First Look at WordPress 6.3

Two weekend ago, I decided to dive into the hot-off-the-press release of WordPress 6.3 after listening to (episode name) of press this. I’ve started to follow the evolution of WordPress more closely over the past few months and especially as Full Site Editing becomes more robust and seems like an increasingly viable option for client builds.

I set up a staging site, picked a free block-based theme, and tried to rebuild my existing website as quickly and accurately as possible.

Core Setup

  • Staging environment replicated from my production site. I should have been a cowboy. I don’t want to be a cowboy coder.
  • Blockbase Theme. I wanted something block-based and free. This one comes from Automattic, which made me feel like I’d be working with something pretty stable and vanilla.
  • Create Block Theme Plugin. This plugin from WordPress.org can do a lot of things, including create a new theme or child theme. My use case was loading additional Google Fonts into my theme.1One tangential and wild factoid that I learned during this process is that the way Google Fonts are loaded can be both a privacy and legal issue. There was a court case in Germany where a website owner was fined because the use of Google Fonts exposed the IP address of a visitor to Google, thus violating GDPR. I wasn’t worried about violating any laws while testing 6.3 on a staging site, but it was good to learn about. You can read about it yourself at WP Tavern and CSS Tricks.

Below is a summary of my experience as well as the features that I like the most, which turned out to be the two discussed the most on the show: the Style Book and the Command Palette.

My Favorite Features in WordPress 6.3

The Style Book

One of the features that I like the most in WordPress 6.3 is the Style Book.2The Style Book made it’s debut in WordPress 6.2, but I’m excited about how it’s matured in 6.3. The traditional Customizer provided similar design editing functionality as the Style Book, but the Style Book takes things further and presents major blocks in one neat little UI.

The style book makes it very easy to see how each element or block within your site will look and to stylet appropriately. Previously, if I wanted to style a block with some custom CSS, I would have to go through a process that included:

  • opening my site in a browser
  • opening the inspect panel
  • searching for the specific CSS selector
  • going back to the customizer to write custom CSS for that selector
  • clearing the cache and reloading the page to test my work

The Style Book shortens that convoluted round trip by providing one unified place where I can target elements and see how my custom CSS affects that element in real time. Plus, it has the added benefit of letting me see all of my elements next to each other, which helps me ensure that everything I do feels cohesive.

The Command Palette

The Command Palette is another promising feature. I use Raycast and Spotlight all the time on my Mac, so the ability to navigate WordPress in a similar way as a welcome change. I haven’t explored the Command Palette very much, but I do think it’s a neat feature that has the potential to make maintaining a WordPress site much much easier. Sure, there are lots of things that can be done via the WP-CLI, but sometimes you need to dip into a bunch of posts to make some edits, and the Command Palette promises to make that experience better.

I’ve tried using Elementor’s version of a command palette, but it always seemed kind of clunky to me, and I anticipate that the one that WordPress is building will work better because it’s totally native.

Footnote Block

I’ve used the Modern Footnotes plugin to incorporate nice-looking footnotes into my posts. I like how it displays footnotes in a neat popup on click or tap. At the same time, I don’t like having to add footnotes with a shortcode or having to remember to add the list shortcode to display footnotes at the end of the post. Moreover, the plugin is getting a tad long in the tooth and will need updates to remain compatible with future core updates.

I really wish I could just copy Markdown footnotes and have it recognize them just like every other Markdown element. The Footnote Block doesn’t do that, but it does simplify the creation process quite a bit over Modern Footnotes. However, despite my quibbles with Modern Footnotes, I like the pop-up display over running text because I feel like it provides a better UX over having to scroll to the end of a long posts (it’s almost always the longer posts that have footnotes) to see references and commentary. With that said, the Footnote Block is a major step in the right direction for WordPress blocks.

Takeaways and Future Hopes

All in all, it took about two or three hours or so to go from an unstyled staging site to something that looked pretty similar to my production site. Even if my time estimate is way off, it wasn’t a bad way to spend a quiet evening.

I used Google Fonts instead of Adobe Fonts because that was an easier route to take. Plus, I’m noticing Google put out more and more high-quality open source fonts. I used this test build as an opportunity to scour the Google Fonts library for typefaces that resemble Skolar (for body copy) and Clarendon (for headings). Even though I didn’t find an exact match, I found typefaces that were similar enough and performed well for my application (longform prose). For lots of cases, I’m increasingly of the mindset that it’s not necessary for most individuals and organizations to license or purchase a spendy font.

The Create Block Theme plugin made is very easy to sync additional Google Fonts to my site. In fact, it was far easier than using Adobe Fonts and the custom fonts module in Astra. One gotcha is that the Create Block Theme plugin is not recommended for production sites, but it was fine for my testing purposes. I’m not sure if the disclaimer applies to sites that are using the Google Fonts syncing feature alone.

In terms of blocks, I’d really like WordPress to have a native inline notice/admonition block. Lots of theme shops and plugin developers incorporate this type of block in their offerings, but it seems to me that it’s such a common element in web content today that it ought to be part of WP Core. Perhaps this is an opportunity for me to learn how to code my own block.

The one feature that I’m excited about in the future is collaborative editing. I’m excited to see what that will look like. At this point, we all know what it’s like to work collaboratively in tools like Google Docs et al., and I think that collaborative editing on a WordPress site would bring things to a new level.

On the aforementioned episode of Press This, Justin Tadlock, who’s a Developer Relations Wrangler at Automattic, mentioned that plug-in developers will eventually need to move to blocks for a consistently seamless experience. I hope that this change comes sooner rather than later.

Blocks open up new opportunities for creativity in WordPress. They also bring WordPress into alignment with other applications which produces a better UX overall. For example, I use Notion as a lightweight CRM, and everything in Notion is built around the concept of blocks. Going from one block-based interface to another means less mindset switching. I’m starting to feel friction when one of my plugins uses the classic editor by default instead of Gutenberg.

If everything works out as I hope, WordPress will become increasingly robust, and page builders will be less and less relevant for designing beautiful and performant websites. In the future, I may move this site from a classic theme to a block-based theme, but a bit more testing is needed before that time comes. All in all, I’m excited about what’s to come, and I look forward to seeing WordPress grow.

  • 1
    One tangential and wild factoid that I learned during this process is that the way Google Fonts are loaded can be both a privacy and legal issue. There was a court case in Germany where a website owner was fined because the use of Google Fonts exposed the IP address of a visitor to Google, thus violating GDPR. I wasn’t worried about violating any laws while testing 6.3 on a staging site, but it was good to learn about. You can read about it yourself at WP Tavern and CSS Tricks.
  • 2
    The Style Book made it’s debut in WordPress 6.2, but I’m excited about how it’s matured in 6.3.

Recommended Resources

Dahal, Ganesh. “Managing Fonts in WordPress Block Themes.” CSS-Tricks, March 6, 2023. https://css-tricks.com/managing-fonts-in-wordpress-block-themes/.

———. “The Style Book: A One-Stop Shop for Styling Block Themes.” WordPress Developer Blog (blog), June 21, 2023. https://developer.wordpress.org/news/2023/06/the-style-book-a-one-stop-shop-for-styling-block-themes/.

Gooding, Sarah. “German Court Fines Website Owner for Violating the GDPR by Using Google-Hosted Fonts.” WP Tavern, February 3, 2022. https://wptavern.com/german-court-fines-website-owner-for-violating-the-gdpr-by-using-google-hosted-fonts.

Press This WordPress Community Podcast. “Big Changes Coming to WordPress 6.3.” Accessed September 15, 2023. https://open.spotify.com/episode/1fpqjXh5hWqNfcRPBnB7SC.

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