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Progress Report: Adding Shiny Updates for WordPress Themes

Earlier this year, WordPress 4.2 added the ability to install and update plugins in-place. This feature is known as “Shiny Updates”. I’m a big fan of this feature because it’s substantially quicker than updating plugins via the updates page. Here’s what it looks like in action.

New Plugin Update Routine
New Plugin Update Routine

Due to complications near the end of the 4.2 development cycle, shiny updates for themes was pushed back to a later release. Since WordPress 4.3 and 4.4 didn’t add shiny update support for themes, I reached out to Konstantin Obenland, WordPress lead developer, to find out its progress.

Experimental Plugin

The feature is currently on hold as the development team figures out the best way to implement it. The team is experimenting with different approaches using a feature plugin. When installed, updates can be quickly applied from a theme’s detailed information panel by clicking the update now link.

Shiny Update Support Added
Shiny Update Support Added

Not a lot of people know about the plugin because it was created around the time of WordCamp US. “Most of the things that are in the plugin are just quick ideas, a first iteration to get us going. We haven’t performed any user testing nor have we had a proper design iteration yet,” Obenland told the Tavern.

My Experience With Shiny Theme Updates

When I’m browsing themes that I’ve installed on my site, they’re displayed in a card format. When a theme has an update available, the update text displays at the top of the card. I tried to click on the text thinking it would update the theme but instead, it opened the theme’s details panel.

Theme Card Update Notification
Theme Card Update Notification

In the same way I can update plugins on the plugins page, I should be able to update themes on the themes page. Having the shiny update link in the details pane requires an unnecessary mouse click. There are at least two challenges to overcome. The first is rewording the Update Available text to something that serves as both a notification and a link to initiate the update. The second is determining whether it’s an improved user experience.

Why Shiny Updates Are so Fast

Since shiny updates were added for plugins, I’ve been curious as to why they’re so much quicker than the normal update process. According to Oblenland, shiny updates are quicker because, “We don’t need to reload the entire admin page, twice if you include navigating back to the plugin screen. We only send the update request itself and receive the result of that. So instead of 85 requests over two page loads when deleting a plugin, we only have one,” he said.

How You Can Get Involved

Although the development team is not sure which direction they’ll go with shiny updates, Obenland says they want to use it to unite various actions in WordPress, “We want to unify the flows of installing/updating/activating/deleting plugins/themes/core with it and ultimately be able to get rid of the bleak screen of sadness that users currently see when performing these actions,” he said.

Shiny updates is a feature plugin not tied to a specific trac ticket. If you want to keep up with development, you can follow the project on GitHub.  You can also follow discussions on Slack in the #feature-shinyupdates channel. Obenland notes that the team is looking for more people who want to help develop, test the plugin, and share feedback at their weekly meetings on Tuesdays at 1900 UTC.

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