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WordPress Plugins Explained

Category: WordPress

Ever wondered, “What is a WordPress plugin?”, “How does a WordPress plugin work?”, “What does it do?” or “Why does WordPress use plugins?”? If so, then read on to learn more about WordPress plugins.

What is a WordPress Plugin?

In its simplest form, a WordPress plugin is a PHP script that enables your WordPress-based site to do something more than it could without that script. A WordPress plugin extends functionality and does it so that site owners can easily enable it, disable it and configure settings to customize its behavior.

The largest repository of free WordPress plugins can be found on the website, though there are many paid plugin repositories like and Other places you’ll find plugins include,,,, and

The most popular plugins typically fall into one of these categories:

  • Data In / Data Out
  • E-Commerce
  • Performance / Caching
  • Security
  • SEO
  • Spam Control

How are WordPress Plugins Installed?

Though there are several different ways of installing, the most common way of adding a WordPress plugin is by:

  • Logging in to the admin area of WordPress
  • Selecting Plugins
  • Searching for a plugin by name of function
  • Once found, clicking on Install, then Activate
  • Some plugins will require configuration, but others will run straight out of the box

We also have a guide to show you in more detail the 3 common ways to install plugins in WordPress.

How do WordPress Plugins Integrate with Core Functions?

WordPress has been built with an Application Programming Interface (API) which allows plugins to tie into many of the activities of WordPress and range from page initialization to just before comments are loaded to just after something is posted. There are massive numbers of points in the system where plugins can tap into and work their magic, all based on how the developer has coded them.

Plugins can use WordPress hooks – code that allows plugins to tie into procedures without actually changing them. It’s a bit like a prompt that nudges functions (code) into action when another bit of code is executed.

There are two types of hooks, filter hooks and action hooks.

Action Hooks

Just as the name implies, a WordPress action hook is when code does something when triggered. In other words, when the hook event fires, the action is performed.

Filter Hooks

Rather than performing an action when triggered, a filter hook is designed to modify data. For example, a filter hook can rewrite text on the screen, changing greetings, titles, form fields and just about anything displayed to web visitors.

For more information, check out our guides to the WordPress database, comments, hooks, handy plugins, and more throughout the knowledge base, blog and forums.