What is WordPress, and How Does It Work?

Dec 06, 2018 Web Design Comments

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Web Design, Web Development,

The world of WordPress is actually quite vast. You see when I first heard about WordPress I initially thought it was just a five minute install and was quick and dirty way of getting a website running without code where you just buy a premium theme or “template”, and then just insert your website content into. I thought the whole practice was a quick and dirty way of getting a website up and running. However, to my surprise, there is a lot more you can do with WordPress then just install a premium theme. There is a whole world devoted to the development of WordPress, and when you actually become quite technically knowledgeable you can do a lot of good with it. Custom theme development is where you can really dive into WordPress, and built custom solutions that delight your clients, by offering optimal speed, performance, and security.

You see, WordPress is a content management system for websites designed to help people easily manage, maintain, and update their content with ease. Now let me dive in a bit deeper and tell you what exactly a content management system does. A content management system, or CMS for short, allows you to update your website’s content and information as well as publish new information a lot easier because you are working from a dashboard with a user interface as opposed to having to manually code everything from scratch in a text editor. You can update your site by simply logging into it, and then within a dashboard, edit existing articles and publish new posts.

Now just so you know there are many content management systems out there. However WordPress is the most popular CMS in the world today, taking up 33% of all websites on the market.

WordPress, a powerful CMS is taking up 33% of all websites in the world!

But what does this all mean to you? How exactly does WordPress work?

WordPress works in a simple way. It is a downloadable set of php files that you hook up with the rest of your site’s content. To install WordPress you can go to two online sources: WordPress.com offers you hosting and is meant for people less technically inclined to set up their own hosting themselves. However wordpress.com is quite limited and for serious users I would strongly suggest you go with wordpress.org.

WordPress.org allows you to download files to set up yourself, it is a little more difficult to set up initially, however it offers a lot more freedom and flexibility once you get up and running. Also the installation process from wordpress.org is fairly straight-forward for your common day web developers.

Here is a chart that compares the two:

WordPress.com vs WordPress.org
WordPress.com vs WordPress.org

Now for the meat and bones of WordPress. Let’s dive a bit deeper.

I have only worked with the wordpress.org version so I will speak from that experience but what I write about will also translate over to wordpress.com.

When you go to wordpress.org you will be asked to download a set of files, that’s it. These are a set of files that are written in a back-end programming language called php. When using these files your site will need to be hosted on a server that allows for back-end technology like php in order for it to work. Don’t worry though because almost all if not all shared hosting plans allow for php files to run on their server. I will not get into the technicalities of setting up these files on a server but I just wanted to point out what you get from wordpress.org initially.

Now I will explain how the structure works in WordPress. You see in WordPress there is a hierarchy system that you need to follow. This is called the WordPress Template Hierarchy, again I will spare you the technicalities, but basically what this means is that WordPress has a set structure for which you place your content into. This structure is quite flexible and will allow you to set up your website almost the exact way you want.

WordPress Template Hierarchy
WordPress Template Hierarchy

Within this structure there are naming conventions for your files as well as different types of pages. The most common two types of pages in WordPress are the posts and pages categories. Posts allow you to post a blog post to your site, while a page allows you to make and edit a page to your site. At its very basic level WordPress allows you to edit your own pages and posts from within the login or admin area without having to manually hardcode the differences in a text editor. This makes using the website a breeze. The posts you create are essentially your blog posts. They can also come in the form of custom posts such as a portfolio piece or image gallery item, however this requires the use of plugins that I will get into next.

There are many aspects of WordPress and really I am just skimming the surface here to give you a basic idea but I do want to give plugins a mention. WordPress can become highly customizable thanks to all the work in the community being done where you take a simple application, and turn it into a massive CMS powerhouse. To expand and extend the capabilities of WordPress many people use and install plugins. Most of these plugins are free but for some premium plugins they come with a fee. The plugins allow you to do various things such as add a contact form, help improve your SEO and search rankings, enable custom fields and create custom post types, add security features, help integrate other software with your site such as Google analytics. They can help integrate social media sharing buttons as well as an e-mail newsletter sign up. They can even turn your website into an e-commerce store. There are many more options, I’m just naming a few. Plugins have made this CMS very powerful and with the increasing popularity of WordPress on the market, it’s only going to keep growing.

The last and probably most important mention are WordPress themes.

WordPress themes are free and paid custom designs that allow you to install a pre-designed template from another designer and fill your website with your own custom content. This is alluding back to what I was first mentioning about WordPress, and that is that I don’t like the idea of just having all the website be based off of one theme. I still believe for the need of specific customization and working a theme to your specific needs. The more technically knowledgeable you are with WordPress and php code yourself, the more power you have to customize your website exactly as you see fit.

It is worth mentioning that all your design for your particular site will reside in a theme. Some of the content may be hard-coded inside the theme, and some of it may be added in dynamically through the WordPress user interface. This depends on the theme designer and how they have planned it out.

In closing this article I would recommend that if you are going to use WordPress, you should have a good familiarity with the basics of web design. You should be well rounded in html5 and css3, and have a basic knowledge of php and some JavaScript. This way when you use WordPress you will be a lot more comfortable with it and not run into too many problems.

Overall I recommend WordPress for small to medium sized projects and I see it now as a powerful content management tool. Used properly it can be a great way to power up your blogs and other type of websites.