Note: When this article was first published the launch date for WordPress 5 was November 19th. That date has changed multiple times. The launch date is now listed as TBD.
WordPress 5.0 is expected to be launched in the next few months. It will be a huge change for anyone using WordPress. Why? WordPress 5 will make the Gutenberg editor the default editor for WordPress.
Instead of seeing this:
After WordPress 5 is released you’ll see this:
You’ll use the boxes to the right of Write your story to add blocks. There are text blocks, image blocks, quote blocks and many other blocks.
With Gutenberg you’ll add a block of text. Then you’ll add an image block. Then you’ll add another text block. You’ll add these blocks one at a time as you build your WordPress page or post. As you can imagine, there’s a pretty steep learning curve.
To be fair, the idea behind Guttenberg is that they’ll have blocks for tables, Google maps, testimonials as well as many other types of blocks. So once you get the hang of it, Gutenberg should have some benefits.
Getting back to next month, there’s the possibility that your theme and plugins may not work with the Gutenberg editor. Many themes and plugins have been tested with Gutenberg, but not all. Also, there’s a difference between testing and going live. Thirty percent of the world’s websites are powered by WordPress. When all of those sites move to Gutenberg I imagine some things will break.
Here’s my advice on getting through the update to Gutenberg with no or limited website downtime.
Turn OFF Advanced Automatic Updating
Many website hosts (including my host, SiteGround) have features that automatically update WordPress software, themes and plugins. Contact your host and have them turn automatic updating off.
Just to be clear, you want to keep the minor WordPress updates. In other words, if WordPress 4.9 is installed your system will automatically update to WordPress 4.9.1 but not update to WordPress 4.10.
The goal here is to update to WordPress 5 when you’re ready. We’re all going to have to update to WordPress 5 eventually. The key is to wait until the bugs have been worked out.
Back Up Your Site
There are different ways of doing this. Your website host may do this for you. You could use the All-in-One WP Migration plugin to make an export file of your site. Alternatively, you could use a WordPress plugin or a service like CodeGuard.
Be sure to get backups of your database, themes and plugins. That way when you do update to WordPress 5, you can roll back if it doesn’t work.
Classic Editor Plugin
Right now we’re using what WordPress thinks of as the classic WordPress editor. The Gutenberg editor is available as a plugin.
As an aside, Gutenberg currently has over 500,000 active installations. Its rating is 2.5 stars out of 5. That’s not a very encouraging score for a system that’s soon going to be the default editor of WordPress!
Getting back to the matter at hand, next month the editors will switch. Gutenberg will be the default and the classic editor will be a plugin. Make sure that you have the classic editor plugin installed!
Activate the classic editor plugin and test it with your system. Verify that the classic editor is set to replace Gutenberg. To do this, go to the Settings > Writing area of your WordPress dashboard.
Site Cloning or Staging
When you’re talking to your website host about turning off the automatic updates, ask them if they offer site staging or cloning. This service will create a duplicate version of your site that only you can see. You can use this test version of your site to see if Gutenberg breaks it. Install the Gutenberg plugin and activate it. Does everything still work? If so, WordPress 5 will likely not break your site.
A staging environment is also a great place to experiment with the Gutenberg editor. Add a post or update a page to see if you like it.
Prepare, Wait and Observe
Assuming that you do not have a staging environment, then your best option is to prepare, wait and watch.
Prepare for WordPress 5 by turning off auto updating, getting a good backup of your site and activating the classic editor plugin.
Wait at least two weeks after the launch of WordPress 5 before you even think about updating.
After two weeks observe how other sites using your theme and plugins are doing. You’ll do this by going to WordPress.org and looking up your theme and plugins. Check out the support area. Are things breaking because of WordPress 5? Are other website owners having problems? Is an update recommended before updating to WordPress 5?
If your website has premium (purchased) components, look at the support forum or blog of the company where you made your purchases.
Google the term “WordPress 5 Master List”. WordPress usually publishes a list of incompatibility issues for every major release.
Updating to WordPress 5
Once the major bugs are worked out we’ll all want to update to WordPress 5. Again, make sure that you have backups. My free WordPress Guide has tips on how to update safely. It also has a great troubleshooting section in case there are problems after the update.