WordPress 5.0.3 was released this week with more than a dozen fixes related to the block editor. The automatic background update has gone out and 23.2% of sites are currently running on 5.0+, with 47.2% hanging back at 4.9. Meanwhile, work on WordPress 5.1 charges forward and Beta 1 is now available.

One of the projects Matt Mullenweg identified for 2019 was to merge the Site Health Check plugin into core to assist with debugging and encourage “good software hygiene.” The Site Health Check project, formerly called “ServeHappy,” began with the goal of helping users get their sites running on supported versions of PHP but has evolved to include other aspects of site maintenance and debugging.

WordPress 5.1 brings one of the most exciting aspects of the Site Health Check project into core. It introduces a new white screen of death (WSOD) protection feature that catches fatal errors so that users can still log into the admin to attempt to resolve the issue. In the past, non-technical users would have to contact their hosting companies or FTP into their files to try to fix plugin or theme compatibility issues by turning things off.

In preparation for WordPress’ highly anticipated minimum PHP version increase, 5.1 will display a warning and help users upgrade their version of PHP. The minimum will be bumped to 5.6 in April and, depending on feedback, will be bumped again to 7.0 in December 2019.

“This project benefits not just WordPress users, but also the surrounding PHP ecosystem as a whole,” Jenny Wong said in the notes she published from the Site Health Check Project review at WCUS 2018. “Our hope is that this will prompt a lot of PHP updates across the web.”

If you want to take advantage of more features from the Site Health Check plugin, you can install it from WordPress.org and visit the Dashboard > Health Check for a detailed overview of your site. It also has a very handy troubleshooting mode that enables a vanilla WordPress session, where all plugins are disabled, and a default theme is used, but only for your user. This works without disrupting the way the site displays to visitors.

Screen-Shot-2019-01-11-at-10.08.28-AM WordPress 5.1 to Introduce New White Screen Protection Feature, Beta 1 Now Available for Testing design tips

WordPress 5.1 also introduces some updates for developers, including the ability to replace the cron system with a custom cron handler, set a custom location for WP_DEBUG_LOG, a new wp_blogmeta table, and a few other changes. 

WordPress 5.1 is currently slated for release on February 21. The upcoming release is a big step on WordPress’ journey to becoming even more user-friendly. The idea that users will never again be locked out of their sites due to a WSOD is a major enhancement that will greatly improve the way they interact with WordPress’ plugin system. It also makes the prospect of installing new themes and plugins less daunting for non-technical users.