What Is A Plugin?

27th June, 2016 by

You should know your Plugins to make the most of your WordPress website!

As website building platforms go, WordPress is highly impressive. Customisable frameworks and hugely diverse interfaces have made this open source content management system a firm favourite with companies and individuals around the world. Launched in 2003, it now supports tens of millions of websites, including the official sites for Katy Perry, Ford and Spotify.

As an open source platform, amateur coders and IT managers are free to create their own additions to the ‘basic’ WordPress platform. There are no restrictions on what can be created – within the laws of decency, of course – and these pieces of additional code can then be shared with other users and the thriving WordPress community. An entire industry has developed around these plugins, so named because they slot effortlessly into the WordPress platform and build upon its existing framework.

To date, over 44,000 plugins have been created, collectively expanding the scope of WordPress far beyond anything envisaged by its creators. Almost all of these plugins can be searched for and downloaded through the WordPress.org website; many are available for free, although others command licence fees costing hundreds of pounds. Some plugins handle eCommerce – from credit card authorisation to order completion – while others govern social media interaction or relate to display and design elements. Hundreds of plugins have been created to cater for the explosion in mobile internet access and the challenges of displaying content on small screens, while one of the most popular categories of plugins concerns security features. From two factor authentication to firewalls and real-time monitors, these pieces of code can be combined or replaced at will in response to the ever-changing threat levels against websites.

One of the less heralded genres of widgets involves WordPress cache plugins. These help to minimise the loading times that can lose customers before they even reach your site’s homepage – a number of surveys have suggested web users will abandon a site that hasn’t displayed within three seconds. In the age of 4G and FTTP broadband, such delays are increasingly attributable to inefficient coding or large file sizes rather than packet loss or limited access speeds.

A WordPress cache plugin is a dynamic HTML file saved in the temporary cache folder of a device, which can be summoned more quickly than loading the original page over the internet from scratch. Cached content can include images, files, text and even entire pages. Since WordPress.org is believed to underpin a quarter of the world’s websites, and loading speed is now a crucial factor in determining search engines rankings, a variety of WordPress cache plugins have been created to service this industry.

One example of a WordPress cache plugin is WP Rocket, whose rich portfolio of features includes GZIP file compression and image loading in response to users scrolling down the page, saving bandwidth if they don’t. W3 Total Cache is a highly regarded performance optimisation tool with a remarkable degree of customisation options, while Comet Cache reduces processing time by intuitively caching every page, image or link to minimise the reassembly of pre-visited pages.

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