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WordPress 5.9 “Josephine” is the year’s first major update, having been released on January 25, 2022. This new edition has many substantial enhancements, including a brand-new approach to design websites bringing with it the long-awaited full-site editing tools that provide users more control over site design and page layouts..

WordPress 5.8’s previous stable version had pushed full site editing with the incorporation of the Gutenberg block editor for post and page creation and WordPress 5.9 expands on the functionality by adding a block-based theme editor and a slew of other features and enhancements.

The name of the new version is a tribute to Joséphine Baker, an American-born jazz vocalist who achieved fame on Broadway before relocating to Europe and becoming a household name in France. In the 1950’s, she regularly returned to the United States to support for the Civil Rights Movement, taking part in marches and boycotting segregated venues.

For many years, non-technical WordPress users were advised to avoid the Theme Editor menu, warning that any modifications made there may render their sites unworkable. With the introduction of the new template editor, a new era in WordPress theme modification has begun. It provides a visual interface for manipulating templates (home, single post, etc.) and template components (headers, footers, etc.).

A Summary of New Features and Changes

The new capabilities and enhancements to the design and user interface make it feasible to create intrinsic websites with WordPress. Here is a summary of the new features and enhancements in WordPress 5.9’s complete site editing interface:

Full site editing — a new full site editor and a global styles interface replace the conventional WordPress editor, providing a completely new experience for complete site editing. The new global styles panel makes it simple to alter site-wide styles.

The First Block-Based Default Theme – The Twenty Twenty-Two WordPress theme is the first block-based default theme that works flawlessly with the new site editor.

Enhancements to the block editor and user experience — WordPress 5.9 adds several block editor enhancements, including focus mode, collapsible list view, and drag-and-drop block rearrangement. Additionally, new blocks and design tools are accessible.

New developer features — WordPress 5.9 now includes support for theme.json inheritance in child themes. Additionally, blocks get new characteristics and support for multiple stylesheets, providing developers with additional creative freedom.

Performance enhancements — a new lazy-load modification has been included to accelerate loading. WordPress 5.9 now supports PHP 8.1 and includes a compatibility boost to the PHP testing framework.

Full Site Editing

With the addition of a block editor, WordPress redesigned its site personalization capabilities. This site editor extends the Gutenberg-based page builder that was previously accessible just for posts and pages in WordPress across the complete site.

The new global theme style choices enable users to personalize their whole site without having to make frequent changes to the theme or stylesheet files.

Additionally, the new versatile default WordPress theme is an excellent way to familiarize yourself with the new complete site editing tools.

The First Block-Based Default Theme

Each year, WordPress releases a whole new default theme, and 2022 is no exception. WordPress 5.9 introduces the Twenty Twenty-Two default theme.

This is the first default block theme designed specifically for site editing. The developers concentrated on making the theme customizable through theme.json and the new editor, which resulted in a sparing usage of CSS.

Twenty Twenty-Two has a variety of page templates, such as 404 error pages, single-post pages, and archive pages. Additionally, the template includes a footer and three distinct header styles: default, dark with a tiny style, and dark with a big style.

Enhancements to the block editor and user experience

Many WordPress users spend the majority of their time creating and managing their content in the block editor. As a response, this new WordPress edition includes several block editor enhancements, including a redesigned user interface and new blocks.

The new WordPress version enhances the design and user experience of the interface. The list view supports drag-and-drop functionality, which enables you to rearrange the content by simply dragging and dropping pieces.  Additionally, the list view’s elements are collapsible, which simplifies the management of complicated block hierarchies. You can also add HTML anchors to blocks for easy navigating.

Also, the theme editor has a mode for focusing on the header and footer. This function is available from the editor’s top panel and displays just the section you want to change.

The popup window for editing the header in the Gutenberg editor in WordPress.

The focus mode displays just the region that you are now editing – either the header or footer. This results in a cleaner interface and a more accurate display of the section. Additionally, you may alter the editor’s screen width to view how the header or footer appears at any given width.

New developer features

WordPress 5.9 includes a slew of new developer-friendly features. For instance, the new theme.json inheritance simplifies the process of establishing a child theme.

Simply create a new folder in the public html/wp-content/themes directory for the child theme and include the style.css file. Your new child theme is now ready to use, complete with the parent theme’s global styles.

This new inheritance feature eliminates the step of developing a PHP function to enqueue the parent and child theme stylesheets, simplifying the process for novices or those learning how to construct a child theme.

In the new version you also have a new lock property inside the block settings. This feature is advantageous for block producers since it prevents users from moving or deleting certain blocks. Developers now have the ability to include numerous stylesheets for each block. Plus, styles from other blocks may be loaded as well.

Another enhancement to the block style is the ability to apply styles to individual blocks rather than utilizing a single stylesheet. This increases speed since the website will now load just the necessary stylesheets rather to forcing the page to load a big stylesheet.  Talking about speed, there are important performance enhancements in WordPress 5.9 as well.

Performance enhancements

Without increasing average image bytes, the WordPress team discovered that not lazy loading the first content image on the page increases the average Largest Contentful Paint by 7%. Without requiring further developer effort, at its heart, this change means that WordPress will no longer lazy-load the page’s very first “content image or iframe.” revealing an improved LCP across the board, resulting in up to 30% quicker page load times.

In addition to these, previously, all styles for all blocks were enqueued in a single file, which resulted in an increased page load time. Due to enhancements that inline small stylesheets and a modification to load a block’s CSS styles only if the block exists on the page, the 5.9 release loads just what is required while viewing content. Additionally, to minimize the size of block front-facing scripts, IE polyfills were eliminated. By reducing the amount of CSS loaded, the 5.9 release significantly improves speed and lowers loading time.

Wrap Up

WordPress 5.9 enhances the overall site editing experience with the addition of a block editor, a variety of new design tools, and a redesigned user interface. Additionally, the new default theme is an ideal starting point for novice WordPress users, since it has several template and pattern possibilities.

Additionally, WordPress 5.9 includes enhancements to site development and design, such as bug fixes and additional compatibility tools.

Do not forget to make a backup of your website’s data and verify the compatibility of your themes and plugins before upgrading your WordPress website to the newest major version. If you’re unsure, create a staging environment for WordPress to avoid causing harm to the actual website.