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The Importance Of Plugin Quality

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Plugins are the one of the main reasons why WordPress became so popular. Being able to extend the functionality of the platform beyond a CMS gave it the edge over many alternatives. Which is why it is can be confusing to WordPress beginners when they read that they should not install too many plugins. Surely plugins are what WordPress is all about?

Ryan Imel from WP Candy recently wrote a great article about this issue recently entitled ‘Stop telling users they shouldn’t be running very many plugins‘. He rightly points out that the number of plugins you have installed is irrelevant (Jeff Chandler also noted that it’s about the quality of plugins, not the quantity).

What does matter is the nature of the plugins themselves. If the plugins are properly coded and serve their individual purposes well, then it shouldn’t matter even if you have one hundred of them active. If the plugins are big, bloated, and poorly written then you could run into a problem with only two active. The key here is the number of active plugins is unimportant; only the quality matters.

When you are trying to enhance your website in some way you have two options: you can either add the functionality directly by adding the functions to your templates or you can install a plugin. If every plugin you install is perfectly coded then you shouldn’t have any problems. What you need to remember is that from a end user point of view there isn’t any difference; it’s the same code. It’s irellevant whether you display your latest posts with a recent posts widget or by using the same code from the plugin file in your sidebar.php template.

With a plugin, you have the option of switching off certain functionality on your website whenever you want (and back on); this is incredibly useful when changing themes or when changing things about on your site. When something is hard coded you need to save the code somewhere for future reference before you delete it.

Too Many WordPress Plugins?

I do understand where this theory of ‘too many plugins is bad for your website’ comes fom. The more plugins you have installed on your website, the more chance there is that a plugin conflicts with another plugin and causes your site to break. You need to remember, there is no difference to installing functionality via a plugin against adding the functionality manually.

Advanced WordPress themes are a great example of this. Many developers try and make their designs more user friendly for clients and customers. In order to add all these additional features they have to call more functions from the template files e.g. recent posts, popular posts, related posts, contact forms etc. The problem is, the more functionality they add to their theme, the more likely things are to break when their customers install a plugin. Anyone who has used a WordPress theme framework will have experienced this problem before (which is why many theme framework developers now try and make sure their themes don’t clash with popular WordPress plugins).

The way in which people use WordPress plugins also contributes to this myth. Many WordPress users have the bad habit of installing two or three plugins at a time. They don’t check their website for any problems after installing and they don’t check the quality of the code either. Compare this to when someone adds functionality to their website directly and looks over the code and checks their website after they have updated their template.

Another problem with plugins is outdated code. If a plugin hasn’t been updated for a long time then there is a chance that it will conflict with either WordPress or another plugin. Though it should be noted that there are plugins from 2008 that still work perfectly and there are others from 2010 which don’t work with WordPress due to features that WordPress added to core functionality.

Quality WordPress Plugins

Regular readers of WP Mods will know that I’m a huge fan of plugins. The number of plugins used to power this site varies from month to month however at the moment I have 36 installed; some which enhance the live site in some way, some which provide stats and others which improve the backend functionality.

I have to agree with Ryans sentiments about this whole issue. It’s about the quality of the plugins you have installed rather than the number of plugins you are using.

I recommend all WordPress users to:

  • Check that a plugin is updated regularly before installing. If the plugin has been updated within the last few months, it probably works correctly with the latest version of WordPress. If it hasn’t been updated in over a year, you should test the plugin out in a test area (if you can’t find any up to date alternatives).
  • heck that the plugin is welll supported. I am much more inclined to install premium plugins and plugins with great documentation because I know if anything goes wrong I won’t be on my own. For example, just a few days ago I had to contact Chris from SevenSpark because the UberMenu plugin we used on the WP Mods navigation menu was clashing with another plugin I recently installed. He quickly advised switching off one of the jQuery settings I had turned on and the problem was resolved. If I didn’t have this kind of support, the end result could be choosing between the two conflicting plugins and deciding which one is more important.
  • Check comments from other plugin users. If you see lots of complaints on the developers website or on the WordPress discussion forums then I advise giving it a miss – it could be more hassle than it’s worth.
  • Only install one plugin at a time and make sure you check that every aspect of your website is working correctly once it is activated.
  • If your website breaks after you upgrade WordPress, deactivate all plugins and reactivate them one by one. If you are unfortunate enough to get the white screen of death, all you need to do is download all of your plugins from the wp-content/plugins/ folder via FTP to your computer. You then need to delete all the plugins from wp-content/plugins/ (again, via FTP). This deactivates all plugins for you (which you wouldn’t have been able to do before beause of the white screen of death). Once you have done so you can re-upload all plugins and then re-activate them one by one until you find which plugin(s) is causing the error.
  • Review your plugins periodically. If you aren’t using a plugin anymore or could do without it, remove it. The same goes for your template files. Remove redundant code from your templates and any unused classes from your stylesheet.

Over the last few years, whenever I have reported an error, speed or memory issue about a site of mine, my hosting company have asked for temporary admin access to check my WordPress settings. They nearly always start the conversation off by noting that I have a lot of plugins installed. This usually stalls the resolution process until I point that those plugins are installed on some of my other websites and aren’t causing any issues there.

What many people within the community need to realise is that all plugins are not created equal; there is a large gap in quality between the plugins that are available to you. Put simply; there are good plugins and there are bad plugins, so don’t be put off from installing a plugin because you think you have too many installed already.

By the same token, don’t install a plugin that gives you more features than you need if you can achieve what you want with a small piece of code. For example, I added Facebook comments to WP Mods last week. The plugin Facebook Comments For WordPress made this task easy by automatically inserting comments into the single.php template whilst hiding the default WordPress comment form. However, the main reason I wanted to use the plugin was for the included ‘Recent Facebook Comments’ widget. Unfortunately, I found that the plugin didn’t work. As I didn’t need the rest of the plugins features, I decided to integrate Facebook comments manually. All it took was one line of code in the header and 3 lines of code in the single.php code.

I’d be interested in hearing how many plugins you all have installed on your site. Did you see an increase in plugin conflicts after installing more plugins on your site?

Thanks for reading :)

Kevin

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Comments (2)

Comment by Kevin Muldoon says:

Yeah I have some plugins like that too which I periodically activate to do some task and then I deactivate them again.

Comment by AstroGremlin says:

I have 43 plugins installed. Some like Broken Link Checker I activate only for checks and then deactivate. I am pleased to hear that it is not the number but the quality that determines whether plugins create a burden.

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