This is not as defeatist as it seems by the title. I’ve actually had a huge breakthrough in my ongoing
battle journey with the WordPress Block Editor (a.k.a. Gutenberg).
My biggest problem throughout the process of trying to build a Block Theme has been finding myself hamstrung by the lack of PHP in a Block Theme’s all-HTML template structure. I’ve ended up brute forcing my way into having access to PHP with a combination of ACF Blocks and Block Patterns. But it should have been obvious to me that both approaches were wrong, because I found myself creating ACF Blocks that didn’t have any custom fields and Block Patterns that didn’t have inserters.
The fact that I was using both of these tools in ways that they are patently not intended to be used should have been my first clue, but the problem has always been that documentation of all of this new technology is so scarce, inconsistent, poorly organized and out-of-date by the time it’s written, that it’s hard to really know in advance how they work, and whether or not you’re using them properly. And as my recent series of blog posts have indicated, I am the proud king of Doing It Wrong™.
But as I said at the beginning, I’ve had a revelation, which is this:
The only reason to create a pure “Block Theme” is if you intend to use the new Site Editor (a.k.a. Full Site Editing).
I emphatically do not intend, now or ever, to use the Site Editor, because I have always coded themes from scratch, and the people I am building sites for do not want to modify the overall design themselves, nor should they be given access to the tools to do so.
I am completely locking down access to the Site Editor on the sites I build, so why should I design my themes to work with it? Well… until now, I kind of just thought that was The Way Forward. Maybe it is, but it’s a way that does not, at all, align with how I do business or what my clients want/expect from me.
Luckily, core WordPress team member Carolina Nymark has written an excellent introduction to using PHP templates in block themes. It’s as simple as this. Just… use the old PHP-style of templates. There are a few tricks to be aware of, most of which are addressed by Carolina’s article, but some more I discovered along the way.
I’ve spent the last year and a half of building my block theme constantly butting up against this frustrating limitation. Now after about 4 hours of work, I’ve managed to convert my nascent Block Theme to using PHP templates.
I’ve eliminated my custom field-less ACF Blocks.
I’ve eliminated my un-insertable Block Patterns.
Things are working like they should. Well, mostly. This is an ongoing process. But the key test of the change has been that everything that was working in the theme before is working now, and I have the full capabilities of PHP and the long history of PHP-based WordPress development back at my disposal for future work.
I’ll write more about this in the coming weeks as I refine my process, including an overview of my general setup for a Block-friendly but PHP-rich base theme.
Update: Well, it seems rather fortuitous that I chose this undertaking when I did, because it coincides perfectly with the release of WordPress 6.2.1 which breaks shortcodes in Block Theme templates (which is even more of a shitshow for some people than it is for me, since it hadn’t occurred to me that shortcodes could be used as a workaround to the absense of PHP in Block Theme templates), including a pair of sites I’m currently developing using this theme. Switching those sites to the new PHP-based version of my theme should fix this issue automatically.