WordPress 5.6 was officially launched on December 8, and the final WordPress release of 2020 came packed with new updates and features.
The development team focused on continuing to improve the Gutenberg block editor in this release, as well as enhancing security with expanded auto-updates, and bringing users a brand new Twenty-Twenty-One theme.
But that just scratches the surface. Here’s what’s new in WordPress 5.6.
New Block Patterns
WordPress 5.6 introduces even more block patterns that enable users to master complex layouts with minimal effort. Some themes now come preconfigured with new block patterns that make setting up standard pages easier than ever before.
Customize each pattern to your liking with the images, copy, and colors that match your brand or identity.
Added patterns mean less time spent customizing pages and more time focusing on bigger tasks, and all patterns are shareable with your team, clients, and more.
Auto-Updates for WordPress Core
For several years, it was only developers that were able to update WordPress automatically.
WordPress 5.5 introduced auto-updates for theme and plugins, and WordPress 5.6 takes auto-updates a step further.
Now with WordPress 5.6, there is a dashboard UI that allows users to turn on auto-updates for major WordPress releases.
The core auto-updates feature has already been around for some time in WordPress, but WordPress 5.6 introduces a new user interface that makes it easier than ever to opt-in to auto-updates for major version releases straight from the WordPress admin Dashboard > Updates page.
Doing this ensures users can always know that their WordPress site is running the latest code available.
Improved Layout Flexibility
WordPress 5.6 introduces a plethora of new tools that allow users to edit their layouts with or without code. New tools include single-column blocks, full-width headers, designs with mixed columns and widths, as well as gradients for cover blocks.
New WordPress Theme: Twenty-Twenty-One
The new Twenty-Twenty-One theme debuts with the goal of acting as a canvas for WordPress users’ ideas, with the block editor serving as their all-in-one brush.
The theme was designed around the block editor and loaded with new block patterns that can only be accessed in the default themes.
Users are able to switch layouts in seconds with just a few clicks and utilize one of the new theme’s designs to take their posts and pages to the next level.
Twenty-Twenty-One also offers increased accessibility for your website. It meets all the standards of the WordPress accessibility-ready guidelines and tackles many other specialized web standards.
On top of all that, Twenty-Twenty-One also comes with a rainbow-colored range of pre-selected pastel color palettes and gives users the option to choose their own background color for a theme. Once a user chooses their custom background color, the theme automatically chooses accessibility-conscious text colors to conform to AAA standards for contrast.
For users that want even more customization, you can also use the color picker to choose your own color palette.
The Twenty-Twenty-One theme makes it easier to make your site meet accessibility guidelines, but WordPress 5.6 didn’t stop there.
This version of WordPress also comes with a new feature plugin, which can automatically generate the structure of an accessibility statement for your website.
Enhanced Video Captions
Adding captions and subtitles to your videos is even more simple in the latest version of WordPress, as doing so can now be done within a page or post.
The video block now supports subtitles, and subtitles can be customized to display in a users’ preferred language.
It wasn’t just the users who saw big changes introduced in this release. Developers got plenty of love too.
Here’s what’s new for developers in WordPress 5.6.
One of the most helpful new features is included in the API’s new Application Passwords authorization feature, which enables third-party apps to connect to their websites safely and smoothly.
A brand new REST API feature allows you to see what applications are connecting to your website and control what they do or have access to.
Passwords are 24-characters long and feature a combination of upper-case, lower-case, and numeric characters. They can either be generated manually or through the REST API.
Increased Support for PHP 8
There were a lot of new features and optimizations introduced with PHP 8.0, but it also introduced several new updates that eliminate a site’s ability to remain backwards compatible.
Making WordPress compatible with the newest version of PHP is quite a process, but WordPress 5.6 marks the first steps forward for WordPress Core support for PHP 8.0.
Despite these steps, getting PHP 8.0 fully-integrated within WordPress will take some time.
For more information about what to expect next, read the PHP 8 developer note.
Updates to jQuery
Updates to jQuery were included in WordPress 5.5, but they are also in this version and will continue to be added in WordPress 5.7 as well.
Since WordPress 5.6 marks the halfway point of the updates process, users are asked to run the Test jQuery Updates plugin and ensure there are no errors on their sites ahead of time.
If users find any issues with the look of their site such as something not displaying or functioning properly, they are asked to also install the Enable jQuery Migrate Helper plugin.
WordPress 5.6 is titled “Simone” and is named for the legendary jazz performer Nina Simone.
This release was brought to us by an all-women release squad, but offers its appreciation to the more than 600 volunteer contributors who made it possible.
