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Gutenberg Contributors Get Organized to Move Block-Based Navigation Forward

The block-based Navigation editor screen got a status check last week as part of a Hallway Hangout meeting aimed at identifying what needs to happen to bring the screen out from behind the “experimental” flag. Once the Navigation screen is available by default in the Gutenberg plugin, the team working on the feature will be able to gather more feedback.

“The navigation block and navigation screen projects have been underway for quite some time and are a main target for 5.9,” Gutenberg lead developer Matias Ventura said in a post outlining the main focus items planned for the block editor in WordPress 5.9.

“A large part of the remaining work is to improve the user experience, reduce complexity, and test as much as possible on themes.”

Contributors participating in the meeting agreed that in order to move the Navigation screen out of the experimental stage, it will need to have UI/UX feature parity with what will soon be the classic Navigation screen (nav-menus.php). Participants came prepared with notes comparing features from the existing Navigation screen to the new block-based one. These are listed in a Google doc with a rough priority assignment.

Trudging through the many discrepancies between the two Navigation editing experiences allowed the team to update the project’s tracking issue on GitHub. It is being reorganized to focus on the tasks required to move the block-based Navigation screen out of “experimental” status. Nearly two dozen issues have been designated as high priority and 32 are marked as normal.

Work on the Navigation screen has stalled considerably since it was sidelined from consideration for WordPress 5.5 in July 2020. The previous tracking issue for the project became obsolete in February, forcing the creation of a new one that now aggregates all of the priority items for moving block-based Navigation forward. The recorded Hallway Hangout was a transparent discussion about what the UI is lacking and where it needs to go. It was a necessary, albeit tedious, accounting of issues that will get the project back on track.

The UI is still in a very rough state. Nesting is rudimentary. It’s not possible to assign menu locations. Adding menu items between existing items is very difficult, among a number of other critical issues. At this point, it would require an extraordinary effort to extract the block-based Navigation screen from its quagmiry state in order to have it ready for prime time in WordPress 5.9. The release is expected in December 2021 – just three months away.

David Smith, who facilitated the meeting, tempered expectations for the block-based Navigation screen with a few clarifications for what it will mean to take the feature out from under the “experimental” flag:

  • We wouldn’t commit to feature parity of developer focused APIs at this stage.
  • Removing “experimental” in the Gutenberg plugin, would not automatically make the feature ready for merging into Core (that won’t happen until WordPress 5.9 at the earliest).

While the block-based Navigation screen landing in 5.9 doesn’t seem likely, contributors’ recent organizational efforts put them well on their way towards getting the project out from under the “experimental” flag. Check out the recorded meeting for a deep dive into the Navigation screen UI and a glimpse of where it’s headed.