Level 2.0 was all about two menus: Settings and Tools. And today we are moving on to Level 3.0: WordPress Themes and Plugins. Do you know what makes themes and plugins interesting? Both of them are developed by third-parties.
Image Credit: Flickr
The idea of this article is to explain what different WordPress theme and plugin settings means to me and you.
First things first.
There’s every chance that you will come across few terms like WordPress Framework, Child Theme (also known as Skin), and WordPress Hooks to name a few. So let us just explore those terms before getting started.
WordPress, Themes, Framework, Child Theme
WordPress is like the engine of your car, WordPress Framework is like the frame and body of your car, and a Child Theme is like the paint job done on your car.
A decade back there was no such thing called WordPress Framework or Child Theme because then it was all about WordPress plus a Theme. That is, we install WordPress on our web server and install a theme of our choice. That’s it.
In the past few years, WordPress has evolved and became more popular with a developer base like never before. So, it led to the rise of WordPress Frameworks.
That is, WordPress theme makers started building a foundation (known as a framework) for their themes. And it means all the themes developed by a theme maker has the same core features (in terms of design, security, SEO. etc.).
It also enables developers to easily create a child theme (or a skin) for a specific framework without having to code from scratch.
WordPress Hooks lets you change the default functions or add your own functions without changing the core WordPress files. You can go here to learn more about it (if you’re not a coder then I hope it won’t make you sick).
Appearance lets you manage and customize your installed WordPress frameworks and themes.
“Themes” shows a list of all the WordPress themes (both active and inactive) that you have installed on your WordPress site. When you first install WordPress, the default theme will be active for you and then you can install and activate another theme of your choice.
Needless to say, WordPress themes are designed and developed by third-parties. You can click on a theme to get its details like author name, features, description, and a thumbnail preview. And it also lets you “Activate” or “Delete” or see a “Live Preview” of the theme with one-click.
You can add new themes by clicking on the “Add New” button. It takes you to the Theme Browser which displays all the free themes from the official WordPress Theme Directory.
You can either install a new theme from the Featured, Popular, Latest tab or can use the Feature Filter to pick a theme that matches your criteria.
Again, you can also use the “Upload Theme” button to install a theme that you have downloaded from the web (must be in .zip format). Or, you can manually upload a theme folder via FTP to your WordPress themes directory (www.example.com/wp-content/themes).
Once you install a new WordPress theme, you can preview it in real-time by clicking on the “Live Preview” button so that you will know exactly what to expect without activation.
The theme preview is fully interactive so you can browse different pages to see how it looks.
All the themes available in the official WordPress Theme Directory are absolutely free. If you are looking for a premium theme (or a paid theme) then there are thousands of them available.
“Customize” lets you to modify several aspects of your WordPress site in real-time. Some of the items that you can change this way are Site Title, Tagline, Color, Header, Background, Navigation Menus, Sidebar Widgets, etc.
As you change a setting, it’s immediately reflected on the preview (on the right frame). However, the options available for customization depends entirely on the currently active theme.
“Widgets” are more commonly known as sidebars because it was originally used to customize the sidebar (with search bar, popular posts, recent comments, etc.) of a WordPress site.
Today it’s also used to create and customize the homepage or inner-pages (when the theme is created to customize that way).
When you enter Widgets, it shows a list of “Available Widgets”, “Widget Area” (or active widgets), and “Inactive Widgets”.
Available Widgets shows all the individual widgets that you can use on your WordPress site. You can reuse the same widgets as many times as you want — provided the theme that you are using supports it.
The available widgets and the widget area depends upon the theme that is currently active. For instance, the widget page of the default WordPress theme looks like this:
And here are the widget areas of a WordPress theme whose homepage as well as the inner-pages are powered by widgets.
You can drag and drop widgets from one widget area to another. And when you have customized a widget you can click “Save” or can click “Delete” to permanently remove a widget that you no longer need.
