Learning WordPress: A Development Crash Course

WordPress is the world’s most popular website builder, powering sites ranging from a personal WordPress blog to many top 100 websites worldwide. WordPress is free for anyone to download and install, and even users with no development experience at all can create fully functioning WordPress websites thanks to its array of pre-made themes and plugins that can be customized right from the site’s dashboard without coding. Learning WordPress development through online courses and videos gives you the tools to work directly with your site’s core code for complete control over its contents and appearance – and to create sites, themes or plugins for others as a WordPress developer if you choose.

Ways to learn WordPress development range from full degree and certificate programs that cover the complete range of topics and issues related to becoming a professional site developer, to a multitude of free and low-cost online WordPress crash course training programs and tutorials. These allow you to create your own program for learning the various aspects of WordPress development in order to work on your own site. The path you take to learning how to develop WordPress sites depends on your goals, budget, and time. Because WordPress is so popular, there is no shortage of ways to get the knowledge you need.

Learning WordPress development starts with three things: understanding the three main components of a WordPress site and how they work together, learning the programming languages that create the WordPress core code, and setting up a local development environment so that you can practice what you’re learning offline rather than on a live site. Here’s a quick “crash course,” in WordPress development that reviews the basics you need to know in order to develop a WordPress site.

How WordPress Works

The site builder and content management system known as WordPress has three main components: the core, or source code that builds the basic structure of a WordPress site, themes, which define a site’s appearance and layout, and plugins, add-on pieces of code that extend the functionality of a site and make it possible for WordPress sites to take on so many different forms and purposes. All of these elements work together to create a fully functioning WordPress site. To work with WordPress as a developer, you’ll need to know how to write and modify code in the languages used to create them.

What’s Your Skill Level?

Your learning curve as a WordPress developer depends on your current skill level. You may be an absolute beginner, with no knowledge of HTML, CSS or the other programming languages used to design WordPress sites, or you may have some familiarity with them, but haven’t worked directly with WordPress core code or any of the languages used to create themes and WordPress plugins. Whatever your current experience with WordPress may be, here’s a rundown of the essentials for learning WordPress development – or taking your skills to the next level.

Getting Started: The Basics

Learning WordPress website development requires a few essential tools for working with coding and setting up web files, including:

Text editing software. In order to get some practice working with code and creating web pages, you’ll need a text editor – an application that opens a file as a text document, so that it can be used to create a file from scratch in HTML or CSS. Both Mac and Windows platforms have pre-installed text editors, or you can download third-party editors such as Notepad++ or Brackets for more features.

A local development environment. Rather than working with code on a live WordPress site, developers recommend creating a local development environment – a way to create and test your code on your local computer, where your files are only visible to you. Then, when things look the way you want, you can upload the completed files to the web. Free server software programs for setting up local development environments include MAMP for Mac and XAMP for Windows, and premium packages are available with additional features for supporting local web development.

WordPress core code. The WordPress core code can be downloaded from WordPress.org and installed in your local development environment, as well as on a live site hosted by the provider of your choice. The core code provides the basic structure for developing a site, so it is important to get familiar with its contents and functions.

Learn the Languages

WordPress developers work with lots of code in several different languages. At minimum, you’ll need to become familiar with HTML, the universal markup language used to create websites and web applications everywhere in the world, and CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets, a style sheet language that defines how HTML elements are displayed in a webpage. You’ll also need to become familiar with PHP, a programming language used to develop the WordPress core code and many other kinds of websites. It can be helpful to understand Javascript, a language that runs in the browser to make webpages more dynamic and interactive.

Thousands of online courses and video tutorials on these and other programming languages relevant to WordPress are available in both free and paid formats from online and local educational institutions, as well as developer sites and communities. These kinds of entities train new developers about industry standards and provide plenty of opportunities for practice and feedback through their WordPress courses and videos. If you’re hoping to scale up your development skills for professional purposes, many learning portals offer certificates and degrees to document your learning.

Working with WordPress

As you learn more about HTML, CSS, PHP, and other WordPress related languages and functions, you’ll progress from practicing writing good code to being able to make changes to existing code and creating new pages from scratch. More advanced beginners and those with mid-range skills may want to develop a WordPress theme or design a plugin to use for other sites.

Next Steps in Web DevelopmentYou can use your WordPress development skills to work on your own website, develop sites for others, or make and sell third party WordPress themes and plugins on any of the web’s popular marketplaces for digital assets, such as ThemeForest or Creative Market. To grow as a WordPress developer, you’ll want to learn more of the most commonly used programming languages, such as MYSQL, and continue studying quality code written by skilled developers. Learning the basics of WordPress site development gives you complete control over your site’s appearance and performance – and gives you the skills to develop sites, themes, or plugins for others.

Desiree Johnson
Desiree Johnson | Content Specialist
Desiree Johnson is a Content Specialist at Bluehost where she writes helpful guides and articles, teaches webinars and assists with other marketing and WordPress community work.

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