from multiple sources and then renders it as a complete post or page.
This kind of editor also has its drawbacks. While working in the editor, users can’t see the look of the finished page, and inserting content from various sources can result in spacing and sizing problems. Additionally, since all the content is contained in the same editing box, different elements can’t be edited or moved around separately. Gutenberg tackles all these constraints and more.
Blocks Offer Flexibility and Features
The new Gutenberg editor separates all the elements that could coexist on a page or post into individual units called blocks. Blocks can contain items such as text, images, videos, links, widgets or quotes, and users can select the appropriate box for the content they want to insert from a Block menu that includes all possible block types.
The content of each block can be edited separately, so Gutenberg makes it possible to completely customize its appearance. Images and video are automatically embedded in their appropriate blocks, and all blocks can be moved and sized independently of each other. Users can still switch between CSS and HTML views without leaving the editor, though, and it’s still easy to alternate between the text and visual editors familiar from the classic editor.
One key advantage to the block editing capabilities of Gutenberg is the ability to see how a finished page can look while it’s being edited – a feature lacking in the classic text-based editor. This allows users to adjust sizing, spacing and configurations in real time, rather than switching to a preview mode after creating the page or post.
Custom Blocks Create More Options
Gutenberg’s block-based system also allows users to insert custom blocks for specific uses and effects. The many third-party developers who create the thousands of WordPress themes and plugins could also create custom blocks that come with their own preset features, ready to be dropped into a page or post wherever needed. For example, a cooking blog could use a custom block that includes all the formatting needed to insert a recipe wherever appropriate on a given page.
The functionality of blocks extends beyond content creation, and, in fact, the first appearance of Gutenberg in WP 5.0 represents just the first stage of its development. Gutenberg is still being developed by GitHub, and its designers expect to debut two more stages in the near future – one for extending Gutenberg’s block design features to page design and, finally, one for building entire sites.
What About Current Content?
One of the major concerns voiced by Gutenberg skeptics has to do with the fate of existing content once this new editor is implemented. In response, developers have assured users that content created with the classic editor will still be available and editable even after Gutenberg is implemented, and its appearance and functionality will not change. The Classic Editor will also remain available as a plugin for those who prefer it, and another officially sanctioned plugin to disable Gutenberg completely will also be offered.
Is Gutenberg Easy to Use?
Another concern raised in the ongoing discussion about Gutenberg’s effect on WordPress relates to its ease of use. Although Gutenberg offers far greater flexibility and enhanced editing capabilities than the current editor, it does come with a learning curve and can seem counterintuitive for users accustomed to the text-based interface of the classic editor. But, Gutenberg is designed to be user friendly, with an array of tools for fine-tuning content and appearance, and WordPress is offering a variety of tutorials and guides to help users adapt to the new look and functions. And, users who simply don’t want to work with Gutenberg can use the WordPress-sanctioned tools to disable it and revert to the classic editor at any time.
Try Gutenberg Now
Although the full version of Gutenberg won’t be available until the arrival of WP 5.0, curious WordPress users can take it for a test drive now. A beta version of the current model is available as a plugin that can be installed on an existing site – although WordPress experts recommend trying it out on a test site before taking it live.
Gutenberg is still a work in progress, and each version comes with a substantial changelog as users work to iron out issues with multiple content formats and integration with other aspects of WordPress. This new editor represents a major step forward for WordPress, though, not only in terms of changing the way content is created, but ultimately also for the way whole sites are designed and implemented.
Many in the WordPress community have worried about what this means for the future of a content management system that currently powers over 30% of the world’s websites, but for all the uncertainty surrounding this new project, Gutenberg promises to open new doors for creating dynamic content and realizing new potential in WordPress sites of all kinds.