Addition of TinyMCE to the Text Widget

Note: Update: A follow-up post has been published regarding Fixes to Text widget and introduction of Custom HTML widget in 4.8.1.

In its first couple years, WordPress lacked rich/visual text editing. Before TinyMCE was incorporated in WordPress 2.0, users had to edit post content as raw HTML with some support from the Quicktags buttons. When widgets were introduced in WordPress 2.2, the Text widget was included which allowed a user to add content to their sidebar. Nevertheless, unlike the post editor, the Text widget did not incorporate TinyMCE, nor did it include Quicktags. For twelve years, since TinyMCE was added to core in 2005, users have had to hack around with HTML in their Text widgets to do things as simple as make text bold or add links. This has been featured even as recently as the 4.7 release video. Well, as of WordPress 4.8, the Text widget is finally getting the same treatment as the post editor with the introduction of TinyMCE for visual text editing, while still supporting raw HTML editing via a Text tab but now with the additional help of Quicktags:

Text widget: visual tab Text widget: text (HTML) tab

A primary reason for the long delay in incorporating TinyMCE into the Text widget was the difficulty of cleanly instantiating another copy of the WordPress visual editor dynamically after the page has loaded. Since WordPress 3.3 there has been the wp_editor() PHP function for instantiating an editor for the initial page load, but there was no facility for instantiating editors afterward, such as when adding a new Text widget to a sidebar. So in #35760 a new JS API was introduced for dynamically instantiating WP editors on the page: wp.editor.initialize(). This JS API is used for the new TinyMCE-powered Text widget; for more, please see Editor API changes in 4.8.

Note that by default the Text widget only features buttons for bold, italic, unordered list, ordered list, and link. If you want to add additional buttons to the toolbar, you may use a plugin to enqueue the following JS to add the blockquote button, for example:

jQuery( document ).on( 'tinymce-editor-setup', function( event, editor ) {
	if ( editor.settings.toolbar1 && -1 === editor.settings.toolbar1.indexOf( 'blockquote' ) ) {
		editor.settings.toolbar1 += ',blockquote';

Likewise, a custom button can be added via code like:

jQuery( document ).on( 'tinymce-editor-setup', function( event, editor ) {
	editor.settings.toolbar1 += ',mybutton';
	editor.addButton( 'mybutton', {
		text: 'My button',
		icon: false,
		onclick: function () {
			editor.insertContent( 'Text from my button' );

A reason for why there is no “Add Media” button for the editor in the Text widget is that WordPress 4.8 also includes dedicated media widgets for adding images, video, and audio to sidebars. Another reason is a current technical limitation whereby arbitrary media embeds (oEmbeds) fail to work properly outside the context of post content (see #34115). For this reason if you try to embed a video or something else by pasting in a URL it will not currently expand into the embedded content. The same is true for shortcodes: they are not processed by default since many shortcodes presuppose a global $post as the context within which they expect to be running. Plugins may opt-in selectively to support individual shortcodes by filtering widget_text as they have had to do for many years now.

While not supporting shortcodes, the updated Text widget does have some of the same filters applying to it as the_content, in particular:

  • wpautop
  • wptexturize
  • capital_P_dangit
  • convert_smilies

The Text widget has supported a “filter” instance property which was reflected in the UI via a checkbox for whether or not to automatically add paragraphs and line break tags (wpautop). For the updated Text widget, this checkbox is removed entirely in favor of aligning its behavior with the post editor where this behavior is always enabled. These filters only apply on Text widgets that have been updated/touched after the 4.8 upgrade. When a Text widget is modified in 4.8, the filter instance prop gets set to a static string “content both the filter instance property and a new visual property will be set to true and then it will apply a new widget_text_content filter which then apply the above functions to the widget text. For Text widgets created prior to 4.8, they will be opened in a legacy mode with the old behavior when it is determined that TinyMCE could mutate the content undesirably; such legacy instances will be saved with visual=false instance property. Read more about Fixes to Text widget and introduction of Custom HTML widget in 4.8.1.

