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The Beginner’s Guide to WordPress Plugins: How to Find, Use and Manage Plugins

The Beginner’s Guide to WordPress Plugins: How to Find, Use and Manage Plugins

No WordPress website is complete without plugins. They were introduced in version 1.2 of the webmaster-favored content management system (CMS). Since then, each subsequent version of WordPress has supported plugins. While WordPress doesn’t require them, plugins are an invaluable tool for building and customizing a website.

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What Are Plugins

Plugins are interchangeable software applications for WordPress. They are designed to add new features or alter WordPress’s existing and default features.

Some plugins protect against brute-force cyber attacks by limiting login attempts and introducing a CAPTCHA to the admin page. Other plugins improve search engine optimization (SEO) by automatically setting canonical URLs and adding new fields for custom meta tags. There are tens of thousands of plugins available, each of which serves a different purpose.

Themes, of course, may come with the same features as certain plugins. Many themes have built-in features that mimic the features of plugins. If a desired feature isn’t included in your website’s theme, though, you can add it with a plugin.

You won’t have to change your website’s current theme, nor will you have to mess with your website’s code. To add a new feature to your website, or to alter an existing feature, you just need to install and activate a plugin.

How to Find Plugins

You can search for plugins from the dashboard. Selecting the “Plugins” tab will display a list of all plugins that are currently installed on your website. In the top-left corner of this page is an “Add New” button that, when clicked, will allow you to search for plugins. You can enter a keyword, such as SEO, in the search field to search for relevant plugins.

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Keep in mind that searching for plugins from the dashboard will only reveal those listed in the official plugin repository. WordPress has a directory in which it lists plugins that are available to download. Known as the official plugin repository, it consists exclusively of free-to-use plugins that have been checked by WordPress’s developers.

You can find plugins outside of the official plugin repository. Available at wphive.com, WP Hive is an alternative, unofficial plugin repository. And there are other unofficial plugin repositories. Some of them only list free-to-use plugins, whereas others list both free-to-use and premium plugins.

How to Install a Plugin

To use a plugin, you’ll need to install it from the dashboard or by uploading it to the plugin directory, followed by activating it. The former method requires clicking the “Install Now” button. When you perform a plugin search from the dashboard, you should see this button next to all relevant plugins. The only plugins that won’t have an “Install Now” button are those that aren’t compatible with your website’s WordPress version.

If you search for plugins directly in the official repository or in an unofficial repository — as opposed to using the dashboard — you’ll have to download them and then upload them to the plugin directory on your website’s server. The plugin directory is part of WordPress’s core file architecture. You can find it in the “wp-content” folder. All of a plugin’s files must be uploaded to the plugin directory in this folder.

You can also upload plugins to the plugin directory from the dashboard, regardless of whether you found them from the dashboard. Selecting the “Add New” button under the “Plugins” tab will display a search field as well as a new “Upload Plugin” button in the top-left corner.  When uploading plugins from the dashboard, don’t worry about uncompressing them. Plugins are compressed in the ZIP format by default. You can upload a plugin’s ZIP file from the dashboard, and WordPress will uncompress the plugin to reveal all of its individual files.

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How to Activate a Plugin

Installing a plugin alone won’t make it live. Rather, you’ll need to activate it. A plugin is considered installed if its files are located in the plugin directory and WordPress is able to recognize it. Clicking the “Install Now” button after searching for a plugin or manually uploading a plugin’s files will install it. The plugin, however, won’t affect your website until you activate it.

You can activate an installed plugin by selecting the “Plugins” tab from the dashboard. Just click the “Activate” button directly below the name of the plugin. Alternatively, you can deactivate a plugin by clicking the “Deactivate” button. Installed but inactive plugins will feature an “Activate” button, whereas installed and activate plugins will feature a “Deactivate” button.

There’s also an option to delete plugins. Deleting a plugin will completely remove all of its files from the plugin directory.

Manual vs Automatic Updates

Like themes, plugins require updating. Developers release new versions of their plugins on a regular basis. Developers may have to modify their plugins so that they are compatible with the latest WordPress version, or they may modify their plugins to fix bugs or improve performance.

You’ll need to update plugins when new versions of them are available. You can update all plugins manually from the dashboard. The “Plugins” tab will show all of the plugins that are currently installed on your website. Whether a plugin is active or inactive, it will feature an “update now” button if there’s a new version available for it.

Instead of updating them manually, you may want to configure plugins to update automatically. WordPress supports automatic updates for themes and plugins alike. To configure a plugin for automatic updates, click the “enable auto-updates” button next to the right of the plugin’s name.

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Automatic updates will ensure that your website always runs the latest version of its plugins.

Not all plugins are eligible for automatic updates. While WordPress supports automatic updates, developers must code this feature into their plugins. If a plugin isn’t eligible for automatic updates, you’ll have to update it manually.

Plugins provide a simple way to customize WordPress features. They are software applications that are integrated into the CMS’s core files. By using plugins, you can add new features or alter existing features while retaining your website’s existing theme.

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