Feature Plugin Merge Proposal: Menu Customizer

The Customizer team is proposing to merge the Menu Customizer plugin into core for WordPress 4.3. In this post, I’ll outline the purpose and history of this project, as well as highlighting the improvements that we have made.

Purpose & Goals

The purpose of the Menu Customizer project is to move navigation menu management from the WordPress admin to the Customizer. In the process, we hope to offer an updated design with improved user flow, a mobile-first interface, improved accessibility, rebuild the administration UI from the ground up to be JavaScript-driven, solve long-standing problems with the current implementation (#14134), and clarify the purposes and capabilities of the menus feature. Additionally, Menu Customizer contributes significantly to the long-term goal to move all appearance functionality and, really, everything that could benefit from live previewing, from the admin to the Customizer.

Background

Menu Customizer started out as my Google Summer of Code 2014 Project. The initial proposal and revised schedule highlight the initial goals and provide good perspective for where we’ve come in the past year. See also the periodic posts here on make/core for updates. Development has happened on GitHub since the project opened to the community.

Core API Improvements

As I began developing this feature in plugin form, it became clear that the core Customizer API would need a lot of improvements to support something as complex as menus. Countless tickets have worked towards this goal over the past year, from the addition of the concept of Panels ( #27406) to JS/Underscore-templated controls ( #29572), and now, full support for dynamically-added sections and controls ( #30737, #30738, and #30741).

Developers are still realizing the full potential of the Customizer API, and Menu Customizer pushes the boundaries of what can be done here pretty far. One of the goals with our approach is to bring as much functionality that should be natively available in the API into core as possible. With the improvements made here already, as well as the future potential to continue abstracting functionality like the add-menu-items fly-out panel or the ability to add screen options in Customizer Panels, Menu Customizer broadens the potential for developers to extend the Customizer to do anything, in core, plugins, and themes.

Contributors

In the initial GSoC project, I (@celloexpressions) developed the plugin from scratch, using Widgets in the Customizer as the design basis, with @ethitter and @obenland serving as my mentors. When the project was opened to the community for contributions, several designers and developers stepped up to help. Code contributors to date include @westonruter, @valendesigns, @voldemortensen, @adamsilverstein, and @kucrut. @designsimply and @folletto have also put in a tremendous amount of time helping with design and usability.

Plugin Overview

I highly recommend trying the plugin, which currently requires the latest version of 4.3 alpha. @designsimply has prepared a video demo:

[wpvideo xdKZ9CeM]

I’ve posted a comparison of the mobile menus flow in the admin and the Customizer on make/flow, and @designsimply has also posted flows there (more flows with more recent versions of the plugin on trunk are still needed). Usability testing has been conducted on usertesting.com, with results posted on make/design. As further refinements are made, additional testing and feedback can be incorporated to make the new experience as polished as possible.

A couple of technical details: each menu is a Customizer section, and new menus can be added (dynamically adding new Customizer sections and controls in the process). Menu items are Customizer controls. To maximize scalability, menu items are all rendered using a single JS template, only when their containing menu section is expanded. The add-menu-item panel loads available menu items on an as-needed basis via ajax. The plugin uses several custom Customizer objects including a custom panel that implements screen options, two custom sections (menus, for lazy-loading of menu items, and new menus, which is rendered as a button toggle), and several custom controls. But everything is built off of the core Customizer API.

