Creating A WordPress Plugin Is Easier Than You Think

creating-wordpress-plugins-tutorial

Until a few years ago, I hadn’t written a single WordPress plugin. I had created and customized many themes for our clients, but for some reason, I kept telling myself that creating a plugin was beyond my capabilities.

In hindsight, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

If you’ve ever felt this way, let me tell you something. Creating a WordPress plugin is not beyond your capabilities. Anyone that has skills enough to write basic PHP and modify a theme can create a plugin.

Why would you want to create a plugin?

If you’re like I was, you’ve probably been adding functionality to your theme instead of creating a plugin. There are plenty of cases where doing so is fine, but there are also cases where custom functionality is better off being added to a plugin. Why might you ask?

Consider this scenario.

You’ve added functionality to your theme that changes the default gravatar to your own custom gravatar. The only issue is, you’ve just changed themes and now that’s gone. If you had added that code to a plugin it would still be there when you decided to switch themes.

We ran into this issue with the Tabata Times multisite network. They use a handful of themes that need to share custom functionality. How do you think we solved that problem? You guessed it, by adding a good chunk of the functionality into a plugin so it is available to all sites on the network, regardless of which theme they are using.

Create your first plugin in five simple steps

I’m not kidding. You can create a WordPress plugin in five simple steps. Let me show you how…

1. FTP into your site
The first thing you’ll need to do is access your site via FTP using the FTP program of your choice (mine is Coda). If you’re not familiar with FTP, I recommend you read up on that before moving forward.

2. Navigate to the WordPress plugins folder
Once you’ve accessed your site via FTP, you’ll need to navigate to the WordPress plugins folder. That folder is almost always located at /wp-content/plugins.

3. Create a new folder for your plugin
Now that you’re in the plugins folder it’s time to create a folder for yours! Go ahead and create a new folder, giving it a unique name using lowercase letters and dashes such as my-first-plugin. Once you’ve done that, enter your new folder and move on to the next step.

4. Create the main PHP file for your plugin
Next, you’ll need to create the main file for your plugin. To do so, create a PHP file within your new plugin folder and give it the same name such as my-first-plugin.php. After you’ve done that, open your plugin’s main file and get ready to do some editing.

5. Setup your plugin’s information
Finally, copy and paste the plugin information below into your main plugin file. Make sure to edit the details such Plugin Name and Plugin URI as they pertain to your plugin.

<?php
/**
 * Plugin Name: My First Plugin
 * Plugin URI: http://www.mywebsite.com/my-first-plugin
 * Description: The very first plugin that I have ever created.
 * Version: 1.0
 * Author: Your Name
 * Author URI: http://www.mywebsite.com
 */

That’s it! You’ve just completed the minimum number of steps that are required to create a WordPress plugin. You can now activate it within the WordPress admin and revel in all of your glory.

What now?

At this point you’re probably wondering what this plugin is supposed to do. Well, it doesn’t do anything! I said I would show you how to create a plugin, I didn’t say I’d show you how to create a plugin that does anything. :)

All kidding aside, the goal of this post is to illustrate just how simple it is to get started creating WordPress plugins. Whip one up with the steps outline above and you’re ready to start making things happen.

Making your plugin do something simple

Now that you have a plugin, lets make it do something.

The easiest way to make things happen in WordPress is with actions and filters. Let’s explore that by creating a simple action that adds a line of text below all of the posts on your site. Copy and paste this code into your main plugin file (below the plugin information) and save it.

add_action( 'the_content', 'my_thank_you_text' );

function my_thank_you_text ( $content ) {
    return $content .= '<p>Thank you for reading!</p>';
}

This code hooks into “the_content” action that fires when WordPress renders the post content for your site. When that action fires, WordPress will call our “my_thank_you_text” function that is defined below the “add_action” call.

Going beyond a simple plugin

cockpit

If you’ve made it this far, hopefully we’re in agreement that creating a simple WordPress plugin is relatively easy. But what if you want to create a plugin that does more than accomplish one simple task?

Actions and Filters
If you’re going to start coding your own plugins, I highly suggest you familiarize yourself with how actions and filters work and which ones are available for you to use. The WordPress Codex is where I spend a lot of my time, I suggest you do the same.

Plugin API: Actions and Filters
Plugin API: Action Reference
Plugin API: Filter Reference

WordPress Functions
Again, I spend a lot of my time in the WordPress Codex reading up on core functions as I develop my plugins. There are so many core functions that I wouldn’t expect you to know what each and every one of them is and does. That’s what the Codex is for after all, so use it!

Creating an Options Page
Finally, if you end up creating a plugin that does something nifty, you’ll probably want to create an options page so people that use it can modify the functionality. Creating an options page isn’t necessary, there are many plugins that install and do something without one, but having one can be a nice addition for users of your plugin.

Creating an options page is beyond the scope of this post, so once again, I’ll leave you in the hands of the WordPress Codex.

Writing a Plugin
Creating Options Pages

If you haven’t already, create your first plugin!

Creating WordPress plugins is extremely liberating and a great way to gain a deeper knowledge of how WordPress works. If you haven’t already, I strongly urge you try your hand at creating a plugin. If you do and come up with sometime useful, don’t forget that you can distribute it freely to others via the WordPress plugin directory.

Have you already created your first plugin or plan on creating one soon? If so, I would love to hear about it in the comments below!

About Justin Busa

Justin Busa is a developer and co-founder at FastLine Media, where he works on a variety of projects for clients all over the world. When not working on the web, Justin enjoys spending time with his kids and talking fantasy baseball with Billy and Robby.

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