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ClassicPress at a Crossroads, Directors Consider Re-Forking WordPress

ClassicPress is polling its users to determine the next step for the software. The project is a pared back fork of WordPress based on version 4.9 that uses the TinyMCE classic editor as the default option with no block editor. It’s run under a non-profit organization called the ClassicPress Initiative.

In July 2022, the project appeared to be on the rocks when its directors resigned, saying that the community felt they were now hindering the progress of ClassicPress. The organization was struggling to meet its required financial support but has since rallied and is in a more stable place after moving the donation process to Open Collective.

In a recent forum post titled “The Future of ClassicPress,” one of the project’s directors, Viktor Nagornyy, presented the community with two paths: re-fork ClassicPress using WordPress 6.0, or continue as-is.

“Over the past few years, our core team has been working on improving ClassicPress and backporting features from WordPress,” Nagornyy said. “As WordPress continued to evolve, ClassicPress got a bit behind in adding new features as the focus became PHP 8+ compatibility.”

An exploratory fork of WordPress 6.0 with the block editor removed exists in a GitHub repository called WP-CMS. It is not finished but could potentially become ClassicPress 2.0. This option has the benefit of helping the project catch up to WordPress and improve compatibility with more recent versions of PHP, and open up more plugins and themes for users that require 5.0+ in order to be compatible. The downside is that it will take months to complete with ClassicPress’ limited number of contributors and ClassicPress 1.x would need to be maintained in terms of security for some time.

The alternative is continuing to maintain the project as it is with no requirement to maintain separate versions. Nagornyy identified the cons of this approach:

  • Our small core team will continue to focus on PHP compatibility
  • Backporting from WP is prioritized, so new ClassicPress features might not happen
  • We won’t be able to catch up with WordPress, functions/features will be missing
  • Plugins/themes compatible with WordPress 5+ would be incompatible with ClassicPress

The project is now at a crossroads considering the two options, which has forced the community to reexamine the purpose of ClassicPress.

“So the real question is ClassicPress a Pre-Wordpress 5.0 or just WordPress without Gutenberg?” founding committee member Daniele Scasciafratte said.

“Considering also that CP is based on a codebase of 5 years ago and the web is moving on, I think that we should move to Re-Fork and find a way to automatize it as much possible and simplify it.”

ClassicPress core committer Álvaro Franz, who is also the author of the WP-CMS fork based on WP 6.0, said he is unwilling to help with a continuation of the current version.

“I don’t see the point in working on an outdated version of something that has already been improved by many great developers at WordPress (as stated by @Mte90, there have in fact been A LOT of improvements),” Franz said. “But I can take care of v2, since I already am the author of the mentioned fork, I can help with keeping WP-CMS up with WordPress and then using that as a base for CP v2.”

WordPress core contributor Joy Reynolds commented on the thread, indicating that ClassicPress has a grim future ahead if it keeps struggling to backport all the improvements made after 4.9. She contends that continuing on the same path leads to a dead end, given the project’s small contributor base:

The whole point of backporting from WP is because they have thousands of developers, millions of users testing every combination of version and plugin and host to find problems (plus a testing team), a security team, and a performance team. CP has none of that and it’s kind of silly to not take advantage of their efforts. But the more things we ignore or fall behind on, the harder it is to backport anything.

There are many things that continue to evolve, outside of WP, like PHP, Javascript, CSS, HTML, and various bundled tools (like jQuery and TinyMCE and PHPMailer and Simple Pie and Requests…).

CP can’t stand still at 4.9. That’s dead. But if you tried to backport all the PHP8 stuff, you’d find it very difficult because of all the formatting changes they made, plus all the bug fixes, plus all the new features. The new fork bypasses the backport problem by taking it all at once and deleting the block stuff that is unwanted.

I personally think that CP doesn’t have any features of value that WP doesn’t have. It has a bunch of fixes and a few features from WP, but it’s a dead end, especially with the limited roster of people who contribute code.

In a contrasting comment, ClassicPress founding committee member Tim Kaye distilled why the poll seems to be so divisive.

“If all that people want is WordPress without Gutenberg, there’s absolutely no need for ClassicPress at all since there’s already a plugin that provides what you’re looking for,” Kaye said. “It’s called Classic Editor.

“The idea that the question is whether CP should essentially mirror a stripped-down version of WP or not is therefore entirely misconceived. Those who desire that objective should be using that plugin. It’s really that simple.

“CP (and the work that goes into it) only makes sense if it’s its own CMS with its own decision-making process and its own features.”

Former ClassicPress contributor @ozfiddler, who likened working on the project to “polishing the brass on a rudderless ship,” suggested ClassicPress identify a destination before choosing between two paths.

“But then, that’s the problem with CP – it never really knew where it was going, beyond ‘WP-without-Gutenberg,’” @ozfiddler said. “So, it means you get statements like this listed as a con for one of the options: ‘We won’t be able to catch up with WordPress.’

“When I was contributing to CP I always thought that the ambitions greatly outweighed the available resources. I occasionally suggested a drastic pruning back of the project, but this was always met with widespread disapproval. I still think that if CP is going to survive at all (and I very much doubt it) then you will need to define a narrower subset of users and focus your limited efforts on catering to them.”

ClassicPress’ poll and the 80 comments in the discussion offer a glimpse into the frustrating reality of maintaining a fork of a fast-moving, large project like WordPress. So far there are 31 votes and Nagornyy plans to close it within the next few days if it doesn’t receive any new votes.