10 Things You Need to Know About WordPress 3.5

For 7 years, I’ve been publishing these articles every time a new version of WordPress comes out. Since version 2.0. It’s been a long run. It began as a need to fill people in about new features in WordPress (and there were a lot in 2.0). There wasn’t anybody doing these at the time, and certainly WordPress wasn’t nearly as popular as it is now (22% of the internet is powered by WordPress).

But many more people have stepped up in recent releases and have started updating readers with new features and expectations. My job here is done. I’m passing the baton but really the baton has already been passed and I’m happy about that. This will be my final 10 things article. Thank you for sticking around and following along all these years.

On Wednesday (likely), December 5th, WordPress 3.5 will drop with all it’s gooey goodness. A BIG shoutout needs to go out to Andrew Nacin, the lead developer on 3.5, for project managing this release while also planning his wedding, and to his best man, core developer Daryl Koopersmith for leading the media efforts. And of course, all the other core contributors to this release (I, sadly, am not one this cycle).

So without further adieu, let’s get into the guts of 3.5.

Media Manager

One of the most anticipated revamps in WordPress history has finally arrived. Since the days of implementing the media upload integration, core developers, users and everyone in between has cried for a new way of managing media. It’s finally here and it is one of the biggest undertakings in WordPress core development history.

The new media manager in WordPress 3.5 simplifies the process of uploading various media formats (usually, but not limited to, images). Everything is right up front and easy to understand. Instead of having cryptic icons over top of the edit area on a post editing screen, you now have an obvious “Add Media” button.

Clicking Add Media brings up a dialog that has a very large, and obvious “drop zone” where you can drag and drop files into. This aspect has actually been around for a few versions, but now it’s a much smoother experience. Of course, you can also click the prominent “Select Files” button in the drop zone to pull up a more traditional dialog for selecting those media files and uploading.

You can also get a much more intuitive view of your already uploaded media attachment, select any number of photos and insert them into a post or create a gallery. This was all supported before, but the logical workflow makes the process a million times easier.

Also, gone are the days of uploading an image, having to close the media dialog to then re-open it to create a gallery or futz around with details for each image. This was always kludgey before. You could assign an image as a featured image without having to close the dialog, but then inevitably you’d end up in a situation where the dialog had to be closed to get into another image mode.

I’m really curious what the reaction to this feature will be.

Twenty Twelve

WordPress Twenty Twelve default theme
The front page layout of the new WordPress 3.5 default theme “Twenty Twelve”
Twenty Twelve is the new theme that is coming with 3.5 A few cycles ago, the core team decided to retire the old default “Kubrick” theme and release a new standard theme once a year. Twenty Ten came in 2010. Twenty Eleven came in 2011 and, well, obviously, Twenty Twelve is dropping in at the tail end of 2012.

Twenty Twelve is a fun theme. It’s fully responsive, so it conforms to different viewport sizes – monitors, iPads, smart phones, etc. In WordPress 3.4, the Admin got responsive love, and now the default theme gets it as well.

You can actually download and install it now, as it is also compatible with WordPress 3.4 and is on the theme repository.

This default theme has better typography, a home page template, various options for columns and widgeted areas and would serve well as a handy theme framework for child themes as well.

In addition, if you haven’t started leveraging post formats (available since WordPress 3.1), you can do that now with Twenty Twelve. The theme has built in styling defaults the match the sort of thing you’d expect from Post Formats (to me, still one of the most neglected things in WordPress)

HiDPI “Retina” Admin

For those of you on the retina display bandwagon, both Twenty Twelve and the entire administrative interface are all retina ready. No pixelation on those high-end Macs!

In WordPress 3.4, the first steps were made by providing quite a few retina (or hi-def, if you will – it will make more sense in a minute why I offer that clarification) icons in the admin. Now, the CSS (specifically for print) also supports this hi-def rendering. If you must print a tree, the print stylesheets will be printing in hi definition.

This also opens up opportunity as browsers and CSS3 continue to advance and provide developers with new tools.

Retina not only gives print versions additional clarity, and those high end Macs more beauty, but it also renders things better for you iPhone 5, iPad 3, Kindle HD and various new Android device users. Rejoice! (but I have an iPhone 4S, so meh!)

Removing the Links Manager

Links Manager Removed
So long, Links Manager, and thanks for all the fish!
Oh my God. We finally got rid of this antiquated thing!

