New in WordPress 5.8: Blocks as Widgets, Gutenberg Performance & Duotone

Christina Widner Last updated 22.07.2021
6 Min.
WordPress  5.8
Last updated 22.07.2021

WordPress 5.8 is the second of four major updates planned for WordPress in 2021. We took a look ahead of the release at the beta of the new WordPress version, which was officially released on 20 July 2021 under the name "Tatum". What can you expect in WordPress 5.8? What should you be prepared for? And what about the long-awaited full site editing? An overview.

Blocks as widgets

One of the biggest and most visible changes in WordPress 5.8 will be the ability to use blocks from Gutenberg instead of widgets in, for example, the sidebar or footer. With this, WordPress follows the long-term plan to allow users to build their entire WordPress website – not just articles or pages – with blocks (full site editing).

If you click on the "Widgets" area in WordPress 5.8, you'll now see a view that's more reminiscent of the Gutenberg editor when writing a new blog post. A dropdown menu allows you to select the individual widget areas of your WordPress themes blog. The sidebar, for example, or the footer or header.

WordPress  Block Widgets
The new block widgets in WordPress

There you can insert blocks and edit how you want them to be displayed on your site. This includes being able to individually activate or deactivate the WordPress Dark Mode, which was added in WP 5.6, per widget block. All previous or classic WordPress widgets should continue to function normally.

By the way, there's also an official WordPress plugin for the widget area that reverses this very serious change. Classic Widgets ensures that you see the familiar widget view again. It's supposed to be supported until at least 2022. We already know this from the Classic Editor, which displays the editor in the familiar view even with Gutenberg and should help to appease the Gutenberg opponents in the WordPress universe.

Guides to WordPress Gutenberg

You want to be able to use Gutenberg even better? Or expand it with your own blocks? Check out our articles Gutenberg tutorial for users and Gutenberg tutorial für developers.

New blocks in WordPress 5.8

In addition to the completely redesigned widget screen, there are once again completely new blocks in WordPress 5.8. These include blocks for sidebars, website title, website description, logo and a new query loop block that allows a list of posts to be displayed in different ways.

Another new feature is the so-called Duotone Block, which allows you to use image effects in media blocks or blocks from third parties that support it. When you edit an image in a WordPress block in WordPress 5.8, you'll see a small circular icon in the block editor.

Here you can select the two color tones with which you want to edit your image. In addition to eight predefined styles, you can also select the so-called highlights and shadows colors yourself. Depending on your image and color choices, this can create interesting variations of your image. If you work a lot with images, you can be creative here. By the way: PDFs can also be inserted with the file block in future.

WordPress  Duotone
The WordPress Duotone block

Especially the blocks for the title, description and logo of page show again how WordPress is pushing full site editing further and further. The voices of those still hoping for a reversal of the course taken by Gutenberg should therefore become even quieter with WordPress 5.8.

Improving usability

Of course, the user-friendliness of the blocks has also been worked on for WordPress 5.8. For example, interaction with nested blocks is to be simplified by the use of a permanent toolbar button to select the parent block, the introduction of a list view is to help with navigation in complex blocks and templates, and the editor for reusable blocks has been improved and now also supports revisions.

In addition, WordPress has also further developed the block templates. These can now also be displayed as a selection when inserting a block. Moreover, WordPress 5.8 offers significantly more options for customizing the design of the blocks. WordPress mentions here above all more settings for colors, fonts and spacing.

Internet Explorer 11 support ends

At the end of May 2021, Microsoft announced that it would retire Internet Explorer in 2022 and end support for the browser. Instead, Microsoft wants to continue to focus on the Chrome-based browser Microsoft Edge in the future.

WordPress is doing the same as Microsoft with WordPress 5.8 and will no longer optimize the new version and all subsequent versions for Internet Explorer 11. We recommend that you take a look at an analysis tool of your choice to find out which browser your visitors are using to access your website.

In Google Analytics, for example, this can be done under Target group -> Technology -> Browser and operating system. If the proportion of users with Internet Explorer is still relatively high, which depends on your target groups, then you should test intensively before updating to WordPress 5.8. Testing is important to ensure that everything still runs smoothly after the update.

In most cases, however, the proportion should already be very low. Thanks to Microsoft soon ending support for Internet Explorer, the proportion will continue to fall over the coming months.

Performance from Gutenberg

The performance of the editor was also improved with Gutenberg 10.8 and WordPress 5.8. This is emphasized by WordPress in the respective blog posts on both developments.

The performance is illustrated by a test article that the developers team prepared with 36,000 words and 1,000 blocks. This is a disproportionately large file (for comparison: a normally formatted A4 page has around 400 words). But the test helps to make differences in performance clearly visible.

And there is a difference. From Gutenberg 10.7 to Gutenberg 10.8, the loading time of the editor drops by almost one second from 6.75 seconds to 5.78 seconds. Anyone who's ever edited an extremely large text file in WordPress will appreciate this increase in performance.

WordPress 5.8: Other innovations

Of course, these are only the main changes that the team at WordPress puts in the foreground during development. As with every update, however, there are also many small changes that aren't obvious at first glance.

For example, Twitter's open source database for emojis – Twemoji – has been updated to version 13.1, making more emojis available to you. The menu for publishing articles has been adapted and is now easier to understand. And there's support for the WebP image format.

WordPress  Publish Menu
The revised publishing menu

There are also new possibilities for WordPress developers, including:

  • New REST API endpoints in WordPress 5.8 for sidebars, widgets and widget types
  • Cached get_pages() calls are accelerated
  • Term relationships can be changed when querying posts in the REST API

If you're interested in all the changes in detail, you can also read about them on WordPres.org. Here you can find the article on WordPress 5.8 Beta 1 and the one on Beta 2.

Timetable: When is WordPress 5.8 coming?

The exact schedule for the development of a new WordPress version can always be found in the Development Cycle. Work on WordPress 5.8 began on 23 February, the three beta versions were planned in weekly intervals for 8 June, 15 June and 22 June. After that, there were three release candidates – also in weekly intervals – from 29 June to 13 July. The final release was then scheduled for 20 July 2021.

By the way, there will be two more major updates in 2021: WordPress 5.9 in September 2021 and WordPress 6.0 in December 2021. At least that's the current plan.

Conclusion: What to make of WordPress 5.8?

There aren't any huge surprises coming our way in WordPress 5.8. It's long been known that WordPress is slowly but surely rolling out its Gutenberg editor across the site and using more and more blocks for areas of WordPress. In WordPress 5.8, the widgets had to be used. Opinions are divided on this development. As we all know, Gutenberg has plenty of both fans and critics.

But overall, the new blocks are not particularly spectacular. The Duotone block for effect editing of pictures is a nice gimmick. And the query loop block opens up new possibilities for displaying articles. More interesting is the end of Internet Explorer 11 support, as there are probably still some websites that will have (at least a few) problems as a result.

All in all, the new WordPress 5.8 is not a revolution, but a further evolution of the most popular content management system. It will be interesting to see how full site editing develops with versions 5.9 and 6.0. We'll find out in September and December 2021.

Your questions about WordPress 5.8

What questions do you have about WordPress 5.8? Feel free to use the comment function. Do you want to hear about news articles about WordPress and WooCommerce? Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or via our newsletter.

Christina is service editor at BASIC thinking, one of the biggest tech magazines in Germany. Her topics include technology, business, and marketing. For many years she has been working with WordPress at BASIC thinking as well as on her own projects.

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