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What You Need To Know About WordPress 3.9

The latest version of WordPress named “Smith” was released yesterday which brings us another round of core changes. This time, the team worked mainly on the back-end editing and admin functions, such as a big TinyMCE (visual editor) update, gallery previews, media playlists, an improved widget UI and live theme previews (only to mention a few). Here’s what you need to know about the major changes in WordPress 3.9.

Improved Widget Interface Link

While the old widget interface set the standard for drag-and-drop UI when it was introduced, it was time for an overhaul. The developer team took the Widget Customizer plugin1 and essentially built it into the core.

The biggest changes that come with the new widget interface are live previews, among others:

  • Editing existing widgets
  • Adding a new widgets
  • Widget reordering
  • Entirely remove Widgets
  • Adding a new widget

(See large preview3)

Updated Visual Editor Link

The visual editor has received a major overhaul (both under the hood and on the UI end), adding a horizontal line button, updated Plupload, and an updated TinyMCE. Small visual changes seem to have been applied to many different button icons.

The new visual editor brings with it gallery previews, meaning no more place holder boxes for galleries! You’ll have a live preview of your gallery, just like you do with images and other media.

TinyMCE has also been updated to version 4.04 for WordPress 3.9. Plupload 2.x has made it’s way in5, as well. It handles most of the file upload interfaces in WordPress.

(See large preview7)

The updated visual editor also brings drag & drop functionality, allowing you to drag images from your desktop, and drop them right into the post. They’ll be automatically formatted to fit the post.

Here’s a quick preview of how it works:

A preview of the updated visual editor in WordPress’ latest 3.9 version. (Watch on YouTube8)

Live Theme Preview Additions Link

Live theme preview gives you a way to see how your site would look using a different theme. This has been around for a while and WordPress is finally adding new features to the framework they’ve built.

Apart from the usual customizations options like color, title and whatever else is defined by the theme, you can now add widgets and rearrange them, seeing exactly how they will look once saved. In addition, the header image facility has received an overhaul and now provides even more flexibility.

Easier Theme Installation Link

The new theme installation interface is a vast improvement over the old. It will be blatantly obvious to anyone who’s ever seen the pre-WordPress 3.9 theme installation screen.

Installing new themes is even easier now, too. The theme installation interface has been totally redone. Some of the most popular themes are displayed immediately in the “Featured” tab, for quick installation.

(See large preview10)

There are also tabs for popular themes and latest themes. The feature filter has been moved into it’s own tab, and has been generally cleaned up.

Audio & Video Playlists Link

Users are now able to create audio and video playlists with WordPress 3.9. They work as a shortcode, just like the image galleries do currently. Uploading audio and video is handled through the usual media uploader, with images and everything else. From there, you have the option to add them to a playlist.

A neat little feature is that WordPress 3.9 will try to automatically fetch album cover artwork using the ID3 tags in your media file.

Key Points For Developers Link

Plugin and theme developers need to know a few new and important things. Right when upgrading to WordPress 3.9, four new utility functions are mentioned. doing_action() and doing_filter() allow for identifying a hook in progress. The other two functions, has_image_size() and remove_image_size() allow manipulation of custom image sizes.

Various external libraries have been updated, including jQuery11, the ever popular JavaScript framework. TinyMCE12, which provides the text and visual editing components. Underscore13, a utility-belt for functional JavaScript programming. Plupload14, which drives most of the upload interfaces in WordPress. Backbone15, which uses Underscore as it’s backbone, essentially provides models with key-value bindings and custom events16. MediaElement is a well-crafted HTML5 audio and video player. Masonry 317 is a cascading grid layout library.

The database layer has also been improved, making it more fault-resistant and bringing improved compatibility with PHP 5.5 and MySQL 5.6. For example, PHP’s mysqli library is now used when PHP 5.5+ is available. Autosave functionality18 has been improved, as well.

Your themes can now make use of HTML5 galleries and captions19. Adding add_theme_support( 'html5', array( 'gallery', 'caption' ) ); to your theme’s functions.php file will enable HTML5 galleries and captions. Symlinked plugins20 are a new thing to WordPress 3.9. While it was technically possible in the past, it’s now fully supported:

“One of the cool little features included with 3.9 is the ability to symlink plugin directories. While it has been possible to symlink plugins in the past, functions such as plugins_url() return the wrong URL, which causes breakage in most plugins.”

If you’re a theme or a plugin developer, don’t forget to update your repositories. For some items you may just need to change your “Tested Up To” strings, in other cases (especially if you utilize heavily modified editor or upload configurations) you may need to look at the core changes in more detail.

