True developers strive to be DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself) in code as well as workflow and process. Previously, I somehow ended up doing in many of my projects things that plugins could also do.
It’s great to code your own sometimes and if you have specific needs that aren’t addressed by something out there already then sometimes it’s required. I think there is a lot to be said for the state of the plugin community lately. There are plugins to offer solutions many needs beyond what WP core was built to handle.
I’ve found that many times plugins are better then rolling my own solution. Not because I’m a horrible developer (I hope not at least), but because there is real power in numbers.
First off, plugins benefit form the community or users and developers involved in making them work and making them popular. Choose plugins that have a good base of users so when the author or WordPress ships updates, there are many people reporting/testing compatibility issues.
There is a community of people thinking about how to solve recurring needs and many minds working together on something are smarter than one. This is how I’ve come to terms with paying for plugins for an open source and free platform.
It’s worth the expense in the time I save on projects. (Disclaimer: However, I don’t think we should be using a screwdriver as a hammer simply because we can make it work. If you end up hacking plugins to get what you need out of it, then you may be better off building your own.)
This past year, I resorted to using plugins for a lot of the basic functionality I found myself using over and over again on many sites. I’ve been pleasantly impressed. Here are my top 3 plugins of the year:
BackupBuddy by iThemes. Backuping up a site is pretty much essential for anyone who does web work professionally. Not only for security but also for moving sites.
As a developer I’m constantly moving a site from a dev environment to a production environment and vice versa. It was the bain of existence at times, because with WP, moving the site is more than just copying files via ftp. It includes the database and config files and settings in the database too.
BackupBuddy, has helped this become a fairly simple process that lets me export the whole site (database and all) into a zip file and then I can easily place the site on a new domain or environment.
Screenshot of starting the migration/import process with backupbuddy. You do a complete backup, load this php file onto your new site and follow the prompts. They’ve made it surprisingly painless.
The huge win for me is that I’m spending less time managing databases and more time building websites. Although I generally tend towards open solutions, this one has been worth the money spent many times over. (Even when they had an update that broke my database, it still saved me time in the end).
I mainly use this tool to schedule and automate my backups and save them remote locations either weekly or daily and to move my site between dev and production environments for testing and deploying.
Gravity Forms by RocketGenius. Forms are a part of every website I’ve built lately. I used to use CF7 and still am a big fan, but I ended up trying this form plugin out once and have been very impressed with the UX and UI. It has many features and is tastefully integrated into WordPress.
Some of my favorite features are that it saves the form submissions into my database and I can send complex notifications about the submission. It also has many field types built in. so if I need to capture someones email and shipping address, there are fields that will validate as such automatically!
True, I could write my own script to do this, but why spend unneeded hours to reinvent the wheel, and test the wheel and maintain the wheel.
Here is the back end of gravity forms. This is where you set up or edit your form. Notice the fields you can select from the right to add to any form as fast as you can drag and drop.
There are many many plugins offered to enhance the gravity form as well, you can integrate easily with MailChimp, Paypal and WordPress itself (for creating user accounts or even content).
I’ve used gravity forms as a simple contact form, as a job application form, as a donate form, newsletter signup form and more. It’s nice to be able to rely on one plugin for all this. The support forum has always been helpful as well.
3. Advanced Custom Fields
Best for last in my list is Advanced Custom Fields by Australian, Elliot Codon. The plugin site lists many add-on plugins that extend the functionality. Hopefully you’ve heard of custom fields in WordPress already, and if not, they are extra data about the post (or whatever type of content you create with custom post types).
You can add an external link, a price, an address or anything you can think of. This isn’t too hard to do in a theme or plugin on your own and has been documented and tutorial-ized many times explaining how to create fields and saving them to the database and grabbing them from the databse… but it does get tedious.
And then there are all the different types of data you may want to store that you end up having to reprogram every time. Text and numeric values are simple enough, but what about a date, an address, an image or a relationship.
Here’s the interface when adding custom fields. You can easily choose the type of data you need and there are multiple options to configure to your situation.
This plugin makes it not only easy, but fun to create custom fields. It adds easy functions for php to grab the data you need at the template level and the UI is entirely seamless with WP. There are many options for conditionally including or requiring the custom fields in the post edit screen etc.
I think this plugin truly transforms WordPress into an open minded CMS with style. Mad props for it not being added to the list of premium plugins (although some add-ons are for sale). I’d vote for this being added to WP Core and won’t likely work on another custom field project without it.
In all, it’s been a great year to be working with WordPress and it’s only getting better! I’m excited for the number of plugins that are getting better all the time geared towards easing the process of building sites. Equally exciting is the plugin repository at wordpress.org and the recent updates of being able to write reviews for plugins, I think this is a huge step towards letting the cream of the crop rise to the top allowing users and developers alike to find (and support) the best plugins out there.
What plugins have you found that don’t just save you an hour or add a bit of functionality, but that transform your workflow and help you live the DRY mantra?