Five awesome new features in WordPress 5.6

Today, WordPress 5.6 sees the daylight! This release is chockfull of good stuff, with a new default theme called Twenty Twenty-One, application passwords, loads of editor updates and an automatic update feature. This release was led by an awesome team and they did a really good job. Here’s an overview of some of the best new features in WordPress 5.6!

Test your site in WordPress 5.6

As always, a big new update means loads of fixes, enhancements and changes. Most of the time, everything will work without issue but there’s no harm in being careful. In WordPress 5.6, there’s a change that might break some plugins or themes. In three stages, WordPress is moving from an outdated jQuery JavaScript library to a modern one. Some themes and plugins might not be compatible with this and that might cause stuff to break. So, test the release on your staging environment before rolling it out to your site.

With that out of the way, let’s move on to the good stuff. In no particular order, five great features in WordPress 5.6. Curious about how WordPress 5.6 came together? Read the road to WordPress 5.6.

1. New default theme: Twenty Twenty-One

One of the major new feature in WordPress 5.6 if the new default theme: Twenty Twenty-One. It looks awesome, plus it’s lightning fast, accessible and SEO-friendly. One of the coolest features is that you can quickly build a complex layout thanks to block patterns. These block patterns were introduced in WordPress 5.5 and this new theme uses them nicely. The theme comes with a couple of patterns, but you can make your own to suit your needs. The Twenty Twenty-One theme was designed by Mel Choyce-Dwan and built by a development team — consisting of several Yoasters — led by Carolina Nymark. You can read about how Twenty Twenty-One came to be.

Twenty Twenty-One comes with a number of great color palettes, plus support for block patterns

2. Automatic updates

Keeping your site and plugins up to date is a chore — but an essential chore to keep your site safe and secure. It’s one of the reasons why the WordPress team is working hard on making that process a little bit easier by providing automatic updates. Luckily, WordPress can already automatically update minor versions, but with 5.6, it can also update to major versions automatically. This is an opt-in, so you have to activate it yourself in the WordPress Updates screen if you want to make use of this. Remember, automatic updates of major versions has its pros and cons, so think before you activate.

By turning automatic major updates on, WordPress can always update itself

3. Application passwords

Application passwords offer a new way of providing access to certain parts of your site. You can’t use them to log into your account, but you can use them to help give external sources access to your site without you having to give away your password. You can easily generate access keys and share them with your users. Keys are easy to understand and come in a familiar format like abcd EFGH 1234 ijkl MNOP 6789. Revoking access is just as easy. Simply hit the Revoke button. Keep an eye on this feature as many plugins and platforms will adopt this.

Application Passwords makes managing external authentication easier

4. Loads of Gutenberg updates

We’re big fans of the new block editor, but we know there are still a lot of naysayers out there. Luckily, the Gutenberg team keeps chugging along and put out great release after great release. In WordPress 5.6, you’ll find the results of not one or two Gutenberg updates — but no less than seven releases. Among many things, you’ll find improved support for video positioning in cover blocks, enhancements to the block patterns, better dragging and dropping of blocks, improved keyboard navigation, et cetera. It comes with many performance and accessibility improvements as well.

5. Beta support for PHP 8 in WordPress 5.6

PHP 8 has just been released and it is a huge deal for developers. It’s the latest version of the programming language in which WordPress is written and it brings a whole lot of cool stuff that will help developers use modern code practices and features. As of WordPress 5.6, the CMS is considered beta compatible with PHP 8. Still, there’s a lot of work to do to get WordPress fully compatible with PHP 8 and before developers can use all the new goodies that it brings.

Ready to update to WordPress 5.6?

There’s so much more to find in WordPress 5.6. It’s a great update all around and the things highlighted here are just the tip of the iceberg. Read the WordPress 5.6 Field Guide If you want to dive deeper into the cool stuff you can find in this new update. After you’ve read up, go out and test the release on your staging environment. When you’ve done your testing, update away!

Read more: WordPress 5.7: What’s new in this release? »

Coming up next!

26 Responses to Five awesome new features in WordPress 5.6

  1. Karen Klink
    Karen Klink  • 4 years ago

    Sounds great, but every time I latch on to something new (like Big Sur) I have nothing but problems, so I’m afraid to jump into this. Plus, during cover, it’s been difficult to get help from you folks.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 4 years ago

      Hi Karen. I understand your concern as any new release might cause issues with your theme and plugins. But there haven’t been reports of widespread issues. To be sure, you can test WordPress 5.6 on a test server before you install it on your live site.