(Large preview22)

So, What Are You Waiting For? Link

Keep in mind that upgrading your WordPress installation is the number one way to prevent malicious activity and exploits. As always, before any update, please do not forget to back up your database23 just in case anything goes pear shaped!

WordPress 3.9 is available for download at the usual location,

(dp, il)

Footnotes Link

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Tyler Longren is a freelance web developer based in Iowa, USA, and has a beautiful daughter and wife, with another baby on the way (due September 2014!). He likes PHP, JavaScript, WordPress, Git, HTML5 & CSS3, and other neat things. He also really loves the open source community, too.

  1. 1

    How well does the multisite functionality work?

    • 2

      Hi Dylan,

      As far as I know there are no significant changes to the multisite functionality on the regular users’ side. A number of under-the-hood things have been modified, especially to do with how networks and sites are found. You can read a more complete description of what’s new on

      Generally I find the multisite has worked pretty well for a while now. It’s definitely not without its quirks but if it’s used well, it’s a great asset.

      • 3

        How can I disable the automatic uploading of images? You’ve ruined the ability to drag text into the composition window.

      • 4

        Does the new WordPress 3.9 allow you to change the size of your font?
        I can’t seem to find it. I don’t want to use Heading 1,2,3,4,5 etc. because they are too bold. I simply want to increase my font from a 12 to 14.

        • 5

          Depending on your site design, it could be better to just edit the H1, H2, etc. tags in your CSS. It’s rarely (if ever) a good idea to just start editing font size separate from the pre-planned design of the site. Now, your getting away from content management and into design / layout.

        • 6

          I, too, noticed you can no longer change the point size of the text. I liked that option as opposed to changing to H2, H3, etc. It gave more control over the text with my theme.

  2. 8

    Inder Rathore

    April 17, 2014 1:29 pm

    Thanks for the update Tyler. WP 3.9 comes with great updates. I love ’em.

  3. 10

    Carlo Rizzante

    April 17, 2014 1:45 pm

    Upgraded to 3.9 most of my sites and multisites and so far everything runs smoothly as usual.

  4. 11

    Mark F. Simchock

    April 17, 2014 2:15 pm

    Thanks for the run down. It’s quite helpful.

    One question, please:

    Speed? What about speed? What has been done – or can be done by a developer – to improve speed / efficiency?

    I have no objections to feature creep. (We’re kinda past the point of objecting, yes?) But what if I’m not really interested in features X, Y and/or Z. In short, how can we “decouple” the framework from the CMS (so the friction from the CMS is mitigated)?

    Know what I mean?

  5. 13

    Did they remove the auto update feature, because I only want to update my site manually in case it would break something custom I have installed?

    • 14

      The auto update feature is only for minor release. 3.9 is not a minor release.

    • 15
      • 16

        Seriously? You have to go into the config file to turn that off? Why not just give us a checkbox on the settings page?

        • 17

          Pam Blizzard

          April 22, 2014 1:28 pm

          Because it shouldn’t be that easy for a non-technical person to turn off auto updates. If it were that easy, any user could click it off, not understanding, and potentially put their site at huge risk.

          You should only turn off those minor updates if you know what the consequences are, and how to make those updates when you’re ready. Those updates are important to your site’s health.

          Anyone who truly understands those consequences are quite comfortable with a quick edit and save of the config, easy as pie.

  6. 18

    The new WordPress 3.9—named “Smith” after the iconic Jazz musician Jimmy Smith—is the greatest version of WordPress till yet. It introduces many great features which make life easier for bloggers and website owners. It has a revamped Visual Editor which allows users to drag-and-drop images, audios, and videos directly into the editor. The new Customization panel is a great addition too. Users can now see changes happen in real-time inside this panel. The panel does not make any changes to live website until you save them. This means you only save the changes you want.


  7. 19

    Roger Longren

    April 17, 2014 5:46 pm

    Nice article Tyler …. very informative.

  8. 20

    I updated this morning and its seems to me like I have lost a lot of functionality. Previously, I was able to drag a photo from another open tab directly into my blog. Now when I try to do that, it opens up the photo page and closes out my wordpress. Before, when I would hit the photo settings button in the upper left corner of the photo, I would get advanced setting where I could resize the image based on percentage. That option is now gone. Also, when I resize an image manually, the actual size (in pixels) is not shown anymore.
    I am extremely frustrated by all of this.

    • 21

      I am using Firefox.

    • 22

      It broke all kinds of functionality for me as well, especially when posting. The Add media and screen options button no longer work, and I can’t drag crap into the post as well. It does seem ‘theme’ specific, as I can switch to some other theme and the functionality works, which still sucks because now that means I have to switch to a theme other than the one I have been using forever? FAIL!!

