Plugins are external programs installed on a site to enhance an existing feature or add a new feature. For example, you can add a related post widget to your blog by installing an external plugin if your theme does not provide this feature or you do not like the default one. The context of the word plugin is generally interpreted as installing a feature on a site by uploading files to server and not embedding script inside the content. Sites built with open source software like WordPress.org heavily relies on plugins installed on the site. Plugins are essential part of every WordPress site as it is really not possible to make a theme satisfying all customer segments.
Note: The plugins referred here is referring the use on self-hosted WordPress.org sites. Many managed hosting companies including WordPress.com offers plugin installation feature for free as well as premium users.
Installing Plugins in WordPress
Plugins can be installed through WordPress admin dashboard interface. Users can either download plugins from free repository or buy from external sites.
It is also possible to directly upload the plugin files to the required folder in server using FTP or using File Manager aa from hosting account. Learn more about installing plugins in WordPress sites. All installed plugins can be found under “Plugins > Installed Plugins” menu in admin panel. You can also find the installed plugins under the directory “/wp-content/plugins” on your server using FTP software.
Below infographics shows all steps in effectively managing WordPress plugins:
Examples of WordPress Plugins
There are millions of free and premium plugins available for various purposes. At that time of writing this article there are more than 45,000+ free plugins available on WordPress repository.
Here are some plugins available readymade for your self-hosted WordPress site.
- Disqus commenting system to replace theme’s default comment feature.
- Yoast WordPress SEO to improve search engine optimization.
- Theme Check to check a theme for latest WordPress standards.
Check out the 10 most needed plugins for your WordPress site.
How to Choose a Plugin?
Choosing a plugin for your site needs to be done carefully since it may change the whole site’s appearance or performance. Below are some general considerations:
- Read user’s review of that plugin.
- Check number of downloads and last updated date.
- Check plugin compatibility with the version of your WordPress or any other platform.
- Check support forum for the previously faced issues and the response from plugin author.
Most of the free plugins will have limited features with the option to upgrade for a premium paid version. If you buy a plugin then common support forums / reviews in WordPress repository can’t be used since those are ONLY meant for free users. Learn how to choose best plugins for your WordPress site.
Limitations of Using Plugin
It may look that any functionalities can be achieved with the help of plugins. But in reality there are many challenges in using plugins on your site.
- Installation of plugin needs access to site’s root directory in server and hence most of free site builder tools like WordPress.com, Weebly, Wix, etc. do not offer the possibility of adding additional features through plugins.
- Since the base installation and base theme will always get updated for security, standards and new features, all plugins installed should be evaluated for breaking the published content.
- There is also possibility that multiple plugins installed have conflict with each other.
- Thousands of plugins available on WordPress repository are not updated for many years. Using such plugins on a site may result in security problems.
- Most of the plugins are developed by college students, freelancers and individual developers without any guarantee of maintenance and further support.
Using free plugins may enhance the site’s features but the bottomline is to use them at your own risk. Also installing multiple plugins may reduce the site loading speed and affect the user’s experience. Hence, check out the quality of the plugin and decide whether you can install and use it on your site in long run.