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I’ve only just been catching up with the news about Gutenberg, the name for a revamp of the WordPress editor. You can use it right now, as it’s being built as a plugin first, with the idea that eventually it goes into core. The repo has better information.

It seems to me this is the most major change to the WordPress editor in WordPress history. It also seems particularly relevant here as we were just talking about content blocks and how different CMS’s handle them. That’s exactly what Gutenberg is: a content block editor.

Rather than the content area being a glorified textarea (perhaps one of the most valid criticisms of WordPress), the content area becomes a wrapper for whatever different “blocks” you want to put there. Blocks are things like headings, text, lists, and images. They are also more elaborate things like galleries and embeds. Crucially, blocks are extensible and really could be anything. Like a [shortcode], I imagine.

Some images from Brian Jackson’s Diving Into the New Gutenberg WordPress Editor help drive it home:

As with any big software change, it’s controversial (even polarizing). I received an email from someone effectively warning me about it.

The consensus is this UI upgrade could either move WP into the future or alienate millions of WP site owners and kill WordPress.

I tend to think WordPress is 2-BIG-2-DIE, so probably the former.

I also think piecing together block types is a generic and smart abstraction for a CMS to make. Gutenberg seems to be handling it in a healthy way. The blocks are simply wrapped in specially formatted <!– wp:core/text –> <!– /wp:core/text –> to designate a block, so that the content highly compatible. A WordPress site without Gutenberg won’t have any trouble with it, nor porting it elsewhere.

Plus the content is still treated in templates as one big chunk:

To ensure we keep a key component of WordPress’ strength intact, the source of truth for the content should remain in post_content, where the bulk of the post data needs to be present in a way that is accessible and portable.

So regardless of how you structure it in the editor, it’s stored as a chunk in the database and barfed out in templates with one command. That makes it perhaps less flexible than you might want from a templating perspective, but scopes down this change to a palatable level and remains very WordPress-y.

It seems a lot of the controversy stems from either who moved my cheese sentiments or what it does and doesn’t support at this second. I don’t put much stock in either, as people tend to find the cheese fairly quickly and this still under what seems to be heavy active development.

A big support worry is custom meta boxes. Joost de Valk:

Fact remains that, if you test Gutenberg right now, you’ll see that Yoast SEO is not on the page, anywhere. Nor, for that matter, are all the other plugins you might use like Advanced Custom Fields or CMB2. All of these plugins use so-called meta boxes, the boxes below and to the side of the current editor.

The fact that the Gutenberg team is considering changing meta boxes is, in our eyes, a big mistake. This would mean that many, many plugins would not work anymore the minute Gutenberg comes out. Lots and lots of custom-built integrations would stop working. Hundreds of thousands of hours of development time would have to be, at least partly, redone. All of this while, for most sites, the current editor works just fine.

That does sound like a big deal. I wonder how easy baby-stepping into Gutenberg will be. For example, enabling it for standard posts and pages while leaving it off for custom post types where you are more likely to need custom meta boxes (or some combination like that).

On this site, I make fairly heavy use of custom meta boxes (even just classic custom fields), as well as using my own HTML in the editor, so Gutenberg won’t be something I can hop on quickly. Which makes me wonder if there will always be a “classic” editor or if the new editor will be mandatory at a certain point release.

Yet more controversy came from the React licensing stuff. That went essentially like:

  1. Matt Mullenweg: we’re gonna switch away from React (which Gutenberg uses) because licencing.
  2. React: You’re all wrong but we give up. It’s MIT now.
  3. Matt Mullenweg: That’s good, but the talk now is allowing people to use whatever New JavaScript lib they want.

I’ve never heard of “framework-agnostic” block rendering, but apparently, it’s a thing. Or maybe it’s not? Omar Reiss:

With the new Gutenberg editor we’re changing the way the WordPress admin is being built. Where we now render the interface with PHP, we will start rendering more and more on the client-side with JavaScript. After the editor, this is likely to become true for most of the admin. That means that if you want to integrate with the admin interface, you’ll have to integrate with the JavaScript that renders the interface. If WordPress chooses Vue, you’ll have to feed WordPress Vue components to render. If WordPress chooses React, you’ll have to feed WordPress React components to render. These things don’t go together. React doesn’t render Vue components or vice versa. There is no library that does both. If WordPress uses a particular framework, everyone will have to start using that framework in order to be able to integrate.

That’s a tricky situation right there. Before the React license change, I bet a nickel they’d go Vue. After, I suspect they’ll stick with React. Their own Calypso is all React in addition to what already exists for Gutenberg, so it seems like a continuity bonus.

This will be a fun tech story to follow! Sites like Post Status will likely be covering it closer than I’ll be able to.