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What is Gutenberg? – A guide to the new WordPress editor

I think it’s about time I talk about Gutenberg.

I first heard about Gutenberg in December 2017/January 2018, and I’ve been trying to get my head around it ever since! But as it seems like more non-developers are becoming aware of these new changes to WordPress, I feel like it’s time for me to talk about it and put it into terms that we can all understand.

In this post I’m going to introduce you to Gutenberg and answer some of the questions I am asked the most about it.

Please note: The content of this post is subject to change and I can’t say anything with certainty Gutenberg is still in the testing phase so it is constantly changing. In this post, I share everything I currently know to be true about Gutenberg. I will try to update this post as necessary.


Use the links below to help you to navigate through this post:

What is Gutenberg?

Gutenberg is the name of the new content editor that WordPress is in the process of developing and testing. It’s due to be released very soon and it will be rolled out to everyone, whether you like it or not!

So, when we go to create a new post or page in WordPress, we usually see a screen that looks like this:

Classic WordPress editor | HollyPryce.com

We’re all familiar with this screen, right?

But in Gutenberg, the new content editor will little something like this:

Gutenberg WordPress editor | HollyPryce.com

The new content editor will utilise content blocks. For so instance, there are blocks for paragraphs, headings, images, quotes, videos, etc. So every content element is separate rather than being in one big content section like you are used to. This is why there is no editor toolbar at the top of the page.

You can add these blocks to your page, then reorder so they are in the correct position.

How to add a new block in Gutenberg | HollyPryce.com

The good news is there is also a Classic block which allows you to add content just as you would with the “classic” editor (i.e. the current WordPress editor). This is great if, like me, you think the Gutenberg editor will slow down your writing process.

The majority of blocks, including the classic block, have an option which allows you to switch to HTML mode, so it you write your blog posts using plain HTML then you can continue to do this. You just have to click on the three dots next to a block and if you see the Edit as HTML option then you can go ahead and edit the HTML.

Edit block as HTML in Gutenberg | HollyPryce.com

You can also change the entire editor to be a code editor as opposed to a visual editor by clicking the three dots in the top right hand corner and selecting Code Editor.

Code Editor in Gutenberg | HollyPryce.com

I have shared a more comprehensive guide to the Gutenberg editor in this post.

When is Gutenberg being release?

God knows.

Seriously though, there are so many rumours about when it is going to be released. So many of these dates have come and gone with no sign of Gutenberg.

At the time of writing this post there is speculation that it will be released at the end of August 2018, but as I say, I can’t say for certain. Update 03/09/2018 – August has come and gone yet there’s still no sign of Gutenberg!

What I do know is that Gutenberg will be apart of the 5.0 WordPress update, so once you update your website to 5.0 then you will no longer see the classic content editor.

What does this mean for our WordPress websites? Why is everyone so stressed?!

Gutenberg is a big change for WordPress. It’s one of the biggest changes they’ve ever made to the system. So that’s why everyone is so stressed!

We are heading into the unknown, and Gutenberg hasn’t been tested well enough.

One of the biggest worries is that themes and plugins won’t be compatible with Gutenberg. We worry that when Gutenberg goes live many websites won’t be ready and as a result will break. This is why there are people warning you not to update your version of WordPress to 5.0 until Gutenberg has been thoroughly tested.

I understand that theme and plugin developers are working hard behind the scenes to make sure that they are ready for the changes, but it’s difficult in these early stages when Gutenberg seems to be changing all of the time and especially when there is no strict deadline.

Will my website break?

I honestly can’t say for certain. I wish I could but I can’t.

But there are a few things you can do to prepare for Gutenberg and protect your content…

What can we do to prepare for Gutenberg?

As I say, it’s difficult to prepare for Gutenberg when we’re all so clueless.

What you can do is test your website. WordPress have released a plugin called Gutenberg that you can install and see what the Gutenberg editor will look like. You can play around with it and see how it interacts with your theme and plugin. If everything works well then you should have nothing to worry about.

