WordPress 3.6: What’s new, and why it matters

Published by | Thursday, August 1st, 2013

A few months behind schedule, version 3.6 of WordPress is out and ready for you to make the most of. The scope of changes in this release are relatively minor, but the updates are important and will help in your day-to-day work with WordPress. Here’s what’s new and why it matters to you.

Twenty Thirteen: The new theme standard

Since 2010, a new default theme has been released every year, and this year is no different. With 3.6 comes Twenty Thirteen. While the previous three themes—Twenty Ten, Twenty Eleven, and Twenty Twelve—got progressively simpler, Twenty Thirteen goes in a new design direction. It’s aggressively blog-centric with a heavy focus on Post Formats, and it’s a great example of the popular flat design trend currently sweeping the web.

The Twenty Thirteen WordPress default theme

Post Formats are a new feature in WordPress 3.6 that lets you choose unique layout and design templates for specific types of blog posts, such as images, videos, quotes, and regular articles, among others. The Twenty Thirteen theme supports Post Formats by providing a bold, unique visual style for each post so your site visitors can differentiate between the content in each one. In the image above you see the Video, Quote, Status, and Chat post formats on the front page. The Standard post format has a white background. The post format styling is also carried over into the post editor so as you change your post format you’ll see the styling change as you work, and the post formats are now identified using icons throughout the dashboard.

The Twenty Thirteen WordPress default theme

The overall style and color palette of Twenty Thirteen harks back to the ’60s and ’70s and is a bold choice for anyone wanting to make a blog stand out.

I encourage you to try the new theme and see what it has to offer for your site or blog, and also to experiment with the different post formats to see how they change the appearance of your posts and content on both your index and single-post pages.

Improved menu customization

Menus in WordPress 3.6

The introduction of the custom menu option was in many ways a demarcation line in the history of WordPress. Custom menus allowed users to create, well… custom menus in an easy and intuitive way, giving them full control over site navigation. The user interface of the Menu customizer has gone through several iterations, and in 3.6 a new architecture simplifies the creation and positioning of menus even further. The new design swaps the separated panels of optional menu items for an expandable accordion menu. This doesn’t make much difference for small sites and standard blogs with minimal menus and simple content, but if you have multiple custom post types, taxonomies, or other extended features, this new design will make the menu page easier to navigate with less scrolling. Menu locations have also been moved to a new tab to make a clear distinction between menus and theme position. After all, menus don’t have to be placed in the theme. They can also be placed in your WordPress widgets.

The new menu UI design is also a sign of things to come: There is work being done on a whole new user interface for WordPress and this new proposal shares many similarities with the new menu UI.

Autosave, Modal Login, Revisions and post locking

If you’ve ever written a long post inside the WordPress dashboard you have likely come across one or more of the following scenarios:

• Your browser or computer or Internet connection shuts down and you lose the last 10 minutes of work (for which you would surely have won a literary award).

• You leave your computer in the middle of writing a post, only to come back to the login screen.

• You make countless revisions to a post and then can’t figure out how to recover older versions of the post without ruining everything.

• You and your blogging partner accidentally edit the same post at the same time and much of the edited content gets lost.

WordPress 3.6 comes with new features to address all of these issues:

Improved Autosave

Out of the box WordPress now does an autosave every 15 seconds so you won’t lose more than a couple of words or sentences if something weird happens to your computer or connection as you write.

Modal Login

If your session times out while you are working, a modal window will appear on top of whatever admin page you are on, allowing you to log in again without losing your place.

Post Revisions

WordPress has saved backup revisions to your posts for some time, but they’ve been rather cumbersome to work with. A new post revisions approach was introduced a few versions back and with 3.6 this feature has fully grown into its own. The post revisions option gives you a detailed view of the changes between different revisions of a post, allowing you to scroll back and forth in time to see exactly what was changed, deleted, or added, and pick the right excerpts. You can also compare specific revisions against one another to see what was changed when. This is an impressive piece of coding and the image below doesn’t come close to showing just how useful it is. The only way to fully grasp the new post revisions is to try it out: Just click the new Revisions link in the publish panel when editing a post or page and the window will open.

Revisions in WordPres 3.6

Post Locking

Post Locking is a new feature targeted at multi-author sites. Simply put, it locks posts that are currently being edited so that another person can’t accidentally start editing the same post at the same time. The person trying to open a post is alerted that the post is locked, told who is currently editing the post, and given the option to take over editing.

Your turn!

WordPress 3.6 has been in development for some time now with a rigorous beta testing cycle, so I recommend updating to this new version to get the latest features and security patches. My best advice would be to do a full backup before running the updater.  You can also watch the official release video below.


Once you’ve given the new version and features a spin, let me know what you think. Do you like Twenty Thirteen and how Post Formats  are implemented? Is everything working the way you expected? What new features do you want to see in future versions of WordPress? Please leave a comment below; I’m all ears!

