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10 Gutenberg myths busted: The future of content creation in WordPress

Andrew Roberts

October 25th, 2017

Written by

Andrew Roberts


World of WYSIWYG

Gutenberg is the name of the new editing experience that is due to be released as part of WordPress 5.0. In New York on Saturday, I gave a talk on the What and Why of Gutenberg, which was well attended and prompted lots of questions from the audience. Here are some of the answers to the questions I heard.

Myth #1. Gutenberg will be released soon

It is important to note that version 4.9 of WordPress is not out yet. Version 5.0 of WordPress is not due to be released until 2018, and the new editing experience is still under constant construction.

There is no reason to panic. The team working on Gutenberg is listening carefully to the issues that users, developers, administrators, and designers might encounter during this change. There is a lot of hard work going in to make sure there is an orderly transition into the future of content creation.

The Gutenberg team has not yet submitted what is known as a merge proposal to bring Gutenberg into WordPress Core. Even after it is proposed, it could take a long time for WordPress Core to accept it. As an example, it took the REST API more than 12 months to move from initial merge proposal to a release of WordPress.

It is not possible to say exactly when it will be released, but it is at least several months away and probably many more. Matt Mullenweg, the leader behind WordPress 5.0, has made it clear “Gutenberg will ship with WordPress 5.0, but the release will come out when Gutenberg is ready, not vice versa.”

Myth #2. You can not turn off the new editing experience

A user interface change this big may well require training and time to plan. To avoid your IT help desk getting flooded with calls, you will still be able to upgrade to WordPress 5.0 yet keep the current editor experience. A plugin, Classic Editor, is already in the plugin directory and does it exactly this. (If you prefer puns, there is also the cleverly named Glutenberg Free plugin.)

You may also have spent time extending the current editor with custom toolbar buttons. Within Gutenberg, there is a Classic Text block. The Classic Text block is essentially the current editor. Any previous customizations such as custom buttons or custom views will show up in this block. Posts created in the pre-Gutenberg era should load into the Classic Text block with no problems.

Using the Classic Editor plugin or the Classic Text block will give you time to train your users and transition your customizations to the new editing experience.

Classic Text block
The Classic Text Block

Myth #3. No support for meta boxes

Meta boxes are a feature of WordPress that enables information about your content (known as metadata) to be entered. For example, the Yoast SEO plugin uses meta boxes to let users enter keywords associated with a blog post, among many other SEO-related activities.

Meta boxes are an essential part of WordPress and support for meta boxes has always been planned. It is finally here! It has been merged in and is available in version 1.5 of Gutenberg released on Tuesday, October 24.

The current implementation has an area below the editor called “Extended Settings,” and this is where you will find your meta boxes. Here is an example of Yoast SEO settings loaded in this Extended Settings area of Gutenberg version 1.5:

Yoast SEO in the “Extended Settings” area of Gutenberg

Myth #4. No support for custom post types

In WordPress, custom post types enable developers to build specific content entry forms for different types of content. The concept has been essential for WordPress to evolve from a blogging platform to a full content management system. An example: on the team page of the Ephox website we use a custom “Team Member” post type with a profile image, name, and title to create a listing of our employees.

Custom post types are an important feature of WordPress and version 5.0 will, of course, support it. The plan is to allow custom post types to specify the blocks they require, as well as define a default block for the post type. They will continue to be an important in WordPress 5.0 and beyond.

Custom post types will also be able to hide much of the new editing experience. Complicated edit screens (such as WooCommerce), will most likely do this for some time as they transition to using blocks.

WooCommerce makes use of Custom Post Types for editing products in WordPress

Myth #5. Shortcodes will not work

Shortcodes enable you to insert dynamic content into WordPress content and will continue to work. As mysterious as they are to many new users, they are a fundamental part of WordPress today and are not going away anytime soon. Shortcodes will continue to work as they do now, but according to the FAQ:

We see the block as an evolution of the shortcode. Instead of having to type out code, you can use the universal inserter tray to pick a block and get a richer interface for both configuring the block and previewing it. We would recommend people eventually upgrade their shortcodes to be blocks.

In other words, blocks are an easier, more visual way to accomplish what shortcodes have previously.

