Intro to WordPress Plugins

When I first started using WordPress I wasn’t quite sure what plugins were, what they did or why I might want to use one.

What are WordPress plugins? Basically, a WordPress plugin is a chunk of code which allows non-technically inclined users to add extra features to their WordPress blog and easily configure those features via the Administration Panel.

What does a WordPress plugin do? A good plugin adds features to your blog while simplifying your blogging experience. Since the people who comprise the blogging community are a widely varied group, it makes sense that the plugins they use are widely varied as well. While one blogger might use a plugin to expand and collapse the sections on their sidebar, another blogger might use a plugin to make it easier to add smilies to their posts. To get a quick idea of the most popular features being added to WordPress blogs, check out the official WordPress Plugins Page. Currently plugins which help bloggers manage their Posts, Comments, Widgets, Images and Stats are at the top of the list.

Why use WordPress plugins? Plugins allow you to add a variety of features ranging from the simple to the complex yet they require only basic computer skills to install and use. Simplicity and Power rarely mesh together so well.

How do you install WordPress plugins? Once you’ve found a plugin which you’d like to install it’s very important that you follow the plugin author’s specific installation instructions. Most instructions will include the following steps:

  • Download the plugin from a trusted source.
  • Save it to a safe place on your PC.
  • If necessary, decompress it while maintaining its directory structure.
  • Upload it to your “wp-content/plugins/” directory.
  • Login to your WordPress administration panel.
  • Open the “Plugins” section.
  • Locate the new plugin in the “Plugin Mangement” table and and press the “activate” link.
  • Begin using the plugin as prescribed by its author.

Once installed, plugins can be activated, deactivated and otherwise managed via the WordPress Administration panel. Some plugins don’t have any user defined options and are merely turned on or off through the Admin Panel’s Plugins tab while other plugins can tuck their options away under any tab they choose. This emphasizes the importance of reading and following the plugin author’s directions.

Coming soon, plugin recommendations.

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