Remember back in the day when people actually kept blogrolls? And WordPress had this feature in the menu called “Blogroll”. And then people started realizing, as possibly one of the earliest turns toward WordPress not being only a blogging tool but also a full-blown Content Management System, that Blogroll just didn’t seem appropriate (or whatever the thinking was), so it was renamed to Links.

It’s now coming out entirely. Existing WordPress install retain the Links manager but new WordPress 3.5 installs no longer have this functionality.

If you still need it, you can install the Links Manager as a plugin.

Favorite Plugins

As a developer, I am constantly setting up WordPress installs, setting up new WordPress installs, resetting WordPress installs, etc. so perhaps my favorite new feature in WordPress 3.5 is the “Favorite Plugins” doohickey. I always have a subset of plugins I use for development and functionality I consider a “must have” for a client project, etc.

Favorite Plugins can be installed from right in your plugin manager.
Favorite Plugins can be installed from right in your plugin manager.
If you go to the WordPress plugin repo (and are logged in with your WordPress.org username), you will see a new “Favorite” button on every plugin page.

This becomes incredibly useful in WordPress 3.5 where you can now pull down your favorite plugins with one-click install. When you visit the Plugins > Add New admin page, you will see a new “Quick Link” along side the “Upload”, “Popular” and other links that have been there all along. Now you just have a new menu.

This brings up a page where you can enter your WordPress.org username and get a list of all the plugins you’ve favorited on the plugin repo and install as you need.

Protip: Now you can stop emailing me and asking me what plugins I recommend. Enter MY username – technosailor – and find out which plugins I prefer.

Tumblr Importer Support

One of the most popular blog types and platforms in the past few years is Tumblr. Up until now, there hasn’t been a way to get Tumblr content imported into WordPress. That’s no longer the case.

On the Settings > Import page, you can now activate Tumblr import support. Warning: The process of importing Tumblr is a little kludgey and that is due to Tumblr’s own systems. You will need to register an app with Tumblr, enter certain key information about your WordPress install into the Tumblr app registration page, and copy certain key information into WordPress.

The instructions are all on the Import admin screen. I suggest opening up the Tumblr app registration page in a separate tab as you’ll have to go back and forth between Tumblr and WordPress.

Once you do this, you can connect WordPress to your Tumblr blog and slurp in all the data you’ve had over there. I know y’all love Tumblr, but this is your opportunity to get off of it and onto a more widely used and customizable platform. Plus, you have Press This in WordPress to allow you to continue your Tumblings.

Simplified Dashboard

Simplified Dashboard
Simplified Dashboard
The Dashboard has always been a bit of a sore spot for new users unfamiliar with WordPress. What is all this information? Unfortunately, that’s not going away quite yet. However, WordPress now makes it easier for users to get up to speed with common things like writing an about page, setting up a theme, etc.

In addition to Dashboard fixes, there have been a number of smaller UI changes in the admin, including the Privacy page being removed and merged into the Reading Settings pages. Lots of effort was put into a simpler user experience.

It’s the little things that help users get up to speed and using WordPress quickly and effectively and reduces the learning curve.

Multisite: switch_to_blog() performance problems fixed

There are a couple of Multisite improvements for developers. For the longest time, well before the merge of WPMU into WordPress, the way developers could switch “context” from one site to another would be through switch_to_blog(). Even after the merge, that function still remained the way to do it. But it has always come at the price of performance and caching. It was an extremely expensive function to use, filled with unnecessary database queries and other fudge.

It left developers looking for ways to accomplish the same task in a different way – which is really not the WordPress way. We encourage developers to use the tools WordPress provides and not to try to get around them. This mentality is almost universal and prevents problems with backwards compatibility in the case of database schema changes, etc. However, this beast had never been tamed for this specific functionality.

As of WordPress 3.5, this function has now been refactored and performs significantly better than what it did, including massive caching changes. Developers should feel far more comfortable using it. Hooray!

Multisite: Sub Directory

Another Multisite improvement is the ability to install WordPress Multisite in a folder. Up until now, WordPress Multisite could not be installed in a subdirectory. It had to be installed in the document root which was… silly.
In WordPress 3.5, a lot of work was put into making it possible to do just that. Specifically, this came out of Hack Day at WordCamp San Francisco in August. Nice work Mark Jaquith and company.

WP_Query Enhancement

One final developer tool that was added in WordPress 3.5 is a modification to the post__in argument that can be passed to WP_Query to affect what posts are pulled in a custom query/Loop. While post__in has been around awhile, and takes a comma separated list of post IDs to be retrieved, now, if the orderby parameter is set to post__in, the order of the IDs matter. Specifically, the order of the IDs in post__in is the order they are retrieved in the resulting dataset. Before they were simply ordered in numerical order (or whichever custom order parameter was supplied – post_name, post_title, etc) .

