Plugin Development, WordPress

Creating a WordPress Plugin

WordPress has tons of plugins in its repository. There are many free and premium plugins that offer a range of functionality. Whatever your need is, you will probably find a plugin for it. Plugins are really helpful in getting any sort of work done. These things are great for a normal user but for a WordPress developer, just downloading and installing a plugin is not enough. They must understand how a plugin works so that in addition to getting the benefits of plugin functionality, they can also tweak it to enhance it further. Moreover, they can create a WordPress plugin with features specific to their or their client’s needs. In this article I am going to discuss some of the basic steps involved in creating a WordPress Plugin.

So, if you are a WordPress user or a developer just starting his career and want to know how these plugins work and how you can create one yourself, then I can assure you that you will find this article really helpful.

Let’s begin

What is the Purpose of Creating a WordPress Plugin

Well, there is one golden rule in WordPress Development “Don’t mess up with core files”. It means that if you want to add a new feature to your site, you shouldn’t try to do so by making changes to the core file. The main reason is that with every new update, the core files are overwritten; hence, any changes you make will be wiped off. So, if you want to add functionality to your website, then the best approach is to make a plugin.

Plugins for WordPress can be as straightforward or intricate as you need them to be. Plugins let you dramatically enhance WordPress’s functionality without modifying the core itself.

In addition to this, there is a significant amount of money that can be made by creating WordPress plugins. Even though there is a lot of competition, if you come up with an original or improved answer to many people’s issues, you will find your plugin installed on thousands of websites. In fact, the majority of plugins that are currently available were first created with the intention of assisting in the resolution of a specific issue.

WordPress Plugins vs WordPress Themes

I have often heard that one can add functionality to the website by making changes to the theme as well. I can’t totally disagree with it because you can add additional functionality to your WordPress theme by editing the functions.php file located in the /wp-includes/ folder. But This approach is fine for minor tweaks that don’t affect the entire site; it’s not practical for making big changes.

This is because the functionality stored in the functions.php file depends on whether or not the theme is currently active. If you turn off the WordPress theme, the changes you made in that file will be undone, and the site will throw an error when it tries to use functions that are no longer there.

Further, the functions.php file will be overwritten when you update the theme if it is a parent theme, and you’ll need to manually restore any changes you made.

For this reason, making a unique plugin can be useful. Doing so makes customising WordPress easier.

Any WordPress site can be enhanced with additional plugins. Any new functionality added by the plugin will continue to work even if you change the theme. As an added bonus, updates won’t replace any currently-used features.

What are WordPress Hooks

The functionality of WordPress can be altered or enhanced with the use of hooks. Creating a WordPress plugin or theme relies heavily on hooks. They allow developers to ‘hook’ their code into WordPress at specific locations to alter its behaviour without modifying any of the core files.

Hooks can be divided into two categories: filters and actions.

What Is an Action Hook

Actions enable you to modify the functionality of WordPress as well as add new data. Actions will be executed at a particular point during the execution of WordPress Core, plugins, and themes. Callback functions for Actions can do tasks such as echoing output to the user or entering data into a database. In short, Action hooks let you do things.

What is a Filter Hook

Filters allow you to modify data while WordPress Core, plugins, and themes are executed. Filters callback functions will accept a variable, modify it, and then return it. In simple terms Filter hooks let you change things.

Things you need to create a WordPress Plugin

A Text Editor

To write the plugin’s code, you’ll need a text editor. Notepad++ and Sublime Text are great text editors.

FTP access to your hosting account

Connect the text editor to your FTP server for code modification. Now configure an FTP client in order to upload the plugin file to the website.

An operational WordPress installation

Ensure you have a functional and up-to-date WordPress installation. It will be a good idea to install WordPress on your local machine. You can test your plugin without worrying about potential users seeing it right away.

Now that you have a general idea of everything needed for plugin development let’s start creating a plugin.

Creating A WordPress Plugin

Creating a New folder for storing your Plugin

Making a folder for the plugin’s files is the first step in building a new plugin. The name of the folder should be distinct. Check the names of the other plugin folders under /wp-content/plugins/ to ensure that the new name is not already in use.

Connect to your hosting account using an FTP client to enable file uploads. From WordPress’s main directory, navigate to wp-content -> plugins. In the plugins folder, create a new folder named my-plugin.

Creating the First File and Adding a Plugin Header

Make a new PHP file in the plugins folder and name it my-plugin.php.

