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Wordpress 5 - breaking the web?

It is no secret that Wordpress powers a good part of the web, according to a number of sources on the web, WP powered sites range between 30% - 50% of websites in the world. I particularly tend to believe that this number is closer to the 30% margin, since this is the number that mostly appears in articles.

Wordpress is also very close to a new, very important release... Version 5.0. This version is a landmark itself for a number of reasons. You can read most of the good things about this release pretty much anywhere on the web, but what you won't read that often is the fact that one of the key things this version of WP has is a major breaking change.

Should you be worried? Are you in the clear? Will this change affect you? Why should you be concerned? These are just some of the questions you should be asking right now.

Introducing Gutenberg

Gutenberg is an all new content editor for Wordpress. Anyone would say, it has been a long time desired. If you've ever edited texts in Medium, you'll probably feel right at home using the new editor (hell you can even test-drive it in a current Wordpress install if you wish).

Besides the obvious "new interface", Gutenberg brings a new concept. To compare it with things you already know, I'd say it's like having Advanced Custom Fields or Beaver Editor installed on your site. You have blocks of content you can add, drag and drop interfaces and the works. It's a completely new experience for the user.

So what's the deal?

Besides the obvious learning curve that most users will endure, Gutenberg brings an issue. In the background, it stops using post_meta (from what I understood).  What that means in practical terms, is that content produced with Gutenberg is not compatible with content produced with the old editor (and vice-versa).

I have an old beaten up blog that I primarily use for testing out features, plugins, and ideas. Since it has things ranging from ACF, visual editors of all sorts, I thought it would be the ideal testing ground for a forced upgrade.

What happened after installing Wordpress 5.0

I will look at this, through the optics of an average blog owner (I am using my wife as a benchmark here - she owns a couple of successful blogs, but is not very tech-savy when it comes to editing HTML, PHP and the works). I guess this profile will represent the majority of owners of Wordpress sites.

From the client perspective (what the user will see on your site), upgrading to WP did not render any issues... Posts using ACF continued working normally, all my pages seemed to be rendered OK and I found no real issues. Yay!

The issues only started to arise when I went into wp-admin. Again at a first glance, all worked good and well. I could list pages and posts without much of a hassle.  Comments and stuff all seems to work. It looked like business as usual.


When I went into a regular post, Gutenberg kicked in. It did a pretty good job at converting my old post into the new format. Regular posts seem to work just fine. The problem arises when you try to edit a ACF or a Beaver Builder powered post.

All the customisations are gone... Anything that was not strictly "Vanilla Wordpress" just goes away (as I would expect). My repeaters, my custom blocks, all of them just vanish. Updating the page has unexpected outcomes... Data in the post_meta is not updated, so, I can never update old content.  Actually, anything that depends on the old post_meta just seems to linger on, unobtainable, and hence, never to be updated again. (Acutally, here is a good opportunity for a brave developer with time on his hands to develop a plugin that allows you to edit post meta data)


I would guess that most of the Wordpress sites around, would not suffer all that much from this major change. Sites like my wife's site, who pretty much use a Vanilla Wordpress install and half a dozen of classic plugins, should not face issues. Sites like my test site, using extensively things like Advanced Custom Fields, Custom plugins for specific types of content and so on... well that's a new story all together...

What would I suggest you to do? If you are a regular Wordpress user, install Gutenberg... get used to it's interface (you can run it side by side with the old editor in your current 4.9 version of Wordpress). Test things out, make sure you have no layout breaking changes.

If you are using a highly customised version of Wordpress... either start working on a new version of your site (if you need some consultancy, you can always reach out to me - I do freelance development work), or get your development version updated to Wordpress 5.0Rc1 and fool around to see what it will cause.

Will we expect 30% of the sites in the world to simply stop working? I guess the answer to that is no, but, I would expect a growing number of sites to start behaving awkwardly when WP5 is finally released. I would guess that most "fully custom Wordpress" installs will not upgrade to version 5.0.

If you see yourself in a situation where you are not sure about what will happen to your site, drop me a line. If I can, I will have a look at your site and let you know if I see any potential problems you might face. If you are not planning ahead of time, you might think to revisit this idea.  

My twitter handle is : @elbugz
My e-mail: greg@zombiecorp.com.br

Please feel free to get in touch with me. I'll try and help you out with what I can.

Gregory Brown

Gregory Brown

Baker, cake designer, cook and just by chance, a full featured developer that is passionate about technology.

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