This is pretty effective for CMS-style usage of WordPress where a developer may want to have granular control of how specific content pages are listed, displayed, etc.


So that’s it! Nice big release. A lot of under the hood stuff for developers, but really this release is less of a developer’s release and more of a user experience release. When WordPress 3.5 drops on Wednesday (assuming that happens as expected), I’d love to hear feedback.

Thanks for reading all these years. I’m not disappearing. I’m just retiring from this column. Of course, I’m always looking for full-time or consulting work. Please feel free to contact me if you think we might be able to work together.

Until then…

So long and thanks for all the fish
Original Photo by Starrarte Used under Creative Commons.

42 Replies to “10 Things You Need to Know About WordPress 3.5”

  1. I love everything about WordPress, I don’t like the fact that they think we’re all too cool for cheesy browsers like IE8. If it were about me, IE will not be on the market anymore but some of my clients still use IE at the office. Using media clauses in Twenty Twelve the wrong way makes stuff not displaying in IE. Such as the navigation! (?!). Other than that, much love! :)

    1. The problem with IE8 is not that it’s cheesy, it’s that it is inherently insecure against modern attack vectors against web-users. I understand that many people still use old software like XP, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of the world needs to remain backwards and broken forever. IE10 was released three months ago, and even IE9 has support for most of the modern functionality, and is indeed actually a secure browser.

      1. There should be some backwards compatibility I think. Some other themes do a better job. hey place all the common CSS in front of the media clause that targets smaller screens. This way, IE doesn’t end up with nothing. And when we build for everybody, we need to think market share. TV stations still include people with SD TV-s.

        1. TV stations still include people with SD TV-s.

          Not in my markets they don’t. Even the cable companies only work on digital televisions, unless you have a special converter box. Nobody can maintain backward compatibility in everything, forever. The world moves on. Things keep spinning.

      2. Otto has a point. The reality is that IE8 is two versions behind current stable. Why should IE get special treatment when everything else is framed toward modern browsers? That was what had IE6 stick around so long. Microsoft users need to stay on top of their browser upgrades…. and in enterprise, stuff like this forces the IT Admins who control IE versions through Group Policies to rethink priorities. IE8 is inherently insecure and they should not want it on their network.

        1. Our problem, as a school, is that if IT upgrades the browser it breaks web portals that we must use for attendance/grades etc. There are so so many parties involved in this upgrade problem…

  2. Note: The post__in ordering only applies if you specify that ordering by setting the orderby parameter to post__in. Otherwise, the same default of “no order” is used, meaning that the order of the posts is up to the fates (or up to MySQL’s defaults, rather).

  3. Interestingly, there’s not a single thing in this list that I’m likely to use. There was a time when major WordPress releases fixed glaring problems with the blogging experience. Now, though–and this is true with operating systems, productivity suites, and other software–we’re at the point where it’s really about tweaking the user interface rather than adding features for which most users have been clamoring.

      1. Honestly, Otto, I can’t imagine what features anyone could be clamoring for at this point in WordPress! I don’t think I use all the bells and whistles as it is!

        I think sooner or later every bit of software, including operating systems, hit a kind of plateau where all the major features are there and everything else is frosting, or, if you prefer, just mushing things around to different places. I think WordPress is pretty quickly approaching such a plateau, though, I confess that I don’t know the backend as well as I used to know it or should know it, so maybe changes are happening there that I’ve lost track of which are still important. Add to that all the plugins that people have written and, well, what possible functionality can be left out!? Seriously!

        That being said, I am looking forward to digging into the new “official” default theme and getting to know some of the features I’ve ignored from previous releases better. And, yes, I’m looking forward to the improved Media Manager!

        Also? Thank you, Aaron, for doing this these past 7 years. It’s been a real service to the WordPress community.

        1. @Network Geek
          Such a s/w becomes stagnant and outdated very soon.
          When we think from another perspective, WordPress or any other s/w should reinvent itself. What WP did originally was to provide an awesome and simple way to create content. We have also seen various other people creating newer ways to create content – microblogs, pinboards………..
          Internet is an ever-changing thing and of course innovation leaders can bring out new stuff to awe us. In that sense, what @James Joyner said seems to be right.

