4.9 is a major WordPress release, and unless you are on a managed WordPress hosting service, you will have to manually initiate the update.
Important: Don’t forget to create a complete WordPress backup before starting the update.
New Theme Browsing Experience in The Customizer
WordPress 4.9 brings several improvements to the customizer. These changes offer a better user experience and a new set of tools for developers.
Previewing and changing themes directly from customizer is now more user friendly. You can view all your installed themes in the preview panel and click on the live preview button to load them in customizer.
Browsing themes in customizer
You can also browse and search WordPress.org themes and install them directly from customizer.
Install and preview WordPress.org themes directly from customizer
Save and Schedule Changes in The Customizer
WordPress 4.9 brings changesets to theme customizer. It is like post revisions but for your theme changes. You can store changes without applying them.
Save theme draft
This new feature also allows you to easily share a preview of those changes with anyone. Simply copy the preview URL and send it to any user. They will be able to see the new changes without login.
Share customizer changes preview
WordPress 4.9 also allows you to easily schedule theme changes to be automatically published later.
Schedule theme changes in customizer
Theme developers will now be able to use these new changes in the customizer JS API. These changes will allow them to add better controls, beautiful outer panels, and display notifications on screen.
Better notifications in customizer
New Gallery Widget in WordPress 4.9
WordPress 4.8 introduced new media widgets which included rich text, audio, image, and video. WordPress 4.9 builds up on that with the introduction of the new gallery widget.
This new widgets allows you to create a native WordPress gallery and add it to your WordPress sidebar or any widget ready areas.
New gallery widget in WordPress 4.9
Just like the native WordPress galleries, this widget is also limited in terms of functionality. If you want a more powerful gallery with albums, then you need to look at a third-party plugin like Envira Gallery.
Add Media Button in Text Widget
The text widget in WordPress 4.8 came with plain text and HTML tabs. However, if you wanted to add an image in sidebar text widget, then you still had to write the HTML code.
WordPress 4.9 has fixed this by adding the ‘Add Media’ button in the text widget. Now you can easily select or upload an image directly inside the text widget.
Add Media button in text widget
OEmbed Support Outside Post Content
Previously automatic embeds didn’t work in areas other than post content. With WordPress 4.9, oEmbeds will now work in text widgets and other areas as well.
oEmbed in sidebar widgets
Shortcode in Sidebar Text Widgets
WordPress didn’t allow shortcode execution in text widgets. Users had to explicitly enable shortcodes in text widgets. WordPress 4.9 will finally change that and users will be able to add shortcodes in text widgets out of the box.
Shortcodes in sidebar widgets
New Code Editing Experience in WordPress 4.9
WordPress allows you to add HTML/CSS code at various places like theme editor, custom CSS panel, or in custom HTML widget.
Previously, these areas were plain text boxes and didn’t look or act like a proper code editor.
WordPress 4.9 has changed that by adding syntax highlighting, code suggestions, and auto-completion into those areas.
Code editing in WordPress 4.9
If you have ever faced syntax error when editing your theme, then this enhancement will automatically fix many common mistakes that cause such errors.
If you don’t want to use the syntax highlighting feature, then you can still easily disable it. Simply go to your profile page and uncheck the syntax highlighting option.
Disable syntax highlighting
One of the big usability issues beginners faced was directly making changes from WordPress built-in editor without fully understanding the consequences. A slightest mistake would lead to a syntax error and making their websites inaccessible.
WordPress 4.9 now shows a warning to users when they access the editor.
Theme editor warning
It will also show users helpful tips and point them to custom CSS panel in the customizer.
However, many users access the editor not to make changes but to quickly look up code. Particularly when they are working on child themes. To help those users, the editor will now recursively show files and folder in the sidebar for easier browsing of all files in a theme folder.
Files and directories in theme editor
Under The Hood Changes
WordPress 4.9 also brings several great changes for developers as well. Here are some of those under the hood improvements.
Better mapping for theme widgets and navigation menus after switching themes. #39693, #39692
Removal of SWFUpload library from the core. #41752
Require a confirmation link in an email to be clicked by admin when a user attempts to change their email address. #16470
We hope this article offered you a good insight into what’s new in WordPress 4.9. We are particularly excited about the customizer changes. What are you excited about?