5 Promising PRs – a WordPress 6.6 Wishlist

Work on WordPress 6.6 is underway. If I’m being completely honest with you, I would love it if WordPress 6.6 introduced zero new features. I have not been shy about my desire for a cleanup-only release cycle (this tweet about it had 31k views). A maintenance-only release is an idea that originated with the project’s Executive Director on the roadmap for 2024.

But I’ve also heard from more than a few people (and read enough meeting transcripts) to understand that WordPress doesn’t really work that way, and that even agreeing on what constitutes “maintenance” could mean spending the entire release cycle in semantic arguments.

So, with that idea basically a nonstarter, here are my top five PRs I’d like to see in WordPress 6.6 (I’m writing this as of late April, so don’t be surprised if I change my mind on everything). One thing they all have in common is that they’re all really just improvements to existing features.

Partially-synced patterns / pattern overrides

The ability to control most of a pattern in one place, but leave a few fields editable is a structured content dream. This was supposed to make it into 6.5, but clearly needed more time to be worked on. It’s a pretty important thing to get right.

If I’m being honest, this does look like one of those features that even when launched in 6.6 may be a little too anemic to actually be widely used, but incremental progress is always appreciated. Much like the Block Bindings API, if done well, this is an opportunity to cut down on a lot of custom block development.

(I’ll add to this section the ability to sync Block Patterns into your theme using Create Block Theme. There are some plugins out there, but they’re all pretty opinionated or else abandoned and CBT seems to be core WP’s answer to block theme development. Let’s hope they make it to pattern management in time for pattern overrides.)

Enhanced Block Style Variations

Speaking of underwhelming features in the block editor, we may actually see an overhaul of how block style variations work. For context, block style variations are those buttons in the sidebar that load a bunch of custom styles automatically, like making an image rounded or a button outlined. Right now, they’re pretty basic and not as widely used as I’d like.

There’s some really cool stuff in this PR (theme.json support, using small JSON files for each style, the ability for style variations to style inner blocks), but also some head-scratchers (only one active style per block, no UI to show what the active styles are on individual controls, styles still seem to be loaded site-wide). Very good stuff overall, though, and a solid incremental improvement. I could see myself using this immediately – and potentially combining it with partially-synced patterns.

CSS Grid in the Group Block

One of my least favorite things to deal with right now is the entire concept of “columns”:

  • the idea that you have to step out of your columns block and add a completely new row of columns when you have more items than columns
  • that you can’t have six items laid out in three columns at desktop, then two on tablet, then one on mobile
  • that the column width field always defaults to px for the units????

“Columns” are such an outdated way to build layouts! I’m really hoping for a robust CSS Grid implementation, including overlapping elements and a bit more responsive control. There’s a lot of chatter about negative margins, but honestly, negative margins are HARD to get right. CSS Grid is a much simpler way to do what we often attempt with negative margins: break content out of it’s container or overlap multiple blocks.

Better ContentOnly Editing

This PR is pretty wide-ranging and mostly a design exploration, but I’d love to see some more powerful contentOnly editing abilities. If you haven’t, watch Saxon’s video demoing some new design concepts around editing patterns of content in the block editor.

I try to turn contentOnly editing on when handing over designs to clients (I also include a ‘switch to advanced editing’ button they can use when needed), but I would love to see this extended to some sidebar controls, add support for innerblocks, and make it easier for custom blocks to opt in.

(I also recommend watching Saxon’s overview on the larger admin redesign concepts: there’s a lot of great stuff in there that gets me really excited.)

So there’s my list of “big” features I’d like to see.

I’m sure this will adapt and change over the next few months depending on what my current pain points are. For example, I was trying to manage some pages via the new “Pages” dataview in the Site Editor and… well I have some thoughts!

Oh and there’s also a huge list of CSS properties that still need to be added in global styles & block supports.

Oh and then there’s the whole ‘editing a page inside of it’s template’ UI that still needs work.

Oh and position-sticky support on template parts.

Oh and the navigation block and menu locations.

Oh and – oh and – oh and.

The point is, there’s plenty of rough edges around the interface itself that should be worked on, but I wanted to focus on some big feature, positive improvements that we’ll probably see in 6.6.

There’s still a sense (in the site editor) that features are being developed apart from each other, without a central conductor making sure they’re tied together towards a coherent user experience. Different screens feel like they come from different applications, and just finding the right thing to click on always requires more brainpower than it should. The balance keeps tipping towards complexity and I do miss how “simple” and “clean” the block editor used to feel. What once was a cohesive experience is now starting to feel fragmented and disorienting.

I’m optimistic overall, but I think it’s important to keep advocating for your own priorities (in my case the agency/freelancer use case) in the project. There was a great conversation on WP Tavern Jukebox recently between Nathan Wrigley and Jamie Marsland about the larger shift from hosting companies and Automattic towards attracting developers (something I wrote about at the Tavern) instead of DIYers.

The secret to WordPress’s success has always been extensibility for its power users. It’s more important than ever to show up and advocate for the features that matter for WordPress to remain the top choice for building websites.

What features matter to you? What am I missing from this list? What do you want to see in WordPress 6.6?

Brian Coords
Modern WordPress Development

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I’m sharing the best resources and tutorials for developers building in and on the block editor.

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