      And sorry to hear about your experience with getting help. If you’re a premium user, you can always contact our support team or if you’re a user of the free plugin check out the support forum.

  2. Romel Adhikary
    Romel Adhikary  • 4 years ago

    Wow great features. I love these.

  3. Sarah
    Sarah  • 4 years ago

    The auto-updates will be great! Really hope its fluid and doesn’t cause many crashes

    • Edwin Toonen

      Hi Sarah. Yeah, it’s a great feature to keep your site safe and secure. But keep a close eye on how and if it works, and always keep a backup of your site.

  4. Chandan Khemani
    Chandan Khemani  • 4 years ago

    Sounds Great about new version of WP… I was waiting for that auto-update feature since long time

  5. Robert
    Robert  • 4 years ago

    Automatic updates feature is gold!

    • Edwin Toonen

      It is, Robert!

  6. Jules Rosen
    Jules Rosen  • 4 years ago

    I am just a casual user of WP but please remember guys to keep everything simple for us other 90% non-techies. I’m waiting for someone to understand when you template for the basic website five or six pages what are generated with the menu home about us contact us products or services , facts

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 4 years ago

      Hi Jules, thanks for your comment. We want to write for everyone, so your feedback is more than welcome. We’ll keep this in mind from now on.

      If you’re interested, we have a free WordPress training course for beginners that you could check out!

    • Ravi Kumar
      Ravi Kumar  • 4 years ago

      WordPress 5.6 looks awesome. But I am fear to update it. Because I am still using PHP 7.3. Will it work for WP 5.6? Have you checked on your side?

      • Camille Cunningham
        Camille Cunningham  • 4 years ago

        Hi Ravi! This shouldn’t be a problem, but you can always test WordPress 5.6 on a test server before you install it on your live site!

  7. Eddie
    Eddie  • 4 years ago

    But why show the new wordpress version have to conflict with theme and plugins?

    • Edwin Toonen

      Hi Eddie. The new release might cause issues with your theme and plugins, but there haven’t been reports of widespread issues. Just to be sure, you can test WordPress 5.6 on a test server before you install it on your live site. That’s always a good practice.

  8. Godswill David
    Godswill David  • 4 years ago

    Hey there, thanks for this awesome tip. I would like to know if the generate sitemap feature is still activate in the WP version 5.6?

    • Edwin Toonen

      Hi! Yes, the native XML sitemaps are still available in WordPress.

  9. Write Gardener
    Write Gardener  • 4 years ago

    I am totally non-tech. What is a staging environment and how does one get there/make one, etc.?

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 4 years ago

      Hi there! A staging environment is a copy of your site that allows you to implement and test changes without affecting your real site. We have a page on how to create a staging environment for your WordPress site. Good luck and let me know if you have any other questions!

  10. Robert van Hall
    Robert van Hall  • 4 years ago

    Het is een catastrofe, heel veel websites zullen niet meer werken na overgang naar WP 5.6…
    Ik wacht echt net zo lang tot het niet meer te ontkomen is.

    • Sofia Shrestha
      Sofia Shrestha  • 4 years ago

      Where is the application password located at? I don’t see it!!

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 4 years ago

      Hoi Robert, bedankt voor je reactie. We begrijpen je zorgen, maar we hebben op het moment geen signalen dat er iets ernstigs aan de hand is.

      Natuurlijk zou er hier en daar iets mis kunnen gaan, maar dat blijft een risico bij iedere release. Hoeveel deze ook getest wordt. Maar uiteraard ben je helemaal vrij om te updaten wanneer jij dit wil!

    • Samuel Lavoie
      Samuel Lavoie  • 4 years ago

      The Gutenberg refinements sounds promising. Hope this means less haters!

      This is a pretty useful rundown. I think we should point out to not go and update your production website to PHP 8 just yet, test, test and more testing. 😁

      • sbrand1
        sbrand1  • 4 years ago

        Do I have to get the Gutenberg plug to start working in Block Editing of does it just drag and drop in the WordPress page and post text applications?

        • Edwin Toonen

          Hi! No, the gutenberg editor is the default editor. Unless you have installed the Classic editor plugin, the block editor should be available to you. Go to your WordPress Settings > Writing to select the editor you want to use.

  11. Veronika
    Veronika  • 4 years ago

    Thank you for this useful rundown of the newest WordPress update. The Gutenberg blocks enhancements do sound exciting, but I’m going to hold off for the time being and make sure all my plugins have caught up. Definitely don’t want to break anything :)

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 4 years ago

      You’re welcome, Veronika! We’re also super excited about this release!

      And like Edwin says in this article, you could also test the release on your staging environment to make sure it works properly :)