WordPress 5.3 “Kirk” Released, Brings New Default Theme, Editor Improvements, and UI Tweaks

Rahsaan Roland Kirk playing a saxophone.
Rahsaan Roland Kirk
Credit: Heinrich Klaffs CC BY-SA 2.0

WordPress 5.3 “Kirk,” named in honor American jazz musician Rahsaan Roland Kirk, is now available for download. The update includes a new default theme named Twenty Twenty, user interface improvements aimed at accessibility, and new block editor features.

This release saw contributions from 645 volunteers, which is the largest contributor group ever for a WordPress release.

The release was led by Matt Mullenweg, Francesca Marano, and David Baumwald. They were joined by the following contributors in supporting roles in getting version 5.3 released.

WordPress 5.2 had 84 million downloads before WordPress 5.3’s release.

The PHP native JSON extension is now required for any site running WordPress 5.3 or later. This should not be an issue for the majority of users because the extension has been bundled with PHP by default since 2006. WordPress will output an error and cancel the update procedure if it detects the extension is missing. Users who are unable to update will need to contact their web hosts to have the extension enabled.

Twenty Twenty: New Default Theme

Screenshot showcasing the Twenty Twenty default WordPress theme.
Screenshot of the Twenty Twenty WordPress theme.

WordPress is getting a fresh coat of paint. Anders Norén led the design team for the new Twenty Twenty theme, which was a fork of his original Chaplin theme.

The Twenty Twenty theme is completely geared toward creating content with the block editor with its bold and opinionated styling. It comes with a cover page template and has a custom color system designed to keep the site’s color contrast accessible.

Block Editor Features and Improvements

Screenshot of nesting other blocks within the Cover editor block.
Nesting any block inside the Cover block.

WordPress 5.3 includes features from the versions 5.4 – 6.5 of the Gutenberg plugin along with bug fixes and performance improvements from versions 6.6 and 6.7. For users who have not been running the plugin, they should see faster loading times and quicker responses from keystrokes.

WP Tavern has covered every major release of the Gutenberg plugin that will be bundled in WordPress 5.3, except Gutenberg 5.6. Catch up on any features you missed with the following articles.

Other Core Features

Work toward large image handling went into the update. Instead of checking file sizes, images larger than 2,560 pixels are scaled down and used as the “full” image size. This change makes large images web ready and will significantly decrease file sizes for many users who upload images without optimizing them beforehand. This is common with mobile phone uploads.

For those who prefer to maintain the original sizes of image uploads, which is sometimes the case with photography sites, grab the Disable “BIG Image” Threshold plugin.

The site health screen introduced in WordPress 5.2 has some user experience improvements, such as tweaking how the grading indicator works for clarity. WordPress site owners will also need to verify their admin email every six months. This feature is to help make sure site recovery emails are being sent to the right place when an error occurs. It also lays the groundwork for future features that may build upon it.

Developer Changes

Developers should read the full WordPress 5.3 field guide to make sure none of the changes affect their plugins or themes. Some of the changes include the following.

  • Full support for PHP 7.4.
  • Improved date/time handling.
  • Robots meta tag now used for discouraging search engines from listing a site.
  • New meta key comparison operators added.
  • Integers are no longer allowed for nav menu slugs.
  • wp_die() now allows custom HTML.

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