wordpress: beyond the basics
Working with Plugins
Every WordPress site has different needs, but building a content management system that can accommodate every possible situation would make it complex and bloated. It would also make it very difficult for the core WordPress developers to keep the system stable and secure.
The answer to this dilemma is the WordPress "plugins" system, which lets developers extend the system in every way imaginable. There are more than 13,000 (!) plugins available, which let you do things like:
- Have comments emailed to thread participants
- Install contact forms
- Override the default WordPress permission roles
- Conduct polls and surveys
- Integrate content from Twitter/Flickr etc.
- Advanced spam control
- Install advanced photo galleries
- Turn WordPress into a sophisticated events system
- Copy blog posts over to FaceBook
- Set up your site for publishing podcasts
- Create a mobile version of your site
- ... and tons more
Some plugins provide new fields or pages for data entry in the Dashboard. Some plugins provide new Widgets. Some plugins alter the post writing interface. Some plugins enable special "quick tags" to use when writing a post. Some plugins have no interface at all. Because there are so many plugins and they all work a bit differently, it's up to you to read the documentation that comes with each plugin. This may be in a "
readme.txt" or "
readme.html" file in the plugin directory. It may be built into the plugin's Dashboard page, if it has one. Or it may be on the plugin developers web site. It's up to you to find and follow the instructions in the documentation carefully! Support is often available on the plugin developer's web site.
There are two possible ways to install plugins. If you're lucky and your web host supports it, you'll be able to simply go to the Plugins section in the Dashboard and click the big Add New button:
From there, you can enter a search term to review a list of matching plugins.
When you find one that sounds promising, click the Install Now link, wait a few moments, and the plugin will be installed. To make the plugin active, click the Activate link under its name in the main Plugins interface.
Tip: Uninstall (or at least deactivate) any plugins that are not currently in use. Some plugins can be resource intensive (CPU or RAM-wise) and will slow down your site. It's also possible for plugins to conflict with other plugins, or to be incompatible with future WordPress upgrades. Install the plugins you need, but don't keep unneeded plugins sitting around!
Installing Plugins via FTP
If you're asked for FTP credentials after selecting a plugin to install, then your host isn't set up for automatic plugin installation. You can try entering the FTP username and password provided by your web host, but be aware that this will not always work, since the document root assigned to that FTP account by your host might not match your WordPress installation's document root. If this happens to you, try creating an FTP account in your hosting control panel with a document root matching your WordPress installation.
However, you might find it easier to install an FTP client on your computer and add plugins to your site manually. If you go this route, you'll need to navigate your FTP client to
wp-content/plugins after logging into your site's filesystem. Download the plugin file from wordpress.org, unzip it to a folder on your Desktop, and upload the entire resulting folder into
wp-content/plugins. Then return to your Dashboard's Plugins section and activate the newly installed plugin.
See our FTP 101 tutorial for detailed FTP instructions.
Let's Try It
Let's say you want to add a secure contact form to your site, so you don't have to put your email address out there where spammers can find it.
There are many contact form plugins out there, but for example's sake, search the plugins database for "contact form 7" and install that plugin. Be sure to activate the newly installed plugin.
Now take a look at your Dashboard sidebar - you should see a new "Contact" section:
Click it to see an interface something like this:
But what do you do with this interface? Look for the "Docs" and "FAQ" links at the top right, where you can learn everything you need to know about this piece of software. Fortunately, Contact Form 7's default settings are very good, and require no configuration. You can use this plugin to create any kind of email-able form you like, but let's start simple.
Select the text in the red/brown horizontal bar and copy it to the clipboard. Now go to the Pages section of the Dashboard and create a new page called "Contact." Paste the code on your clipboard into the Body field and click Publish.
Now go to your public site and navigate to
yourdomain.com/contact. You should see a basic contact form. Fill it out and make sure it actually does send email to your address.
Take a look at the plugin's documentation to learn about all the other things this plugin can do!
Want your new Contact page to show up in your site's menus? See the Menus section of this tutorial.