WordPress 5.8: Top 20 New Features + Improvements

WordPress 5.8 “Tatum” was released on July 20, 2021, as the second of three major WordPress core releases of the year. The biggest thing to know about WordPress 5.8 is simply this: we’re full speed ahead with Full Site Editing (FSE) using the WordPress block editor. In addition, WordPress 5.8 brings a host of improvements and features to the WordPress block editor itself, along with a few new things developers will appreciate.

Whether you are a WordPress website user, builder, or developer, WordPress 5.8 brings exciting changes and a hint of even more goodies coming in WordPress 5.9.

WordPress 5.8 Field Guide

In this post, we’ll cover what’s new in WordPress 5.8 so you can get the most out of this version of WordPress. Let’s dive in!

Before You Update: Don’t Forget to Run a Backup Of Your Site!

Before running any major update of WordPress core, make sure to backup your website. We recommend making a Complete backup that includes your WordPress database, WordPress files, themes, plugins, media library, etc., before proceeding with the update.

Backup these key parts of your site before updating to WordPress 5.8:

WordPress 5.8 includes several features and updates that re-emphasize the importance of having a solid WordPress backup strategy. A WordPress backup plugin like BackupBuddy can handle complete backups of your website so you can roll back from an update.

Top 20 New Features & Improvements in WordPress 5.8

WordPress 5.8 includes 96 enhancements and feature requests170 bug fixes and 8 Gutenberg releases, bundled into WordPress core. WordPress 5.8 represents more work in Phase 2 of the Gutenberg project. In 2021, WordPress will be focusing the development of WordPress core features with the goal of full site editing (FSE).

For those who are new to the concept of Full Site Editing (FSE) in WordPress, the goal of the project is to make it possible to edit any part of your WordPress site with the block editor, including your header, footer, menus/navigation, sidebars, and widgets.

The goal of the full site editing project is to utilize the power of Gutenberg’s block model in an editing experience beyond post or page content. In other words, the idea is to make the entire site customizable. This editing mode will understand the structure of the site and provide ways to modify global elements like headers and footers.

From the WordPress Design Handbook: Full Site Editing

1. Block-Based Widgets Editor + Live Preview in Customizer (On By Default)

As one of the first BIG steps toward Full Site Editing (FSE), WordPress 5.8 introduces a block-based widget editor called the Block Widgets Editor. [pullquote]Since the new Block Widgets Editor is turned on by default, the new way of editing widgets in WordPress 5.8 will likely be one of the biggest things you notice since it’s such an overhaul to the old Widgets interface.[/pullquote]

Beginning in WordPress 5.8, widget areas are now defined as “global parts in your site’s layout that can accept blocks. These vary by theme, but are typically parts like your site’s sidebar or footer.”

With the Block Widgets Editor, now you can use WordPress blocks in widget areas across your site and preview your changes live through the Customizer. The new Block Widgets Editor brings a block-based interface for editing widgets, so now anything you can do in the block editor can now be done in the widget customizer.

From the Appearance > Widgets page, you’ll see a new Widgets welcome screen, similar to the one for the block editor, onboarding you to the new experience.

Why is the new Block Widgets Editor so great? According to the WordPress core team, “This opens up new possibilities to create content: from no-code mini layouts to the vast library of core and third-party blocks.”

Here are a few things to note about the Block Widgets Editor & Customizer view:

  • Use any WordPress block in a widget area. Any block available to you in your WordPress block library is now usable in a widget area, not just the widgets WordPress provided by default.
  • Live preview your widgets with the Customizer. The Customizer is what you get when you navigate to Appearance > Customize in your WordPress admin dashboard. Now, widgets get the full Customizer treatment, including live previews of your changes.
  • You can control styles for your widgets such as color, typography, spacing, etc. Similar to the block settings you can access from the block editor, widget blocks now come with their own set of controls for changing things like color, width, and alignment. These will show and hide automatically when you have a block selected.
  • The Legacy Widget block allows you to use older plugins inside the block layout. Legacy widgets are anything that doesn’t have a block equivalent, so all of your favorite widgets should work “flawlessly.” For example, Legacy Widgets include all the old familiar WordPress default widgets, like Categories, Archives, Recent Posts, Recent Comments, etc.
  • The Classic Widgets plugin restores the classic widgets interface. Similar to the Classic Editor plugin, the Classic Widgets plugin turns the new Block Widgets Editor back to the old interface. Once activated, this plugin restores the previous widgets settings screens and disables the block editor from managing widgets. There is no other configuration; the classic widgets settings screens are enabled or disabled by either enabling or disabling this plugin.
  • In order to avoid duplicate functionality, it is recommended that plugin authors provide a way for users to convert their existing widgets to any equivalent block. WordPress 5.8 provides a mechanism for doing this using block transforms. Devs can access these useful notes on how to migrate from widgets to blocks.