Learn more:

• Morten’s WordPress Essential Training course
• All of Morten Rand-Hendriksen’s courses
All WordPress courses on lynda.com

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26 Responses to “WordPress 3.6: What’s new, and why it matters”

  1. I’m keen to try 3.6 out but I will likely wait three weeks so that any final kinks, security issues or plugin issues can be sorted. I know most plugin devs are not diligent in testing so production will likely bring lots of fixes.

    • Because of all the features that were removed, this is pretty much a point release so chances of anything major breaking are pretty small. 3.6 has also gone through two entire rounds of beta so it’s unusually solid. If you are concerned I recommend duplicating your site and your plugins on a local server or on your computer and running a test there to see if anything breaks.

      If you do have plugins that break the site you should remove them and find other plugins that do not. If they break the site with this release it means they are not coded correctly.

  2. [...] WordPress 3.6 was just released to the public and our resident expert Morten Rand-Hendriksen highlights the new features for you today on the lynda.com blog.… WordPress 3.6 What’s new and why it matters lynda blog [...]

  3. Farzana Neha says:

    I have been waiting for this release. Just installed on my blog. So far no issues with other plugins so everything is running great for me ^_^

  4. Sizwe M says:

    I get increasingly concerned with each wordpress update these days… I’m all for the new features but quite paranoid that it’ll crash our site as we have done a fair bit of theme customisation. We run a cartoon blog so I think the new post format additions in WP 3.6 could be quite interesting. And the Autosave feature… definitely welcome – have lost many a literary award because of those quirks lol

    • Your concerns are quite common (see Benjamin’s comment above) but like I said in my other reply, this release should not cause any major breakdowns.

      At WordCamp San Francisco last weekend Matt Mullenweg announced the plans to move towards auto-updates in the future. That means your WordPress install will update itself without you controlling it. If that happens, plugin and theme developers will have to become more diligent with following coding standards. The reality is if your site breaks due to an upgrade it is almost always because a plugin or a theme is breaking with standards.

      • Craig says:

        WP 3.6.x has totally corrupted our webserver and all our MU installs.

        I have had to roll back the entire server to a pervious backup prior to the upgrade.

        All the sites we had worked but we could not access them via the admin panel.

        With our current experience SizweM has very legitimate concerns that I can confirm are serious and probably will corrupt your install and any one who says different it a total and utter liar!

        • Craig- first, take a deep breath and relax. Sorry to hear you had issues, of course. That said, most WP upgrades generally go well- so although SizweM’s concerns are certainly legitimate (which Morten also agreed with above, as do I), it’s a wild stretch to say that the upgrade ‘probably will corrupt your install, and anyone who says different is a total and utter liar’. I’ve personally upgraded over 20 sites to WordPress 3.6 (including this one), without a single issue to date- but it requires being proactive and methodical about how you update. No lie.

          So let’s take a deeper look at your particular situation, as you haven’t really provided the full picture of what happened with your update in that brief (and rather terse) comment.

          a) Do your WP MU sites use a modified custom theme, either with or without third-party widgets enabled? If so – and you didn’t test your theme on a separate, isolated installation of WordPress 3.6 to confirm it’s integrity before upgrading on your production server, it’s very likely that there could be conflicts with either your theme code, or the widgets you’ve specified for it. I highly recommend moving a copy of your backup database to a new install along with any required widgets and theme mods, and really testing both the main site and admin console with both before upgrading your production site, particularly if you have a multiuser installation where incompatibilities can compound themselves quickly.

          b) Did you disable all your plugins before upgrading? If not, then you very likely may have been affected by plug-in incompatibilities- a common case with failed WordPress updates, which is why this practice is recommended in the WP Codex as well (note the ‘Ready to Update’ paragraph here). As with above, I’d recommend installing the update on your backup server (point A above) with your necessary plugins installed, but deactivated, and then re-activating them one-by-one to both confirm their integrity, and isolate which, if any, introduce bugs into your system (which you’ll never know if you enable them all at once, or don’t disable them first).

          If you follow these two important steps before upgrading your install, you’ll generally avoid any unpleasant breakdowns with WordPress updates – or at least identify them quickly before affecting your production site(s). I strongly recommend these points going forward to help avoid such headaches in the future. Sure hate hearing about bad experiences with WP updates- hope this advice helps out, and best of luck with your next update!

          For more insight, check these resources out, too:

          Updating WordPress (stackexchange.com)
          Tips and best practices for updating WordPress
          WordPress Site Management best practices (Rocketgeek)
          Think Twice before you update that WordPress plug-in (great insight on how to update, and fix issues that may result from an incompatible or buggy plug-in).

  5. Robin Thebs says:

    Awesome. I was waiting for the autosave feature. Makes life easy now to publish blogs.

  6. Dave says:

    Just beware that if you have used twenty twelve theme and customized any of the php files this upgrade overwrites them.

    I have just spent most of my day fixing this !!!

