Beginner WordPress Developer

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An introduction to developing WordPress blocks

Block attributes

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One of the benefits of building blocks is the ability to allow users to control the block’s appearance and behavior via block attributes.

Let’s learn how to add attributes to a block, and how to add controls to your block to allow users to change those attributes.

Adding attributes to a block

Attributes are the properties of a block that can be controlled by the user. For example, for the Copyright Date Block, the starting year would be an attribute that the user can change.

To add attributes to a block, you define them in the block’s metadata in the block.json file.

Open the block.json file in the src directory, and add the following code:

"attributes": {
    "startingYear": {
        "type": "string",
        "default": "2000"
    }
},

One of the benefits of the JSON format is that you can add a new property anywhere in the existing JSON object, as long as you use a property name that’s expected. In this case, the attributes property is expected by the block registration process, so you can add it anywhere in the JSON object.

In this example, we’ve added an attribute called startingYear to the block. The type property defines the data type of the attribute, and the default property sets the initial value of the attribute.

If you were running the development server, you might notice that it crashes when you edit the block metadata. If this happens, just restart the development server.

Access the block’s attributes

To access the block’s attributes in the block’s Edit component, you can specify a props argument in the Edit component function.

Both the Edit component and the save function are set up to always accept this props object containing all the properties of the block.

export default function Edit( props ) {

You can then access the block’s attributes using the props object. For example, to access the startingYear attribute, you would use props.attributes.startingYear.

export default function Edit( props ) {
    const startingYear = props.attributes.startingYear;
    const currentYear = new Date().getFullYear().toString();
    return (
        <p { ...useBlockProps() }>
            { __(
                'Copyright',
                'copyright-date-block'
            ) }
            © { startingYear } - { currentYear }
        </p>
    );
}

You can also update the save function to include the block’s attributes.

export default function save( props ) {
    const startingYear = props.attributes.startingYear;
    const currentYear = new Date().getFullYear().toString();
    return (
        <p { ...useBlockProps.save() }>
            { 'Copyright' } © { startingYear } - { currentYear }
        </p>
    );
}

Instead of writing out props.attributes.startingYear every time you want to access the starting year attribute, you can use something call the destructuring assignment syntax to extract the attributes from the props object, and then again to extract the startingYear from the attributes.

export default function Edit( { attributes } ) {
    const { startingYear } = attributes;
export default function save( { attributes } ) {
    const { startingYear } = attributes;

If you’re new to object destructuring, it’s a way to extract properties from an object and assign them to variables. It seems a little strange at first, but once you get used to it, it saves a lot of time and code.

Let the build process complete, then add the block to a post or page, and you’ll see that the block now displays the starting year attribute, with the default value you defined.

Block recovery

If you happen to be testing your block in a post or page and refreshing your browser each time you make changes to the block attributes default value or the save function, you might sometimes run into this error:

This block contains unexpected or invalid content.

This is because when a block’s save function is run, it compares the output from the save function with the output already saved in the database. If they are different, it shows this error.

If you open the Console tab of your browser’s developer tools, you’ll see this reported as a Block validation error.

You can fix this by using the “Attempt Block Recovery” button, which re-renders the block, and re-saves its output.

Adding a Settings panel to the block

To allow users to change the block’s attributes, you need to make use of Block Controls.

There are two ways to add controls, either in the block toolbar, that appears above the block when it’s selected, or in the settings sidebar (also known as the inspector), which appears in the sidebar when the block is selected.

Because the startingYear attribute is a text string, you can use a TextControl to the block sidebar to allow users to change the starting year.

To add controls to the block sidebar for your block, you’re first going to need to import a few things.

  • You’ll need the InspectorControls component from the @wordpress/block-editor package.
  • You’ll need the PanelBody and TextControl components from the @wordpress/components package.

Start by adding these imports to the top of your Edit component.

Open the edit.js file in the src directory, and look for the line that imports useBlockProps.

import { useBlockProps } from '@wordpress/block-editor';

The InspectorControls component can also be imported from the @wordpress/block-editor package in the same way.

import { InspectorControls, useBlockProps } from '@wordpress/block-editor';

The PanelBody, and TextControl components can be imported in the same way from the @wordpress/components package.

import { PanelBody, TextControl } from '@wordpress/components';

You can now use these components to add controls to the block sidebar.