  9. 23

    Version 3.9 and still no built in functionality to beat Advanced Custom Fields. Madness.

  10. 25

    Marco Raaphorst

    April 17, 2014 7:52 pm

    Playlists are not working on Safari browsers and on Android phones it seems. Bad stuff. Would be nice though…

  11. 26

    You can drag images into the post, but you can no longer drag TEXT or TEXT CLIPPINGS into the post, due to the silly new “feature.” thus making WordPress 3.9 a dumbed-down platform for non-professionals. Thanks for nothing, developers.

    I have a library of preformatted text, most of it saved as clippings (certain items I use all the time in my posts), that I can no longer use. Instead I have to open the file, select, copy, and paste instead of simply dragging the item into the window. You can’t even select an insertion point any more. There’s no good reason to combine media uploading with TEXT COMPOSITION in the same window, but they did it, anyway.

    WordPress is no longer the excellent writing tool it was. I hope someone fixes this ASAP. As you can tell, I’m kind of pissed.

    • 27

      I agree.
      That’s why you should always make a backup copy of your site before updating and also why automatic updating should be OFF by default (even though this is considered a “major” version that is not auto updated.
      Any version of WordPress can break plugins and custom functionality. I’ve had it happen in the past, which is why I’m carful to test updates on my local system before updating my live site. It is ridiculous to me that developers would operate a live website in this manner with auto-updating. Developers, above all, should know the problems that can occur server-side when you toy around with something like that.

  12. 28

    Apparently nobody else in the world drags & drops text into the WP Text Editor. Nonetheless, after insulting everyone I could think of, I got a response at the WP support forum, and there’s now a ticket on the glitch:

    Sorry to be such a jerk. It’s one of those days.

    • 29

      I need to drag and drop text into the editor also. Can’t believe this is broken.

  13. 30

    Danielle Drenckpohl

    April 18, 2014 3:20 am

    I just updated to 3.9 and now my website is broken and I can log into WP but get a nice plain white screen. Thanks WP. I’m in the middle of building a new site for a client and cannot make ANY progress.

    If anyone can help I would appreciate it, since I am completely screwed right now.

    • 31

      Don’t blame WP or the developers for the fact that you updated carelessly. You should always make a backup of your site before updating, so that when stuff breaks you can fix the site and continue making progress.

  14. 32

    I use Easy Video Player plugin. Since the upgrade to 3.9, the embedded EVP video is a flat horizontal display and video isn’t viewable unless I click full screen view. Not good.

  15. 33

    I am not able to timestamp my posts as well as unable to add an image.What might be the problem. When I click to edit timestamp, it does not respond.
    I have to use another blog with WP 3.8 to upload and image and copy-paste it to the blog with WP 3.9.

  16. 35

    I may be missing something but in doing my blog I do a LOT of cut and paste…..


    I do NOT need to go thru the hassle of dropping a image into the computer memory and then finding it and up loading it into a post…Nor do I need to do that in text….

    Are they gonna bring the drag and drop/cut and past back as a simple 1-2-3 thing , do I have to get a plugin…or am I gonna have to seriously look at something else to power my blog?

    This is Progress????

  17. 36

    This is the WORST update EVER! I thought we were safe with our own hosted WordPress sites… Too much has changed and too many of what made the admin so great was taken away. I want to rollback to 3.8.3. This is garbage. I am having so many problems I should not be having updating my sites.

    The image padding and border was removed and you now have to add a plugin to get back basic functionality.

    I keep losing my paragraph breaks after I update a page and then come back into the editor. I have Tiny MCE and had to completely reconfigure it after updating to 3.9. It just quadrupled my updating time because of all the “bugs” they just added in.


    • 37

      I agree WordPress 3.9 essentially …. Sucks! If you have a site that you use plug ins for or if you type in visual editor (and that means everyone basically) you are pretty much screwed unless your switch to the ugly WP 2014 theme. Gross.

  18. 38

    In just reading one of the above posts, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to restore a backup and get back to 3.8 and turn off auto updating on all of my sites. I recommend others do the same.

  19. 39

    After restoring a backup WordPress forced the 3.9 upgrade on me!! Bummer. This SUCKS.

    • 40

      Same thing happened to me. They forced the slop on you like a dog

    • 41

      I completely lost all widget information – all text, the look of my “home page”…everything! Where did all my information go? Does anyone know how to get in touch with WordPress? I’ve posted in the forums but am not getting any response…so discouraged!

  20. 42

    I think WordPress always works on to add new features. To make more user compatible and easy making websites as quickly as possible.


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