WordPress Update 5.6
December 8, 2020
If you subscribe to one of our maintenance plans, then this month (December 2020) we’ll be updating your WordPress software to version 5.6, which is now available. This version is named for American singer and songwriter Nina Simone.
Much of the changes appear to relate to improvements with the built in block system for working with page content, but there are a few more technical changes that could lead to issues for older websites that I want to focus on here.
REST API authentication with Application Passwords
This is the one I’m most concerned with. With online technology, anything that makes something easier often ends up also meaning a hacker has an easier time hacking. In this case, the new feature is designed to allow external (third party) applications to request permission to access your website. The wording in that request can be anything, so it comes down to you to be sure you know what you’re clicking on and what you’re approving.
Most websites on our maintenance plan have a plugin installed called Wordfence, which it sounds like will disable this new feature by default (allowing it to be turned on if needed.) You can read more about this at wordfence.com/blog/2020/12/wordpress-5-6-introduces-a-new-risk-to-your-site-what-to-do.
PHP 8 Support
Many websites are using older versions of PHP (one of the programming languages WordPress runs on) which can be a security risk. If your website is using a PHP version less than 7, you are at high risk. The new WordPress update will not support those older versions as a result. Versions 7.3 and 7.4 for PHP are fairly commonly used, though version 8 is the current version. Many plugins will need to be updated over the next year or so in order to function on newer versions of PHP. The takeaway is that it’s good to be sure you’re running on the most current versions you can, for WordPress and PHP.
jQuery Library Updated
WordPress comes with a built in jQuery library, which is code that allows both WordPress and many plugins to do what they do. (If you have page elements that are animated in any way, you’re almost surely using jQuery behind the curtain, but it’s also used for many practical things as well.)
Updating a library like this can break some older plugins, so it’s good to watch for “glitches” in the website’s behavior. If you have to wait for a plugin developer to catch up, there are ways to force WordPress to use an older version of jQuery. (This should be a temporary fix only, however… it’s always good to stay updated.)
Summing it up
With any update to the WordPress core, there’s always possibilities of glitches and bugs. However, we recommend going ahead with this update rather than waiting. (If you’re on our maintenance plan, you don’t have to do anything as we’ll handle this for you.)
- WordPress 5.6 “Simone” – wordpress.org/news/2020/12/simone
- WordPress 5.6 Field Guide – make.wordpress.org/core/2020/11/20/wordpress-5-6-field-guide
- What’s new in PHP 8 – stitcher.io/blog/new-in-php-8