Upgrading enterprise WordPress websites to version 5.0

15th February 2019

By Ben May

Software upgrades are always easy to put off, because they are hard. This is certainly the case with WordPress 5.0 which was released on December 6 2018. In my mind, nothing since WordPress 4.2, that introduced a new database character-set, back in 2015, has there been such a signifiant update to WordPress.

The WordPress 5.0 release is huge; in summary, it introduces the new content editing experience “Gutenberg”, that has been a long time coming and totally reinvents how content editors interact with the WordPress backend.

Gone are the days of managing a website with a single content area that you have to work within, editing content in WordPress 5.0 is done with blocks, in a highly visual and responsive backend. We’ve written previously about how block-based website design is changing how we scope and build projects.

Upgrading a content management system framework just before entering the Christmas/holiday season isn’t a wise idea, and many of our clients go into code freeze during this time. So now that we’re half way through February, we’re sharing some of the experiences and advice for upgrading to WordPress 5.

Tips for planning the upgrade

Compatibility with plugins that affect the Editor

Plugins that either try and override the previous editor have caused issues or removed functionality that was presumed default.

Bundled versions of Advanced Custom Fields (ACF)

ACF is a framework we use a lot to build out additional editorial controls on content. We’ve had a couple of situations where websites that include a bundled version of ACF are significantly behind on updates, and have resulted in a loss of functionality until properly upgraded.

WordPress Classic Editor 

There are some cases where you may not want to roll out the new editor, but don’t want to get left behind with out of date software. The low risk strategy here is to enable the Classic Editor so that functionality continues as per the previous version of WordPress.

Progressive rollout strategy

On large WordPress sites that have anywhere from 10 to 50 users, we prefer not to have this switch on globally incase of any new errors, we can address those before affecting a greater range of users.

The WordPress Classic Editor plugin has the ability to enable users to opt into the new block based editor. This way we can invite a small sample of editors to start using the new functionality essentially as beta testers.

Once any lumps and bumps have been ironed out, the Classic Editor can be disabled and all editorial users can be working on the new block based editor.