All New WordPress.com

Almost 2 years ago, I wrote about how the future of WordPress needed to be a REST-based API, with a JavaScript client on top of that. There were even public rumors that, gasp, we were thinking about porting WordPress to Node.js. Well, while that’s not exactly true, it’s closer to the truth than a lot of people probably realized.

We are in fact using Node.js to power part of WordPress.com now. If you go to https://wordpress.com while logged in, your request is handled by a Node.js server, and the entire UI is written in JavaScript, although the majority of it is actually React.js. Unless you end up back in wp-admin, your admin/editing/posting/dashboard experience on WordPress.com is now handled entirely (well, almost; we’re still working on some pieces still) with JavaScript.

The UI is fully responsive (optimized for multiple screensizes, and flexible in between). Data updates are live (combination of polling and websockets, moving more to sockets over time). No full-page refreshes (it’s a single-page app). All API-driven (which means we can, and are, using the same APIs to power portions of the native mobile apps). Speaking of apps, we’re able to bundle our single-page, JavaScript application as a native app, so we did (OSX for now, Linux and Windows coming very soon). Leveraging our infrastructure, and the power of Jetpack, we can provide self-hosted users with the same experience as those we host directly (with more Jetpack-specific functionality coming soon as well).

This is a lot of change. But it goes deeper than just the entire technology stack we’re working on now. This was a complete culture-shift for Automattic, a now-400-person company traditionally made up of approximately 100% PHP developers. To get here, we at Automattic took a step back and asked ourselves;

What would WordPress.com look like if we were to start building it today?

As part of answering that question, we made a lot of changes internally:

  • Cross-trained all of our PHP developers (and some of our mobile developers!) into modern, performant JavaScript developers.
  • Switched to a completely GitHub-based workflow.
  • Every commit is now peer-reviewed.
  • Shifted to a very component-minded architecture.
  • Moved our WordPress codebase to be entirely API-driven. New features are now only launched as a new/modified API endpoint + data layer + UI layer.
  • Change in thinking from being very “plugin-oriented” (similar to WP-core) to a much more integrated and cohesive way of thinking of things across the web and mobile apps.

So today, in keeping with the DNA of Automattic, which shares the DNA of WordPress, we’re releasing what we’ve been working on as open source. It’s code-named “Calypso” (long story), and we’re extremely proud of what we’ve built over the last ~18 months. I truly hope that this can help guide or influence WordPress.org‘s future.

I wrote this post in the Calypso/WordPress.com Desktop app, and published it via Jetpack. That feels pretty darned good.

The Future of WordPress: REST API + Javascript single-page app?

DISCLAIMER: These are my personal thoughts only, based on what I’m seeing around the web over the last few years.

Working on o2 for the last few months, and spending more and more time in amongst the Javascript community at events like jQueryConf, BackboneConf and dotJS, I’ve started thinking about the future of WordPress differently.

WordPress currently consists of a large, complex, PHP codebase, sitting on top of a MySQL backend. plugins are primarily PHP, with a light sprinkling on Javascript to mostly provide UI “candy”. Part of the reason for that is probably because:

  1. It’s pretty hard to interact with WordPress on any real depth using Javascript, and;
  2. If you’re trying to provide any custom functionality for WordPress, you pretty quickly end up doing it in PHP because that’s where all of the internal APIs and functionality resides.

That’s been a fine approach for the last 10 years, but I believe that things are changing, and we need to change with them to remain relevant. Full page reloads with heavy server-based everything is no longer really acceptable for a solid UX. With that in mind, here’s a possible future for WordPress, extrapolated out from where some things seem to be going (on the wider web, not necessarily currently within WordPress development):

WordPress core becomes 2 “separate” portions; one is a PHP-based REST-style API. Effectively, a layer that provides a structured API onto our database. That would cover all posts, users, settings, queries, meta data etc that lives within the WP DB. The other piece would be (ideally) a pure Javascript, single-page web application which fully implements the API to deliver what we currently know as wp-admin.

Plugins would create additional endpoints within the backend API, or would supplement existing ones (e.g. post/meta) with additional data and/or actions. They could also be implemented via pure JS, depending on what they were built to do. Themes could potentially be built using no PHP at all — making queries directly to the API via JS, and then using something like Mustache to template the output back to the user. This would have SEO ramifications, but we can always figure something out there, and search engines are constantly improving.

To get there would take a long time, and at many points it would no doubt break all sorts of plugins. This would be a huge shift and I think would actually be really hard to accomplish within the community, which makes me scared because I think it will be rejected as a direction (or at least slowed down a LOT) because of backwards compatibility at the very least. Perhaps we can maintain backwards compatibility for some plugins by at least making the new wp-admin a hybrid app, which leverages a JS-based approach for all truly core functionality/views, and then falls back to full page reloads for plugin-based admin functionality. Without a lot of work, that approach would still break for “integrated” plugins (where they inject settings  into or manipulate existing admin pages), if we assume that all of those pages would become powered by/created via Javascript + API interactions.

Unfortunately a crucial point where backwards compatibility would be important would be the Post Editor, which is also where some big performance/UX improvements could potentially be seen by switching to a largely JS-powered UI.

I don’t know if this is really where WordPress will go, or if it is, exactly how it will get there. There’s a project currently to build a core REST API which I’m eagerly observing and will be trying to get more involved in. It has the potential to become the kernel of the future of WordPress if it’s done right. This is going to be a long road either way, so I’m excited for where we can all go from here.

Do you think WordPress can (or should) move in this direction?