WordPress Plugin Development Course for Designers – Part 1

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I assume that you are a freelance designer or someone who work full time as a designer for a web design agency. Most of web designers are used work with static website design.

Now the question is: do you have a future as a static website designer?

The answer would probably be no since most clients and companies are planning to convert their websites to work with a CMS like WordPress, Joomla or Drupal.

WordPress is becoming the new static web site.

WordPress integration is simple enough that almost anyone can setup a WordPress site with an auto installer program. Unless you are familiar in working with a CMS like WordPress, you will definitely face issues moving further as a freelance designer.

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WordPress Plugin Development Course for Designers – What to Expect

Being a designer, your main focus should be to learn WordPress theme design and development. But clients are never going to be satisfied, even if you build their websites with professional theme and design. They will ask you for more and more features as they know that it’s easier to build things with WordPress.

WordPress plugins are a quick and easy solution to wrap your site with additional functionality such as social integration, breadcrumbs, Google Maps, etc. If you are not familiar with using and customizing plugins, you will have to need the support of a developer to keep clients from going from you and go looking for another developer who is capable of providing both design and development tasks.

Hiring a developer and creating the custom functionality can be costly for you as a freelance designer. So you should be thinking about learning the skills of plugin development.

What Can You Expect From Us?

So often we see tutorials for learning WordPress plugin development focused on developers. Here we are going to approach it differently by looking at WordPress plugins development from designers perspective. So everything will be created and explained from scratch.

Initial part of this tutorial series will consist of four parts, where we will learn WordPress Plugin Development from scratch. Throughout the series we will be developing a WordPress plugin to integrate your favorite jQuery Slider. Final output will be a complete slider plugin for WordPress, which you use in any part of the CMS.

Let’s take a look at the 4 parts of the series.

  1. Understanding WordPress Plugin Structure
  2. Basics for Creating WordPress Plugin Template
  3. Integrating Your Favorite Slider into WordPress
  4. Enhancing WordPress Plugins with Add On Features

Today we are going take on the first part on the tutorial series. So Let’s get started.

Understanding WordPress Plugin Structure

WordPress plugins lets us create additional functionality without affecting the core system. As designers, our main focus should be to develop quality front-end plugins with awesome designs rather than developing highly technical back-end plugins to provide complex functionality. So it’s important to know the basic structure,initial components and functions of a plugin to get things started.

What are the prerequisites?

Throughout this series you will have to work with technologies like PHP, JavaScript, and MySql. It’s ideal to have basic knowledge of those technologies, although it’s not mandatory. As designers, I don’t expect you to have knowledge on working with server side technologies and databases. But basics of JavaScript will be handy and I assume you have the basic idea.

Should You Create Plugins from Scratch?

I think the answer should be no, in situations where you can find a free plugin to implement the required features. WordPress plugin repository is full of plugins with wide range of capabilities. It’s much easier to find a plugin from the repository rather than creating from scratch.

Even though the repository contains around 20,000 plugins, there is no guarantee that there will be plugins to suit each and every requirement in your projects. In such cases you will have to either modify an existing plugin or write your own plugin from scratch.

Components of WordPress Plugin

We will be focusing on creating web design related plugins throughout this series. So these plugins will have some kind output to the browser using combination of HTML, CSS and JavaScript. This will be considered as the front-end component of the plugin.

Usually we need to change the design components with dynamic data. Therefore we have to create a custom section inside WordPress Admin panel to enter dynamic data and options. This data creation section can be considered as the back-end component of the plugin.

Let’s take a look at the back-end and front-end of a premium slider plugin from Themeforest.

Frond-end of the Plugin

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Back-end of the Plugin

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You can see how these components are used effectively in professional plugins. Simplest plugins will not require a back-end component. Here we will be creating a slider with both front-end and back-end components.

Creating Your First Plugin

First we have to know where to create plugins inside the WordPress installation. WordPress consists of 3 main folders called wp-content, wp-admin and wp-includes. The following screenshots previews the files and folders available inside WordPress installation. Our focus will be on the highlighted wp-content folder, where we install our themes and plugins.

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Inside wp-content, you will find another folder called plugins. Now switch to plugins folder and you will see few default plugin folders created by the WordPress installation. This will be the place where we create our own plugins. Following screen shows the list of folders available inside wp-content folder.

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We can directly create a plugin inside the plugins folder by including the plugin file. But the recommended method is to create each plugin in a separate folder inside the plugins folder.

So let’s name our plugin as 1WD Slider and create a folder called 1wd-slider. It’s important to know that there is no restriction on naming the plugin folder. I prefer using the plugin name as the folder name for keeping consistency. The following image shows our plugin folder inside the plugins.

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Creating Plugin File

Plugins can contain any number of files as you want. For the purpose of this tutorial, I am going to create the plugin as a single PHP file. So create a file called 1wd_slider.php inside your plugin folder. Once again there are no restrictions in naming plugin files. Having created plugin folder and file, let’s see how it displays on WordPress plugins list.

Login to your WordPress account as admin and click on Plugins tab on the left to get a list of available plugins.

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Surprisingly, the plugin list does not show our plugin. What is the reason?

