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Since late 2017 there have been rumblings about the upcoming WordPress 5.0 “Gutenberg” editor—part of a WordPress core update that promises to make major changes to the CMS’s user experience. Currently, those changes are available for preview in a plugin called Gutenberg, and it’s receiving mixed reviews.

With the release slated for April or May of 2018, what can WordPress users expect from the new version? Will the update affect the way sites work? How will these new features change the need for custom post types, Advanced Custom fields and site builders like Elementor? Let’s take a look.

Transforming the Text Editor

The answer to “How will it change the way I use it?” is: Entirely. The update will replace the most fundamental way you interact with the CMS, the TinyMCE text editor.

Here’s how the text editor looks now:

And here’s a preview of what it will look like after the update, based on the plugin:

Look closely and you’ll see that the title bar, toolbar, media button, and right sidebar are gone. Where the toolbar used to be, there’s a circle with a plus sign in it.

That’s how you’ll add blocks of content—and it’s the heart of the new 5.0 editor.

Block-based Editing

The new Gutenberg editor—named for the inventor of the printing press—will let users create content-rich pages without the help of plugins or builders like Beaver Builder. With block-based content editing, everything is broken down into blocks—featured images, block quotes, lists, images, headers, and even widgets. To add and style new content, just click the plus sign, then select a block type from a menu. Need your own block, or need a block to look a certain way? You can create your own, then reuse them across your site.

Currently, styling content happens in a variety of ways: using HTML, embed code, shortcode for plugins, widgets, post formats, custom post types, theme options, meta-boxes, and other formatting elements created by a developer or a third-party integration. For all of its ease of use, these various approaches can get pretty complex, pretty quickly—especially the more a site is customized. What block-based editing promises to do is offer “rich customization without deep knowledge of code.”

It’s a bold move, but also not a surprise. WordPress is all about power, flexibility, and customization. If you know how to code, it’s easy to unlock the endless potential of the platform. However, for those who don’t know code, drag-and-drop site builders like Squarespace have been a big draw—despite drawbacks in the way of flexibility. This update appears to be a move to directly compete with those sites, offering users ease of use without compromising power and flexibility.

It’s also about streamlining the backend of a site. In WordPress’s words, the blocks are “replacing a half-dozen inconsistent ways of customizing WordPress, bringing it in line with modern coding standards, and aligning with open web initiatives. These content blocks transform how users, developers, and hosts interact with WordPress to make building rich web content easier and more intuitive, democratizing publishing — and work — for everyone, regardless of technical ability.”

By taking the code out of formatting and replacing it with drag-and-drop functionality, WordPress is appealing to that share of the non-developer market that’s opted for Wix and Weebly. But what about developers and users who like it the way it is?

Do I Have to Use the New Editor?

The new editor will be integrated directly into the new core, so there’s no way to avoid it as the default way to enter content. (And no, you should not put off updating versions to avoid the editor, due to security and performance risks.) However, there is a workaround in the form of a plugin called Classic Editor, the official “on/off” switch endorsed by WordPress. If you’d like to use the previous TinyMCE editor, this turns off Gutenberg for you. The plugin was created by a WordPress core developer, but there’s no guarantee the plugin will stay updated and active forever.

The update will start with post editing only, then expand to pages and whole site customization with later releases.

Tip: Get Help Before You Update

While every update is a good time to get your site checked over for bugs, there’s no better time than now to engage a WordPress developer. You’ll want someone to iron out any issues or incompatibilities, and it’s more likely they’ll happen this go-round than prior updates. That’s because Gutenberg is replacing the need for certain functionalities and relocating others (e.g., custom post types, custom fields, and widgets), which might affect aspects of your site. Compatibility is always a concern with updates, but for this one, in particular, it will be difficult to predict how every plugin and theme will behave after the update.

Your best bet is to have a skilled WordPress developer to help you install the update and make any fixes after, should you need to. WordPress does promise to have transition paths for things like shortcodes and custom post types. Also, if you have multiple admins on your site, be sure everyone is aware of the update and is prepared.

A Reminder About Updating Core WP Versions

Don’t forget to backup your site before updating to version 5.0—updates are irreversible, and if you’re having compatibility issues that break your theme or plugins, you’re stuck. Identify your customizations and the integrations that are most likely to be affected by the new WordPress update, then be sure you have a skilled developer who can help you migrate those over.

Read more about the update from WordPress here.