Just released: WordPress 5.6

A woman working on a WordPress site on a MacBook

WordPress 5.6 was released last week, on December 8, 2020.

One of the main goals of this release is providing support for PHP 8, which includes some pretty big updates itself. In addition, this update moves WordPress closer to its goal of using a newer jQuery library (a JavaScript toolkit used extensively by WordPress itself as well as many plugins). This is good news, but does increase the possibility of plugin incompatibilities.

Before we dive into the details, it’s worth taking a minute to recognize that, for the first time, an all-women release squad is responsible for this release. The goal of the all-women release squad is to substantially increase the number of women who have experience working on a WordPress Core release. It’s a small but exciting milestone for women in tech. (And Sophia DeRosia, whose family we’ve worked with for many years, is a member of that release squad!)

What to expect in WordPress 5.6

This update is more focused on backend support than frontend features. There are, however, a few notable new features you’ll want to pay attention to:

PHP 8 support

The PHP 8 update is considered a major breaking update. WordPress 5.6 isn’t yet fully compatible with this update (and WordPress won’t require PHP 8). But WordPress 5.6 contains updates designed to increase the compatibility of WordPress Core with PHP 8 in the future.

Twenty Twenty-One default theme

The annual default theme update is also ready with the release of the Twenty Twenty-One theme with WordPress 5.6. WordPress designed this year’s default theme as a blank canvas for your creativity. It includes pastel color palettes, built-in font stacks, and custom Gutenberg patterns.

Enable auto updates for major releases

In addition to being able to enable auto updates for plugins and themes, this update also adds the ability to enable auto updates for major WordPress releases as well.

However, we strongly advise against enabling auto-updates for major WordPress versions. We strongly encourage you to update plugins, themes, and WordPress core with each new release. But it’s also important to run backups and carefully check for errors and incompatibilities each time you make a major update. It’s still a good idea to allow WordPress to auto-update to minor versions, as those are backwards-compatible and often contain critical security fixes.

In most cases, we also recommend waiting a couple of days before running major updates. This gives developers time to discover and fix any issues once the update is in production.

With WordPress 5.6, you will be have more visibility into the automatic update setting using the new “Updates” section. If you’re upgrading from WordPress 5.5, you will not have major updates automatically enabled. It’s an opt-in feature when upgrading from prior versions.

A flat lay photo with a notepad and pen, MacBook open to WordPress, iPhone and chocolate pudding in a dish

What you won’t find in WordPress 5.6

Although these features were originally included in the plan for this release, development on them has taken longer than expected, so they’ve been pushed to future updates:

Block editor for widgets and navigation menus

With the growing popularity of Gutenberg, WordPress plans to apply this technology to both widgets and navigation menus. However, the team moved both features to future releases due to time constraints.

Full-site editing

Eventually, WordPress plans to make sites fully editable using Gutenberg blocks. The beta version of this is ready now, and there will be a Twenty Twenty-One Blocks theme that also utilizes these capabilities. But it’s not quite ready to be rolled out for all sites in WordPress Core.

What you need to do to prepare for WordPress 5.6

Before you do anything, be sure to take a backup of your site. Your host should be providing daily backups, but it’s always better to have extra coverage. We recommend running an UpdraftPlus backup from your WordPress dashboard as well.

Now you’re ready to upgrade. If you’ve already updated to WordPress 5.5, you’ll be familiar with these steps: either the update will go over without a hitch, or—if you discover plugin or theme incompatibilities—you may need to install the Enable jQuery Migrate Helper to ensure compatibility with older plugins.1

While this can be a pain, it’s important not to put off upgrading simply to avoid the frustration; keeping your software updated is an important part of protecting your site. Beyond that, it’s easier to address these issues one by one with each new update rather than letting them snowball until they become critical!

As always, clients are welcome to email support if you have any questions or concerns about making this update!


  1. Originally, the jQuery Migrate Helper plugin wasn’t expected to be compatible with WordPress 5.6, but that’s no longer the case; the team has updated it to work with 5.6. If you’re upgrading to 5.6 and have the plugin installed, you can update and keep the plugin in place. You will still need to address any jQuery Migrate warnings in preparation for the WordPress 5.7 update.

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