A summary of some key improvements that the plugin includes:

  • Modernized, simplified, and more compact UI
  • Mobile-first design that leverages the Customizer
  • Scalable, JavaScript-driven and avoids performance issues ( #14134)
  • All menus easily accessible in one place, without page reloads
  • Live previews of active menus as they are edited
  • Menu locations that can be set from the main panel or while editing
  • Global search that includes all post types and terms in all taxonomies
  • Quick-delete for deleting several items sequentially
  • “Original” item links open directly into the live preview
  • The Customizer API can be used to hook into the experience in countless ways with plugins. Support for additional menu item fields can be added much more easily now in a future release, potentially leveraging the Fields API

Core Tickets Fixed

Menu Customizer fixes numerous tickets on core trac. This is not an exhaustive list, but covers many bigger ones:

  • #14134: Menus item are limited to 16 item and will not save more than that
  • #28138: Updating menu item requires passing all of a menu item’s data to wp_update_nav_menu_item() (The plugin steps around this, we can actually fix it in core on merge)
  • #32218: Remove title attribute option in Menu Editor (off by default)
  • #19272: Add Filter to Nav Menu Support Themes Text (can modify via Customizer API)
  • #21603: Add ability to delete multiple menu items
  • #16828: Add filter on initial_meta_boxes for nav menu Probably fixed, all are shown currently, which could use improvement but it will default to more being shown at least
  • #19464: Auto add do_action for menu in admin (can use Customizer API)
  • #31391: Make the list of registered nav menus (locations) filterable (can use Customizer API)
  • #32440: on Menu page, turn posts by default on “view options”
  • #18517: Visual Feedback for Nav Menu UI

The Plan for the Menus Component

This project has a very explicit goal of not just adding menu management to the Customizer, but also removing the existing admin page in the process. The menu management screen has significant, fundamental problems in its implementation and will never scale (see #14134) without a significant refactoring along the lines of what we’ve done with the Customizer. Additionally, the new UI in the Customizer is considerably more polished than the admin screen and already includes numerous features and bugfixes proposed for core (see above). Ultimately, the new UI provides a much better experience for all users, including desktop, mobile, accessibility, etc.

The plan for the “removal” of the old menus admin screen is as follows:

  • Immediately and officially “deprecate” it: wind down any ongoing development efforts and focus all new administration-focused Menus component work on the new UI in the Customizer. Update trac tickets accordingly, and add a “Manage in Customize” link to the existing screen. Any existing tickets proposing enhancements or new features for menu administration would be required to be adapted to the Customizer version, with the (discouraged) option of also making changes to the old screen.
  • Point the “Menus” link in the admin bar to Menus in the Customizer in 4.3. Remove that menu from the admin bar in 4.4 in favor of a top-level Customize link, and put something more useful in its place (as all of its core links will point to the Customizer now).
  • Retain the admin screen codebase, along with existing links to it throughout the admin.
  • In WordPress 4.5 or 4.6, remove all core links (including admin menu) to the Menus admin screen, or point them to the Customizer. This would likely coincide with a similar change for Widgets and Themes to use the Customizer versions exclusively, once full feature-parity is achieved with the Customizer versions of the other features (Menus has it now). At this point the admin screen would be accessible only by plugin-added links or for users who cannot access the Customizer (no-js, IE7, IE8&9 with domain mapping, a very small percentage of users overall).
  • The admin screen and related code would likely not be removed entirely from core in the foreseeable future, and critical bugs or security issues would still be addressed. New feature development and enhancements would be restricted to the Customizer version.

The above plan is fairly aggressive, to eliminate any ambiguity about future plans and intentions and to avoid the potential for mass trac ticket rot. The fact that the Menus component has no maintainers and has not received significant attention since the 3.6 release indicates that there is a general lack of developer interest in dealing with the mess that the current system is. I am willing to step up as a component maintainer for Menus if the above plan is implemented.

Ongoing Work

We have a few issues left that work working on. Notably, @westonruter has proposed refactoring the way menu item settings are handled, along with menu creation and deleted, and has begun work there, but wouldn’t finish until after a core merge due to time constraints and integration with core code. @adamsilverstein is working on improving drag & drop to work with sub menus. There are also several minor issues remaining on GitHub, which would either be handled in the next couplle days or after merge (many issues have been punted to after a potential merge already).

#customize, #feature-plugins, #menu-customizer, #menus, #merge, #proposal