Widget Improvements in WordPress 4.9

On the heels of adding TinyMCE rich editing to the Text widget and the media widgets in 4.8, there are another round of improvements coming to the Text widget and Video widget in 4.9, among other improvements to widgets.

Shortcodes in Text Widget

One very longstanding request—for over 8 years—has been to support shortcodes in the Text widget (#10457). This is finally implemented in WordPress 4.9. It is no longer required to have plugins and themes do add_filter( 'widget_text', 'do_shortcode' ). Core now will do_shortcode() at the widget_text_content filter (added in 4.8) in the same way it is applied in the_content at priority 11, after wpautop() and shortcode_unautop(). If a plugin has added do_shortcode() to widget_text then this filter will be suspended while the widget runs to prevent shortcodes from being applied twice. If a Text widget is in legacy mode then it will manually do_shortcode() as well.

One reason for the long delay with adding shortcode support in Text widgets was due to many shortcodes looking for a global $post when they run. Since the global $post varies depending on whatever the main query is, the shortcodes in a Text widget could render wildly different on different templates of a site. The solution worked out was to temporarily nullify the global $post before doing the shortcodes so that they will consistently have the same global state, with this global $post then restored after the shortcodes are done. So if you have shortcodes that depend on a global $post—or call get_post()—then you should make sure that they short-circuit when $post is null in order for them to behave properly if used in the Text widget.

As of [42185] this nullification of $post is only done for archive (non-singular) queries; for singular queries, the $post will instead be set to be the current main queried post via get_queried_object(). This ensures that the global $post is consistent and explicit. This setting of the $post global while applying filters (and shortcodes) is also now implemented for the Custom HTML widget. Additionally, to ensure that gallery shortcodes that lack ids do not end up listing out every attachment in the media library, a shortcode_atts_gallery filter has been added which makes sure the shortcode’s id attribute is set to -1 when the widget is rendered on archive templates. This allows you to embed the gallery for any currently queried post in the sidebar. You should make sure such a Text widget is not displayed on an archive template by either adding it exclusively to a sidebar that appears on singular templates, or by using a feature like Jetpack’s Widget Visibility to hide the widget on non-singular templates.

Media in Text Widget

One reason why shortcode support in the Text widget was needed in this release is because 4.9 also allows media to be embedded in the Text widget (#40854). There is now the same “Add Media” button in the rich Text widget as on the post editor, allowing you to add images, galleries, videos, audio, and other media. To support these, core also needed to support shortcodes like captionaudiovideo, and gallery. Note there are also dedicated widgets (Image, Audio, Video, and Gallery) for these media types as well.

Having separate media-specific widgets helps with discovery and allows us to provide streamlined interfaces for each media type. For example, the Image widget now has a field specifically for supplying the link URL (see #41274), and the Video widget now provides more guidance to users when supplying external URLs (#42039). The media-specific widgets are closely aligned with blocks in Gutenberg; the existence of media inside the Text widget will align with eventual nested blocks in Gutenberg, and would be treated as Classic Text blocks in any future migration from widgets to blocks.

Embeds in Text Widget and Video Widget

One shortcode not mentioned above is embed. This one was more difficult to support because oEmbeds have not been supported anywhere other than post content. This was because there were dependencies on having a post as context for the sake of caching, as the responses to oEmbed requests get stored in postmeta. However, as of #34115 if there is no post as context the oEmbeds will now get cached in an oembed_cache custom post type instead. Since a Text widget will explicitly nullify the global $post while shortcodes are processed, this means oEmbeds will get cached in this custom post type. Similarly to how do_shortcode() now applies in the widget_text_content filter like it applies on the_content, so too now WP_Embed::autoembed() and WP_Embed::run_shortcode() both also now run on widget_text_content.

In WordPress 4.8 the Video widget was introduced with support for displaying an uploaded video file, a YouTube video, or a video from Vimeo. Each of these were displayed using MediaElement.js. Just as oEmbeds are now able to be displayed in the Text widget, so too now the Video widget has been expanded to support any oEmbed provider for video. See #42039.

Theme Styling Changes

As with the previously-introduced media widgets (#32417) and the new Gallery widget (#41914), some themes will need to be updated to ensure the proper styling is applied to media and embeds that appear in the widget area context, since previously they would only appear in post content. Please follow #42203 and #41969 for style changes that are made to the core bundled themes, as you may need to make similar changes to your themes.

Improved Theme Switching

A longstanding difficulty with widgets has been where they end up when switching from one theme to another. With #39693 this experience is improved in 4.9 by having logic that is able to better map widgets between the themes’ widget areas. As noted by @obenland in [41555], there are three levels of mapping:

  1. If both themes have only one sidebar, they gets mapped.
  2. If both themes have sidebars with the same slug (e.g. sidebar-1), they get mapped.
  3. Sidebars that (even partially) match slugs from a similar kind of sidebar will get mapped. For example, if one theme as a widget area called “Primary” and another theme has “Main” then the widgets will be mapped between these widget areas. Similarly, widgets would get mapped from “Bottom” to “Footer”.

The names for the widget areas used for the mapping groups were obtained by gathering statistics from all the themes on WordPress.org.

Widget Saved State on Admin Screen

With #23120 there is now an indication for whether or not changes to a given widget has been saved on the widgets admin screen. (Widgets in the Customizer already had a saved state by virtue of being registered as regular settings.) When first opening a widget, the button will say “Saved” and appear disabled. Once a change is made to the widget (e.g. a change event triggered), then the button will become enabled and say “Save”. If you try leaving the admin screen at this point, an “Are you sure?” message will appear alerting that if you leave your changes will be lost. If you cancel, then the first widget with unsaved changes will be scrolled into view, expanded, and focused. Upon hitting “Save” the spinner will appear and then upon a successful save it will switch to “Saved” and become disabled. The “Close” link has been changed to “Done” and it only appears when the changes have been saved. Note that the HTML5 checkValidity method will now be called on the widget form prior to attempting to submit, and submitting will be blocked if it returns false. If you have JavaScript-based fields in the widget, make sure that you trigger change events whenever changes are written into any hidden inputs; this was already a requirement for widgets in the Customizer.

Related Tickets

  • #10457: Parse shortcodes in text widgets by default
  • #23120: There should be indication that widget settings have been saved
  • #34115: oEmbed not working on author page without posts
  • #38017: Add widget instance to remaining widget argument filters
  • #39693: Fix missing assignment of widgets on theme switch
  • #40442: Widgets: Rename “Custom Menu” widget to “Menu”
  • #40854: Allow media to be embedded in Text widget
  • #41274: Improve discoverability of link URL in Image widget.
  • #41610: Widgets: Change “close” to “done?”
  • #41914: Widgets: Add gallery widget
  • #41969: Ensure Gallery widget is styled properly across widget areas in bundled themes
  • #42039: Widgets: Enable oEmbed support for Video widget
  • #42203: Ensure media & embeds in Text widget are styled properly across widget areas in bundled themes

See full list of tickets in the Widgets component with the 4.9 milestone.

#4-9, #dev-notes, #feature-oembed, #media, #media-widgets, #widgets