Myth #6. You need to change your theme

Out of the box, Gutenberg will work with all WordPress themes.

There are some Gutenberg features, such as full-width images and custom color palettes, that need support from the theme. These are turned off by default and need to be turned on by the theme explicitly. Although all other Gutenberg blocks will work out of the box, themes can also use CSS to style content such as Galleries in unique ways.

Myth #7. Gutenberg is a page builder

In its first release, Gutenberg is just an editor. It will not yet offer all the features that a typical page builder such as Beaver Builder provides. In particular, Gutenberg does not yet enable columnsnested blocks or drag and drop.

The goal, however, is to offer many of these features in subsequent releases. Ultimately, there will be a rich, first-class infrastructure that page builders currently have to implement themselves. An example is undo and redo – Gutenberg takes care of this all for you.

Plugins and themes currently considered as page builders will evolve, most likely, to be packages of premium blocks and templates that leverage Gutenberg. Premium blocks could have features that the Core Blocks are unlikely to have – for example, blocks could alter their capabilities by user role. There is also an opportunity for developers to offer prepackaged sets of reusable and beautifully designed page templates.

Myth #8. Gutenberg is switching away from React

There is understandable confusion about Gutenberg’s usage of React.

Facebook is the copyright owner of React, and it had released under a BSD+Patents agreement that many people and organizations took issue with. The rumors were that Facebook had been considering relicensing React, but on August 18 they said they were sticking with the problematic license.

On September 14, Matt Mullenweg announced that Gutenberg would be switching away from React. Six days later, Facebook changed its tune and switched React’s license to MIT. The MIT license is acceptable to almost everyone, and on September 24 Matt announced Gutenberg has stuck with React. At least for now.

Myth #9. You have to build blocks in React

Just because Gutenberg uses React does not necessarily mean you will need to use React to build your blocks. The team is exploring framework-agnostic approaches to building blocks such as web components that would let you use Vue,  Vanilla and so forth. WPTavern covered some of the discussion around the interoperability goals.

Myth #10. Gutenberg is completely replacing TinyMCE

TinyMCE and WordPress have worked together closely for over 10 years. Since then, WordPress and TinyMCE have evolved a lot together. TinyMCE, as you probably know it, and its place in the post editor screen changes quite a bit in Gutenberg. Gutenberg takes over a lot more of the user experience although it does not entirely replace TinyMCE. TinyMCE continues to be used in a couple of important ways.

Firstly, the TinyMCE user experience (toolbar, dialogs, writing flow) can also be found hiding in the Classic Text block. Customizations that previously worked with TinyMCE will continue to work with the Classic Text block. For example, the popular TinyMCE Advanced plugin, with more than 2 million active installs, will continue to work with the Classic Text block.

Secondly, Gutenberg uses the TinyMCE core rich text editing engine in the Editable component. The Editable component is similar to a super-powered textarea element, enabling rich content editing including bold, italics, hyperlinks, etc. It is not unlike the single editor region of the legacy post editor. In other words, TinyMCE augments nearly every text field for rich text.

There is also a two-way street between the two open source projects – TinyMCE’s future will be influenced by Gutenberg. For example, there were some tweaks to the default theme in TinyMCE 4.7 that were inspired by Gutenberg. Substantial work also went into restructuring the TinyMCE codebase to support a separation of the core rich text editor engine from the user experience. It is also important to note that members of the TinyMCE team are contributing to the code and design on Gutenberg.

More concerns?

The Gutenberg team, led by Matías Ventura and Tammie Lister, are always keen to hear from you. You can open a Github issuewrite a review or join in the discussion on the #core-editor channel on Make WordPress Slack.

Better still, if you would like to get involved we are very keen to hear from content creators and end users of WordPress. There is a call for Gutenberg testing with instructions on how to test and what to test. Organize a usability test today! Our own Anna Harrison would be more than happy to help.

If you have any questions for me, please reach out on Twitter and I will do the best to track down the answers for you. If you are organizing a talk at a WordCamp or meetup feel free to reach out for the slides so you can help spread the word.

Cover photo by shlomp-a-pompa. And, yes, this post was written with Gutenberg!

byAndrew Roberts

Co-founder and CEO of Tiny, the company behind TinyMCE and other great content creation products and services.

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