A look at what’s new in WordPress 5.3 (and how to safely update)

The next major WordPress update is coming and let me tell you, it’s a good one! I’ve been testing some of the new features, and I can’t wait for them to be made official.

So, what can we expect? Its focus has been on Gutenberg editor improvements, more intuitive interactions, UI polishing, improved accessibility and of course the new default theme.

The first release candidate was made available this week, which means that no more feature requests will be added. The team will now focus on bug fixes, final checks and getting it ready to be released. The official version is scheduled for release on November 12, 2019.

Gutenberg Block Editor

Since it was launched, the Block Editor has been constantly worked on by contributors from all over the world. But new releases are not merged into WordPress core right away. Improvements are first added and tested to the Gutenberg plugin.

With WordPress 5.3 we will finally see a number of the Gutenberg plugin releases merged into the core all at once (from version 5.4 to the current version 6.6). Here are some of the improvements you’ll find after updating…

Block Appender – the Group and Columns blocks show a grey block appender while empty that improves usability and makes the UI clearer

New Group Block and grouping interactions – you can select multiple block and group them together or add blocks within a group to style all together

New Social Links Block – allows you to display social media buttons in different styles within your content

Improved Columns Block – now has a layout picker so you can choose from several pre-defined patterns or use the default layout. It also supports a sliding control to set the custom width for each column and vertical alignment.

Group and Column Block Improvements

Improved Table Block – now supports text alignment in columns, adding a table header and footer, and background colours.

Improved Media and Text Block – support for vertical alignment

Improved Gallery Block – now supports inline image reordering and captions

Improved Separator Block – allows for changing the border colour

Improved Cover Block – support resizing

Improved Image Block – can now have circular cropped images

Improved Button Block – supports target and border radius

Improved Latest Posts Block – now supports excerpt and post content as well as a slider to control excerpt length. We’re still waiting on the ability to include images, which contributors are working on so hopefully it will be included in a future update.

The Latest Posts Block Improvements

Improved List Block – now supports indent/outdent shortcuts, start value and ability to reverse the order

Animations and micro interactions – added motion to block changes and rearrangements to improve usability and experience

Accessibility Navigation Mode which will allow you to navigate with the keyboard using the tab or arrow keys to move between blocks without going into the block content

There has also been speed and performance improvements, which should cut 1.5 seconds off the load time.

For theme developers – the Group Block now contains an inner container, which may affect support for wide and full alignments in themes. There are also new class names for text alignments and the Gallery and Table blocks are wrapped in figure elements.

For block developers – you can now register and unregister block styles using PHP instead of JavaScript. WP 5.3 adds a new feature allowing previews of selected blocks as well as support for Object and Array Meta Types in the REST API.

The future of Gutenberg – if you’ve been avoiding the new Block Editor, it may be time to get familiar with it as it looks like in the future we may see it added to other parts of WordPress like widgets, menus and customisation. Take a look at the prototype here.

Optimising images

WordPress 5.3 introduces a way to manage larger images that have not been optimised for the web.

When you upload an image, it will detect if it is classed as a large image by checking if its height or its width is above the threshold (default is 2560px, but you can change it). If it is, it will scale down the image (using the threshold’s max-height and max-width value) to generate a web-optimised maximum size. 

You can disable scaling by adding a small piece of code to your theme files. The original image file is stored in the uploads directory, so my advice is to continue optimising your images before uploading them.

Images will also be correctly rotated on upload according to EXIF orientation metadata. And WordPress now supports resuming image uploads when they fail halfway through.

Accessibility and admin experience enhancements

Improvements have been made to the accessibility of the Gutenberg block editor and admin modules, one things you’ll notice is the added sharpness and shadow.

These enhancements include a greater colour contrast, style fixes, better consistency between the editor and admin interfaces, more modern color scheme and better zoom management.

Better colour contrast, sharpness and shadow

There is a new admin email verification screen, which will send you a notification every six months to verify that your email address is still correct

WordPress 5.3 new admin email verification screen
Admin email verification screen

Twenty Twenty theme

New default theme is called Twenty Twenty, which is based on the free WordPress theme Chaplin. It is a minimal theme designed for flexibility, clarity, and readability with a focus on the Block Editor.

It is advised that you have one default theme along with your active theme installed on your site, so you can delete other themes to prevent a security risk.

A blog post in Twenty Twenty [source]


  • Show password button on login page
  • Site health check updates including enhanced recovery emails and the grading score percentage being replaced with a text indicator
  • Date/time component improvements
  • New aria-current and aria-label attributes
  • Support for rel="ugc" attribute in comments and two new functions that allow developers to add nofollow and ugc values to rel attributes in links, based on Googles update
  • PHP 7.4 compatibility (check compatibility here)
  • Bug fixes (over 400 of them!)

Keep up with the development posts about WP 5.3.

Login page before and after

When should I update?

Since this is a major release, it will not auto update. There is so much packed into this release on November 12, so I recommend waiting a couple of day before updating. See my guide below for how to safely update your WordPress site…

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