I just logged into my WordPress dashboard and found this little message waiting for me. I often don’t pay any mind to the updates and get them over with as fast as I can so that the annoying notification goes away. This time, however, I clicked the blue button and watched as my website went into maintenance mode and came back radically different. Ladies and Gentleman, WordPress 4.9 Tipton just dropped and it’s got some amazing changes! Here’s all you need to know about it.
I’m going to be honest. Despite being a huge fan of WordPress, a tech enthusiast and an all-round nerd, the first thing that caught my eye was not the extensive changes that WordPress has undergone – it was the name. So, why Tipton? Well, WordPress 4.9 is named Tipton after Billy Tipton, a jazz musician and band leader. I’m not sure why they chose Billy Tipton, but he does have a really interesting life story and I highly recommend reading about this musician!
Changes to the Customizer
WordPress’s Customizer is a really useful tool that allows you to make several changes to the appearance of the site without having to go into the source code and edit it. This comes in handy when you need to make a quick change and time is of the essence, or when you need to make a minor change and don’t want to sift through thousands of lines of code to get it done. WordPress 4.9 takes this already effective Customizer and makes it more powerful than ever before.
Save Design Drafts and Schedule Site Customizations
The Customizer allows you to edit your website and make instantaneous changes to it. However, not all changes or redesigns need to go live right away. Sometimes, a developer needs their changes to go live at a later date and previously, there was no effective way of getting this done. But not anymore. The popular Draft and Schedule features that allowed bloggers to save drafts of posts or schedule an upload date and time, have now been made available in the Customizer. This allows you to edit your site and save a draft of your design that will not be visible to the public. In addition to that, you can set a fixed date and time for your changes to go live. Off the top of my head, I see this coming in handy for festivals when you need your website to look relevant to the celebrations. You can schedule a design change to go live on Christmas, where your website is more Christmas-y, or a design change to go live on January 1st, celebrating the new year. There’s countless ways this feature will be of help to WordPress website owners and I’m really glad it’s available in this update.
Better Collaboration With Customizer Preview Links
Every developer knows how tedious it can be to send clients previews of changes to their site for them to give the green signal. I used to send screenshots, or set up a test subdomain that would host the changes and then move them over to the actual domain once the client was satisfied. This won’t be necessary anymore as the Customizer now has a ‘Preview Link’ function – another feature that was very popular in the post editor. Much like it did with individual blog posts, this feature generates a link to a preview that contains the changes made to your website. This link can then be shared with clients to keep them in the loop or friends and family for some feedback, or even other team members working on the site like developers, designers, writers, etc.
Ever heard the saying “too many cooks spoil the broth”? Well, what if one cook could lock up the kitchen? That’s exactly what design locking enables you to do. It allows you to lock the draft of your design so that no one can make changes to it – keeping your new design safe and sound. This is yet another update that seems to be based on the success of these features in the post editor.
WordPress 4.9 Brings the ‘Save Work’ Prompt
If you’ve ever experienced the sinking feeling of despair as you realize that you forgot to save changes to your site, you’ll love this new feature in WordPress 4.9. It prompts you to save any unsaved changes on leaving the Customizer idle.
Syntax Highlighting and Error Checking
The team behind WordPress knows that while their platform is extremely popular among non-coders who want to set up websites or blogs, it is also extremely popular with web designers and developers as well, who enjoy going into the source code and tweaking things. Previously, in WordPress 4.8.1, the CSS editor and Custom HTML widget features were rolled out. While they were pretty useful, these editors were quite basic and made editing code a bit tiresome. WordPress Tipton is here to fix that with new, revamped editors. The CSS and HTML editors now feature neat line numbering, indentation, syntax highlighting and error checking. This will greatly impact a coder’s speed when it comes to making changes to the CSS of the page.
Sandbox for Safety
The scariest moment for any WordPress developer is the dreaded white screen that indicates that something is wrong. Now, however, WordPress 4.9 will test your code and point out errors before saving. Working on themes and plugin code has never been easier – or safer!
Warning: Potential Danger Ahead!
Editing themes and plugins directly is not safe. If you mess up, debugging and fixing the mistake on a site that’s live can be time consuming and impractical, not to mention the disastrous effects it will have on the site itself. Yet, small changes sometimes cannot be avoided and every now and then you will have to make a change without drafting and testing your file. Well, WordPress 4.9 still lets you make these changes but gives you a nice little warning sign before you do. Not an outstanding new feature, but still useful nonetheless.
WordPress 4.9 Unveils the Gallery Widget
This isn’t and entirely new feature, as several media changes were made in WordPress 4.8. The new gallery widget, however, builds upon these changes and improves them in WordPress 4.9. You can now add a gallery via this new widget
Press a Button, Add Media
The Add Media button allows you to embed images, video and audio directly into the text widget. It is a simple and useful feature.
Site Building Improvements
More Reliable Theme Switching
Widgets tend to jump around when you switch themes as each design has its own location for them. WordPress 4.9, however, is improved to offer more persistent menu and widget placement on switching themes.
Find and Preview the Perfect Theme
You can now test out themes from within the Customizer itself. This new feature that has been included in WordPress 4.9 Tipton allows you to search, browse and preview over 2600 themes inside the Customizer, before deploying any changes to your site. Your theme search can also be sped up by making use of filters like ‘subject’, ‘features’ and ‘layout’.
Better Menu Instructions = Less Confusion
Creating menus in WordPress wasn’t exceedingly painful, but it wasn’t a seamless experience either. The instructions were confusing and the entire process of creating a menu and adding pages was highly unintuitive. WordPress 4.9 fixes this by completely redesigning this page. They’ve ironed out the UX for a smoother menu creation process.
This update definitely brings a lot of new, power-packed features to WordPress. It’s only just come out yesterday and I’m sure that in the next few days a lot of the vulnerabilities, issues and bugs with this update will be identified and fixed soon. This is a major update and definitely makes WordPress even more powerful and efficient than it already is! Many thanks to Mel Choyce, Weston Ruter and the 443 contributors that played a role in putting this wonderful update out there. A cool little fact: Out of the 443 contriibutors, 185 of them were first timers. Kudos to the team for a job well done!
WordPress 4.9 is available for download here or for update through your dashboard!
If you would like a custom website built on the WordPress platform, do check out my website and learn more about what I do here