WordPress powers over 43.3% of all the websites on the Internet, so one in four websites that you visit are likely powered by WordPress. The main reason is that WordPress is incredibly flexible software used to create all types of websites, such as small one-page landing sites, large e-commerce stores, and everything in between.
However, if WordPress included everything needed to build any kind of website you could imagine, it would be bloated, complex and confusing. Therefore, WordPress’ ‘core’ is kept deliberately streamlined and only features useful to the vast majority of users.
Getting your WordPress site to look and function exactly how you want it will require additional features and functionality, ranging from the simple to the complex.
This is where plugins and themes come in. These are add-ons that enable you to customize the appearance and functionality of your WordPress site. With the help of these tools, you can build your website to your exact vision, and give your visitors the best experience possible. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at WordPress plugins and themes, and how they work. We’ll also show you how to add them to your website. Let’s jump in!
What are WordPress themes?
WordPress themes are designed to address your website’s appearance. This includes your site’s design, layout, colors, navigation, and everything else involved in its overall look and feel. Although you can install many themes, your WordPress site can only have one theme active at a time. Visitors to your site will use Desktops, Notbooks, Tablets and Mobiles. Your active theme will govern your site’s appearance based on your visitors device,
What are WordPress plugins?
While themes alter your website’s design, plugins are designed to add new features and functionality to your site. In simpler terms, themes affect what your site looks like, and plugins affect what your site can do. This means plugins can’t be as easily categorised, since there are solutions for just about any functionality you can imagine.
Some plugins focus on adding one specific feature to your site. Contact Form 7 is a perfect example, letting you build customizable forms and embed them on your pages. Other plugins, such as Jetpack or Wordfence, provide a variety of helpful tools and functionalities. No matter what you’d like your site to do, there’s usually a plugin to help get the job done. If not, there are developers that code custom plugins specific to your requirements.
WordPress, the versatile content management system (CMS) that powers a significant portion of the internet, owes much of its flexibility to the vast array of plugins and themes available to users. These tools, ranging from essential functionalities to aesthetic enhancements, can be broadly categorized into two main types: commercial and free. Understanding the nuances of these categories, their updates, and their potential impacts on your website is essential for any WordPress user.
What are Free Plugins and Themes?
Free plugins and themes are available for WordPress through the official WordPress plugin and theme directories, as well as various other sources. These are often developed by the community, independent developers, or even companies as a way to contribute to the WordPress ecosystem. They are typically open-source and can be used freely without any direct cost.
Many free plugins and themes are developed by independent developers or small teams who may not have the resources to thoroughly test and refine their themes. As a result, the themes may contain bugs and may be lacking in security and quality.
Overall, while there are many high-quality free WordPress plugins and themes available, it is important for users to carefully evaluate the quality and functionality of a theme before installing it on their website. Using a reputable and well-maintained theme can help to ensure that the website is reliable and secure.
What are Commercial Plugins and Themes?
Commercial plugins and themes for WordPress are typically developed by third-party companies or individuals who charge a fee for their products. These products often come with more advanced features, dedicated customer support, and sometimes integration with other premium services. They are usually sold under licenses that restrict usage to a certain number of websites or for a specific period.
Imagine you’re building an e-commerce site on WordPress and you need an advanced payment gateway integration to provide a seamless shopping experience. This is where commercial plugins and themes come into play. Developed by third-party companies or skilled individuals, these products offer a plethora of premium features and dedicated customer support. Think of them as the high-end options in the WordPress world.
However, these perks come at a cost. Commercial plugins and themes are usually sold under licenses that stipulate usage restrictions, often tied to the number of websites you can deploy them on or a defined subscription period. For instance, the popular plugin “WooCommerce Subscriptions” offers subscription-based product offerings but requires a valid license to access updates and support. Let’s delve into the intriguing aspect of updates.
What are Plugin and Theme updates?
Updates are the lifeblood of any software, and WordPress plugins and themes are no exception. Regular updates bring a trifecta of benefits: bolstered security, seamless compatibility, and polished performance. In the realm of commercial tools, these updates are closely tied to licenses. Here’s where the licensing narrative gets interesting. When you purchase a license for a commercial product, you’re not just buying the initial functionality; you’re gaining access to a stream of updates and often a dedicated support channel.
