WordPress 4.4 is scheduled to drop on December 8th, 2015 and major updates usually give me anxiety. I’m always worried about how the client sites I maintain will react to the new version and for the most part I look at the update as more of a security thing than an “upgrade”. In this case there are some features being added that I’m very excited about. Namely the integration of the RICG Responsive Images Plugin into the core, automatic media embedding and the WordPress REST API.

Finally Responsive Images

So this addition will not make the images on your website responsive, but it will load a more appropriately size image based on the screen size of the device. It takes advantage of the way WordPress automatically creates a set of image sizes for each upload to the media library. When we add an image to a post the site will automatically load the appropriate cropped size to the user by using “srcset”. The scaling of the images with the size of it’s container will still be taken care of via the stylesheet.

Some might be saying, “My site already has responsive images what’s the point?” I’ll answer that two ways:

  1. Faster Page Load: Serving the small sized image might not look different. But since the image file being downloaded is smaller it will results in a faster page load.
  2. Less Bandwidth Used: Anyone who has had a spike in traffic and hit their bandwidth limit knows how much that sucks. Loading the appropriate file will keep this from happening and possibly allow you to save money on your hosting.

The responsive images core functions will be enabled by default but should not interfere with any of your current posts. There are always outliers so be sure to check your site in development before upgrading.

Making Media Easier to Embed

There are currently about 30 websites that WordPress supports easy embeds from. You can just add the link to the appropriate page to your post and WordPress will embed the content directly in the that location. Now in WordPress 4.4 any website url that supports the oEmbed standard will work the same way.

In addition WordPress itself has now become an oEmbed provider. This means that your own site can be embedded in other sites. I think this is a great way to spread your content but if you want to stop others from embedding your posts you’ll need to install this plugin.

It can be argued that adding media is the most important way to draw a visitor into your content but it can be difficult for a novice user to understand how to embedding a video or slideshow. I can already think of a couple of my clients that will be very excited to hear about this update.

WordPress Data Everywhere

I left the REST API for last because it’s been discussed everywhere but I didn’t want to leave it out because it is a huge advance in WordPress as a platform. The simple explanation is that this will allow the data being stored in a WordPress site to be made easily available to other applications like native mobile apps, other websites and I’m betting at some point even toasters. The list of possible connections that could be created are endless so rather than try to list a bunch of them I’ll give you a simple example:

You have WordPress website where you have pages showcasing your service offerings and client portfolio. You’d like to make a native mobile app that you can use at trade shows to show visitors what you do in an interactive way. How do you make sure the app is update to date with the latest website entries?

You can now connect the native app to your live WordPress data using the new REST API. Since both the website and the app are running on the same database you won’t have to do double duty to keep them synced up. Since all you are pulling over is the raw data you can format it appropriately for the app and make sure you have the expected user experience.

As I said, there are tons of other examples and I can’t wait to see how the community starts using this.

This is Awesome, When Can I Update?

So as I mentioned WordPress 4.4 drops on December 8th but if your website is a mission critical item I wouldn’t run the update that day. For all major releases I usually wait about 2 weeks for the kinks to get worked out. The WordPress Core team has a very large and difficult job so having some issues is more than acceptable but due to the number of sites I have to test and run updates on I’d rather have a little bit of an idea what the issues are before I start the process. Anyone making a major update should be sure to backup before doing so even after they have tested the update on a development version of the site.

If you have some other insight or an additional feature of the update you are excited about please start up a conversation in the comments area.