WordPress 3.4 Preview

in Blog

Jane Wells today announced the release of the first beta of WordPress 3.4. 3.4 is the net major update of the WordPress platform and the full stable release is scheduled for May 2012.

I was disappointed to hear a few weeks ago that the new default theme Twenty Twelve has been delayed until WordPress 3.5 however 3.4 does introduce a lot of great features.

New features include:

  • Theme Customizer with Previewer
  • Flexible Custom Header Sizes
  • Selecting Custom Header and Background Images from Media Library
  • Better experience searching for and choosing a theme

Under the hood changes include:

  • New XML-RPC API for external and mobile applications
  • New API for registering theme support for custom headers and backgrounds
  • Performance improvements to WP_Query by splitting the query (Please test!)
  • Internationalization improvements (improved performance and locale support)
  • Performance and API improvements when working with lists of installed themes
  • Support for installing child themes from the WordPress Themes Directory

New Features Introduced in WordPress 3.4

The biggest changes that have been introduced in 3.4 are related to installing and using themes. Let’s look at the 4 new features that have been added.

Theme Customizer with Previewer

Once WordPress 3.4 has been installed, you will see a new ‘Theme Customize’ in the theme area for all of your themes (yes, it works with all themes!).

Theme Customiser

Clicking on the link will take you to the theme customiser page. There are 6 sections: theme details, site title and tagline, header, background, navigation and static front page.

Theme Customise Menu

At the right hand side of the menu is a live preview of your website. You can browse your website as normal and any changes that you make via the menu will automatically reload your site on the right hand side. In that respect it works in a similar way to the visual editor in the Headway drag and drop framework.

Theme Customise Menu

The customiser doesn’t offer you as many options as a theme framework though it’s very useful and a step in the right direction towards a standard for customising themes.

Fill Customisation Menu

You’ll notice from the image above that all of the options available through the theme customiser were available in WordPress; the customiser simply has them all in a user-friendly interface that lets you see changes in real time. If you don’t like using the customiser, you could make these changes as you normally do directly e.g. via the menu page, header page etc.

Customising the Header

WordPress 3.4 introduces ‘Flexible Custom Header Sizes’ and the ability to ‘Select Custom Header and Background Images from Media Library’. In WordPress 3.3 and below the header image was restricted to a particular size and header images had to be uploaded directly in the header page.

The size of the header image depended on the theme itself. Twenty Eleven stipulated that images had to be 1000 × 288. The option of using more flexible images has been in development for around a year.

Upload From Library

Uploading images from your media library is a great feature and something that really should have been added from the start (good to see it there now though).

Better experience searching for and choosing a theme

Browsing for themes via the theme area in WordPress 3.4 is a little slicker than it was before as they have removed the install and preview links and the theme description. Theme descriptions were a big problem before as many theme developers added extremely long descriptions for their themes, which made browsing for designs a pain.

Here’s an example of the result you get when searching for a minimal blue theme in WordPress 3.3 and before.

Installing Themes - Old Way

The same results using WordPress 3.4 are much cleaner and user friendly. This makes finding a suitable design quicker.

Installing Themes - New Way

At the moment, when a user clicks on the preview link a lightbox style pop up appears showing you a preview of the design. The user can then close the window and install the theme using the install link.

Previewing A WordPress Theme - Old Way

The new system is much more user friendly. When you see a design you like you click on the image link and you are taken to a preview page that shows the theme in full on the right hand side and the name, thumbnail and theme description on the left hand side. An install link is also placed on the left hand side so you don’t have to close the preview window.

Previewing A WordPress Theme - New Way


WordPress 3.4 was certainly an update that focused on using themes. In addition to the major new features mentioned above, it has also added support for installing child themes from the theme directory and performance improvements for working with lists of installed themes.

Traditionally, the beta release of WordPress has all the major new features that will be included with the final release, so future beta and release candidate releases will probably just tweak the main new features rather than add new functionality.

3.4 is a small evolution in WordPress compared to other major releases like 3.1, 3.2 and 3.3, though I’m pleased with how WordPress are focusing more on finding and using themes.

What are your thoughts on WordPress 3.4?


Link: WordPress 3.4 Beta 1

Comments (6)

  • Comment by Kevin Muldoon
    Kevin Muldoon

     @PietB Cool. Thanks for updating us :)

  • Comment by PietB

     @Kevin Muldoon I did some more asking around and at last Konstantin Kovshenin cooked up this: http://kovshenin.com/2012/default-custom-background-for-wordpress-3-4/
    Then after that I also was pointed to this article by Chip Bennett: http://make.wordpress.org/themes/2012/04/06/updating-custom-backgrounds-and-custom-headers-for-wordpress-3-4/

  • Comment by Kevin Muldoon
    Kevin Muldoon

     @PietB ahhh I see. Sorry, I don’t know much about the new function.
    I quickly checked the reference page at WordPress.org http://codex.wordpress.org/Function_Reference/add_custom_background but it doesn’t provide any information about it. The page is still incomplete so it may have information about setting a default background later.
    Sorry I couldn’t be of any more help :)

  • Comment by PietB

     @Kevin Muldoon a misunderstanding, i am aware how to change the background image, thanks. My question was and still is whether you know how to add a default background image to a theme.
    Suppose I develop a theme with which it is possible to change the background image with the built-in WordPress function add_theme_support( ‘custom-background’) (which was a different function in < WP3.4, namely: add_custom_background() ).
    Now suppose further that upon installation of the theme, the user has not yet assigned a background image. I therefore would like the theme to “fall back” to a default background image.
    Before WP 3.4 this could be done by adding a function described very well here: http://bavotasan.com/2010/default-custom-background-wordpress-3/, however that function will stop working as of version 3.4.
    Now of course I could wait until May when 3.4 is released to the public and my theme breaks, but ideally I discover how to go about this before the release date of 3.4.
    As you “broke the news” on the release of 3.4 Beta 1 on your blog, I hoped that perhaps you could shine some light on this…

  • Comment by Kevin Muldoon
    Kevin Muldoon

     @PietB The background image be changed via http://www.yoursite.com/wp-admin/themes.php?page=custom-background. I wouldn’t advise using 3.4 on a live website just now though as it’s only the first beta. Lots of bugs will be addressed in the next few beta and RC releases.

  • Comment by PietB

    The theme customizer is pretty cool!
    Do you by any chance know how to set a default custom background image?
    The function has changed from add_custom_background() to add_theme_support( ‘custom-background’) but I cannot find anywhere how it is possible to add a default background image.