A Step-By-Step Guide to WordPress Plugin Development

WordPress is one of the most popular content management systems out there, and the reason for its popularity is its open-source nature.

A plugin is used to add functionality to a content management system. Another reason that WordPress is so popular is that they have more than 50,000 plugins.

These plugins make your life easier because now you can perform functions that were not available earlier. For example, plugins like Yoast SEO help people figure out the SEO-related details of their websites.

If you are developing your website and want some extraordinary functionalities in it. Then you need to search WordPress for plugins.

There is a high chance that you will find a plugin that suits your needs. However, if you do not, you can always create your WordPress plugin from scratch.

WordPress Plugin Development

Another reason you may want to create a plugin is to sell your plugin in the WordPress marketplace. To create a functioning plugin, you need knowledge of languages like SQL, HTML, PHP, and JavaScript. If you want to develop a simple plugin, then you need to know the basics.

Basic concepts of WordPress plugin development

WordPress constantly releases updates which is why customers love this CMS. However, the core files are updated every time an update takes place.

So, if you have added functionality through the WordPress core file, it will be overridden the next time WordPress is updated.

This is why plugins are essential. Any need you have for your website can be met by using plugins that perform specific functions. These plugins can also be updated, but WordPress updates do not interfere with the plugin’s functionality.

Three main concepts are used in WordPress plugin development. To know how to create your plugin, you should know about these important concepts.

1. Hooks

Hooks allow manipulation of a process at a point without changing the WordPress core files. Your plugin can attach itself to the WordPress core file because of hooks.

Functions can be associated with hooks at different points of time. There are two types of hooks. An action hook and a filter hook.

An action hook enables programmers to add a process. You can create your own actions and add functionality to your plugin. With the help of action hooks, you can add custom functionality to your plugin.

A filter is a hook that modifies the existing process. You don’t need to change the data but can manipulate the current information.

2. Shortcodes

A Plugin needs access to the WordPress theme to function properly. Shortcodes can be directly placed on a post or a page. You can add features with the help of shortcodes without having to create an entirely different program.

3. Widgets

With the help of widgets, you can display the content of your plugin. Widgets are an essential part of WordPress design and layout. Each widget can add a function to the plugin you are creating.

Why should you develop a WordPress plugin?

WordPress in itself is a big market for people who can develop applications. There are a lot of people who want to create a better user experience for their websites, and they want to find a plugin for the same.

There is a lot of demand for plugins that can perform well. You will find a lot of competition, but it just means that there is a lot of demand for WordPress plugins.

If you can create a WordPress plugin different from the competition, you will see fantastic revenue growth.

Find a problem WordPress users may face and create a plugin to solve it. Make the plugin extremely easy to use, and you will not have any difficulty in finding people who will pay for your plugin.

Another reason to create a plugin is to use it on your own site to give it an upper hand. You don’t have to share the plugin you created if you don’t want. What matters is the intent behind the plugin creation.

If you are new to this, then don’t worry. WordPress provides an excellent guide to WordPress plugin development.

A guide to WordPress plugin development (6 key steps)

Developing different plugins will require different methods of coding. However, they all follow these six steps. These steps are the standard operating procedure for developing a functional plugin.

Step 1: Perform research and plan accordingly

Like it or not, you are not the first one to come up with the idea of creating a WordPress plugin. Thousands of plugins already exist in the WordPress plugin directory to meet users’ needs. Therefore, you should research and see if your idea is original or already exists.

If your idea already exists, research on how it is being used currently. What can you improve? Which functionality can give you a competitive edge over others?

You can study existing plugins and see how you can improve on them.

You may also want to check the status of a plugin. If a plugin has not been updated in some time and is not up to the recent WordPress standards. Then, you have your chance to enter the plugin market.

Take a look at the number of installations for each plugin. It should give you an idea about the market size of your plugin. If you are creating a plugin which doesn’t have a massive market, then it can be a waste of your effort.

It is also a good idea to test your competitor’s plugin on your website to see what features they provide. You can get to know the product as a user and then develop improvements.

If you plan to sell your plugin in the WordPress market, you will have to come up with a pricing plan. Check out the price of your competitor’s product and come up with a competitive price.

The last step is to read up on WordPress coding standards. These are a set of guidelines created by WordPress. Your plugin will be used on WordPress, so it is important to know and follow these guidelines.

Step 2: Create a testing environment

Since you need a guide to WordPress plugin development, it is safe to assume that you are a beginner. You can make mistakes while developing a plugin, and you don’t want to test your plugin on your live website. If there is a problem with the plugin, it can affect the website.

That’s why you should create a testing environment to check your plugin’s functionality. With the help of tools like DreamHost, you can make a copy of your existing site.

This can be your online staging environment, where you can test your plugin before using it or selling it on the market.

Step 3: Create the plugin file

Once you have set up the staging environment, it’s time to create your plugin. You need to create a folder for it in your site’s directory. You should use a Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) client like Filezilla to access your site’s files.

To access Filezilla, you need to enter your credentials like username and password. You can gain the same from your hosting partner.

Once the connection to the site’s directory is established, go to wp-content/plugins and create a new folder for your plugin.

Create a PHP file, which you can add to this folder. Add the following information to the file:

* Plugin Name: your-plugin
* Plugin URI: https://www.your-site.com/
* Description: Test.
* Version: 0.1
* Author: your-company
* Author URI: https://www.your-site.com/

This is just the standardized description. You will have to change the content according to the plugin you create. Save the file and leave.

The next step is to upload this file to your plugin folder. Then, go to the WordPress dashboard, and click on the plugins section. Here, you will be able to view the plugin that you have recently created.