WordPress have also released a plugin called Classic Editor. This plugin will switch the content editor back so that it used the classic editor that you are familiar with instead of using Gutenberg. I highly, highly recommend you install and activate this plugin before Gutenberg is released and continue to use this until all of the issues with Gutenberg are ironed out.

One thing I highly recommend you do before Gutenberg goes live is backup your website! If something does go wrong and you can no longer access your website, you will be incredibly glad that you made a backup of your website.

I use a free plugin called UpdraftPlus to backup my website. I’ve scheduled backups to be made automatically every single week and when the backup has been made it is sent over to my Google Drive where it is kept safe.

Be sure to check out my post about backing up your website if you don’t have a plan in place already!

Can I test the Gutenberg plugin on a live website?

Activating any plugin on a live website is a risk in any situation, and Gutenberg is no exception.

If you want to activate the Gutenberg plugin on a live website then do so at your own risk. Make sure you make a backup of your website before you do so and prepared for the worse.

Alternatively, you could replicate your WordPress website, install the Gutenberg plugin on this replicated version of your website and take a look to see if there are any issues. I will write a post on how to do this but until then you might find this article helpful.

Should I update to WordPress 5.0 when it is released?

This is up to you, but not updating your version of WordPress is a security risk. So if you do choose to go down this route make sure you have other security measures in place, and make sure you are making regular backups of your website!

In many cases, WordPress or your host will update your website automatically. If you wish to turn off these updates, you can install a plugin such as Easy Updates Manager to disable automatic updates.

What about my old content? Will that still look the same?

From the testing I have carried out, I have found that the content of your old posts and pages will be automatically placed into a Classic block as demonstrated in the image below:

Classic block in Gutenberg | HollyPryce.com

This should look exactly the same as it does with the classic editor and therefore your old post shouldn’t be affected.

Will {insert plugin name} continue to work with Gutenberg?

I’ve had a lot of questions about specific plugins and whether or not they will continue to work with Gutenberg. Unfortunately, it is not possible for me to answer this question. There are thousands and thousands of WordPress plugins available and it’s just not possible for me to know how all of these plugins are going to react to the changes that are coming.

I’m sorry, I wish I could be of more help. But if you do some Googling about a specific plugin in relating to Gutenberg then you might get some answers.

Is the content editor all that is going to change?

No, Gutenberg is just the start of some big changes that are happening with WordPress. According to WordPress themselves, Gutenberg will “revolutionize customization and site building in WordPress“.

As a developer, this stresses me out. I’m unclear how this will impact on my job as a WordPress developer, but I am prepared to adapt and hopefully I’ll gain some new, valuable skills along the way.

But for now, let’s just focus on the changes to the editor and worry about everything else another day!

When you update to 4.9.8…

If you update your version of WordPress to 4.9.8 then you will see a box that looks like this on your dashboard:

Gutenberg notification in WordPress version 4.9.8 | HollyPryce.com

So basically this is just a notification from WordPress letting you know that things are changing.

As you can see it says “You can help by testing, filing bugs or contributing on the GitHub repository.” which definitely makes me think the rumours about Gutenberg not being ready are true.

You will also see it gives you two options; Install Gutenberg and Install and Classic Editor. From here you can easily install the Gutenberg plugin and the Classic Editor if you wish. Again, I strongly advise you install Classic Editor.

Any questions?

As previously mentioned, I plan on updating this post as and when necessary as there is still so much I don’t know about Gutenberg and everything is subject to change. But if you do have any questions please leave a comment on this post, or tweet me or email me. I will try my best to answer your questions but there is still a lot I don’t about Gutenberg, so I’m sorry if I can’t help.

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What is Gutenberg? - A guide to the new WordPress editor | HollyPryce.com


  1. […] In my last post I introduced you to Gutenberg; the new content editor for WordPress. […]

  2. […] is particularly great if you are preparing for the arrival of Gutenberg and you want to test out the compatibility of your theme and plugins with the Gutenberg […]

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