On November 12, 2019, the last major WordPress version of 2019 was released. Named “Kirk” in honour of jazz multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk, version 5.3 includes more intuitive interactivity, along with various tools to improve accessibility and enhance the design process.
In version 5.3, the overall user experience and interface have been enhanced, with improvements to the Gutenberg block editor, new visual hints and animations, various usability enhancements, and the introduction of the new Twenty Twenty default theme.
Block Editor Improvements
The version 5.3 Gutenberg block editor includes over 150 new features, providing additional layout options and style variations to allow users more control over the look of a website.
Improvements to Gutenberg blocks include:
- Blocks can now be grouped together (they can also be ungrouped) and interacted with as a group (ie. you can apply one background color to an entire group of blocks). Group blocks can also be saved for later use.
- A new Navigation mode which allows you to jump from block to block using your keyboard.
- With new predefined layouts, you can arrange content in more advanced ways, and set certain blocks to a preferred style.
- The image block now allows you to set a style for images.
- The column block now makes it much easier to create advanced multi-column layouts, and allows you to apply a fixed width to each column using the column settings.
- The table block now allows you to select styles and add stripes to table rows. You can also add header and footer rows from the table settings.
- The button block now allows you to set the button border-radius, set the link target and add rel attributes to the link, making button links open in a new window and make them nofollow as appropriate.
- The latest post block now allows you to add custom-length excerpts to a list of recent posts.
- The updated heading block now you allows you to easily change heading text and background colors.
- A new “spacer” block allows you to add space between your blocks, setting a custom height in pixels, or using the interactive space sizer, which will automatically adjust the space in pixels.
- A new social links block allows you to easily add (or remove) social media icons to your posts and pages and link them to your social media pages.
Improved Image Upload & Rotation
Version 5.3 aims to improve the image upload experience, especially when an image is of such a large size that uploading it might require more time and hosting resources. To address these concerns, version 5.3 introduces large image detection, automatically generating a “web-optimized maximum size” of a large image. 5.3 also includes an automatic save for the upload and image creation process, preventing your uploads from crashing, and allowing WordPress to resume an upload that has been disrupted.
Version 5.3 also fixes image rotation by using the exchangeable image file (“EXIF”) metadata that your mobile device or camera adds to the original image. With this, your images will be correctly rotated upon upload.
Admin Email Verification
Your WordPress admin email address is very important, and not just because it can be used to login. WordPress also uses this address to send you password resets and other notification emails.
Where in previous versions, you could just go to the Settings section and update your default admin email address as needed, version 5.3 makes it mandatory to verify a new email address, trying to ensure that you don’t miss future emails. When you log in as an administrator, WordPress will also periodically require you to confirm that you email address is current, thereby reducing the chance of you getting locked out of your site if you change your email address.
Improved Site Health Reports
The Site Health feature was introduced in version 5.1 to help website owners monitor site performance and WordPress security issues. The 5.3 Site Health Report includes some changes to make it even easier to identify issues, replacing the health score percentage feature with a worded health check score such as “Good” or “Should be improved”. The only time a user will see a percentage is if their site has “perfect” health (with all tests on the Status tab cleared) – then they will see a 100% site health score.
Introducing the Twenty Twenty Theme
With version 5.3 comes the new Twenty Twenty theme, which provides enhanced design flexibility and more integration with the block editor. Twenty Twenty allows you to highlight your products and/or services with a more advanced layout, with a combination of columns, groups and media groups.
Twenty Twenty also includes elegant typography, introducing the typeface Inter, which comes in various font weights, works very well for headlines and looks great on smaller screens. Inter is the first Variable Font version ever used in default WordPress themes, with load times kept short by containing all of the Inter font styles and weights in just two font files.
Twenty Twenty works with all WordPress page builders, and includes a cover and a full-width template for pages and posts. Featuring a single column layout with no left or right sidebars, Twenty Twenty has two separate menus for mobile screens, two navigation menus at the top, and a social links menu and two widget-ready areas on the bottom.
A few of the improvements in 5.3 are aimed specifically at developers. In version 5.3, a number of API functions have been added to the date and time functionality. This not only fixes various bugs, it also provides unified time retrieval and PHP interoperability, allowing developers to work with dates and timezones in a more reliable manner.
WordPress encourages all users to run the latest version of PHP, and with version 5.3, aims to ensure compatibility with PHP 7.4, including various changes to remove deprecated functionality. Version 5.3 also includes a better way to discourage search engines from indexing a website when you select the “Discourage” option. A new show/hide password feature will now be available on WordPress login screens for both desktop and mobile devices.
With various improvements and enhancements for users and developers alike, WordPress version 5.3 builds on the Gutenberg block editor introduced in version 5.0. Streamlining the block creation and editing processes, 5.3 aims to further enhance the overall user experience, making it easier than ever for various users to create amazing websites.