Remember to Check the Gutenberg Experiments!

We did our first production site deploys of WordPress Block Editor based sites during the last half of 2019. The first of these were some of our own sites which, besides their primary purpose, we use to verify site configurations and updates. We also implement and test new themes, plugins, and blocks on these company sites as well.

We were using the Gutenberg plugin on most sites so we could utilize new Block Editor features before they were merged and released as part of WordPress core. We only used released capabilities of the Gutenberg plugin on our production sites. All experiments were turned off. For the first several months, this strategy worked well. Starting early this year, we found that that incompatibilities between our standard theme/plugin configurations and the Gutenberg plugin were increasing.

We made the decision to remove the Gutenberg plugin from our client and company sites and only use Block Editor features that had been released in the WordPress core for these sites. We had to resolve issues across several sites when we removed the Gutenberg plugin. We will do a seperate post on that process and post it here.

We did keep the Gutenberg plugin active on our internal test sites and on our CEO’s personal website, We use these to review new features and confirm other updates. We document any new issues discovered and research to see if they have been reported to the Gutenberg team and/or theme/plugin developer based on what we find. We also document any workarounds we identify or are given to us by third parties.

Last week, Gutenberg 8.3 was released. When we went to evaluate some of the new design tool features, we hit a pretty major issue. When we tried to add or edit a post or page, we got the dreaded “blank white screen.” We executed our standard WordPress issue isolation process and found an incompatibility between Gutenberg 8.2 and the released version of Yoast SEO. We searched to see if the issue had already been identified. We did find a report placed against the Gutenberg plugin, but no solution or workaround had been posted.

We submitted a support ticket to Yoast to get their feedback. The initial response was that the Gutenberg plugin was no longer required since the Block Editor was part of core. We see this response from many theme and plugin front line support teams. We responded that we understood. Since we had identified this issue, we just wanted to report ii, so their development team would be aware. We also asked that they send a workaround if identified.

We got a response from the Yoast support team the next day. They identified the cause of the issue was an incompatibility with a Gutenberg experimental feature, the Block Directory Search. We were surprised because we don’t activate experimental features on our production sites. When we checked, this and two other features were on. It appears that the Gutenberg 8.3 update had these on by default, although we haven’t verified that. We have modified our standard site update process so any production site with Gutenberg installed will be checked to confirm these are not active. We also modified our issue verification process to check these if the Gutenberg plugin is active on a site.

Gutenberg Experimental Settings

So, the takeaways from this story are two. First, if you are using the Gutenberg plugin, make sure you check the experimental settings after an update. Second, make sure your processes are not based on assumptions that you don’t control like a plugin developer changing the default settings for the plugin with an update.

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