Plugins I like

A common question from people that are just getting into WordPress is “how do I know if a plugin is good or not?”

There are several things you can do to vet a plugin you want to use:

  • What’s the rating in the WordPress.org repository? (If you’re not getting your plugin from the wordpress.org repository, be VERY suspicious unless you’re buying it from a reputable company. You can get almost anything for free from the wordpress.org repository…)
  • Was it updated recently? (Bonus points, though make sure they didn’t just release it for the first time recently.)
  • Does it work on the newest version of WordPress? (Not everything needs to be updated regularly, but if the developer hasn’t even bothered to test their plugin on the newest version of WP and say “yeah, it still works”, they lose some points.)

Take a look at the support forum:

  • Do people seem to be getting their questions answered fairly quickly (by the developer hopefully)? (Bonus points)
  • Do you see an unsolved issue that would badly affect your use of the plugin? (Look for “deal brakers”.)

Take a look at the code (don’t worry, you don’t have to know PHP):

  • Is it neatly-formatted, with each element indented slightly more than the element it’s inside? (Bonus points)
  • Are there plenty of comments in the code to explain what various pieces do? (Bonus points)

Of course, sometimes you just need some good hints of where to start, so you don’t have to evaluate everything yourself. Here are some plugins in various categories that I like.

Backup

BackupBuddy - BackupBuddy from ithemes.com. This tool will backup EVERYTHING about your WordPress site, from the files to the database entries, to everything. All of your settings, files, posts, pages, comments, everything can easily be backed up, and just as easily restored. iThemes has recognized that this is one of their jewels, and is very active in developing this, adding new features and speeding things up. Besides just the ability to restore a site back to where it was, this plugin allows you to easily migrate a site to a new server, making it easy to clone the site to install elsewhere, where you can test changes to the site out of sight of your visitors. One can also make a backup of just the files or just the database with this tool, but honestly, it’s so easy to make a full backup every time and know you have a solid restore point, why bother just backing up a piece of it?

Fine-tuned Permissions

Role Scoper - This plugin is free in the wordpress.org repository, but is one of those plugins that is so well done that I’m surprised that it’s free. Reading the developer’s comments in the plugin’s About screen, it sounded like he started programming it because he saw there was a need for it, then by the time he realized it was a HUGE task, was too far in, and had too much integrity to just ditch it. This plugin allows you to setup user groups, create new roles, adjust the capabilities of stock WordPress roles, and really get very granular with permissions. You can even assign specific people roles for specific pages and make any role have an expiration date. One handy feature that comes along with this plugin is the fact that, even in custom menus, if a visitor doesn’t have permission to get a page, it simply doesn’t show up in the menu. There is a paid-for plugin that’s associated with Role Scoper, but RS alone is incredibly powerful, and well-updated.

Members - This plugin is made by Justin Tadlock, who has a very well-respected name in the WordPress community, and has written at least one maybe more books on WP. I would consider him someone that pays strong attention to quality and has a very good understanding of the inner workings of WP. His plugin Members is also well liked by a lot of people, and many have even made additional add-ons for it or made sure their own plugin works with it. There is one thing I didn’t particularly like about Members: it changes the capabilities of the built-in WordPress roles, so when the plugin is removed, the changes remain. This could easily be seen as a strength if it’s the functionality you want, but I wanted the ability to yank out my changes and be back to a stock configuration. A different approach to the challenge which might work well for some…

Image Galleries and Slideshows

Next-Gen Gallery - Ok, this one seems kind of like a no-brainer. This plugin is probably the single most often used plugin from the wordpress.org repository. (I don’t have any data to back that up, but I believe it to be true…) This plugin includes lots of out-of-the box functionality for creating, managing and reusing groups of images. It comes with an image gallery setting, a slideshow setting, and a single picture-viewer setting. All-in-all, very easy to use, and even offers a decent template system, whereby one can make up their own format for how they want to display and use the images. Lots of people have made sure their plugins work with this plugin, and many have developed their own free add-ons to extend it further.

Google Analytics

Google Analyticator - Besides having a cool name, this plugin not only makes it easy to insert the GA code into your site WITHOUT ACTUALLY EDITING YOUR TEMPLATES, it also offers a Dashboard widget, so you can quickly see your GA stats when you log into your site. I like the options for excluding visits from the administrator or other accounts, so every page update, patch or test doesn’t look like another visitor.

LDAP Authentication

Simple LDAP - Ok, so this one is a little specialized, and probably only colleges and universities and other large organizations will even have their own LDAP (or other directory method) server, but if you need this functionality, you need something that works and is easy to use. Some out there with LDAP servers which incorporate a lot of metadata or other functionality may actually prefer one of the other LDAP authentication plugins out there. The LDAP system at my organization is fairly straightforward, and includes almost no metadata, so this “slimmed-down, get it done” plugin fits the bill well.

There are a few others that I like here and there but this is a pretty good start. Note that, according to several of the knowledgeable folks I’ve met who really know WordPress, a well-written plugin will not cause a drag on the site’s performance compared to just putting the code into the site in another way (like pasting it into the functions.php file.)

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