This is the first part of a two part series. It will cover basic information on WordPress plugins. The second part will cover the more complex details which will enable you to begin developing your own plugins.
If you’re at all familiar with WordPress, you’ve most likely at least heard of plugins. You’ve heard how they make everything easier. All it takes is an install and a whole new feature (or group of features) is added to your site. Sounds pretty awesome, right? Well as a standard user your first question will probably be how to find and install plugins, but that techie, developer, adventurous side of you is screaming “HOW DO I MAKE ONE MYSELF?!!!” I will warn you, it can be time consuming and involve a lot of work. (There are many tutorials for creating plugins specifically for many purposes already available on the internet, including many on this blog. So once you begin making your plugins, I encourage you to check out the other articles on here to get used to WordPress’s code.)
Don’t worry, I will only address the basics in this article for those who just want to know how to find and install WordPress plugins. A separate article will follow soon full of information for those who want to plunge into the world of developing WordPress plugins.
First up is finding plugins. Unless you find them (or keep reading and create one yourself) you don’t have anything to install and make your site more awesome. Your first instinct would probably be to use Google. This may sound like a good idea at first glance, but then you’ll glance at the top of the page and see you’ve generated about 36,800,00 results. A bit staggering to say the least.
The first result should be from WordPress itself. This will bring you to a page which will give you the option to search through 28,009 plugins available through WordPress’s gallery. This is one of the best places to look considering it’s straight from WordPress. It’s structured fairly well and you shouldn’t have any problems finding what you’re looking for. Users can leave reviews so you can see the pros and cons of available plugins. I would suggest looking on WordPress plugins first before you try Google.
The next option is Google. You should only do this if you know what you’re looking for. Otherwise you will spend hours browsing through completely unrelated pages. For example, if you type in “free WordPress plugins” on Google, you probably won’t find what you’re looking for. (unless you’re just in the mood to install random plugins, some of which could be extremely harmful) You should only Google if you can type something as specific as “WordPress plugin for customizing a photo gallery” or something similar. If the most specific you can get is “WordPress plugin galleries” You’ll probably be browsing and comparing for a while. Sometimes that’s the only way to find what you’re looking for.
The last option I’ll list here is blogs. Blogs are (usually) wonderful paradises full of extremely helpful techies who have reviewed and grouped together great plugins for many common needs. Some blogs even have their own plugins. (Although many times these plugins aren’t free.) It’s usually best to only go with plugins that have been tested and reviewed by others. As with all cases of searching through products, you should select a bunch and then compare until you narrow it down to the one you want.
You do need to remember while looking for plugins to look through all the details. Titles can be very misleading. The main things you need check are the WordPress version the plugin is for (THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. THERE ARE MANY PLUGINS FLOATING AROUND THE INTERNET THAT ARE COMPLETELY OUTDATED.), reviews on the plugin, what the plugin does, and the price.
Installing the Plugin
So you’ve found the plugin(s) that you want to use. It may make your site look nicer or go faster. Whatever it does, you’ve hopefully used the instructions above to choose the right one.
After you’ve chosen a plugin make sure to look through the provided documentation and setup instructions. Every plugin is a unique creation. As such, they all have to be set up in a separate way. They are all, however, installed in the same way. Any differences should come before or after installation. For example, some plugins might require that other plugins be installed before it’s installed. Also, many plugins are not ready out of the box. As long as you’re careful, everything should run smoothly.
When it comes to installing plugins you have two options:
Automatic Plugin Installation
– If the plugin is hosted with WordPress, then you can install it straight through WordPress in a few simple steps.
- Go to Plugins > Add New
- Type in the name of the plugin or a keyword, tag, or other descriptive word in the search form under Search, or just click a tag below the search form.
- Click details for information on one of the plugins listed including a description and any necessary instructions.
- Click Install Now to install the plugin.
- A popup window will ask you to confirm your desire to install the plugin.
- You might need to enter the FTP login credential information. If you’ve installed a plugin before, you shouldn’t need to do this again. You can find this information through your web server host.
- Click Proceed.
- If successful, click Activate Plugin to activate it, or Return to Plugin Install for other actions.
Manual Plugin Installation
– If the plugin is not in the Plugin directory or you want to control everything or your server doesn’t permit automatic installation, then you’ll need to manually install it.
- Download the WordPress plugin.
- If downloaded as a zip archive, extract it.
- Read through the “readme” file to make sure you install it correctly.
- With a FTP program, upload the plugin folder to the wp-content/plugins folder in your WordPress directory.
- Go to the Plugins screen and find the plugin.
- Click Activate Plugin to activate it.
After you do either of these, make sure to read through the provided documentation to set everything up correctly. Many popular plugins have extra, sometimes clearer, tutorials available on other sites. With all this you should be set with your first plugin.
You’ll probably download a few plugins that you won’t like. As such, you’re going to want to uninstall them. Here’s how:
- Go to the Plugins screen.
- Find the plugins you want to deactivate and install.
- Click Deactivate.
This will deactivate the plugin. This is a process so wait a bit for it to finish. Most plugins have an option to completely uninstall them. To remove a WordPress plugin completely:
- Check the plugin’s Details readme file for instructions on how to uninstall it.
- If the WordPress plugin required editing the theme’s files, then remove the edits from the theme’s files.
- Deactivate the plugin and remove it manually through the FTP program.
- Login to your site via your FTP program.
- Go to the plugin directory and find the plugin.
- Delete the WordPress plugin’s folder or file(s) from your server.
This should be enough to get you started with WordPress plugins. For more information on WordPress plugins check out the Codex and stay tuned for the next article on plugins for aspiring developers.