2. New Block-Based Template Editor (Off By Default)

As another move toward Full Site Editing (FSE) with the WordPress block editor, WordPress 5.8 introduces a new way to build site-wide page and post templates using the block editor … but you likely won’t see this functionality out-of-the-box, as the new template editor functionality is turned off by default and requires a line of code to turn it on.

What is a template in WordPress? In case you aren’t familiar with the term, templates are design layouts usually provided by your theme to “standardize” the way certain pages (or posts) look across your entire site. Prior to this update, templates had to be coded or built with a 3rd-party tool like some page builder plugins.

While this new functionality is “hidden” for most users, the new template editing functionality in 5.8 is worth mentioning as one of the top new features because it’s such a cool preview of where WordPress is headed on the road to Full Site Editing. This opens up a lot of power without needing to code, but block-based template editing still seems very experimental (hence why it’s off by default).

Here are a few things to note about the new block-based template editor:

  • If your theme supports the new template editing in 5.8, you’ll see an option for a “New” template in the Page/Posts settings. Click this link to launch the new template editor.
  • If your theme doesn’t support it by default, you can enable the new block-based template editor with a line of code in the functions.php file. Simply add this line of code after making a backup of your site:
add_theme_support( 'block-templates' );

Note: We recommend experimenting with the new template editor on a sandbox or development site (not a live site). Always make a backup of your site before editing the code in your theme’s function.php file.

  • More than 20 NEW template blocks are available within compatible themes for use in the new block-based template editor. These new blocks really jumpstart what’s possible with this new template-editing functionality, and include things like Site Title, Site Logo, Site Tagline, and more (these are covered in more depth in #6).
  • Any block-based templates you create can be edited from the Page/Post editor. Once your template has been saved, you’ll see it available in the list of templates. Click the edit button to relaunch the editor. Just note that any changes made will affect all posts or pages using the template.

3. New (and Powerful) Query Loop Block

As we mentioned in the previous section, WordPress 5.8 comes with several new (and powerful) WordPress blocks that more advanced users are going to love. One of them is the Query Loop block.

The Query Loop block is an advanced block that allows displaying post types based on different query parameters and visual configurations. For reference, in WordPress, query” means to “query” or “ask” for posts from the database according to a defined set of options. “Loop” means to “loop” or “cycle” through each queried post and output it.

  • Think of the Query Loop block as a more complex and powerful Latest Posts block. The Query Loop allows users to ask for a set of posts and display each one. For example, you can easily display posts from a specific category, to do things like create a portfolio or a page full of your favorite recipes.
  • Pattern suggestions make it easier than ever to create a list of posts with the design you want. The Query Loop block comes loaded with several suggested WordPress block patterns to help get you started quickly. Just select one from the Query Loop Pattern Inserter (choose between Carousel and Grid patterns).
  • After inserting a Query Loop block, WordPress adds its inner Post Template block. This block allows you to choose how the posts appear. You can see this new nested block using the new expanded list view (more on that, next!)
  • While none of the presets are ideal, they provide a solid foundation for users and theme developers to make their own. Query Loop block options include items per page, offset, max to show, post type, ordering, filters for categories, tags, authors, keywords.

4. New Login/Out Block + Theme Blocks

To coincide with the introduction of block-based template editing and widget customization, WordPress 5.8 adds several new blocks that open up even more functionality. You’ll find most of these new blocks listed in a new “Theme” category in the WordPress block inserter panel.