WordPress also has an “Inactive Widgets” area and it’s like a reusable trash. You can drag and drop widgets from your active widget area to Inactive Widgets so that you can reuse it later (without losing the settings).
It’s particularly useful when you want to change your WordPress theme and keep the settings of your old widgets.
“Menus” are custom menus usually used to create the navigation and footer links (unless the theme supports more).
They are displayed in a predefined location by the theme hence you can’t change its location. But you can change the links or its sorting order from the “Edit Menus” by customizing the “Menu Structure”.
You can check the “Manage Locations” to see how many menus are supported by the theme and can assign a menu to a location.
Menus can also be added to the sidebar by using the “Custom Menu” widget. You can create as many menus as you want and then assign a menu to a location or can assign a single menu to all the locations.
Once you create a menu, you can add pages, posts, custom link, categories, tags, etc. (use Screen Options to make all the options visible) and can easily change its sort order by using drag and drop.
“Header” takes you to the ‘Customize’ screen where you can choose an image to set as your header.
It’s best to upload an image based on the “suggested image dimensions” as otherwise the header may not look like the way you want.
“Background” again takes you to the “Customize’ screen where you can choose an image to set as the background of your WordPress site.
“Editor” lets you edit the individual CSS and PHP files that make up your WordPress theme. When you click the “Editor” sub-menu on the left sidebar, it takes you to theme editor and it shows all the template files of your active WordPress theme.
You can edit another theme that you have installed by selecting it from the dropdown menu on the top right corner of the screen and clicking “Select”. It will show all the files associated with the theme that you have just selected.
Now, a word of caution. You are not supposed to edit files unless you are a coder or know what you are doing. Because if you code wrongly then it can cause the entire site to crash. You can go here to learn more about editing WordPress files.
Plugins extend the functionality of your WordPress site (just like we add new features and functions to a web browser like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox) with custom features.
Plugins are independently developed by third-party developers across the world.
8. Installed Plugins
Installed Plugins shows a list of all the plugins that you have installed and it even categorizes the plugins into All, Active, Inactive, and Update Available (plugins that are not up-to-date).
You can activate or deactivate an installed plugin from here. And if there is a new version of a plugin that you have already installed, then it will show an “update now” link.
9. Add New
There are over 40,000 plugins in the official WordPress Plugin Directory and you can install any of them using the plugin browser or the installer available in your WordPress dashboard.
If you know what you want then you can use the Search to find it. Or, you can browse the Featured, Popular, Recommended, or Favorites (favorite plugins of a particular WordPress.org user) to get an idea of what’s possible.
Additionally, you can browse the plugins based on the most popular tags by using the “Popular tags” section.
And if you want to install a plugin that you have downloaded from the web (like when you buy a premium plugin) then you can use the “Upload Plugin” button (must be in .zip format) or can upload it manually via FTP to your Plugins directory (www.example.com/wp-content/plugins).
“Editor” lets you modify the source code of the plugins that you have installed so that you can change the way it works. But when you update a plugin it will overwrite all your customizations, and then you would have to modify it again. So always have a backup of all your custom work.
Just select the plugin which you want to edit from the drop down menu on the top right corner of the Editor screen and click “Select”. It is very unlikely that you will need to edit a plugin file, unless there is a dire need to change something.
It’s themes and plugins that made WordPress this popular and flexible and it’s also the reason why so many WordPress developers exist.
If you haven’t already noticed, this blog post was the last part (or Level 3.0) of a WordPress Settings & Features series.
- 12 WordPress Settings & Features That You Should Know [Level 1.0]
- 9 WordPress Settings & Features That You Should Know [Level 2.0]
And no, I haven’t finished exploring WordPress. There’s more coming as there are a ton of other things that you want to know about WordPress.
If you have a query or maybe a ton of them, then let me know as a comment below. I am more than happy to answer you!
Happy Blogging! :)