  4. Been a loyal fan of all your “10 things” series, that truly rocked. I’m pretty sure you won’t resist doing a few other ones, just because you’re good at it :)

    1. You’re too kind.But frankly, it takes too much energy. This article took me a total of 10h over 3 days to write. That’s a lot of billable hours I missed out on. :)

  5. 8 more things:
    * accessibility improvements in Dashboard
    * addition of Backbone.js and Underscore.js to JavaScript libraries
    * updates to jQuery, jQuery UI, Simplepie libraries
    * XML-RPC is on by default
    * meta query additions for wp_comment_query and wp_user_query
    * new, glorious color picker (code named “iris”)
    * rename the HTML tab to “Text” on the TinyMCE editor
    * added support for more oEmbed providers: SoundCloud, Slideshare and Instagram
    * Image Editing API – The WP_Image_Editor class abstracts image editing functionality such as cropping and scaling, and uses ImageMagick when available.

    Great write up!

  6. I tried 3.5 and I confess that I was not impressed. After reading your article I will try again. You gave me a new perspective about this update. Thanks!

  7. I must confess, I get positively giddy about the new meta_query comparisons of ‘EXISTS’ and ‘NOT EXISTS’ — so now you can pull out all posts where a given meta key is specified — or is not specified — quite easily.

    1. Me too George! I’ve had my eye on that ticket for a while. 3.5 looks amazing. The updates to the media manager are incredible, and little treats like the one you mentioned put it over-the-top.

  8. Interesting point about HiDPI printer output. I created the HiDPI Gravatars plugin to make the Dashboard truly all Retina. It is a great improvement, and I had not even given a thought to front end printing. I might try to learn a few more Javascript tricks to make that happen.

  9. Hey man. Nice article.

    I think its a tidy release and I take my hat off to the lads. I really don’t think all releases are meant to “blow you away”. In recent years I have noticed WP look and feel way more solid – and I think that the stats are testament to how important that is. For us any speed improvements and optimisations (i.e. WP_Query Enhancement) are most welcome. Our two main sites get a lot of traffic and are both very database heavy – so it all helps.

    To be honest I was hoping for a lot more around the Image Editing (as opposed to Image Managing) but hey beggars can’t be choosers. I hope that the core team decide to overhaul the UI around Image Editing soon because to me it feels like that last piece of the pie.

    But yes shame on you – I was using WP since it was b2… back when I was young and spritely… and now I’m old and less spritely… and I’m not leaving ever ;P


  10. Just to echo what Damon Cook said, there have been some big strides forward on the levels of accessibility of the admin screens within 3.5. Those with disabilities, impairments, and the elderly will thank the WP devs for the efforts that have been made here. Of course there is still lots to do in that area but I’m confident the foward motion can be maintained through the development of 3.6.

    If anyone needs more detail, I’ve summarised some of the accessibility improvements to the 3.5 admin screens in a blog post: http://www.coolfields.co.uk/2012/11/wordpress-3-5-accessibility-update-november-2012/

  11. I just stumbled upon this post and your blog, to read it’s the last one of the series. That’s too bad, since I enjoyed reading it very much. And, as Hitchhikers Guide fun – I loved the image. Really nice touch :)

  12. Thanks for taking the time Arron. I do appreciate your effort and insights. I’m looking forward to this new updated. I’ve been following WP UX efforts is refining and adding the extra polish that takes a good design from good to great. The core team have been working their butts off and this time it really shows.

    That said, please consider staying in touch – some selfish reasoning here I know – but I always learn something from you. Thanks again. rb

  13. Thanks for the insight into the new WordPress features, I have had a look over a few of these that you have done and its great to get a quick overview and head-up, just in case I need to update anything on any of my sites.

  14. Hi,
    It’s a great pleasure reading your post. It’s full of information I am looking for. Thank you so much for this post. Also I’ve installed new version of WordPress and I liked the new media upload feature very much :)

  15. Hey, thanks for this Aaron!

    WP 3.5 is more a UX and compatibility release than anything. I think of this as an important stack of changes (including the 8 features Damon Cook mentioned) for future-proofing the CMS and on-boarding new users. It’s important for the software to re-invent itself and expand, but in order to press forward you have to seal the foundation. This is what they’ve done with 3.5.

    The open-source community is extremely good at voicing major changes in functionality. If the change is something that should be included in core, it gets worked in (ie. WPMU); otherwise if it would serve better as an optional extension you are sure to see a dedicated dev team behind the plugin (BuddyPress, bbPress).

    I think we’ll still see big changes to WordPress, I’m just not sure what form they’ll take. What type of functionality would you like to see in upcoming releases?

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