What is a Plugin?

A plugin is a package of software/code that gives you the opportunity to add new features.  The plugin extends the function to your website beyond the base core code of WordPress.  The base WordPress code is designed to be lightweight and avoid code bloat.  Rather than a one-size-fits all solution that adds lots of code you do not need, use WordPress core code and then customize your website’s function through plugins.  This allows you to have the functionality you want your website to offer, such as a slideshow, photo gallery or a contact form without a lot of unnecessary bloat to slow your site down.

What is a Plugin?

Written in the programming language PHP, plugins work with WordPress code.   They often have other assets such as images and may incorporate other coding languages.  Using them allows you to increase your website features without needing to write code on your own.  You can use free or paid/premium plugins through the WordPress repository or other online resources.  Be careful where you get your plugin so that you can be sure it helps rather than hurts your site with unwanted malicious code.

Where to Find a Plugin?

WordPress offers a repository of plugins that are vetted by WordPress core developers.  At this writing, there are 51,937 plugins in the repository.

So, Where Do You Start?

Well, decide what feature you want to add to your site.  Is it a slideshow or a contact form?  Use the search feature provided in the repository to narrow down the results.  Looking up slideshow left me with 71 pages of plugins to chose from.  Don’t despair if you get this many results back.  Here are some things to think about before making your choice:

  • Has the plugin been tested with the most current version of WordPress?  Not sure?  Check this link to find out the current version off WordPress.
    • As of this writing, WordPress is at version 4.8.1.  If you are looking at a plugin that was tested with WordPress 2.5, it’s probably not going to be as stable with the current code as you’d like it to be.
    • Developers that are keeping up-to-date with the WordPress core code are more likely to be maintaining their plugins, making them safer and more reliable to use.
  • How many active installs?
    • Each plugin tells you how many installs are active on websites.  Some will have a few hundred, few thousand, hundred thousand, or a million or more.  The numbers are rounded:
      • 30+ active installs
      • 50,000+ active installs
      • 700,000+ active installs
  • What kind of reviews and how many?
    • A plugin with 4 stars and 1,952 reviews v. a plugin with 5 stars and 3 reviews.  Read the reviews.
  • Support
    • While on the plugin repository, pick a plugin and then click the support tab.  Has the developer answered the questions?

Still not sure?  See if WP Beginner or another, similar, site has any reviews before you decide.