When it comes to creating a website, there aren’t many content management systems more powerful and versatile than WordPress. In a large part, this is due to the existence of myriad WordPress plugins. These can be incredibly useful PHP scripts that add all sorts of functionalities to your website.
While themes serve to change how your website appears visually, the plugins are there to alter stuff under the hood. You can use them to make new types of posts, give yourself better data analytics for your website, and basically any kind of useful feature you can think of. With that in mind, we’ll go over some of the basics of how to create a WP plugin right here!
Do You Need A Plugin?
We’ve already outlined what the main difference between plugins and themes is in the very beginning. However, it’s not always clear whether you can achieve some sort of change within a theme, or you need an actual plugin for it; even masters of WordPress like wpfullcare.com would need a moment, and it’s something professional web designers go through.
For instance – anyone who has tweaked and altered a theme can tell you that themes contain a file called functions.php. This file gives you a range of options in terms of functionality within your theme. But if that is true, do we need plugins at all – and when?
This is a somewhat blurred line, with the right answer depending on what you require. Minor functionality tweaks can be easily achieved via edits of functions.php. However, an entirely new set of features will probably require a dedicated plugin.
Plus, this is important if you want the functions of your plugin to remain consistent even if you change the theme. For people who are only making a plugin for themselves and don’t intend to change themes, editing the functions.php may be enough. But remember – all edits will cease after you start using a new theme, and you’ll have to do it all over again. And we’d be remiss not mentioning that making huge changes solely via functions.php can mean a lot of messy code.
Making The Plugin
Now that we’ve laid down the runway, we’ll tell you how to actually create a WP plugin. In order to manage this, at least in the most rudimentary way; you won’t need to do too much work. You simply have to make a new folder in your plugins folder. Then, make a php file inside that folder, and add some code. In order for the plugin to be instantly usable, you only need to put basic information like its name. But if you want to make your plugin usable for other people as well, you should try to put in more data, like its description and URL.
Of course, you don’t have to be a genius in web development to realize that this barebones plugin doesn’t actually perform any functions as of yet. For that, you’ll need to do PHP coding. But this is all it takes to make a plugin that you can activate and use.
As you work on adding functionality to your plugin, you will probably find it’s too big to easily navigate using a single .php file; after all, that’s one of the reasons you’re not using the functions.php file in your theme. But that’s great about the effort to create a WP plugin – you can split its contents into different folders and files, making it far more navigable.
Depending on what your plugin does, there are different ways of going about this. For instance, if the plugin heavily leans on a single main class, you should put it in the main file of your plugin, with secondary files being used for less crucial functionalities.
On average, your goal should be to strike a perfect balance between utility and minimalism. It’s not a good idea to spread your plugin across too many files either. If you want to see how this is done right, you’d do well to traverse the structures of widely used plugins, and see how they’re doing it. There’s nothing wrong about learning from the best, especially if you’re after more complex functionalities like e-commerce capability. You’re supposed to make something that works for you, not reinvent fire.
When you’re making a plugin of your own, the nomenclature of its classes and functions is more important than you may realize in the beginning. Remember – most people use more than a single WordPress plugin. With that in mind, you need to avoid clashing with similar plugins that deal with interconnected functionalities. That’s why we recommend avoiding generic names and using prefixes as much as possible; this will reduce the chances of being in conflict with someone else’s nomenclature.
Most people don’t develop a plugin for just their own personal use, but for a wider community as well. If that’s the case with you, it’s thought of as proper manners to extensively document your code. Don’t worry, this won’t require much thinking on your part, as there are set conventions for .php documentation that you can easily follow. Just focus on keeping your code as clean as possible, and providing enough documentation.
Plus, let’s not forget that documentation will benefit you too. In more complicated plugins that take a lot of time to develop, you are likely to forget what you’re using a function that you wrote a while back. If you document all of this properly, you will make the design process easier on yourself as well. And if your plugin reaches a wider community, all of your users are sure to appreciate this too!
Rahul Mathur is the founder and managing director of ARKA Softwares, a company renowned for its outstanding mobile app development and web development solutions as well as specialized in Android and iOS app development. Delivering high-end modern solutions to all over the globe, Rahul takes pleasure in sharing his experiences and views on the latest technological trends.