Important: When pasting HTML into the “Text” (HTML) tab of the Text widget, any extraneous line breaks should be removed or else unwanted paragraphs and line beaks may result. This is particularly important when you paste in script or style tags (as in the case of 3rd-party JavaScript embeds), since auto-inserted paragraphs will cause script errors; this will be fixed in #2833. This behavior aligns with longstanding behavior in the post editor, so it is not new, although it does differ from how the Text widget has previously behaved. As noted above, for previously-existing Text widgets that had the “auto-add paragraphs” checkbox unchecked (and thus the filter instance prop set to false), the previous behavior of not doing wpautop will be maintained: only once the widgets are modified will any extraneous line breaks need to be removed. Any such Text widgets created prior to 4.8 will be go into a legacy mode as of 4.8.1 to prevent any data loss. Going forward, arbitrary HTML should be placed into the new Custom HTML widget instead.

The incorporation of TinyMCE into the Text widget has necessitated constructing the widget’s form fields differently than how they are normally done. Widgets in core have historically utilized static HTML for their control form fields. Every time a user hits “Save” the form fields get sent in an Ajax request which passes them to the WP_Widget::update() method and then the Ajax response sends back the output of WP_Widget::form() which then replaces the entire form. (Note widgets in the Customizer behave differently since there is no Save button in the widget, as updates are synced and previewed as changes are made; read more about Live Widget Previews.) This worked for static HTML forms in the past, but TinyMCE is a JavaScript component. To avoid having to rebuild TinyMCE every time the user hits Save on the admin screen, the Text widget puts the title field and TinyMCE text field outside of the container that is “managed” by the server which gets replaced with each save. (A similar approach has also been employed by the new media widgets in 4.8.) The fields in the Text widget’s UI sync with hidden inputs which get synchronized with the server; in the Customizer, changes to the TinyMCE field will be previewed after 1 second with denouncing. The container for the Text widget’s fields is .text-widget-fields and the traditional container for a widget’s input fields as rendered by WP_Widget::form() is .widget-content:

Themes should already account for the most common HTML elements within the text widgets and provide appropriate styles for them—the addition of the editor toolbar increases the likelihood its elements will be used in the future. Most default themes needed additional styles for ordered and unordered lists within widgets, so theme authors are encouraged to double-check their themes and test them with content in the text widget that includes markup provided by the editor toolbar.

Initial groundwork for shimming JavaScript into widgets was added in 3.9 via the widget-added and widget-updated events. A more recent proposal for making JavaScript more of a first class citizen in widgets can be found in #33507 and the media widgets incorporate some of its patterns that were also prototyped in the JS Widgets plugin. The synchronization of a widget’s state (instance properties) via hidden text fields can be eliminated once a widget’s state can be fully represented in a JavaScript model.

The Text widget is implemented as a Backbone.js view which is available at wp.textWidgets.TextWidgetControl. Instances of this view are then stored in the wp.textWidgets.widgetControls object. The widget’s control JS will only instantiate for a given widget once it is first expanded, when the widget-added event fires. What’s more is that the widget will only first initialize once the container is fully expanded since TinyMCE is not able to initialize properly inside of a container that is animating. In order to capture when TinyMCE inside the Text widget is initialized, you should use a TinyMCE event like tinymce-editor-setup. Note also that due the Document Object Model, when a widget is moved to a new location in a sidebar and this the TinyMCE iframe is moved in the DOM, this dynamically-created iframe is reloaded and thus emptied out. For this reason, every time a Text widget is moved to a new location the TinyMCE editor in the widget will be removed and then re-initialized. Keep this in mind when extending.

Keep also in mind that the Text widget will likely undergo many more changes with the incorporation of the Gutenberg editor, and that widgets themselves will likely see many changes to align with Gutenberg’s editor blocks which are now being prototyped.

#4-8, #dev-notes, #editor, #widgets