Consider the example of a premium WordPress theme that you’ve integrated into your photography portfolio website. The theme’s developers consistently release updates that refine its performance, squash bugs, and fortify security measures. However, these updates are available only as long as your license is active. Once the license period expires, you might lose out on future updates until you renew it.
Why are updates so crucial, regardless of whether you’re using commercial or free plugins and themes? Think of them as the virtual guardians of your website’s well-being. Here’s why:
- Security Shields: Updates frequently encompass security patches, shielding your website from potential vulnerabilities. Ignoring updates is akin to leaving a backdoor open for hackers.
- Compatibility Harmony: WordPress, plugins, and themes evolve over time. Updates ensure that your tools work harmoniously, preventing clashes that could render your website dysfunctional.
- Flawless Performance: Bugs are part and parcel of software development. Updates not only eradicate these bugs but also fine-tune the overall performance of your plugins and themes.
The Perils of Neglect: What Can Go Wrong Without Updates
Picture this: you run a travel blog powered by WordPress, and your choice of plugins includes a popular booking calendar plugin. You’ve been swamped with other tasks and missed a series of update prompts. Here’s what could unfold:
- Compromised Security: Outdated plugins and themes could harbor known vulnerabilities that hackers exploit, potentially compromising sensitive user data or wreaking havoc on your site’s functionality.
- Incompatibility Chaos: Failing to update could result in compatibility issues with newer versions of WordPress or other plugins. This might lead to error messages, broken pages, or even a complete site crash.
- Sluggish Experience: Unaddressed bugs could slow down your website, frustrating visitors and diminishing user experience. A laggy site could drive away potential readers or customers.
The update process
Some updates are simple and straight forward. You simply login as administrator and perform an updates with a few click of a button. Its important to understand and get get an overview of the reason for the update. In some cases it amy be adressing bug fixes, in other cases it may be a new feature, or a complete re-write of and existing function. It helps determine if during the update, you require a specific configuration or compatibility check before updating.
This is important because sometimes what may appear to be a simple update, make completely break your website. It is not unreasonable to backup your entire site prior to performing any updates, so that if things go wrong you can sfaely restore your site.
Updating free Plugins and Themes
Free plugin and theme updates are available for WordPress through the official WordPress plugin and theme repositories and all support updtaes without licensing or additional cost.
They also support automatic updates which means that when a new version is available, the plugin can be updated in your WordPress site without any additional licenses or cost.
Updating Commercial Plugins and Themes
Commercial plugin and theme updates are tied to a valid license. Users need to purchase a license for a defined period (such as one year) to receive updates and support. Once the license expires, users lose access to updates and support until they renew. Some commercial plugins and themes will require you to configure and use a license key to have access to perform updates. This means that when a new version is available, the plugin can be updated on your WordPress site subject to an active license and access to updates and support.
Some commercial plugins and themes only support automatic updates. This usually requires you to configure a license key or have have you site activated via an API.
Some commercial plugins and themes only support manual updates. Manual updates will require extra steps to process, such as loggin in to the devlopers site and downloading the updates manually. Once downloaded you need to then manually upload them to your site and process the update. Some updates will require specific configuration or compatibility checks before updating.
In summary, the difference between commercial and free plugins and themes lies in their cost and licensing models. Updates for both types are important for security, compatibility, and performance reasons. Without regular updates, the risk of security vulnerabilities, incompatibilities, and performance issues increases. The more updates you miss, the more the risk is.
It would be good if you could get updated every time there is an update available on your site. Maybe, not so good if you have 50 plugins and you have a busy life.
For free plugins and themes there is usually a notification that an update is available on the dashboard when you are logged in as an administrator to your WordPress site.
For commercial plugins and themes don’t rely on being notified that there is an update available. Not all commercial plugins and themes support this, so you will need to periodically perform a weekly check to make sure you have the latest version installed.
Whether you’re harnessing the power of commercial or free plugins and themes, updates stand as the pillars of a secure, efficient, and well-functioning website. They’re not just about keeping up with the latest trends; they’re about safeguarding your digital real estate and providing a seamless experience for your visitors.
Remember, the WordPress ecosystem is a dynamic landscape, and regularly nurturing it through updates is an investment in the sustained success of your online endeavors.