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Is Javascript Based WordPress Complicating Things?

April 1, 2016
WordPress & Javascript

The reasoning behind the new open source interface, named “Calypso,” is simple. The existing PHP codebase served the company and the WordPress community well since the company’s founding in 2003, and made a lot of sense three, five, and certainly ten years ago. But in the super-fast, mobile-first era, it had become a hindrance.

At least that’s what Andy Peatling, the Calypso project lead, thought. Peatling and the rest of WordPress core team asked themselves, “What would look like if we were to start building it today?” The answer is a new admin interface, which is moving WordPress away from MySQL and PHP to JavaScript and REST API.

“What would look like if we were to start building it today?” – Andy Peatling & WordPress Core Team

Calypso represents the biggest change to WordPress since its launch. Unsurprisingly, this new interface has been received with a mixed bag of responses. While most seasoned WordPress developers, already fluent in JavaScript, welcome the super-fast, clean, and responsive interface, others are finding it a far more complicated transition.


As a PHP-powered application, WordPress has always been an environment PHP-heavy users were extremely comfortable working in. JavaScript is an entirely different ballgame, and it’s far more complicated than HTML or CSS. Even core members of the WordPress engineering team were uncomfortable with the change for the first few months of development.

The most strong pushback to Calypso comes from WordPress users who joined the community for its ease of use. According to Lorelle VanFossen, a web design and blogging trainer at Clark College and the author of Blogging Tips: What Bloggers Won’t Tell You About Blogging, her students’ “reaction to Calypso is usually one of misery, not joy and ease.” They get lost trying to accomplish small tasks and want to continue using their blogs as they were prior to the November Calypso launch.

“All I want to do,” one student wrote, “is continue with my blog as it is now. I don’t appreciate other people deciding that the process should be changed.”

Learning JavaScript is a steep uphill climb, one that surprised and frustrated users who weren’t trying to learn a new language at all.

speedHowever, WordPress Founder and CEO Matt Mullenweg says the future of the web is JavaScript, whether users are ready to use it or not. It may be a steep learning curve, but it’s well worth it. This chart breaks down the variety of ways that Calypso outperforms the old WordPress Admin approach. The new interface communicates with only using REST API, which makes it incredibly lightweight and fast. Pages load basically instantaneously on desktop and mobile and look the exact same on both devices.

Users can now edit their sites from anywhere, on any device, and see their changes in real-time without having to refresh their page. They can also manage all of their WordPress and Jetpack-enables sites from one URL with sleek new editing features that allow for easy in-page previews and instant publishing.

Calypso is hands-down a much more powerful and scaleable platform than the old WordPress interface. It’s 100% open-sourced, so all the complications have great room for improvement and further iterations. Sure, it’s a bit of a wonky transition for some, and puts unexpected stress on developers who may not have felt ready to take the JavaScript plunge, but the fact of the matter is, developers simply must know JavaScript going forward.

real-time For now, WordPress users can opt to use only the old interface, but how can competitive developers confidently stay put in the past when, as Matt Mullenweg puts it, “the new shiny open source thing that powers the core business is right there?” How long should a stubborn PHP developer wait until his site feels “awkwardly antiquated?”

At that point, it won’t just be his or her site that is antiquated – it will be their skillsets and capabilities too. Like it or not, Calypso is the future of WordPress, and even with a rocky road, it’s very exciting. Don’t dawdle.

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  1. Hati Senang

    Hi, @james_richman

    Great article!

    All I can says is I better get busy learning javascript! 😀

  2. Adam Haworth

    The learning curve will be tough but worth it with the advantages javascript brings.

  3. smalltalkrenaissance

    “…Matt Mullenweg says the future of the web is JavaScript…”

    I beg to differ. The steaming pile of JS web frameworks is volatile and uncertain. You can’t count on any one framework to become “standard”, i.e., permanent and popular. Angular 1 was superseded by Angular 2 which was then upended by React. Who knows what will happen in a few years? The web framework landscape is badly fragmented and developers face “choice paralysis.” Angular, React, Ember, Backbone, Knockout, Meteor, Polymer, Mithril, Aurelia, etc., etc., etc. Good Grief, are you kidding me?!!

    Moreover, JavaScript itself is a highly dysfunctional language ( that will eventually be eclipsed by other better languages once WebAssembly finally arrives. No one should be programming *directly* in JavaScript; there are plenty of good transpiled alternatives (

  4. Francis Kim

    Still waiting to see what comes out of this.

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