Complete Guide to WordPress Plugins

What are WP Plugins?

WP Plugins are add-on code modules that you can install to extend and customize the functionality of your WordPress website. Plugins enable you to tailor your site to your specific needs.

Why aren’t WP Plugins part of the core WordPress Installation?

The wonderful people who give us WordPress (Automattic, Inc.) intentionally work to keep the core WordPress code lean and somewhat generic, to maximize flexibility and performance. A “plugin” system allows for open source community development and customization.

“Open source” means that the code that makes WordPress work is available for anyone to view or edit for their own use. But it doesn’t make sense for one person, or a even a group of people, to customize the core WordPress code because WordPress is so widely used, and the core is actively supported and developed by Automattic. Editing the core code would create an unsupported ”software fork” and render the installation incompatible with future upgrades of the core code.  To prevent this, the developers of WordPress factored in the need for customization, and have provided a handy system of code “hooks”, which allow open source community members to write independent function/feature code modules, and then easily tie those into the core code without altering it.

Who makes WordPress Plugins?

Anyone can make a WordPress Plugin! If you have an interest in building your own plugin, there are plenty of plugin development resources available to help you. You will need a little knowledge of  programming using  WordPress “hooks”, HTML, and PHP (those are coding languages).

But wait! Before going to the length of building a feature or function for yourself, it makes sense to look first to see if someone else has already built it. So many people  have already created WordPress Plugins that there is a wide variety and selection of Plugins to choose from.

Where can I find WordPress Plugins?

The Official WordPress Plugins Repository is located and maintained at WordPress.org. To be listed in this official plugin directory, a plugin must meet certain requirements. Since not all plugin developers adhere to the requirements, there are quite a few plugins available that are not listed — to find unlisted plugins, do a Google search for:

wordpress plugins” , “wp plugins“, or ”wp plugin [insert keyword to describe the function you seek]

The Google search results will include a variety of links to WP plugin reviews, forum threads that discuss plugin troubleshooting, plugin developer homepages, and unofficial plugin lists. Or, you can always “Ask WordPressZen.com” for a plugin recommendation!

How to Create a WordPress Plugin

Another simple link for a Sunday, how to write your own Plugin.

If you break out in a cold sweat on mention of terms like ‘the loop’ and ‘function’ you might want to just skip this post and look at some nice themes.

Plugin creation really is simpler than you think, and there are a host of ways to get started, but this tutorial hit the spot for me. I love the attitude of the writer:

“Creating a plugin for WordPress is really simple. First of all create a new file in your /wp-content/plugins/ folder. “

Emphasis mine.

The article is a simple step by step for creating a very simple plugin that provides a wrapper for reusable functions to be used anywhere. I have to admit that my first few plugins were simply hacks of existing plugins stripped down to the bone. This article is a much easier intro.

The best way to learn is often to simply take a starting point and play. For me it’s always a finished item I respect, which I pull to pieces, replace the pieces, and then build up again. But for many a bare template is the prefered starting point.

Despite having a ’so hideous it’s somehow cool’ navigation on his site, Trevor Creechhas built just that. A straightforward template wordpress plugin with which to build any

“I have created a generic plugin template. It includes all the framework necessary for a displayable plugin (Something which will show up in a sidebar, template, or anywhere in a post using a token such as <!-- someplugin -->). The template is full of comments, so you shouldn’t have trouble figuring it out. “

I’m working on a quick proof of principle that it works and does what it says on the tin and will link it in comments below shortly.

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