A new proposal for WordPress 6.0, scheduled for May 2022, will enable automatic image conversions as a default so that all uploaded images will display in the better WebP format. The WordPress developer community overwhelmingly responded negatively against the proposal because it will cause massive increase in disk space usage.
WebP is a new image format that displays images at considerably lower file size. This means that many web pages will download at a faster pace, resulting in a better experience for users.The WebP format should be better for publishers because it is well known that improving website speed results in higher advertising earnings and increased sales. So a proposal to make WebP default probably seemed like a good idea.
The proposal however was met with passionate, and at some points furious, resistance from the WordPress community.
Massive Increase in Disk Space
One of the most important concerns voiced by the WordPress community was that this new feature will dramatically increase disk space, by an order of 25 to 50% or even more. One developer offered their feedback that this will result in increased expense for publishers because of the need for more hosting web space. The developer noted that while bandwidth costs are cheap, disk space is not:
"Unfortunately there are serious consequences to essentially doubling the number of image files being generated - namely, disk space.
This is not inconsequential. This single "decision" will lead to millions of dollars in increased hosting fees over the long run. I can already see our clients running regenerate thumbnails and suddenly need to pay 25%-50% more for upgraded hosting simply for disk space."
WordPress Core Committer Adam Silverstein, a Developer Relations Engineer at Google and a WordPress Core Committer responded in the comments that those who don't like the new feature can simply turn the feature off by adding a few lines of code to WordPress. But that's not something a regular user can do. To make matters worse, WordPress isn't planning on providing an on/off switch because they don't want to burden users with having to make decisions.
Why WordPress Proposal for WebP is a Bad Idea
Andrew Wilder, founder of NerdPress (@NerdPress), a company that supports and maintains Food and Lifestyle WordPress sites for hundreds of clients offered a detailed explanation for why the WordPress proposal is a bad idea. Andrew said:
"On the surface this seems like a good idea, since WebP images are typically smaller than JPG (with similar quality). However, I believe this is a fundamentally flawed approach, since it will cause the media libraries to balloon out of control (doubling the number of files), causing sites to run out of disk space. It will also make backups/restores/migrations more difficult. |
This proposal would effectively double the number of image files (over time) and use up probably an additional 70% more storage space. It won't convert all images immediately; the proposal is to start duplicating new images going forward. However, if someone "regenerates" thumbnails (which is often necessary after a theme change), at that point it will create the WebP copies as well.
So, when backing up sites, all those images need to get transferred somehow to a backup location. Good backup systems will be "incremental" so they only copy new files. But even good systems can timeout or fail, particularly when there are thousands of files in each of many folders. As an example: ManageWP (which is owned by GoDaddy), actually has a maximum file limit of 1,000,000 files for their backups.
So, the backups just won't work if there are more than that on the server. That sounds like a lot of files, but it can actually happen easily. A site with, say, 15,000 images in the library and 50 thumbnail sizes, that's 750K thumbnails right there. And that doesn't include all the other files on the server. So then if we double that with WebP image, we're stuck."