This tutorial is a brief introduction to plugins in WordPress. Plugins and their settings, functions, etc. vary widely in WP, so we'll just be covering basics here.
Plugins are essentially little packages of code that extend/add to the functionality of your WordPress site. Think of them as being just like extensions/add-ons in internet browsers, or the apps on a smartphone. Plugins can add to the front-end functionality of your site (such as enabling true full-width pages) and to the back-end functionality (such as having a more robust visual text editor).
If there's something that you wish you could do with your WordPress site, but you can't do it through customizing the theme or changing site settings (or can't figure it out easily), it's extremely likely that there's a plugin that will enable you to do what you want to do.
Your COPLACDigital site will come with about 20 pre-installed plugins. Note that having plugins installed is not the same thing as having them activated.
Not all of these plugins will be used by you, as some of them are only for the COPLACDigital program associate (marked with Super Admin only) to use, or the use of the plugin is being enforced on every site (marked with Forced use).
- Akismet Anti-Spam — A plugin that blocks spam comments from your site. Forced use.
- Cookies for Comments — Another plugin that helps filter spam comments. Forced use.
- Cryout Serious Theme Settings — A plugin for customizing one of the default COPLACDigital themes, Parabola.
- Disable Comments — A plugin that lets you disable comments on your site in bulk. Recommended for project sites.
- Feature a Page Widget — A plugin that lets you feature a page or a post in your site's sidebar.
- FeedWordPress — A plugin that syndicates posts from other sites. Forced use on course site.
- FooBox Responsive Image Lightbox — A plugin that lets you have photos open to a fuller size in a pop-up.
- Jetpack — A plugin that adds several different functionalities to your site, including custom CSS, image galleries, and more. Recommended for all sites. Tutorial available here.
- Limit Login Attempts — A plugin that limits the number of login attempts a user can make before locking them out. Forced use.
- MetaSlider — A plugin that lets you easily create image sliders for your site.
- PDF Embedder — A plugin that lets you embed a PDF on a post or page.
- Responsive Lightbox & Gallery —A plugin that lets you have photos and photo galleries open to a fuller size in a pop-up.
- Subscribe to Comments — A plugin that allows users/readers to be notified of new comments.
- TablePress — A plugin that lets you easily create and insert tables into pages and posts.
- TinyMCE Advanced — A plugin that makes the visual text editor much more robust (and even more similar to a word processor).
- User Role Editor — A plugin that allows for the changing of user roles. Super Admin only.
- User Switching — A plugin that lets the Super Admin "become" another user. Super Admin only.
- Very Simple KSES Filter Fix — A plugin that allows users to embed outside content into their site. Forced use, Super Admin only.
- Wordfence Security — A robust security plugin that protects all COPLACDigital sites. Forced use, Super Admin only.
- WordPress Importer — A plugin that lets site administrators import content from a WP export file.
- WordPress Page Widgets — A plugin that lets you customize the widgets that appear in the sidebar of each individual page.
As mentioned above in Step 2, just because plugins are pre-installed does not mean they are activated for your site—you'll have to do the activation yourself. Luckily, it's easy! We already covered how to activate plugins in Step 4 of the First Steps with WordPress tutorial, but here's a quick refresher:
- From the Dashboard of your site, choose "Plugins" from the main navigation on the left.
- Find the plugin you want to activate.
- Under the name of the plugin, click on "Activate."
Once it has successfully activated, you should see a banner message like this at the top of your Plugins screen:
What happens next will depend on which plugin you've activated—some plugins, such as Jetpack or Tablepress (for example), will add new navigation options on the menu in your Dashboard. These plugins have their own main menu options because of how robust they are. Other plugins that are a bit simpler won't have their own main menu item—instead, you'll find them under the "Settings" sub-menu. And still other plugins won't have a menu item at all, such as KSES Filter Fix or User Switching. These plugins don't have settings and operate very much behind the scenes, so menu items at any level aren't necessary.
If you aren't sure where the settings for your newly activated plugin are, check the main menu for a new item, and check the "Settings" sub-menu. If you still can't find them, check the plugin's page in the WordPress Plugin Repository—it will have notes and documentation about how to configure the plugin after it's activated. This documentation is also a great place to go for general questions about using the plugin in question.
In addition to adding functionality to your site, many plugins will also add extra widget options, once activated. Widgets are little pieces of content that you can put in other areas of your site (most commonly seen in sidebars). For example, activating Jetpack will add about 20 new widgets for you to choose from. Go to Appearance > Widgets to see what widgets are available for your site.
For security purposes, only the COPLACDigital program associate has the ability to add new plugins to sites. However, don't let that stop you from searching on your own! The more research you do into the plugin you would like, the easiest it is for Leah. Start by browsing the Plugin Repository, searching with keywords that are related to the functionality you want. (If you don't know what to search, that's okay—ask Leah.)
When searching for possible plugins to use, make sure you take the following factors into consideration:
- Rating — The better the rating, the better the plugin.
- Active Installations — The more active installations a plugin has, the better. That typically means the plugin is good enough functionality- and compatibility-wise, and safe enough security-wise, that many users have installed and activated it on their sites.
- Last Updated — It's always best when a plugin has been recently updated—that means the plugin author is staying on top of the plugin as problems arise and new releases of WordPress come out. If a plugin hasn't been updated in over a year, chances are that sooner or later, it will break and/or problems will be difficult to resolve.
- WP Version Compatibility — Like "Last Updated," you always want a plugin to be compatible with the most recent version of WordPress in order to minimize bugs. A few minor versions back tends to be okay, too, but a plugin that, say, is only compatible up to version 4.2, while your site is running 4.9.6, is probably not going to work well with your site.
- Requires WordPress Version — You want to make sure that you're using a plugin that requires a relatively up-to-date version of WordPress (and that you at least are running that version, if not a more recent one).
You can find all of this information in the Plugin Repository:
You can check your version of WordPress a couple ways: in the "At a Glance" widget in your Dashboard home, or by scrolling to the bottom of any admin screen and looking at the right-hand corner.
Once you've found some potential plugins that you want to use, email Leah so she can install them for you. If she finds some potential issues with the plugin, she will let you know and help you find an alternative.