What is a plugin? And How do I Choose the Best One for me?
Plugins can go under several names like extensions or add-ons, but they always have the same definition. Nowadays, many of the software and tools that we use have the option to install plugins. This includes everything from your web browser (Chrome, Firefox, etc.), to your image-editing software (Photoshop, Gimp, etc.), to your word processor (MS Word, LibreOffice, etc.), and even your Content Management System (WordPress, Drupal, etc.).
So what is a plugin?
A plugin is a software component that extends the core functionality of an application.
The developers of an application usually focus on building the core features necessary for their product. For example, when building Chrome, Google created a solid browser that efficiently renders web pages and manages windows and tabs, but only provided a single color theme out of the box (“out of the box” means a feature or functionality that is available directly after installation). Other developers started building custom themes and making them available for users to download in the form of add-ons. For this to be possible, the developers at Google included in Chrome the necessary functionalities for third-parties to be able develop plugins and themes.
Some examples to help you understand this better:
If you are a blogger, or you’re managing a website, chances are that you are using a Content Management System (CMS). A web CMS is a software tool that allows website administrators to manage a website, create content, and organize and publish this content on the web.
The list of web Content Management Systems keeps growing, but some of the most known ones today are WordPress, Drupal, Squarespace, and Joomla!. Each of these CMS can be expanded on by installing a variety of themes and plugins.
WordPress leads today’s market as it powers over 23% of all websites on the Internet, and over 53% of CMS-based websites. Since WordPress is Open Source (which means that anyone can add inspect, modify, and enhance its code), members of its global community have been able to create plugins that provide this CMS with additional functionalities.
How do I choose the best plugin for me?
If you are looking for a functionality that is not provided by default by your software or CMS, then your only choice is to look for a plugin. You can also develop your own if you happen to be a developer.
Depending on the popularity of the software or CMS you use, you might have thousands of plugins to choose from. In general, there’s no single plugin that satisfies everyone’s needs but there are a few steps to follow to make sure that you end up with the best one for you.
- First, make sure to check the number of installations/downloads: The more people are actively using a plugin, the more likely its developers continue to maintain it and make it better.
- Then go through user reviews: look for people reporting issues, missing features, problems, lack of support, etc. The more you are aware of these concerns early on, the less surprises will arise when you start using the plugin.
- Of course, look into the price: depending on both the type of software or CMS you use and your budget, pricing could be an important criteria. While you can find more and more free plugins, some developers might charge you for the use of the whole add-on or specific features within it.
- The last and most important step in choosing a plugin is testing. Even with the best reviews by the largest community of users and developers, a certain extension might not work for you. This can happen for several reasons, like it conflicting with other plugins or themes that you use for example. So make sure to test it thoroughly before settling your mind, especially if it is not free. Some developers offer a trial period for their paid plugins, so make sure to take advantage of it.
In case you want to read up on the e-commerce plugin we have developed for WordPress, make sure to check out our article on why the Bookwitty ecommerce plugin is perfect for blog & website monetization.