Remember that the plugin is yet to be activated. It doesn’t have any functionality that can only be added by coding. Once you are done with the programming, WordPress will recognize it as an active plugin. As of now, it is just a plugin file.

Step 4: Add code to your plugin

As discussed before, each plugin has certain standard components.

All plugins use hooks as a means to interact with WordPress. WordPress has pre-existing code, and hooks that help your plugin connect with it.

Hundreds of pre-existing hooks can be used as triggers for a plugin event.

To successfully add functionality to your plugin, you must become familiar with hooks. If you are a coding expert, it should be easy to create a new hook for you.

In the coding stage, you can experiment with different functions and see how each will benefit the user.

You can always use the plugin developer handbook provided by WordPress. This will help you code a plugin which is WordPress friendly.

If you are only creating a plugin for using it on your site. You can add the code to your theme’s functions.php file. This file adds functionality to your website and is similar to how a plugin works.

However, if you switch themes in the future, your custom functionality will be deleted. That’s why you should only use this option if you don’t plan on changing your website’s theme.

Step 5: Time to test your plugin!

When you continue developing your plugin, you will keep adding new functions. Once new functionality is added, you should test it to ensure that it works as you intended.

You need to test these changes on the staging site. Other than that, you should be aware of any security vulnerabilities before publishing your plugin.

If your plugin has a security loophole, you weaken your site’s defenses.

Once you think your plugin has no faults, you should try using it on your live site. Before doing this, you should perform some serious debugging because if the plugin has any bugs, it could interfere with your site.

That’s why creating a backup of the live site before testing your plugin on it is essential. So, that if anything goes wrong, you can just restore the backup version. This is perhaps one of the most important tip in the guide to WordPress plugin development.

Once you are happy with the plugin’s performance, you can offer it to other developers in your community and gain some valuable feedback if the feedback has information that can improve your plugin. Then you can make a few last-minute tweaks in the code.

You should export your plugin to a zip file for easy distribution. Find your plugin’s file in the site’s directory, right-click on it and select send to> compressed (zipped folder).

Select a destination for this file where you can find it without problems.
Then go to the WordPress dashboard, the plugins section, and select the add new option.

Click to choose the zip file and upload it on your site. Then, select the compressed file and install it. Once this process is completed, your plugin will be installed and activated. You can check out its functionalities.

Step 6: Distribute your plugin

Once you have created and tested your plugin, you can start the distribution process. There are many ways you can do this.

1. Publish your plugin on the WordPress plugin directory

Submit your plugin to the WordPress marketplace to share your work with the community. You can create a pricing plan or subscription option for the plugin.

If you want, you can also make the plugin completely free. Most people publish their plugins on the WordPress plugin directory if they want to gain revenue from it.

Another alternative motive that people have is to gain exposure by providing their plugins for free. You can gain exposure with the WordPress community and gain new clients.

If they like your work on the plugin, they will choose you for your services.

WordPress doesn’t just let anyone publish their plugin. Each plugin needs to follow their set of guidelines. Once you provide a plugin to be published, they review the request and get back to you in some time.

Once the plugin is approved, you can add it to the SVN directory. Then, WordPress users can view your plugin and install it.

2. Distribute the plugin through a website

Other than distributing the plugin through the WordPress directory, you can also create a website for it. People will then recognize your plugin as a brand instead of just a product. You can use your site to provide details about your plugin that users will not find on WordPress.

You can include documentation and tutorials on the website. Other than that, you can also run marketing campaigns through your website. Even if you publish your plugin on the WordPress plugin directory, you still need a website.

You can provide a free trial of the plugin on your website. However, eventually you will have to push the premium version to the user. A website is a great way to do that.

You can lock certain advanced features behind a paywall.


Since WordPress is an open-source platform, you can develop and share plugins with other users. This benefits users and creators of the plugin and makes WordPress one of the best CMS in the world right now.

While you do need coding knowledge to create a functional plugin. It should not be that difficult as everyone starts from somewhere. You can easily create a plugin for your own site.

Once you have become a more seasoned developer, you can create plugins for the WordPress marketplace. Let’s have a quick recap on how to create a plugin.

1. Perform research on your idea

2. Set up a staging environment

3. Create the plugin file

4. Add code to your plugin

5. Test your plugin

6. Distribute your plugin

Developing a plugin in itself is a complicated task. Besides that, WordPress has a set of guidelines that everyone must follow.

That’s why everyone can use a guide that breaks down the steps to publish the plugin. This breaks down the complete project into tasks and increases the probability of success.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)

Q1 Is creating a plugin for my WordPress website necessary?

It depends on the type of functionality you need on your site. There are already thousands of plugins available. If you don’t find any plugin that can meet your needs, you will have to develop a plugin of your own. However, the WordPress marketplace is so active that the chances of this happening are extremely low.

Q2 What are the benefits of WordPress plugins?

Plugins extend the functionality of your WordPress site without influencing the WordPress core files. Every time WordPress issues an update, these core files are updated. So, you can keep the functionality the plugins offer without any disruption.

Q3 How should I start with plugin development if I am new to this?

If you have not developed a plugin before, you can follow this guide and get help from WordPress developers. You should start with a small scope plugin or a test plugin.

Eventually, you can develop a plugin that offers useful functionality. If you need help, you can always hire an expert.

About Sonnal S Sinha

Sonnal S SinhaSonnal S Sinha is a passionate writer as well as WordPress and WooCommerce rockstar who loves to share insights on various topics through his engaging blog posts. He run successful website design and digital marketing company. With 15+ years of experience in WordPress themes development, he strives to inform and inspire readers with his thought-provoking content. He helps thousands small and medium businesses and startups create a unique online presence. Follow Sonnal S Sinha for your regular dose of knowledge and inspiration.