WordPress is the most used website builder and content management system (CMS) in the world, claiming more than half the global CMS market and powering nearly 15 percent of the world’s top 100 websites. Free and easy to install for users ranging from absolute beginners to seasoned web developers, the three core components of this open source platform combine in nearly limitless ways to create websites of all kinds, from small personal blogs to the complex sites of large enterprises like Sony Corp and Time Inc. Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know about how WordPress works—and how anyone can use it to build an appealing full-featured site for business or personal use.
WordPress: Site Building for Everyone
WordPress was created in 2003 for bloggers—a free set of PHP coded files that, its developers hoped, would help to make online publishing accessible to anyone, even if they didn’t know anything about coding or site design. They also went a step farther, licensing WordPress as open source software so that the core code that provides the basic structure for a WordPress site could be modified and shared by any user, at any time. And to allow users without coding experience to use and customize a basic WordPress site, they added two more essential elements: themes and plugins.
In the years since then, WordPress has become the site builder and CMS of choice for more than 90 million sites around the world—with uses far beyond blogging. WordPress now powers sites in just about every business and professional niche, with users ranging from leading financial and retail institutions to artists, musicians, and independent publishers. That versatility comes from the fact that with the right combination of elements, a WordPress site can be configured for just about any use.
WordPress can be downloaded for free from its source, WordPress.org, for use with any web hosting provider or it can be installed with “one click” from a hosting provider’s list of available site builders. Once installed, it can be customized either by working with available options from the site’s administrative dashboard or by modifying code in the WordPress source files.
Every new WordPress install also comes with access to the official directories of free and premium themes and plugins, which can be installed right from the directory for immediate use on the site to add custom functions that aren’t included in the basic WordPress framework. If the directories don’t offer the appearance and functionality a user is looking for, thousands more themes and plugins are available from third-party developers around the world.
The WordPress Core: Free and Accessible
Building a WordPress website begins with the core WordPress source code, which builds upon the original design with additional features and security updates from a team of WordPress developers who work to ensure that the source code remains stable and secure for all to use. While it’s true that WordPress can be modified by any user for an individual website, changes to the source code have to be approved and tested by this development group before they’re incorporated into a new WordPress release.
Because WordPress is so widely adopted by such a diverse group of users, a large and engaged community has sprung up around it, with members all around the world who create tutorials, run forums, and host events like workshops and boot camps to educate people about WordPress and help them solve problems with their sites. That means along with support from a hosting provider, any WordPress user has access to help from the community at any time for any WordPress related issue.
Themes for Appearance and Functionality
The second of the three core elements of WordPress is its themes—sets of code that can be overlaid on the WordPress core to define a site’s appearance, layout, and some of its functions. Once installed on a WordPress site, the theme’s files can be modified by users who have experience working with code, but for those who don’t, many aspects of the theme can be customized visually through the site’s admin dashboard. From there, users can change header images, modify backgrounds and colors, set fonts, and more, depending on the features of the chosen theme.
WordPress site owners have immediate access to the official theme directory, but they can also install a theme from an external source. Some of these are free, but most are “premium,” available for purchase from the developers themselves or from design marketplaces. Premium themes typically come with user support and guarantees of security, so users don’t have to worry about introducing malware into their site from an untrustworthy source.
These WordPress templates can be changed at any time by simply installing a new one, and some are available for specific purposes, such as building an e-commerce platform, running an online publication, or creating a portfolio.
Plugins for Custom Features and Functions
The third essential WordPress element is the plugin—a small piece of code that can be added to a WordPress site at any time to add custom functions that aren’t provided in the WordPress core or made available through an installed theme. Plugins can be added to a site to add a small feature, such as a contact form, or to modify the site’s purpose in a major way, such as incorporating an online storefront or a gallery into the site.
Like themes, plugins come in both free and premium forms. Nearly 50,000 of them can be installed directly from the official Plugin directory, and many more can be purchased or downloaded free from developers and marketplaces around the globe. Installing a plugin is similar to installing a theme—you can select from the directory or upload a new one from outside, then click Activate in the plugins list on your site. From there, the plugin can be customized by adjusting its settings or other options. Many plugins come with additional features and support from its developers if a user hits a snag.
In the US alone, more than 50 percent of all users prefer WordPress to its nearest competitors Drupal and Joomla. Free, flexible, and easy to use, WordPress has all the elements for creating WordPress sites for business and personal uses of all kinds—whether you’re a casual user or a pro in web design.