WordPress 5.5 "Eckstine"
Major WordPress Update
On 11 August 2020, a major WordPress version, named WordPress 5.5 "Eckstine" after Billy Eckstine (William Clarence Eckstine born July 8, 1914, an American jazz, pop singer and a bandleader during the swing era) was released.
A major release is defined as "adding new user features and developer APIs." Sometimes this can also mean that there are backwards compatibility issues.
Major Areas of Improvement
WordPress 5.5 brings with it three major areas of improvement: speed, search, and security:
Usually images are the biggest contributor to the size of a web page, causing web pages to load more slowly. According to Pingdom.com in 2008, on average, images contributed 61.3% of the download size of a web page. In 2016 and 2017 that figure was 65% and 53.2% respectively.
Page size is important not only for page load speed but also for SEO. Size matters. The smaller the page size, the faster the page will load. In the 2017 report that looked at the contribution of images to page size Pingdom also reported that the average bounce rate for pages loading within 2 seconds was 9%. As page load time increases so does the bounce rate e.g. 38% of people leave a site when the page load is 5 seconds; 65% leave at the 10 second mark.
To help with page speed WordPress 5.5 has implemented image "lazy loading". This is when images only load as you scroll down the page. This should lead to faster page load times as images are only loaded when they are required.
In the past various plugins have been used to generate an XML sitemap (a file which lists information on the pages on your site including when the page was last updated and the page importance via a
<priority> tag. Google uses this file to crawl your site.
Now WordPress 5.5 includes a basic, extensible XML sitemap.
WordPress 5.5 now comes with the ability to auto-update plugins and themes. this only applies to WordPress repository themes and plugins. Commercial themes don't have this option. You can choose to update plugins and themes automatically or only enable auto-updates for plugins that you trust.
However, it's worth noting that auto-updating can lead to site issues.
Problems With Auto Updates
- Sometimes plugin and theme updates can break sites. Sometimes the breakage is very visible e.g. your site may "white screen" and you end up with a blank page. Other times the breakage may be subtle but devastating e.g. your contact form may stop working or your ecommerce site may prevent customers from completing their product purchase. If you're not checking your site daily these issues may go un-noticed for a period of time.
- If several plugins attempt to update at the same time this can cause a strain on your server which may result in fatal error messages. Plugins may on occasion also become deactivated (and stop functioning) and in some cases the site gets stuck in maintenance mode where your site will display the message "Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance. Check back in a minute."
- Major version releases can lead to site compatibility problems. Sometimes it makes sense to wait and see whether a plugin is stable before you update your site (although we would always recommend updating to the latest version if the update is a security release). Auto-updates removes your choice of when to update.
Deciding whether to enable auto updates will depend on your site's complexity and the theme and plugins you are using.
WordPress 5.5 is bundled with Gutenberg editor v8.5 and includes bug fixes and performance improvements to inline image editing, block patterns, device previews and the block directory.
Before updating your site be sure to take a backup.
#1 WordPress 5.5.1 was released on 1 September, 2020 and featured 34 bug fixes, 4 enhancements and 5 bug fixes for the block editor.