Even though we created both plugin folder and file, we did not inform WordPress to consider it as a plugin. We have to add a PHP comment in predefined format on top of the file to make it a WordPress plugin. Open the 1wd_slider.php file and insert the following PHP comment.

br /
lt;?phpbr /
/*br /
Plugin Name: 1WD Sliderbr /
Plugin URI: http://1stwebdesigner.com/br /
Description: Slider Component for WordPressbr /
Version: 1.0br /
Author: Rakhitha Nimeshbr /
Author URI: http://1stwebdesigner.com/br /
License: GPLv2 or laterbr /
*/br /
?gt;br /

As a designer you might not be familiar with PHP codes, hence I’ll explain the code in detail. Tags ?php and ? is used respectively for opening and closing PHP codes. This is similar to script tags in JavaScript. Anything you place between these tags will be executed as PHP codes.

Then we have a multiple line comment which is similar to comment syntax in JavaScript. We can use /* */ for multiple line comments and // for single line comments.

Inside the comment we have defined plugin details in key value structure. Basically Plugin Name will be the most important and mandatory parameter. Once you set the Plugin Name, WordPress will identify your file as a plugin to display in the plugin list. Following screen contains our plugin with complete details.

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Now let’s go through the remainder of parameters by comparing with the screen.

  • Plugin URI – is used to let users know about the details of the plugin and available download options. This isn’t mandatory and you can keep it blank, if you don’t have an intention of making the plugin publicly available.
  • Description – is used to provide a summary of functionality of the plugin.
  • Version – is used to define the version and you can use any numbering format as you wish. Plugins need be upgraded with each WordPress version upgrade. Therefore it’s good to have proper version numbering even though it’s not mandatory.
  • Author and Author URI – is used to provide details about the developer of the plugin.
  • License – is used to define the conditions for using this plugin. We can include standard licence such as GPL2 or just mention something we prefer such as Free to use.

We don’t need to consider about the parameters other than plugin name, in case we are not making the plugin publicly available for use.

Now we have our first WordPress plugin, even though it doesn’t do anything at the moment. We can activate or deactivate plugins from the plugin list.

Let’s discuss more on plugin activation.

WordPress Plugin Activation and Deactivation

Plugins will be on inactive status by default. We can click on the activate link under the plugin name to activate the plugin. Once the plugin is successfully activated, its features will get effected to your website.

Also you should be able to see deactivate link instead of activate link after a successful activation. Clicking the deactivate link will revert the status of the plugin to its original inactive status.

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What Can We Do on Activation/Deactivation

Think about a real world scenario where you activate premium membership of a club or library. Obviously you will get added benefits on activation and you will lose those benefits on deactivation. Similarly we can execute some tasks on plugin activation and deactivation.

WordPress provides a concept called hooks, where you can trigger certain tasks to add new behavior or modify existing behavior. So let’s look into the code for activation and deactivation hooks.

br /
function fwds_slider_activation() {br /
}br /
register_activation_hook(__FILE__, 'fwds_slider_activation');/p
pfunction fwds_slider_deactivation() {br /
}br /
register_deactivation_hook(__FILE__, 'fwds_slider_deactivation');/p
p

Above code contains two functions called fwds_slider_activation and fwds_slider_deactivation. PHP function is a reusable piece of code where we can execute multiple times. Even as a designer you might have a basic idea about functions since PHP functions are similar to JavaScript functions.

Then we have the two hooks called register_activation_hook and register_deactivation_hook. Don’t worry too much about hooks as you will understand them while learning about plugin development in this series. For the moment just define these hooks with plugin specific activation and deactivation functions and execute necessary codes inside the function.

Why Do We Use Activation/Deactivation Hooks

We can create basic plugins without considering activation and deactivation functions. But advanced plugin will require these functions to provide additional features.

Following is a list of possible things we can do inside plugin activation/deactivation.

  • Create custom database tables on activation to store data and remove tables on deactivation.
  • Create custom options for plugins and activation and reset in deactivation.
  • Validate other dependent plugin on activation.
  • Any other necessary task you need to execute in activation.

Now we have discussed the importance of WordPress plugins for designers and its structure. From next part onwards we will be digging into the technical aspects of WordPress plugins.

Don’t be afraid of complex PHP or JavaScript codes since I will be covering all the necessary details about those codes in a simplified manner to suit web designers.

Time to Take the Poll

I mentioned that we will be covering the theories of WordPress Plugin Development for designers, by creating a complete plugin to integrate a jQuery slider. This tutorial series is meant for you and hence I want to know about your preferred slider instead of going with my favorite.

So make sure to vote for your favorite slider plugin as I’ll be using the most voted plugin for the development to this tutorial. ( Vote for Rhino Slider as it’s my favorite :))

Vote for Your Favorite Slider

Following is the list of sliders available for voting with preview images.

Coming Up

In the next part we will be digging into the actual code to learn the necessary functionality for creating a plugin. WordPress core functions needed to implement plugins will be discussed in detail from designers perspective. Throughout the next part we will be building a template for creating design based plugins. Until then I suggest that you read the following resources and get an ideas about plugin development.

You can grab a copy of the plugin here. The plugin does not include any functionality yet. So you can only see how it activates and deactivates using WordPress admin.

I have made my explanations in a simplified manner to suit web designers. Still I know that it can be difficult for designers who basically concentrate on HTML, CSS without considering JavaScript.

So let me know anything you didn’t understand through the comment section and I’ll get back to you with much more simplified explanations. Also let me know what is your preferred slider and why you voted for it.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

 

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