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Santa came early in 2020 and delivered a new major update: WordPress 5.6. Replacing 5.5.3 and the various beta versions, WordPress 5.6 introduces a slew of new improvements for users and developers. 

WordPress 5.6 is named “Simone” after iconic jazz singer Nina Simone, and it was created by an all-female team, a first for WordPress. 

The latest version of WordPress includes upgrades to the block editor, more features for accessibility, auto-updates, and back-end programming to make your WordPress site run smoother. 

With the Impressionist-inspired Twenty Twenty One theme and the release of WordPress 5.6, users can go into 2021 with brand-new functionality and creative tools to make a better website. 

Read on to learn more about new features for 5.6, including:

  • Improvements to the block editor 
  • The addition of Application Passwords 
  • Upgrades for jQuery and PHP 8
  • Advancements for accessibility 
  • Changes to auto-updating 

Block Editor Improvements and More Layout Capabilities

WordPress’s new version gives you more tools to adjust your layout and make designing a website more manageable, including:

  • Gradient options
  • Character counts in the info panel
  • Better keyboard shortcuts 
  • Single and mixed-width columns and headers
  • Smoother drag-and-drop user interface
  • More control over block video positions

There are also more built-in block patterns, making the new block editor more accessible to users who are still learning to navigate the editor

Upgrades for Developers: Application Passwords, PHP 8, and jQuery

WordPress 5.6 addresses many issues developers were facing and coincides with other major releases. 

REST API Updates and Application Passwords

WordPress 5.6 rolls out 28 updates for REST API, including a new framework that groups together REST API calls in a single request to the server. This will help with performance and concurrency controls. 

One of the most significant changes in 5.6 is the introduction of the Application Passwords authorization feature. Now third-party applications will have easier access to WordPress than with older versions, making development more seamless. 


PHP 8 was released on Nov. 26, 2020, and WordPress anticipated its release by testing early for any potential bugs. WordPress 5.6 offers extended support for PHP 8 with bug fixes for backward compatibility issues and problematic features associated with the previous version of PHP.

WordPress developers strongly focus on compatibility. And while WordPress 5.6 has been tested with PHP 8.0, calls it “beta compatible” because they’re not sure how it will fare in the wider WordPress environment. So proceed with caution when you update WordPress. 


The jQuery update in WordPress 5.6 is step two of a three-part planned upgrade. WordPress recommends running the update test plugin to look for any bugs on your website. If you do run into errors, use the jQuery Migrate Helper plugin

Higher Accessibility Standards 

WordPress 5.6 focuses on increased accessibility. The new default theme, Twenty Twenty One, was created with accessibility in mind by adhering to WordPress’s accessibility guidelines

WordPress went one step further with the theme. Twenty Twenty One also meets the highest level of requirements, AAA, set by Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. 

The available pastel palette for background colors, paired with impressionist default imagery to match, offers customization that complies with the AAA standards for contrast. 

With the release of WordPress 5.6, you’ll no longer need to use a WordPress plugin for video captioning. When you use the video block, there will now be an option to add a Web Video Text Tracks (WebVTT) file. This will ease the process of adding subtitles to make your videos more usable for all audiences. 

You can also pledge a commitment to accessibility with a new WordPress plugin that lets you post an auto-generated accessibility statement to your website. 

Site Health Enhancements  

Improving on WordPress 5.5, they’ve made 11 revisions to Site Health, including: 

  • New validation rules for asynchronous health checks
  • A new way to distinguish between different website types (staging, production, and development) 
  • A new test for authorization headers 
  • Corrected nonce-checks 
  • Improved test result formatting 

Auto-Update Feature

With WordPress 5.6 also comes auto-updates for major core releases. Existing WordPress users will have to opt-in, and new users will be opted-in upon sign-up. 

Administrators on your website will get an email notification letting them know their WordPress website was updated. 

You are able to opt-out of automatic updates. But for those who like the feature, it’s crucial to stay on top of backing up data for your website — new versions of WordPress bring unexpected bugs that can break your website. 

WordPress is ending the year with a major update. With inspiration from Nina Simone and the Impressionists, WordPress 5.6 is the newest tool to add some artistry to your website. 

With more options on the block editor, more robust back-end support, and auto-updates, your website will flourish in the new year.  

Are you ready to create your new WordPress website? Check out Bluehost’s WordPress hosting packages today. 

  • Machielle Thomas

    Machielle is a content enthusiast who has a passion for bridging the gap between audiences and brands through impactful storytelling. Machielle has also spoken at dozens of WordCamps throughout the years.

    Texas State University
    Previous Experience
    Brand Content, Content Marketing, Brand Lead, Operations Lead, Course Instructor
    Other publications
    Shopify, Contently
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