How 5.9 creates a strong foundation for the future

Learn how WordPress 5.9 sets a strong foundation for so much more in the future of WordPress.

Photo by Rodolfo Quirós from Pexels

With attention on WordPress 5.9 set to launch January 25th, 2022, this post seeks to paint a picture of the future that this strong foundation of this upcoming WordPress release provides. In many ways, what you’ll find in 5.9 is just the beginning of various pieces of functionality and, by the end of the post, you too should see why.

For now, keep in mind two things: it’s impossible to estimate when the following items will be implemented and these are just a few of many exciting things being explored.

Robust block theme switching

While 5.9 marks the exciting introduction of block themes, the power of this new approach to themes doesn’t stop there, especially when you think about what will be possible across different block themes. For example, imagine a world where one could seamlessly take patterns from one theme, styling from another, and templates from yet another to create a site. Or imagine being able to switch themes while retaining your favorite palette of colors and typography. This is all being explored! To learn more, check out this wonderful design dive from a Core contributor on the design team. 

Switch between built in style variations with block themes

Right now, each block theme comes with one set of styles and settings bundled in a theme.json file. In the future, block themes can be bundled with multiple Style options, allowing you to switch between vastly different looks without changing themes. In the future, after finding one you like, you could then customize your site further using the Styles system in place from 5.9! This could radically change the experience of exploring and using themes, perhaps allowing you to use Styles from one theme in a different one or allowing theme authors to ship new Style variations as updates to their theme. All of this begs the question of how the theme directory can be reimagined to highlight how there are almost multiple themes built into each block theme thanks to these different variations. There’s both a ton to be figured out here and to look forward to.

You can see this concept demonstrated in the following video pulled from the Introducing Twenty Twenty-Two post:

To stay on top of this work, check out this PR currently underway

Create more types of templates

While WordPress 5.9 allows you to add some types of templates, there are numerous others that folks are keen to build. For example, what if you wanted a custom template for a specific category of posts or for a custom post type? These are all different types of templates to explore adding to the site editor! To see what types of templates are being explored, check out this GitHub issue on the topic

Updated color picker experience

With more color options coming to WordPress, the color panel is getting a makeover to ensure it’s even easier to customize for all the various blocks that make use of this functionality. 

Current design

Current color picker experience showing only one color option rather than all.

Upcoming design 

Upcoming color picker experience, showing a panel off to the side and each color listed clearly in the sidebar.

As you can see, with this new experience, it makes better use of the sidebar and it allows you to see the current choices at a glance. To stay up to date with this work, check out this overview GitHub tracking issue

Save and schedule changes in the site editor

In the Customizer, you could save and schedule changes you wanted to make to your site’s design. Currently, in the site editor, this isn’t yet possible but is being planned. To stay up to date with this work, check out this issue.

Find patterns in more places

Block Patterns are a powerful way to quickly build beautiful content. While patterns can be bundled with themes and there’s a new modal for exploring patterns, lots of work remains to have patterns appear right when you need them. For a sampling of enhancements to look forward to, check out the following:

To connect some dots, if all of these were implemented today, you could do things like create a new template and be presented with patterns built into the experience that include blocks you’re likely to use like a navigation block, site title, and site logo put together in various options to pick from. Don’t like what you see? You could then use the transform menu to pick something else. All of this should streamline site creation.

More controls for more customization

While WordPress 5.9 includes a ton more customization options for blocks, there are even more to come. You can learn more about what’s planned in this overview issue. With each added control to each block comes an infinite number of possible combinations. Here’s just a brief taste of what you’ll be able to do with 5.9 to help give you a sense of what will be possible going forward too: 

Expanded locking capabilities to offer more curated experiences

While more options lead to excitement for some folks, questions of locking down the experience come up for others. WordPress 5.9 introduces a new block level locking mechanism to work alongside template locking that helps set this foundation but know that there’s more to come. Imagine creating a custom pattern for a client and ensuring it’s locked in a way so that the content can be edited and the entire pattern can be moved around but the blocks within it can’t be removed. Or imagine you help set up a site for a client and you want to ensure some key information about their business (like opening hours) both can’t be removed or moved but can be updated as needed. This is the sort of functionality this work allows. It also ties directly into Phase 3 of the roadmap (collaborative editing) so expect much of this work to be explored and aligned as Phase 3 gets underway.

For a practical example of what’s possible today, check out this awesome tweet from Matías Ventura. As for what will be possible tomorrow? Stay tuned and check out this overview issue.

If reading this got you excited about what’s to come and curious to learn more, I recommend joining the FSE Outreach Program where these sorts of early explorations are regularly shared and discussed, often with feedback from the program incorporated into the future of WordPress.