What’s Coming in WordPress 4.9

As y’all might remember, I’m currently co-leading the release of WordPress 4.9. Since we’re winding down toward release, I wanted to take the opportunity to walk through some of the key features of the release.

Drafting and scheduling changes in the Customizer

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In WordPress 4.9, you’ll be able to draft your customizations before publishing them, or schedule them to go live in the future.

Imagine you’ve just started a new site — you have an introduction post up, but otherwise you’re still working on finishing up the design of your site. Now you can draft your changes and come back to them later, so when you are ready to go live, your site looks perfect.

Another scenario: let’s say your store is having a holiday sale. Rather than staying up until midnight to add a banner about the sale to your homepage, now you can add that new section to your homepage and schedule it to go live later. Once the sale is live, you can hop back in and schedule it’s removal after the holidays. Much less of a hassle!

Additionally, these new features includes a quick way to share a link to preview your changes on the front-end that anyone can view, not just your site users. Now you can easily share your design updates with clients and teammates before publishing them.

We’ve also made it safer to make changes in the Customizer. We’ve introduced “locking” (like post locking), so two people can’t work on the same changes at once. This prevents people from overwriting each other’s updates. Hurrah!

Finally, if you leave the Customizer with unsaved changes, when you come back you’re presented with the option of restoring those changes, which autosaved. Harder to lose your work. 🙂

A unified theme browsing experience

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Since the WordPress 4.2 release, you’ve been able to browse and preview your installed themes from within the Customizer, so you can try a bunch of themes before committing to one. 4.9 iterates and expands on this work. Now, you can also search, filter, and browse themes from the theme directory directly from the Customizer. This means once you start setting up your site, you won’t have to leave the Customizer when trying to find the perfect theme. It’s just one step closer to a completely comprehensive, Customizer-driven site building experience.

Once you find a new theme you like, switching to that theme has become even easier. Previously, when switching themes, your menus and widgets had a bad habit of coming unassigned, so you’d have to go back and re-add them to your site. We’ve added some improvements to menus and widgets so you can feel even more comfortable with trying out a new look.

Widget Improvements

Following up on the Image, Video, and Audio widgets we created in WordPress 4.8, we’re introducing a Gallery widget in 4.9. Secondly, you can now add media directly to your Text widgets for mixed-media content.

Both of these improvements bring us closer to converging with Gutenberg features — it’ll be much easier to migrate widgets to blocks in the future.

Menu improvements

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In usability testing, we’ve consistently found that people struggle with creating menus and adding new pages to their menus in the Customizer. I’ve watched easily a dozen tests in which someone went to “Add new menu,” hoping it would let them add a new page to their menu (rather than creating an entirely new menu to put on their site). It wasn’t intuitive.

Coming in 4.9 is a new flow for creating menus in the Customizer, focusing on splitting up tasks into more manageable chunks and clear, friendly instructions. I worked with our local Happiness Engineers and Editorial team to simplify and clear up confusion around the specific interactions. Team work made the dream work, y’all.

Better, safer code editing

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I wrote a bit about this in August, but one of the major improvements coming to 4.9 relates to code editing across the WordPress admin.

For example, syntax highlighting and error checking have been added to:

  • The native WordPress plugin and theme editors
  • The “Additional CSS” panel in the Customizer
  • The Custom HTML widget, introduced in 4.8.1

Of these, my favorite is definitely the improvements to Additional CSS. Most of the sites I build nowadays use existing themes, so I don’t need to do a bunch of custom coding, but I always want to tweak the design a bit. We’ve had syntax highlighting for a while on, but now I’ll finally be able to use this on my self-hosted sites, too. We’ve also added autocompletion, which makes writing CSS even faster!

We’ve also made it MUCH safer to make edits in the theme/plugin code editors. We also warn folk before entering the theme/plugin code editors now that you can mess up your site, and make folks click an “I Understand” button before proceeding. And now, if you leave out a semicolon or call an undefined function, instead of white-screening your site, we catch the error and stop you from saving until you fix it.

Keep an eye out for WordPress 4.9, launching November 14th! And remember, always keep your WordPress sites up-to-date. 🙂

By Mel Choyce

Boston-based WordPress core contributor and craft beer fan. I design stuff at @automattic.

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