  • Login/out block – Now you can show login and logout links anywhere you want in your posts, pages, and widget areas.
  • Site Logo block – Displays your site’s logo.
  • Site Tagline block – Displays your site’s tagline.
  • Site Title block – Displays and allows editing the name of the site. The site title usually appears in the browser title bar, in search results, and more. This is also available in Settings > General.
  • Post Title block – Displays the title of a post, page, or any other content type.
  • Post Content block – Displays the content of a post or page.
  • Post Date block – Adds the date of a post.
  • Post Excerpt block – Displays the excerpt of a post.
  • Post Featured Image block – Displays a post’s featured image.
  • Post Categories block – Displays a post’s categories.
  • Post Tags block – Displays a post’s tags.
  • Page List block – Displays a list of all pages.

5. Improved & Expanded List View of Blocks

One of the more user-friendly updates in WordPress 5.8 (that can be enjoyed by everyone! ?) are improvements to the block editor’s list view.

As you know, sometimes you need a simple landing page, but sometimes you need something a little more robust. As blocks increase, patterns emerge, and content creation gets easier, new solutions are needed to make complex content easy to navigate. List View is the best way to jump between layers of content and nested blocks. Since the List View gives you an overview of all the blocks in your content, you can now navigate quickly to the precise block you need. Ready to focus completely on your content? Toggle it on or off to suit your workflow.

WordPress 5.8 Welcome Screen

You’ll find the List View icon in the top toolbar of the block editor. Toggle this icon on to see the “outline” view of the page.

  • In a nutshell, List View is a helpful panel that’s great for more complex page layouts.
  • This view helps you see how blocks nest and find the one you want to edit. You can more easily navigate complex hierarchies and jump around between blocks.
  • The older version of List View simply created a drop-down “nav,” so the new panel is much more user-friendly.

6. New WordPress Patterns Directory

Similar to the introduction of the WordPress Block Directory introduced in WordPress 5.5, WordPress 5.8 introduces the WordPress Patterns Directory.

WordPress block patterns are ready-to-insert, predefined WordPress block layouts. Block patterns are a grouping of WordPress blocks that allow users to create any number of complex layouts by only clicking a few buttons.

Block patterns truly pave the way for the WordPress block editor to become a full-fledged page builder. Block patterns were designed to help users utilize combinations of blocks together in order to achieve the best designs for their page.

Now, WordPress.org hosts a library of patterns that you can copy/paste right into your site. The WordPress Patterns Directory is located at: wordpress.org/patterns

  • The Patterns Directory will get pulled into your block editor. Previously, you could only use patterns that were shipped with your theme or a separate plugin, so now you can use new patterns immediately.
  • You can also copy/paste from the WordPress.org Patterns Directory … with all the styles intact! Simply use the Copy Pattern button and paste into your block editor.

7. New Duotone Image Editing

Now you can colorize image and cover blocks with duotone filters! Duotone can add a pop of color to your designs and style your images (or videos in the cover block) to integrate well with your themes. You can think of the duotone effect as a black and white filter, but instead of the shadows being black and the highlights being white, you pick your own colors for the shadows and highlights

  • To use the Duotone filters, select the dotted circle in the toolbar for any Image block or Cover block.
  • Select your preferred color scheme to transform the image. Lots of color options are loaded up, so shadows and highlights of your image are replaced … for wild effects.
  • Duotone uses CSS filters to change the image, so your actual image file isn’t altered. That’s a relief if you don’t want the original image file to change.
  • This feature can be disabled (might be a good idea) ?

8. More Granular Style Options for Column Blocks

Now you can define a text color, background color, link color, and padding for individual columns within column block. This allows you to get a lot more granular with how columns look. Previously, styles applied to the whole columns block.

9. More Granular Color Options for Table Blocks

Similar to the updates for Column Blocks, Table blocks also have more color options. Now you can add text color and background colors to your tables.

10. Suggested Patterns for Blocks

WordPress 5.8 introduces a Pattern Transformations tool that will suggest block patterns based on the block you are using. Right now, you can give it a try in the Query Block and Social Icon Block. As more patterns are added, you will be able to get inspiration for how to style your site without ever leaving the editor.

