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Dancing to a new beat

WordPress unveils Calypso, its new JavaScript-based interface

JAX Editorial Team
Calypso image via Shutterstock

WordPress, or more appropriately its codebase, doesn’t necessarily enjoy the best reputation amongst developers. That opinion might change with the debut of their new JavaScript-based interface Calypso, noted as lighting fast and now available as open source.

WordPress have asked themselves a tough question: What would they build if they were starting from scratch, knowing all they’ve learned over the past 13 years? With the release of Calypso, their new JavaScript-based interface, the WordPress team is writing its own ‘what-if’ story by combining modern technologies and architectures together.

Calypso – Rethink WordPress (.com)

“One of the hardest things to do in technology is disrupt yourself” starts the announcement, with WordPress looking to deal with a system that has grown over a decade. This is where Calypso comes in – here to save WordPress from legacy hell. To be more precise, it’ll be its new backend.

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.

A rethink had to take place, with Calypso looking to fill the gaps that the WordPress team had now discovered.


What is Calypso?

Calypso is the new interface for hosted pages on WordPress.com. It also serves as the basis for the Mac desktop app, with desktop applications for Windows and Linux to be unveiled soon. Even self-hosted WordPress installations can be managed with Calypso; you’ll only need to install the Jetpack plugin.

However, Calypso is not yet part of WordPress core. According to the official project site, it will be up to the community to decide:

We’re laying an entirely new foundation for a generation of apps and services built on WordPress — but whether the Calypso codebase eventually becomes part of core WordPress and replaces WP-Admin is up to the WordPress community.

The technology stack is impressive. With Calypso, WordPress.com will now be based entirely on JavaScript as opposed to MySQL and PHP, and is 100% API-based. The WordPress REST API will play an important role and work is currently under way to equalise both API versions so that the next major release sees it improved.

The team behind Calypso has used Facebook’s React library and the Flux framework bundle for rendering in-house developed SPAs, replacing the WordPress backend. On the server side, it uses a Node.js layer that creates the initial site; the rest of the logic is found in the browser.

This enables real-time interaction with content hosted on WordPress.com sites, where the focus is primarily on performance and the issue of responsive web design. To drive the development forward, the project has been entirely open sourced and is available on GitHub, thus further highlighting the desire to get more community input happening.

Paradigm shift

Regardless of what developers say about the codebase, its success cannot be doubted. Not only does it power 25 percent of the Web, its simple and elegant user experience has often been the envy of other systems. You can say what you want, but WordPress has undoubtedly done a lot for the development of the Web as we know it today.

With Calypso, the WordPress team are taking a departure from PHP and looking into the future. Although a complete detachment of the language is still a long way away, it is becoming apparent that one of the largest and most influential projects of the Web is being hindered by not looking outside of the PHP box.

Matt Mullenweg also commented on the decision to go open source, saying that “a lot of people thought we should keep this proprietary, but throughout my life I’ve learned that the more you give away, the more you get back.” Calypso is shaping up to be a game changer, as Mullenweg has rightly observed.

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