WordPress 5.6 Release Notes

WordPress 5.6 is set to release on December 8, 2020. What is coming to the third and final major WordPress release of the year? Let’s take a look at the new features WordPress is adding to version 5.6.

Twenty Twenty-One Theme

The Twenty Twenty-One theme (Source: make.wordpress.org)

Almost every year, the WordPress team releases a new default theme in the last major release of the year. The theme is named after the upcoming year. The last release of 2020 is no different, with the Twenty Twenty-One theme coming to WordPress 5.6.

Twenty Twenty-One is much different than many of the previous default themes for WordPress, primarily because of the focus on the Gutenberg editor over the past couple of years. Twenty Twenty-One is designed to be a “blank canvas” so you can build the perfect layout with Gutenberg. It features a pastel mint green background, although the background color can be changed in the theme, and uses fonts that are native to every browser.

The WordPress team sees Twenty Twenty-One as an opportunity for users to customize their experience with child themes. The “blank canvas” also makes way for the use of block patterns, a new feature introduced in WordPress 5.5. Twenty Twenty-One will also include dark mode.

Automatic major core updates

WordPress 5.6 is also bringing the option to opt into automatic major core updates. Presently, WordPress automatically updates minor core updates — that is, updates with three numbers (WordPress 5.5.1, for example). Major updates, indicated with only two numbers (i.e. the upcoming WordPress 5.6 that is the topic of this article), include updates on a larger scale, and up until now have only been available through a manual update. In WordPress 5.6, you’ll now be able to turn on automatic updates for major core releases. This will be optional, and you will need to opt into it manually.

Application passwords

One other major change coming to WordPress 5.6 is the addition of application passwords. This gives you a new way to grant access to your website to outside applications — like a mobile app or third party website, like a social media site. This doesn’t change the way you will log into WordPress as a user. Read the WordPress Application Password Integration Guide for more information.

Changes to the Gutenberg block editor

WordPress 5.6 incorporates seven updates to Gutenberg. You’ll notice several changes: support for video positioning in cover blocks, enhancements to patterns, character counts in the information panel, and user interface improvements (especially for drag and drop), improvement to keyboard navigation. One of the goals for WordPress 5.6 was to increase accessibility support, so improvement to keyboard navigation will be especially welcome for users who rely on it.

WordPress 5.6 will also come with a new Block API, which will allow themes and plugins to more easily style block content. What this means for you is you’ll ideally see less issues with blocks looking different from your theme, assuming the developers of those blocks use the new version 2 of the Block API.

Updated support for coding language updates

PHP 8 will release within a few days of WordPress 5.6, so the WordPress team is working to make WordPress compatible with PHP 8. Note that the minimum PHP version required for WordPress 5.6 is still 5.6.20, but PHP 7.4 is recommended. PHP itself no longer supports version 5.6; version 7.3 is now the minimum supported version. For more information on PHP, read our guide on which PHP version works best for WordPress.

WordPress 5.6 will also include updates to jQuery, a major JavaScript library WordPress uses especially with Gutenberg blocks. This update is step two of a three-step process that will complete in WordPress 5.7 (or later) next year. For more information on the WordPress jQuery Migrate project, read the WordPress article on updating jQuery core.

These updates don’t mean much to most users, but in simple terms, these updates mean that the WordPress team is hard at work to make sure WordPress uses the latest and greatest programming languages available. However, it also means that theme and plugin developers need to make sure their code is compatible with these new versions, so it’s important to make sure your theme and plugins are compatible with WordPress 5.6 before updating.

WordPress 5.6 is a major update scheduled to release on December 8, 2020. Because it is a major update, you’ll need to install it manually.