11. Embed PDFs with the File Block

Now the file block detects if you’ve uploaded a PDF and automatically allows you to embed a PDF in your post or page.

  • Simply select the File Block, then select a PDF file to use. The block editor will automatically embed the PDF.
  • You can turn the embed off using the toggle in the block settings panel for “Show inline embed.”
  • PDF embeds depend on the browser supporting it, and most phone and tablet browsers won’t display PDFs.

12. Improved Reusable Blocks Interface

A new modal makes it easier to know what’s happening when you add blocks to WordPress reusable blocks.

Reusable blocks allow you to quickly save any WordPress block you frequently use. Then, you can immediately reuse saved blocks in other pages and posts throughout your WordPress site. Now you can give your new reusable block a name before it’s added.

13. Top Toolbar Mode Improvements

If you prefer to work in “Top Toolbar” mode, the menu items are now just below the main navigation of the block editor interface. This update, while small, does help clarify the individual block options and actions.

14. Parent Block Selector is More Obvious

If you turn the top toolbar mode off and use the default block editor toolbar, you’ll see each child block has an off-set parent block icon. This allows you to more easily switch between nested blocks.

Improvements for Developers

WordPress 5.8 has many developer-focused updates. Here are a few noteworthy features and enhancements in this update, along with notes on for devs in the WordPress 5.8 field guide.

15. Support for WebP Images Uploads

WebP is a modern image format that provides improved lossless and lossy compression for images on the web. WebP images are around 30% smaller on average than their JPEG or PNG equivalents, resulting in sites that are faster and use less bandwidth. In WordPress 5.8, WebP support has been added.

  • WebP is a new(ish) image file format invented by Google.
  • WebP compression is 25% – 34% smaller than comparable PNGs or JPEGs.
  • WebP will now be supported as an uploadable image format. You used to have to have a separate plugin to support this, but now WordPress supports it natively.
  • You will still need software or a plugin to convert PNGs and JPGs to WebP. WordPress Core doesn’t convert images.

16. Dropping Support for IE11

Support for Internet Explorer 11 has been dropped as of this release. This means you may have issues managing your site that will not be fixed in the future. If you are currently using IE11, it is strongly recommended that you switch to a more modern browser.

17. Theme.json

WordPress 5.8 introduces a Global Styles and Global Settings APIs to help developers control the editor settings, available customization tools, and style blocks using a theme.json file in the active theme. This configuration file enables or disables features and sets default styles for both a website and blocks. If you build themes, you can experiment with this early iteration of a useful new feature. For more about what is currently available and how it works, check out this dev note.

18. Adding Additional Block Supports

Expanding on previously implemented block supports in WordPress 5.6 and 5.7, WordPress 5.8 introduces several new block support flags and new options to customize your registered blocks. More information is available in the block supports dev note.

19. Site Health is Now Extendable

Developers can add tabs to pull in their data inside the Site Health interface.

20. REST API Changes

REST API changes in WordPress 5.8 are mainly focused on widgets and sidebars, but there is also a new operator for taxonomy queries within post collections, support for the eagerly awaited AND comparison, which allows posts meeting all passed criteria are matched.

WordPress 5.8 Overview: Watch the Video

Last month, iThemes Security Lead Developer Timothy Jacobs gave an excellent WordPress 5.8 preview talk to the WordPressNYC Meetup Group. Check it out to see some of the new stuff in 5.8 in action! (Thanks, Timothy)

How to Update to WordPress 5.8

WordPress 5.8 is due to be released on July 20, 2021. As soon as the update has been released, you’ll see the WordPress version update available in your WordPress admin dashboard on the Updates page. Again, don’t forget to backup your site before you update WordPress!

Not seeing the 5.8 update yet? Stay tuned! Follow the make.wordpress.org release blog posts here for the latest update to read the official WordPress 5.8 release post. You can also check out the WordPress 5.8 Field Guide from the core team.

Have something to add to this list? What are your favorite new things in WordPress 5.8? Happy updating!