Testing the new Widgets tool

WordPress 5.6 is currently targeted for release in December of 2020. One of the key features being planned for this release is a new tool for managing and editing widgets. This new block-based tool will replace the current Appearance / Widgets tool in the WordPress admin. This new tool was moved out of experimental status in Gutenberg 8.9. The UI was updated in WordPress 9.1 and the Core team has issued a Call for Testing.

The Outcome Labs team activated this on one of our sandbox sites to give it a spin. One thing you need to have is a theme that supports widget areas (e.g. TwentyTwenty). You also need to have the latest version of the Gutenberg plugin installed and activated. As a reminder, Outcome Labs does not recommend using the Gutenberg plugin on production sites at this point.

When you have Gutenberg, 9.1 activated, here is what you will see.

Block-based Widgets in Gutenberg 9.1

Here is the test pattern we used (suggested by the Gutenberg team).

  1. Have a site using WordPress 5.5.
  2. Make sure you use a theme that supports widget areas (e.g. TwentyTwenty).
  3. Go to the website’s admin.
  4. Install and activate the Gutenberg plugin. If you already have it installed, make sure you are using at least Gutenberg 9.1.
  5. Go to Appearance > Widgets.
  6. Notice that it visually resembles the Block Editor now.
  7. If you have a 3rd party widget installed, search for it in the Block Library and add it.
  8. Adjust any required settings and Preview your widget.
  9. Now drag that Widget into another Widget Area on your screen.
  10. Go back to the first Widget Area and add an Image block.
  11. Below the Image block add a Latest Posts block.
  12. Save your changes and view them on the frontend.
  13. Go back to the Widget screen and drag the Image block into the “Inactive Widgets” Area.
  14. Save and check out the frontend of the website.
  15. Share your experience in GitHub directly.

On the whole, the feature seems pretty stable. The “in-place” inserter does not let you bring up the full inserter like the standard post/page one does (yet another example of the Block Editor needing architectural standards to drive consistency). We also noticed, while it did pull in some blocks added by plugins ( e.g WPForms), it has then wrapped in the legacy container which seems strange. It didn’t enable us to access blocks from many plugins including Stackable and Toolset.

We have had a number of projects being implemented using the Block Editor where we wanted the capability to add blocks to the sidebar area, so we hope this capability makes the WordPress 5.6 cut. If you are actively using the Block Editor, please take the time to teat and give feedback to the Gutenberg team.

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