WordPress.com rebuilds codebase, releases code as open source

Bye bye PHP, hello JavaScript


WordPress desktop app running on a Mac.

Credit: Swapnil Bhartiya

WordPress is known for its open source blogging software that anyone can install on their servers. Automattic, the sponsor of the WordPress project, also offers a fully hosted CMS as a Service platform, WordPress.com, which is used by major websites like TechCrunch.

Yesterday, the founder of WordPress and Automattic Matt Mullenweg announced that they are rebuilding the entire WordPress.com platform from scratch.

The company launched a project, called Calypso, to move away from the decade old code base to modern technologies like JavaScript, Node, React and REST APIs.

That’s not the big news. The big news is that WordPress is releasing all this code as open source under a GNU GPL v2 license. And the code is now available on GitHub for contribution.

And that's not all: WordPress is now also offering a desktop app that can be installed on a Mac, allowing to users manage all their sites without having to load a web browser.  The Windows and Linux versions of the app will be released later.

WordPress needed this change

The changes come at the right time because WordPress was getting stagnant. It has been the same platform since its launch. Yes, there have been many improvements, but nothing disruptive. Due to this stagnation, the company was facing increasing competition from a new blogging platform, Medium, which is attracting many serious bloggers.

Mullenweg, who took over as CEO of Automattic last year, admitted in his blog post that they were aware of the challenges but two things were holding them back: financial resources and the older code base.  To address the financial issue, he wrote, “We found some fantastic partners, agreed on a fair price, issued new equity in the company to raise $160M, and started investing in areas we felt were high potential, like this year’s WooCommerce acquisition.”

WordPress codebase (the open source project) is extremely mature and scalable, but its strengths were its weaknesses, that is, the interface – the backend where writers and editors work.

Mullenweg said, “The interface, however, has been a struggle. Many of us attempted to give it a reboot with the MP6 project and the version 3.8 release, but what that release made clear to me is that an incremental approach wouldn’t give us the improvements we needed, and that two of the things that helped make WordPress the strong, stable, powerful tool it is — backward compatibility and working without JavaScript — were actually holding it back."

And that’s what they did. Now it’s written purely in JavaScript and is using open source technologies as mentioned above.  Social is now baked into WordPress, along with analytics.

The users of self-hosted WordPress sites will also be able to use these tools by connecting their sites through Automattic’s JetPack plugin.

This change also brings a new challenge to developers who mastered PHP for WordPress: now they will have to learn JavaScript.

Do you run a WordPress website? Have you tried it yet? Share your thoughts in comments below.

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