    • @Dave: When you make changes to an existing theme it is always advised to do so in a child theme. That way the original theme can be updated without you losing your changes. Check out my Building Child Themes course which takes you through the process. The rule of thumb is unless you built the theme yourself you should never touch the files of the original theme.

  7. Arafin Shaon says:

    Love the new Revision control improvements. Would love to see more standard widget enhancements so plugins would not be needed for simple things like recent posts with thumbnails or category display control. Guess this is on the road-map upcoming.

    Always remember good rule thumb before upgrading to top level release is to wait for sub-level release 3.6.1 which addresses all the bugs that brought to developers attention. And ALWAYS backup so you don’t crackup.

    • There are new widgets coming down the pipe all the time through the Jetpack plugin. I know your pain with regards to thumbnails in recent post widgets but I don’t think that’s going to be built in any time soon simply because plugins already do it so well.

      Moving forward it seems the philosophy is to modularize WordPress and move more non-essential features into plugins and this is something I support wholeheartedly. If WordPress isn’t modularized it’ll end up becoming a big and clunky machine that is hard to use.

      To the point release update, this isn’t really necessary any more, and especially not with this release. 3.6 has been in development since February and has been tested and re-tested more than any other release. Should be pretty safe.

  8. How much data do post revisions add to the database?

    I ask because I used ‘optimize database after deleting post revisions’ a few weeks ago and on our biggest site it chopped 100MB off the database.

    We often go through ten or more drafts before we publish. Then, some of the posts and pages are updated after publication, such as a page we have of etymological oddities. Each update is another revision – and it all adds to the database – unless the new method of saving revisions (if it is a new method) saves only the changes and are of tiny incremental amounts.

    • Answer: A lot. And it’s a bit of a problem if you have a lot of content. WordPress has some data bulk challenges both in post revisions and comments meta that have yet to be sorted out. I’m working on something for the lynda.com library that addresses these types of issues so stay tuned!

      • Sheryl Coe says:

        Looking forward to that new course. Your courses brought me to Lynda.com so the new courses released lately have been like getting a Baker’s dozen.

        On my wishlist for Mor10 courses: WordPress and 1) schema, 2 html5 and 3) plugin development.

        On Custom Plugins: Development for specific clients vs. plugin development for release to wordpress.org. Use of tools such as wp-types or cobaltapps: how their use impacts license rights. Staying compliant with GPL. Handling updates for custom plugins.

        Updated to 3.6 caused no issues. Will report back :-)

        • I’m not going to say anything about what we have planned, but all these things are being discussed. Specifically to HTML5, that’s less of a WordPress issue than a general markup issue. Point of order: Most “HTML5″ themes for WordPress don’t actually follow HTML5 guidelines but are a mangled mess of XHTML with HTML5 tags added on. But like I said, any WordPress theme can be HTML5 compliant by simply using HTML5 markup in the template files. Unless you had something else in mind.

          I’m currently working on a project that involves Schema, so once that’s done and I have some tangible results we’ll see!

  9. [...] WordPress 3.6: What’s new, and why it matters: Review from Morten Rand-Hendriksen, who creates many of the Lynda.com WordPress tutorials, covers the custom menu changes, revisions, post locking, and modal login as well as the new Twenty Thirteen theme. Have you upgraded your sites to 3.6? [...]

  10. Just upgraded and all went fine…
    Not likely to be using the Twenty Thirteen theme in the near future, but do like the menu customization and post save/revision improvements

    • I concur. Twenty Thirteen is a niche theme that I don’t think a lot of people will use for a long time. The color scheme is too particular and the overall functionality is only really good for blogging in the classic sense. I do expect to see lots of child themes roll out with new color schemes and other changes so it’ll be interesting to see how the Twenty Thirteen landscape looks in a couple of months.

    • wordpress twenty thirteen says:

      I think Twenty thirteen will emerge as powerful theme in near future.It is correct that basic users may require some customized child theme. The structured code and systematic style is noticeable in Twenty thirteen.
      Responsive nature is better than previous themes.More queries are there to manage different screens.

  11. […] WordPress 3.6: What’s New, and Why It Matters: 3.6 of WordPress is out and ready for you to make the most of. The scope of changes in this release are relatively minor, but the updates are important and will help in your day-to-day work with WordPress. Here’s what’s new and why it matters to you. […]

  12. Wendy says:

    I did the upgrade, still using the twenty twelve theme. With the upgrade my mapped sidebar images now appear to be broken when viewing in Chrome but are still fine in IE. Any help??

  13. Kadoogan says:

    …of course, and correct me if I am wrong…if the auto-update feature mentioned earlier goes ahead, there won’t be an opportunity to test updates – your site will either work or it won’t after it has been updated for you.

    Going back to an earlier version may work if the auto update feature isn’t somehow retroactively installed, I suppose.

    Cross your fingers and hold your breath is about your only other set of options, at least that is what it seems.

    So, personally, not a fan of the auto-update idea at this point.

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