What is full site editing on WordPress?

The way WordPress works is changing! This year we will see the introduction of full site editing in WordPress, but what is it? And what do you need to know in advance?

The way WordPress works is changing.

Towards the end of 2018, WordPress released version 5.0 of the CMS and with it came a replacement for the classic editor; the block editor, sometimes known as Gutenberg.

This marked the start of the changes to how WordPress works, and there’s a lot more changes to come. This includes the introduction of full site editing and a total overhaul of how themes are built.

In this post, I’m going to explain what full site editing is and answer some of the most common questions about this change.

What is full site editing?

As I previously mentioned, in 2018 WordPress introduced the block editor. The block editor allows you to create pages and posts using different blocks with different functionality. For example, there’s a paragraph block, a heading block, an image block, a column block, etc.

Currently, you can only use blocks to build out the main content section of your pages and posts, but full site editing will allow you to use blocks to build other areas of your website, such as your header and footer, sidebars, and even pages that utilise the WordPress loop, such as the blog page and archive pages.

The idea is that full site editing will give you more control over the design of your website, and it will make WordPress easier to use than ever before.

Here’s a preview of what the full site editor looks like currently for the TT1 Blocks theme:

A screenshot of the full site editor in WordPress.

When is it being released?

According to WordPress, full site editing will be introduced in version 5.8 which will be the next major update to WordPress. Version 5.8 is due to be released in July 2021, but this date might change.

What will happen to my existing WordPress website when full site editing is released?

I know a major worry for WordPress users will be what will happen to our websites once full site editing is released, so I want to ease those worries!

In order to use full site editing, you must have a theme that is built specifically for full site editing, which at present, not a lot of themes are. So if your current theme isn’t built for full site editing, your website will continue to work as usual; you just won’t have access to the features of full site editing.

40% of websites are built with WordPress so believe me, WordPress are not going to release an update that breaks everyone’s websites!

Will my theme be updated to work with full site editing?

Right now, we’re unsure what will happen with existing themes in regards to full site editing. Nobody wants to release changes that will break existing websites, and I’m not sure how easy it will be to change an existing WordPress theme to be compatible with full site editing without causing issues.

If you are using a pre-made WordPress that includes updates, it will be up to the theme developer to decide how to handle the switch to full site editing.

They might not choose to switch the theme to full site editing at all, or they might release a separate version of the theme that is build for full site editing, and then it’s up to you whether you to choose to switch to this or not.

Or it might be easier than we think to change an existing theme to be compatible with full site editing without causing chaos in the process. It’s all a bit up in the air at the moment!

If you have a custom built WordPress theme then it’s highly unlikely that your web designer or developer will rebuild your website to work with full site editing, especially if it works fine the way it is. They might be able to offer a rebuild for full site editing for an additional cost.

Can I continue to use a page builder (like Divi, Elementor, Beaver Builder, etc.) when full site editing is introduced?

According to WordPress, page builder themes and plugins will continue to work when full site editing is introduced. I’m not 100% sure how page builder plan on adapting to these changes to WordPress in the long run, but when full site editing is first introduced I believe that page builders will carry on working the way they usually do and they won’t adopt the full site editing approach.

If I had to make a prediction for page builders in the long terms, I’d guess that they would continue to work exactly how they are right now and that they wouldn’t change to use the full site editing system. This is because not everyone will be a fan of the way full site editing works and full site editing is unlikely to provide the same level of customisation that page builders can. That’s just my opinion though!

What about widgets and the customiser?

When you run a theme that is built for full site editing, you will notice that you’ll no longer have access to the customizer or be able to use widgets.

Widgets will no longer be used as most widgets will be converted to blocks, and therefore you can use these with full site editing. Instead of the customiser, you will be able to customise the site styles via something called global styles.

Honestly, I was never a fan of widgets but my heart is kind of breaking about the customiser being removed!

How will WordPress themes change?

The way WordPress themes work will change hugely.

Currently, themes consist of different template files for different pages on the website. So for example, you have things like the index.php file which is used for the main blog page, and archive.php which is used for your post archives such as categories, tags and authors.

Themes that are built for full site editing will have a similar set up, but these template files will be HTML files instead of PHP files, and they will live in a folder in the theme called “block-templates”. Users will be able to override these template files via the full site editor in the WordPress admin area, and you won’t need to touch a single line of code.

Full site editing themes will also utilise template parts. Template parts can be used to add the same sections to multiple templates. So for example, your header and footer would be template parts as these are (usually) used on every page on your website, but they look the same on each page. Again, users will be able to override these template parts via the full site editor.

In theory, this will mean themes will be easier to build than ever before, and they’ll also be easier for people don’t know how to code to customise.

Can I try out full site editing now?

If you are intrigued by the idea of full site editing and would like to try it out, you can do so using the Gutenberg plugin. However, you will need to be using a theme that is built for full site editing.

As I mentioned, there aren’t many of these around right now, but one that I can recommend is the Twenty Twenty One blocks theme (TT1 Blocks). This is not the same as the Twenty Twenty One theme that comes with WordPress by default.

I don’t recommend installing Gutenberg or full site editing compatible theme on a live website as it’s still quite experimental, so it’s best to create a local WordPress website for testing, or to set up a sub-domain on your hosting account.

My thoughts on full site editing…

I wanted to end this post by talking about my thoughts on these changes.

I’ve been playing around with full site editing on a test website, and I’ve even built a basic theme using it, and right now I have very mixed feeling about the change.

Firstly, I think it’s great that WordPress are making changes to make the platform easier for people to use because the learning curve that comes with WordPress is something that puts many people off using it. And from a developers point of view, I’m excited that I can create websites that will allow my clients to have more control.

However, I do think that when you give users too much control, it can cause more problems. And that’s exactly why I’m not the biggest fan of page builders.

I’ve also picked up on quite a few limitations with full site editing from a design point. It’s great that there’s an easy way to change the colours and fonts, and even padding, but this isn’t enough to create beautiful, unique websites. You are still going to need to add a lot of CSS to style various elements across a website.

So overall, I am excited about these changes to WordPress, but based on what I’ve seen, they’ve still got a long way to go. And I certainly don’t need to worry about the job security as a WordPress developer any time soon!

If you have anymore questions for me about full site editing, just pop them in the comments. I plan on updating this post over time as we learn more about full site editing.

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