Practical Tips From Top WordPress Pros Recently I shared with you some advice from the WordPress community to beginners. But what if starting out is already a dim memory? What if you’re already so immersed in the world of WordPress that you dream of Trac and you bore your partner with talk of your latest achievement with custom post types?
Below are some tips from WordPress pros from across the community. Many of the tips cover development, but there’s also advice on business, running your website and, of course, getting involved with the community.
Image: Phil Oakley
Tips For Developers
USE EVERYTHING WORDPRESS HAS TO OFFER
WordPress’ core can do a lot for you, without you having to write a bunch of code. WordPress is much more powerful when you make use of its APIs and built-in functionality. “If you use WordPress as your framework,” says Trent Lapinski, “it will enable you to focus on developing an innovative plugin or theme.”
Matty Cohen recommends always looking for and using functionality available within WordPress before creating a function from scratch. “Examples of this include, at the higher level, using the WordPress Settings API and, at the lower level, using the
media_handle_upload() function to upload your files, rather than a custom upload routine.” Matty gives an example of this with his WooSlider plugin. In order to create a familiar and consistent experience for WooThemes users, he did the following:
- He used the Settings API for the settings screen.
Making use of everything WordPress has to offer results in less coding for you and a better overall experience for users. But those aren’t the only benefits. Amy Hendrix points out that the code you write will be future-proof. Writing your own scripts could eventually result in conflicts.
Hooks are the means by which you hook into WordPress and add your own code without modifying core files. There are two types of hooks: actions and filters. Action hooks are places where you can insert and run code. Filters are used to manipulate output.
If you’re working with WordPress’ core and with plugins and themes, then you should be extending by making use of all of the hooks available. Adam Brown maintains a list of all of the hooks that have ever appeared in WordPress.
Create your own hooks. By implementing hooks in your plugins and themes, you create opportunities for other people to extend them and create add-ons. Shane Pearlmanbelieves that by doing so, you “encourage plugin developers to make opportunities for the community to extend and also use them.”
Not only does this create opportunities for other developers, but you make life easier for yourself. “With a ‘well-hooked’ theme or plugin,” says Simon Wheatley, “you can make adjustments between clients, or between sites on a multisite setup, a lot more easily than by effectively forking your own code for every scenario.”
WRITE SECURE CODE
If you write plugins or themes, keeping the code secure is critical. How bad would you feel if your code was responsible for websites getting hacked? Brad Williamsrecommends learning how data validation pertains to WordPress. A detailed page on data validation can be found in the Codex; so, if you’re a developer, you have no excuse for writing insecure WordPress plugins and themes. Following the guidelines will ensure that your code is safe and secure from exploits and hacks. As Ryan Hellyer points out, “Having a beautiful website which does exactly what a client requires is great, but it’s not so great when it gets injected with spam links and is de-indexed from search engines!”
FOLLOW BEST PRACTICES
Ryan Duff and Brad Williams highlight some best practices that developers should stick to:
- Make sure the data that you’re passing is always being passed in the way it’s expected to. Setting a variable on an incorrect line could result in a trickle-down effect of error messages.
- WordPress has coding standards, so stick to them. This will keep your code in a format that all WordPress developers will recognize, making bug tracking much easier!
EMBRACE THE CODE BASE
Both Helen Hou-Sandi and Jake Goldman of 10up recommend that you spend time looking at the code base. As Jake points out, “Relying on the Codex and Google searches for solving unique problems with WordPress is like trying to tune a car’s performance without ever looking under the hood.” Rachel Baker also suggests looking at the change logs, and Silviu-Cristian Burcă points us to his advice in “How to Become a WordPress Guru.”
A good integrated development environment (IDE) for PHP — such as NetBeans, PhpStorm, phpDesigner or Vanilla Eclipse — will offer code auto-completion for WordPress functions and their arguments and will display documentation on functions inline. You’ll be able to easily jump to function and class declarations to study them. “Think the core code base is too scary?” asks Jake. “Pick a file in
wp-includes and start reading — you might be surprised by how approachable it is, and how much you can learn.”
Looking at the code, as Helen adds, also increases the likelihood that you’ll find a way to contribute code to the WordPress project. You’ll also become familiar with plugins and themes, understand how people do things properly, and recognize when they get it wrong.
SHARE YOUR CODE
It’s in the nature of code in an open-source project to be shared, forked and iterated on. If you’re working on solutions, then share them with the community. “Share and publish your solutions, as a plugin, widget or theme,” says Cátia Kitahara. “Not for every project, but with most of them, we end up with a solution that could be of use to many others. So, do it as a way of giving back to the community. I know it takes time to prepare something to be distributed through the repositories, but remember the time WordPress saves for us!”
“GitHub’s got a very different culture, and the ability for anyone to submit a pull request is a real game changer. It really lowers the barrier to contribute, and democratizes the entire plugin authoring experience. As a bonus, use GitHub’s built-in wiki functionality to maintain your plugin’s documentation (especially FAQ), so that anyone, even non-technical users, can contribute.
Lastly, if you have plugin tests, integrate with Travis CI so that you can automatically test pull requests before merging. To help you get started, a handful of tools are out there, such as GitHub → WordPress.org deployment scripts and GitHub wiki → WordPress readme converters.”
Eric Mann points out that if you’ve built your project in isolation, then you’re likely missing out on different approaches. Sharing your code with people gives them the opportunity to point out how it can be improved. WordPress itself is built collaboratively and is the result of hundreds of minds looking at it from different perspectives. If you want your code to excel, you should be sharing it, too.
USE CUSTOM POST TYPES
Taking advantage of custom post types for specific use cases is a great way to leverage WordPress. At the Theme Foundry, Drew Strojny has three custom post types: themes, stories and tutorials. This enables members of his team to quickly find and create content.
Drew recommends making custom post types even more flexible by adding custom meta data. This enables you to style your content and provides opportunities to reuse that meta data across your website. He provides the example of the meta data he uses with the “Story” post type in use on his “Customer Stories” page.
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