How to handle updating WordPress to version 5

If this episode of the AskHighrise series we look at the popular question of should I update to WordPress version 5 and how are we handling this with client websites.

WordPress version 5.0 was a major release of WordPress with the big change being that it included the new block-editor, named Gutenberg. This caused a lot of worry for many WordPress website owners and professionals looking after WordPress sites in terms of when to upgrade.

I have been many questions about this such as:

  • Should I upgrade to WordPress version 5.0?
  • When should I update to WordPress version 5.0?
  • Will my site break if I update to WordPress version 5.0?
  • Is there anything I can do to help my site not break when I update to WordPress 5.0?

In this episode (#4) of the #AskHighrise series of videos, I look at answering these questions and concerns about updating your WordPress site to version 5.0.

  • AskHighrise #4 - Updating to WordPress version 5.0


Hello there welcome to AskHighrise episode number 4, the series of videos where you can ask Highrise Digital any questions you like about WordPress, the web industry running a WordPress business and the web, the sort of stuff that we do.

In this episode episode number 4, we’re going to be looking at the question that I often get asked by WordPress developers, by clients, by people that build WordPress websites and that is should I upgrade or update WordPress to version 5?

Now you might think that this is a bit of a silly question why is it going to a specific version gonna be a problem and the reason is because WordPress version 5 introduced something called the block editor and the block editor changed the way you edit pages in WordPress. So it was a really big upgrade it’s a big step for WordPress to move from the classic WYSIWYG editor that it had, to moving towards this JavaScript based block editor that was a complete change. And, there was a lot of fear that things were going to break. So a question I have been asked quite repeatedly is, as a business what are we doing with clients how are we moving them or upgrading to WordPress version 5?

I thought I just outline here the sorts of approaches that we’ve taken. For many clients we still haven’t upgraded a them to WordPress version 5 but we will be shortly. For some clients we have and for those we have we have done one of two things.

First of all we’ve tested the upgrade on a staging site for the clients to make sure that nothing breaks and actually in the whole it’s been quite a positive experience, most things haven’t broken.

Now let me explain why that’s the case because for normal pages and posts in WordPress and where you haven’t got anything sort of custom going on, then those are kind of gonna work. Essentially the old editors content gets dropped into the block editor and as what’s called a classic block and your content just displays as you would expect it to.

Now, for custom post types that we might have added we’ve probably got things going on, on those edit screens that are out of the norm, then those custom post types must be registered to use the REST API and if they’re not registered to use the REST API then WordPress itself doesn’t load the block editor on those screens. So, it’s just going to kind of do what it did as it was before. It’s only really if you’ve got a custom post type where you have enabled the REST API and maybe you’re doing something else with that but you are using the old editing style, the old classic editor style, that you’re going to have problems with, and we haven’t seen much of that yet.

I’ve also not had many problems with posts or post types where I have been using the REST API and I have got sort of traditional style meta box on them. They look different but they have worked pretty well actually so on the whole I’ve not seen a great deal of problems with upgrading people to WordPress version 5, however for those sites that we’ve got with clients that we’ve had we know we’ve got a lot of custom stuff going on we haven’t pushed them up to version 5 yet but we will be doing in the very near future.

To my knowledge there hasn’t been a vast amount of other features in WordPress version 5 apart from Gutenberg (the block editor) and therefore those clients aren’t particularly losing out on very much at the moment.

If we upgrade those clients and we do see problems then there is an option available to you called the classic editor plugin, released on which you can download. Essentially what that does is it stops WordPress from using the block editor so if you activate that it essentially means that we can move those clients to WordPress version 5 but they don’t have to use the new Guttenberg or block editor in that particular install, so they can stay on the editor that they were using before and essentially nothing to changes.

Obviously in time we want to move clients towards the new editor but that is going to take time and now it’s obviously in core it’s gonna be a bit more stable and we can work towards doing that.

So I think to sum up, we haven’t done it with clients where we know we’re doing lots of custom stuff on the site but we will be doing that with clients shortly and will be possibly utilizing the classic editor plugin if it doesn’t work out as we wanted.

But for those sites that are a bit more standard we have pushed them to version 5 and seen little issues.

Hopefully that helps answer the question but I think the key here is test test and test, don’t just push this live on the live web site. We have quite a robust system of developing locally moving things to a testing site to stage them and check what’s going on allows clients to see that process so they can log in and then obviously once everyone’s happy has pushed to a production site and hopefully any of the bugs and things that have been ironed on out and caught in that flow rather than getting to live.

So that’s a bit about what WordPress version 5 about how we have handled that with clients and we’ll see you on the next episode.

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About the author

Mark is the lead WordPress developer at Highrise Digital. He has been working with WordPress for over 15 years, way back to 2005. He focuses on back-end development, integrating the website build with WordPress so everything can be editable.