First off, if you are the regular reader of this blog, you are painfully aware of how much I am waffling on rejecting or embracing Gutenberg (a.k.a. the WordPress Block Editor). There are things I genuinely do like about it, but I also have some fundamental disagreements with its approach (like the facts that it writes inline CSS directly into post content, or that its templates don’t support PHP code).
And then there are the weird little quirks that just make using it much more difficult than it needs to be. In general I have learned that this comes down to the incredible finickiness of JSON. Fine. But the fact that one character out of place in the
theme.json file can break everything seems a bit ridiculous… or at least, a big step backwards for usability.
I’m working on a new, small block theme as a one-off for a unique project — a website that will feed menu board monitors in a pizza place. Seems like a perfect opportunity to practice and experiment a bit with what Gutenberg can do. (And, after over a decade of trying to find the “right” way to give restaurant staff a reliable but still easy-to-manage web interface for updating menu information, I actually think Gutenberg’s Block Patterns might be the optimal solution.)
So here’s the maddening thing. I was setting up my
theme.json file like a good Block Theme developer, defining all of my colors, typography, etc. And then I started loading in some test content. All looked fine on the back end, in the Block Editor itself. But none of the styles were getting applied on the front end!
I googled the problem, of course, and found a WordPress forum thread about this very issue.
Huh. Sure enough, what’s described in the thread was exactly what was happening in my case. I had this line in my code (font names changed to protect the innocent):
"fontFamily": "'Helvetica Neue', 'Comic Sans', 'sans-serif",
Do you see the problem there? (No, it’s not the trailing comma… that actually belongs, in context.) It’s the stray apostrophe before
sans-serif. Removing that fixed the problem.
Now, if this were just in straight CSS, I would have seen the problem immediately, because the syntax highlighting in BBEdit would’ve gone all wonky. But since this was inside a text string in JSON, it looked just fine, and I didn’t notice the apostrophe was there.
I get that the parser that converts the contents of
theme.json into CSS would get thrown off by this. Honestly, I’m surprised it didn’t cause the whole page to bork with a PHP fatal error… I’m pretty sure earlier versions did throw a fatal error if there was any problem parsing the
theme.json file. So this is… an improvement?
I also get that the generated CSS output would not work properly. What I don’t get is that it all looked correct in the Block Editor. Why was the Block Editor on the admin side able to “fix” this issue, but on the front end it didn’t? It doesn’t make sense!
Anyway, trying to unravel that mystery wasted about an hour late yesterday afternoon, when I was finally starting to get productive after having a near existential crisis over Gutenberg for most of the week.
These are hard times to be a WordPress developer. No, strike that. These are hard times to be a generalist web developer who happened to make the fateful decision 8 years ago to go all-in on WordPress.