Start by adding the InspectorControls component to the output of the Edit component. This component is a wrapper for the controls that appear in the block sidebar.

Then add a PanelBody component, and give it a title attribute.

<InspectorControls>
    <PanelBody title={ __( 'Settings', 'copyright-date-block' ) }>
        Settings
    </PanelBody>
</InspectorControls>

In the Building your first block lesson, you will remember that a React component can only return a single parent container.

Right now you don’t have a single-parent container, because you’ve added the InspectorControls component next to the paragraph component.

This is also the reason your IDE might start showing you that the code has a problem

At this stage, you have two options.

You could update the Edit component to render a parent div tag, moving the block props to the parent div.

<div { ...useBlockProps() }>
    <InspectorControls>
        <PanelBody title={ __( 'Settings', 'copyright-date-block' ) }>
            Testing
        </PanelBody>
    </InspectorControls>
    <p>
        { __(
            'Copyright',
            'copyright-date-block'
        ) }
        © { startingYear } - { currentYear }
    </p>
</div>

Alternatively, you can use a React Fragment to wrap everything in a single parent container.

<>
    <InspectorControls>
        <PanelBody title='Settings'>
            Testing
        </PanelBody>
    </InspectorControls>
    <p { ...useBlockProps() }>
        { __(
            'Copyright',
            'copyright-date-block'
        ) }
        © { startingYear } - { currentYear }
    </p>
</>

Because the functionality of the block only really requires the paragraph tag, using the Fragment is the best option in this case. If your block requires more markup, like a header tag above the paragraph, then using the div option might make more sense.

Once the build process has finished, if you add the block to a post or page, and enable the Editor’s Settings sidebar, you’ll see the Settings panel you added to the block sidebar.

To follow WordPress plugin development practices, one small update you might want to make is to use the __() function to translate the title of the PanelBody component.

<PanelBody title={ __( 'Settings', 'copyright-date-block' ) }>

Adding a TextControl to the block sidebar

With the Settings panel in place, you can now add a TextControl component to allow the user to edit your attribute.

The TextControl component is a text input field that allows the user to enter a string. There are three properties you need to set on the TextControl component. The first two are the label and value:

  • label: the label that appears above the input field
  • value: the value of the input field

Let’s look at what this would look like

    <PanelBody title={ __( 'Settings', 'copyright-date-block' ) }>
        <TextControl
            label={ __( 'Starting Year', 'copyright-date-block' ) }
            value={ startingYear }
        />
    </PanelBody>

The other property you need to set is the onChange property. This property is a function that is called when the value of the input field changes, which receives the new value entered by the user.

    <PanelBody title={ __( 'Settings', 'copyright-date-block' ) }>
        <TextControl
            label={ __( 'Starting Year', 'copyright-date-block' ) }
            value={ startingYear }
            onChange={ ( newStartingYear ) => {
                // update startingYear with newValue
            } }
        />
    </PanelBody>

This function is then used to update the block’s startingYear attribute.

The syntax of this function is a little different to what you’ve seen before. This is an example of the arrow function syntax, which is a more compact way of writing functions in JavaScript.

In order to update the attribute, you can use one of the other properties on the props object that is passed to the Edit component, the setAttributes function. This function is used to update any block’s attributes with a new value.

You can add setAttributes to the list of properties being destructed from the props object, and then use it to update the startingYear attribute.

export default function Edit( { attributes, setAttributes } ) {

Then to update the startingYear attribute, you would use the setAttributes function, and pass it the new value of the startingYear attribute.

    <PanelBody title={ __( 'Settings', 'copyright-date-block' ) }>
<TextControl
label={ __( 'Starting Year', 'copyright-date-block' ) }
value={ startingYear }
onChange={ ( newStartingYear ) => {
setAttributes( { startingYear: newStartingYear } );
} }
/>
</PanelBody>

Let the build process complete, and then add the block to a post or page. You’ll see that you can now change the starting year value in the block’s sidebar, and the block will update in real-time.

You can also switch the block editor to the Code Editor view, and you’ll see the starting Year value stored as a JSON object on the block wrapper.

Finally, if you preview the block, it uses the new value of the startingYear attribute.

Additional resources

For further reading on these topics, make sure to check out the Attributes guide in the Block Editor Handbook.