Everything You Need to Know About WordPress Gutenberg

If you own or use a WordPress website, chances are that you have come across the term ‘Gutenberg’ some time in the last few months. If you’re not sure what it is, it’s the codename for the new version of WordPress’s content editor. Let’s take a look at what that means.

Firstly, let’s define ‘content editor’. When you edit or create content in WordPress you do so through a graphical interface known as a WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) editor. What that means is that it works like a Microsoft Word document – if you highlight something and click the ‘bold’ icon, it will embolden the text in the editor as well as on the ‘front-end’ (i.e. user facing section) of the website. Hence, ‘what you see is what you get’, i.e. the editor shows what the content will look like on the front-end.

The existing, pre-Gutenberg WordPress editor has been around for a¬†long time, and has barely changed in over ten years. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s basically the crocodile of the content management system (CMS) world. However, WordPress itself has changed a lot over the last few years, particularly when it comes to the way themes work. Modern themes allow users to build their own page layouts, not just edit the content itself, and so most 3rd party WordPress themes now use some sort of enhanced content editor, like Visual Composer, WPBakery’s Page Builder, or the Divi Builder to achieve this.

Using 3rd party content editors isn’t an issue in itself, but it does present a couple of problems for WordPress. Firstly, it implies that WordPress isn’t ready ‘out of the box’ for these themes – in the long run, this is a threat to WordPress as it opens the gateway to other CMSs that may be better suited to these themes.¬†Secondly, it means that different WordPress websites have different editing interfaces – you could spend years building knowledge of how to administer your own WordPress website, but as soon as you move to a new website or theme you have to start learning all over again.

With so many, indeed the majority, of WordPress websites powered by 3rd party themes, it has become clear that the current WordPress editor is not able to keep up with the demands of modern themes, hence the gap is being bridged by 3rd party content editor plugins. Interestingly, for bespoke themes, the current WordPress editor is pretty much at the pinnacle of usability and UI design – when coupled with flexible templates and intuitive custom fields, it’s pretty much the simplest and most flexible interface of any CMS on the web. As a result, the drive for Gutenberg is really coming from 3rd party themes, and that’s where over time it will make the biggest improvements.

The main difference between the current editor and Gutenberg is that Gutenberg allows for structural changes to the content, as opposed to just the content itself. Instead of just being able to update text and insert images, you can move around whole sections of text, images and videos and place them in different locations. If you use shortcodes to add content to your website, then you can move and place these around in the same way.

Any move to a new user interface is bound to cause a stir, and Gutenberg has caused a lot of heated discussion in the WordPress community. It’s probably fair to say that Gutenberg is, initially at least, not as intuitive as the regular editor, and particularly so for existing WordPress users (which is a LOT of people!). On the other hand, Gutenberg solves two of the big long-term problems for WordPress, creating more synergy between theme editing interfaces and unifying theme developers being the WordPress platform. It’s also pretty simple, once you get used to it.

Aesthetics aside, Gutenberg does introduce a more objective problem, which is compatibility. Almost all of the most popular WordPress themes and plugins have been updated to allow them to work with Gutenberg, but there are still huge numbers of older/less popular plugins that are yet to be updated, and some will likely never be updated again. As a result, WordPress has released a new plugin called ‘Classic Editor’ that allows users to retain the regular WordPress editor even after Gutenberg has launched.

If you are in any way concerned that your website may not be compatible with Gutenberg, or you simply don’t want to change to the new interface, we recommend installing the Classic Editor plugin as soon as possible. Gutenberg is scheduled to arrive in the next major update to WordPress, known as WordPress 5.0, which will be released on 6th December. You don’t necessarily have to update to WordPress 5.0 immediately, but it’s always good practice to stay up to date, and many WordPress hosts will update you automatically for security reasons.

There are several ways to install the Classic Editor – the easiest if probably from the link on the WordPress dashboard that will have appeared recently. Next time you login to WordPress, you should see a message stating “Not quite ready?”, with a link at the bottom to “Install the Classic Editor” – just click this link, wait for it to install, and then click the “Activate Classic Editor” button. That’s all you need to do in order to prevent Gutenberg from being activated. If you can’t install it this way, you can do the same thing by hovering over the ‘Plugins’ menu in WordPress and clicking ‘Add New’ – you can then search for and install Classic Editor the same way. If you ever want to undo this, just navigate to your list of plugins and click ‘Deactivate’ next to the Classic Editor plugin.

If you are unsure of what to do with Gutenberg or have any other questions regarding WordPress, please contact us for further information.