Plugin Header is a PHP comment block used to inform WordPress of the name of your plugin, its version, its website, and the name of the plugin author, among other things. The plugin header is the first thing that should be included in your plugin file. Once the plugin header has been inserted, the plugin body can be written.

Add Functionality to your Plugin

While you have generated an empty plugin, it currently serves no purpose. Now is the time to add features. In this plugin example, we will append the “Hello World” text at the end of the post using our created plugin.

Create a function that appends the text “Hello World” to the end of each post. The function name must be unique to prevent naming collisions.

function boyo_hello_world($content){
 return $content."<p style='text-align:center;font-size: 25px;font-weight: bold;'> Hello World </p>"
}

The functions of the plugin need to be connected to an event in the WordPress life cycle using a WordPress hook.

Here, “Hello World” content will be added to the end of the post. So, we will have to connect our function to WordPress events via Filter hook.

add_filter('the_content', 'boyo_hello_world');

Now in each post, you will see “Hello World” text at the end.

Congratulations, you’ve just finished building your first WordPress plugin.

Deploy your Plugin to WordPress

A developer works in a development environment on a WordPress plugin. To transfer the plugin to your production website, you must compress the plugin directory and upload the compressed plugin file to WordPress Admin.

In order to do this, follow the steps written below:

Right-click the my-plugin folder within FTP Client, and then select Download. After that, create a ZIP archive by compressing the files.

From the dashboard of your WordPress installation, go to the Plugins menu. After that, click Add New.

Simply choose the plugin’s ZIP file after clicking the Upload Plugin button.

To begin the installation process, select Install Now from the menu.

Best Practices for Creating a WordPress Plugin

The following is a list of some of the best practices in coding and plugin development that will assist you in the process of creating your first WordPress plugin:

  • Create a staging environment to develop and test WordPress plugins. In this manner, there will be no chance that a plugin’s flawed code can cause the site to crash.
  • Build a logical folder structure. To keep things from getting cluttered, make subfolders for each functionality and segregate the code into different files according to the purpose they serve or the language they use.
  • Take care when naming each file, folder, and element. Make sure to use prefixes that aren’t shared with any other plugins or the core of WordPress by giving them a name that is completely unique.
  • To label each function, add comments to the ideal location. When changing or debugging your code, it will be easier for you and any other developers to comprehend it if you do this.
  • Create documentation. This strategy is especially useful if you plan to develop plugins with advanced functionality for a large number of users.
  • Use software that supports version control to keep track of the changes made to your code. By keeping track of who contributed what, you can lessen the likelihood of conflicts between updates and reduce the number of issues.

Following Best Practices helps in creating a WordPress Plugin effectively and efficiently. Here are a few more

  • For information on language-specific coding standards, please refer to the WordPress Codex. Make sure to follow them when working on a project with other people.
  • When creating plugins, you should use a debugging tool. By doing this, finding errors will be much simpler which will speed up the process of developing plugins overall.
  • You must always be concerned about the security of your WordPress plugin. When it comes to matters of security, you should always use extreme caution. The primary distinction between an experienced developer and a novice is that the experienced programmer will always use secure coding practices and check the security of his scripts. Sanitise and validate user input values. Protect your forms against CSRF attacks by utilising the “wp nonce”. When using upload forms, check the file extensions. Use secure external PHP libraries.

Additional Resources for Creating A WordPress Plugin

You now have a fundamental understanding of how to develop plugins for WordPress. But as you start to build complex plugins, then you will need more knowledge and information to build them. Here are a few good information resources.

WordPress Plugin Developer Handbook

One of the best resources to learn everything necessary for WordPress plugin creation is the official Plugin Handbook, which can be found on WordPress.org.

WordPress Plugin Boilerplate Generator

The WordPress Plugin Boilerplate Generator is a web-based interface that is available for free and assists you in creating a WordPress Plugin. All you have to do is submit a few basic details about your plugin, and it will generate a standardised, organised, object-oriented foundation for constructing high-quality WordPress Plugins.

Professional WordPress Plugin Development Book

There is also a very good book on plugin development by Brad Williams, Ozh Richard and Justin Tadlock. In fact, there’s an entire guide/developer handbook dedicated to helping anyone create their first plugin.

Final Thoughts

Making a plugin from scratch is not a simple task. It is highly recommended that you plan out your plugin before developing it. Before beginning to write the code for your own plugin, it is imperative that you have a solid understanding of the capabilities and limitations of WordPress too. We created a simple plugin by adhering to the methodology described in this article and using a limited number of functions. It has a lot of room for improvement, but in my opinion, it did a great job in demonstrating the plugin’s fundamentals.

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