In order to get WordPress 5.6 across the finish line, they collaborated to close nearly 350 Trac tickets and more than 1,000 GitHub pull requests.
At the time of release, WordPress 5.6 is available in 38 languages, but 70 languages are at least 90 percent completed and can be expected to be added later.
You can learn even more about what all is new in this release in the official WordPress 5.6 Field Guide.
As mentioned above, WordPress 5.6 is the final major release of 2020. WordPress 5.7 will be the next major release in the development cycle and is tentatively scheduled for a March 9, 2021 release date.
If there was something you were hoping to see in 5.6 that wasn’t in this release, WordPress core has opened a 5.7 wishlist where users can submit their suggestions for the next release.
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WordPress 5.6 Release Schedule
The final release candidate for WordPress 5.6 came out on December 1.
With millions of WordPress users and thousands of plugins and themes, there’s always a chance some things were missed, which is why WordPress users are asked to test out the release candidate, especially if they didn’t test any of the betas.
This will be users final chance to test out WordPress 5.6 before the planned December 8 release date.
You can test the WordPress 5.6 release candidate in two ways:
- Try the WordPress Beta Tester plugin (choose the “Bleeding edge” channel and Beta/RC Only” stream options)
- Or download the release candidate from WordPress.org
Plugin and theme developers are asked to test out plugins and themes against WordPress 5.6 and update the Tested up to version in the readme file to 5.6.
Any compatibility problems should be posted to the support forums. That way, those can be figured out before the final release.
The first release candidate for WordPress 5.6 dropped on November 17, marking an important milestone in the progress made towards the December 8 release.
When an upcoming WordPress release transitions from the beta stage to the release candidate stage, it means the new version is essentially ready for release.
WordPress 5.6 beta 3 was released on November 2. It included less than half as many big fixes as the previous update, with just 20 bug fixes from the second beta.
Below are some of the most notable changes in beta 3:
- Added block patterns for Twenty Twenty and Twenty Nineteen themes
- Added theme support for navigation-widgets
- Fixed incorrect slashes in the URL if the parent is empty for REST API
- Added a test to Site Health to verify that the Authorization header is working as expected for Application Passwords
- 10 additional bugs fixed in the block editor
The fourth and final beta is scheduled to be released November 10.
Released on October 27, WordPress 5.6 beta 2 brought with it 53 bug fixes and enhancements from beta 1.
Highlights of beta 2 include:
- 6 additional bugs have been fixed in the block editor
- Unified design for search forms and results across the admin
- Exposed the embed Gutenberg block to Core
- Updated Twemoji, React, and Akismet versions
- Added accessibility improvements (among other things) to Application Passwords
- Added indicator to image details for images attached to a site option
On October 6, Make WordPress Core announced an update for the WordPress 5.6 beta 1 release planned for October 20.
Here’s what’s planned for beta 1:
- Automatic updates for major WordPress Core releases (opt-in)
- New features from the block editor upgrades
- Widgets editing support in Core
- Twenty Twenty-One theme
- PHP 8 support
- Embed updates
Below is what will not be released with beta 1:
- Twenty Twenty-One block-based/FSE-first – This will be available in the theme repo once completed.
- Navigation menus block and screen – Work will continue on the feature after 5.6. Find out more here.
- Customizer support – Work will continue on this feature, but it won’t be ready for Beta 1. Find out more here.
- Full Site Editing – Full site editing (FSE) will be added to the Gutenberg plugin once available.
- Drop support for PHP 5.6 – On hold until a decision is made on when to stop support for older versions. Find out more here.
WordPress releases tend to change as they near the release date. Make WordPress Core also announced that it still has some proposals for WordPress 5.6 up in the air, so the below items are uncertain at this time for beta 1:
- Enhanced image preview proposal
- Font enqueue API proposal
- REST API Authentication/Application Passwords proposal
With a target release date of December 8, 2020, WordPress 5.6 is slated to be the final major release of 2020.
While WordPress 5.6 won’t be here until December, users won’t have to wait that long to get their hands on the newest version of the world’s most popular CMS.
Users will be able to test out WordPress 5.6 when the beta version is released on October 20, 2020.
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Below are the other notable dates prior to the December 8 major release:
- October 27: Beta 2 release
- November 2: Beta 3 release
November 10: Beta 4 release
- November 17: Release candidate 1
- December 1: Release candidate 2
- December 7: WordPress 5.6 dry run
The full WordPress 5.6 development cycle and release schedule can be viewed here.
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