What Are WordPress Plugins? And How Do They Work?

Often beginner users ask us what are WordPress plugins and how do they work? Plugins are an important part of the WordPress ecosystem, and they are essential for building great websites using WordPress. In this beginners guide, we will explain what are WordPress plugins and how do they work?

What Are WordPress Plugins? How Do They Work?

What Are WordPress Plugins?

WordPress plugins are apps that allow you to add new features and functionality to your WordPress website. Exactly the same way as apps do for your smartphone.

New plugins directory page on WordPress.org

There are more than 48,000 free plugins available right now on the WordPress.org plugin directory. Thousands more are available from third-party websites like Github.

On top of that, there are also thousands of premium WordPress plugins that are sold by individual developers and companies like ourselves.

In 2003, WordPress started as a simple tool to help you start a blog. Over the years, it has evolved into a powerful content management system and application framework, thanks primarily to plugins.

What Can WordPress Plugins Do?

WordPress plugins are small software apps that integrate and run on top of the WordPress software. This allows you to create almost any kind of website with WordPress (not just blogs).

For example, you can:

There is a popular saying in the WordPress community, “There is a plugin for that”.

No matter what you are trying to do on your WordPress site, it’s possible. If the feature is not available in default WordPress, then there is certainly a plugin available for that.

There are WordPress plugins to improve SEO, boost performance, add contact forms, social media buttons, create galleries, and so much more.

Plugins can be small and offer just one tiny little feature (like adding an image to sidebar).

Or they can also be quite large and act as their own platform as well (Example: WordPress eCommerce plugins or WordPress membership plugins).

More feature rich plugins can have their own addon plugins to extend them just like you would extend WordPress.

How WordPress Plugins Work?

WordPress is written in a way so that other developers can add their own code into it. The WordPress plugin API offers a robust set of hooks and filters which allow developers to modify existing WordPress functionality or add new functionality.

WordPress also allows developers to store data in the WordPress database. Plugins can utilize WordPress content types, taxonomies, and custom fields which allow users to store different types of content not just post and pages.

Each WordPress plugin installed on your site is registered in your WordPress database. You can activate and deactivate them at any time you want.

Installed WordPress plugins

Upon each visit, WordPress connects to the database, loads the core software, and then loads your active plugins. All this code is processed on your server and then sent to user’s browser.

How to Find WordPress Plugins and Install Them?

You can find free WordPress plugins by visiting WordPress.org plugin directory or you can also find them directly from your WordPress admin area.

Simply head over to Plugins » Add New page and search by typing plugin name or functionality you want to add.

Searching for plugins from WordPress admin area

WordPress will search the plugin directory and display the available plugins in a list. You need to review the results, and click on the install now button next to the plugin you want to install.

Reviewing and installing plugin from search results

However, search results inside the WordPress admin area are not always helpful because they are limited to free plugins only. Most beginners find it difficult to decide which plugin is best for the job.

Another approach is to look for plugin recommendations and tutorials on sites like WPBeginner.com. We have a WordPress plugins section where you can find the best WordPress plugins that we have thoroughly tested and reviewed.

You can also find WordPress plugins in our editor’s pick of the best WordPress plugins for business websites or checkout the plugins we are using on our website in the WPBeginner’s Blueprint.

More FAQs About WordPress Plugins

I cannot see or install plugins on my WordPress blog?

Most probably you are using WordPress.com. You can only install WordPress plugins on self-hosted WordPress.org websites. See our guide on the difference between self hosted WordPress.org vs free WordPress.com blog.

How many WordPress plugins are too many?

A common misconception among users is that too many plugins can slow down their website. It is NEVER too many plugins that are slowing down your site. It is always poorly coded plugins that degrade performance. For details see our guide on How many WordPress plugins should you install?.

Should I install plugins not tested with my WordPress version?

Sometimes authors of free plugins do not update their plugin files on each new WordPress release. Simply because if it works, then they don’t feel the need to update it. For more on this topic, see our article on installing plugins not tested with your WordPress version.

How to choose between free vs paid plugins?

There are thousands of free plugins and there is a good chance that you can find a free plugin offering the same functionality as a paid plugin. If it works good for you, then use it.

Please keep in mind that free plugins are offered as they are, with no warranties, and no promise of support. Plugin author can stop working on a plugin at anytime they want.

If you feel you will be needing lots of support, and you want regular updates, then paid plugins do a much better job at it.

We use a combination of both free and paid plugins on all our websites.

How do I get support for free WordPress plugins?

Free WordPress plugins are offered without the promise of support. However, most good plugins offer limited free support for their plugins through the official WordPress support forums. Simply visit the plugin page and click on the support tab to post your question.

Getting support for free WordPress plugins

For more on this topic, we recommend you take a look at our guide on how to properly ask for WordPress support and get it.

We hope this article helped you understand what are WordPress plugins and how do they work. You may also want to see our beginner’s guide on how to choose the best WordPress plugin.

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