Back in April, I wrote an article gushing about WordPress FSE. At the time, I was very excited about the new development that promised to let us edit our sites with a fluidity and ease never before available. Now that Gutenberg is a mature content editor, FSE could use blocks to let us create our pages like a genuine page builder. And last week, WordPress announced the beta release of WordPress 5.9, scheduled to go live in early 2022. So naturally, I was eager to test out the new features. I installed the beta version on my site and took a look at how far FSE had come in the past 6 months or so.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t impressed. In May, I’d given the FSE a whirl and had prematurely announced that it was almost ready for primetime. But my recent testing indicates that this is very far from the truth. Here’s why I feel that FSE isn’t a fundamental replacement for the existing theme customization process.
No Sidebar Support in the Default Theme
Despite the idea that you can “build your own theme” with FSE, there’s no support yet for sidebars. True, there’s a lively debate in the design community about the utility of sidebars, especially with mobile devices, but the fact remains that many websites require the sidebar for presenting related information. The current block theme by WordPress doesn’t allow for sidebars, and without that, it’s going to be hard to make any progress.
I did, however, test out one theme called Responsive FSE that included the sidebar as a template part, but I’m not sure I’d want to use it on a production site yet.
Selecting Items is Cumbersome
One of the most annoying parts of working with a complex Gutenberg layout is selecting elements nested inside one another. When working with FSE, I have a hard time separating the different elements and making sure I’m editing the right block. Several times I’ve ended up making changes to a block I didn’t intend to touch because another block was overlaying it, and I just didn’t realize that I had the wrong one.
Global Styling is Done via a Text File – theme.json
For FSE, the goal needs to be no coding whatsoever. And right now, the global styles and layout for any blocks-enabled FSE theme are specified in a text file called theme.json. It’s not that JSON is particularly complicated, but until everything is GUI-based, FSE isn’t going to become a full site builder where you can create the layout and design in real-time.
There are Plenty of Good Alternatives
Perhaps the biggest challenge that WordPress FSE will face, will be from other theme providers like GeneratePress who have full-blown page editors of their own. These frameworks have every incentive to make their themes as easy as possible to edit, and so for FSE to provide a good alternative, it needs to be at least as easy as them.
The GeneratePress team so far hasn’t shown a willingness to adopt FSE and reading their comments, it’s unclear to me whether they have any interest in doing so in the future. They already have a pretty good page builder with fancy features that is quite mature, so why would they be want to change all that up for not much benefit?
I’ve eaten my words before, especially when it came to Gutenberg, so I’m not making any prediction on how FSE will turn out. All I can say for sure right now is that I don’t think it’s ready for mass adoption!
I’m a NameHero team member, and an expert on WordPress and web hosting. I’ve been in this industry since 2008. I’ve also developed apps on Android and have written extensive tutorials on managing Linux servers. You can contact me on my website WP-Tweaks.com!