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By Morten Rand-Hendriksen |

What’s new in WordPress 3.9


WordPress 3.9 “Smith,” named after James Oscar “Jimmy” Smith, was released yesterday. This new version of the popular web publishing app introduces several highly anticipated new features that make managing your WordPress site and its contents easier. Let’s break down the key new features of WordPress 3.9:

A more powerful Customizer The Customizer makes managing the appearance of your WordPress site easier by allowing you to see your edits as you make them and preview your theme configurations before you take them live. With the 3.9 update, two of the WordPress community’s most anxiously awaited feature requests have been added to the customizer to make it “complete”:

Header Image Uploadheaderimage

If your theme supports header images, you can now upload and crop new header images directly from the customizer under the Header Image option.

Widget Managementwidgets

If your theme supports widgetized areas (aka “sidebars”), you can now edit each area and each widget directly from the customizer. The editor gives you the same abilities you get from the regular Widget editor found under Appearance -> Widgets in the WordPress admin panel. The key difference is that as you add, edit, or reorganize widgets in the Customizer, you can see how your edits will look in your live theme. This gives you a level of control over the appearance of your site that you never had before.

Better Image, Gallery, Audio, and Video handling The post and page editor also get some major improvements in version 3.9, particularly in how it handles images and media content. To add images and media files, you can now simply drag-and-drop them into the editor and they will be inserted where you place your cursor. This process still goes through the image editor, where you have to give the image a title and alt tag, but you no longer have to click the Add Media button to start the process.


If you create image galleries, you can now preview those galleries from within the editor itself. This is also true for embedded video and audio files, and even playlists. All of this provides a far more seamless editing experience between the back end and front end of your site.

Paste as Text and Distraction Free Writing If you’ve ever copied text from a Word document or a website and pasted it directly into a WordPress post or page, you know that it doesn’t always work out the way you expected. The WordPress editor has long had “Paste as Plain Text” and “Paste from Word” options, but their functionality was not ideal.

In WordPress 3.9, the Paste from Word button has been removed and the Paste as Plain Text button has been replaced with a new Paste as Text button offering simpler functionality:


When you click the new Paste as Text button, the editor will strip away extraneous formatting and insert a plain-text version of the content directly into your post or page. Remember the modal window you used to have to paste text into? It’s now gone, along with the awkward formatting that was required after pasting content into a post the old way. Everything is now accomplished seamlessly within the editor—and the copy-and-paste editing experience is much simpler and easy to understand as a result.

Distraction-Free Writing

The Distraction Free Writing feature—which zooms your editing window into a spartan full-screen view suitable for focused writing sessions—has also long been present in the WordPress editor, but few people were aware of it because the button was hidden amongst many others. In 3.9, the button has been moved to the far right corner, where it stands out. This subtle interface change greatly helps users re-discover the Distraction Free Writing feature, and will likely result in more people using it.

HTML5 support for developers As with every WordPress release, there are also new and exciting things happening behind the scenes. I think the most important update in WordPress 3.9 is proper HTML5 output of its image galleries and captions. This is a long overdue enhancement that replaces antiquated inline styles and hard-coded solutions for clean, simple, fully configurable, semantic HTML5 markup. You can read more about this particular update at make.wordpress.org.

WordPress 3.9 – it’s just easier WordPress 3.9’s improvements will make day-to-day work in WordPress much easier. Once theme developers get on board with the new Customizer features HTML5 galleries and captions, I expect you’ll see even more improvements in how you work with WordPress. Now that you know what’s coming, go out and update your own WordPress site!

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