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WordPress 3.9 Crash Course – Part 27 – Understanding WordPress Plugins

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The next thing I want to talk about in this WordPress 3.9 Crash Course are WordPress plugins.

What is a Plugin?

So what’s a plugin? A plugin is a module that adds functionality to your site. Remember the widget was a module that adds content to a page? This is a module that adds functionality to your site but it doesn’t necessarily display anything on a page.

For example, if you’re using a backup plugin like BackupBuddy or you’re using a Sitemap plugin like Google XML Sitemaps, you know those things have nothing to do with the displaying content. They are on the backside of the site and they’re doing other things.

However, some plugins can add content. For example, this slider right here, is a WordPress plugin. So the slider that’s cycling through these pages is done via a plugin. This is a photo gallery using the NextGen gallery and these are displayed using a plugin. So plugins can add content but they don’t have to.

The Plugin Dashboard

We’re going to start by looking at the plugin dashboard. On the plugin dashboard you can see here that I only have one plugin installed and it’s not particularly interesting. So let’s come back over here to this site and look at this plugins dashboard.

We’ll look at installed plugins and this plugin dashboard is full. I have 47 plugins, actually I have 62 plugins, 47 of them are active, 15 are inactive and 15 have updates available to them. You can use these links here to scroll through or to browse your plugins.

Change the Display to Active or Inactive Plugins

For example, right now we’re displaying all plugins both active and inactive. If we want to just see the active plugins click on active and this shows me all of the active plugins I have working. If we want to look at all the inactive plugins, this shows me them. Then if I want to look at all the plugins that have updates available to them I can click on this one.

Identify the Status of Plugins

Let’s come back and look at all the plugins. There’s some color coding here to help you figure out whether one is active or deactivated, whether it’s current or it has an update. So this plugin here, because it’s got a pink background and a red line, is an active plugin that has an update available to it.

This one here, because it has a light blue background and a blue line, is an active plugin without an update to it. This plugin has a white background and no line and this is an inactive plugin. It’s not activated, you can even see the button that says Activate. It’s not an active plugin and it also does not have an update available to it.

Let’s see if we can find this one Export User Data, this is an inactive plugin but it does have an update available to it because it’s got the little circle here. So that’s your little bit of color coding that gives you a visual clue as to the status of your plugins.

Selecting Plugins, Bulk Actions

You can select all of your plugins by clicking on this little button right there. When you do that, that selects all of the plugins on this page. Then you can do a bulk action. You could activate, deactivate, update or delete except that you can’t delete a plugin that’s active, you have to deactivate it first.

When troubleshooting things, this is a very quick way to say deactivate your plugins. Let’s come over here to active plugins and click that. We can say deactivate, apply and we can deactivate all of our active plugins quickly which will help us troubleshoot problems.

There is a new category here and that is recently active plugins. We can click back over to the recently active, click the bulk action, hit activate and reactivate all those same plugins that we just deactivated and do it all in one fell swoop.

Plugins Status

Each one of these little squares is called the plugins status. This little checkbox lets you select it. It has the name of the plugin and it has a description of the plugins, some of which are brief and some of them are long. It has action links and the action links on the typical activated plugin are deactivate and edit.

Now as a practical matter, you are never going to need to click edit. This is really only for programmers and you as a regular WordPress user are never going to edit these files and so there’s never any reason for you to click on edit.

However, sometimes these things have settings and you can click on settings to bring you to a settings screen, that’s always possible but these are your action ones. You have the deactivate action on an active one, you have the activate or delete actions on an inactive plugin. So the action links are different depending upon whether it’s active or inactive.

In addition to that, you have the plugin author’s name. This is a link to the plugin author’s home page so here’s the plugin author’s home page and a link to the plugin site so that you can get to their support site that sort of thing. This is the typical content of a plugin status box.

Updating a Plugin

As a general rule you should regularly update your plugins. It’s quite easy to update a plugin and right now I’m going to update this plugin here. I can do it simply by clicking “Update Now”. It downloads, it unpacks, it installs and the plugin was updated successfully. The plugin was reactivated successfully so I can return to the plugin page and it’s done.

Do a Site Backup Before Updating Plugins

Something to bear in mind is that you should plan on backing your site up before you update your plugins. This means you need a real simple system like BackupBuddy for backing your site up. I have a couple of seminars on backing up a WordPress website. They are How to Backup Your Site Manually, How to Backup Your Site Automatically, and  Backup, Restore, Clone and Migrate a Site Using BackupBuddy.

Backing up your site is a critical step because if something’s going to go wrong on your site, generally speaking it’s going to go wrong either in the process of an update or because of an update. So it’s critical to have a backup that you can easily restore your site to the place prior to updating.

You shouldn’t be afraid to update and to help with that you should have a very easy backup system so that you can backup and then update and go on your merry way.

Why You Should Update Your Plugins

It’s important to update your plugins because plugins are updated for bug fixes and they’re updated for security problems. There are a number of reasons why a plugin is updated and one of the most common causes of hacking a website is the existence of old unupdated plugins on your site. So please keep your plugins up to date and back your site up.

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