The complete guide to learning WordPress
Learning WordPress can be a very long road for an inexperienced programmer. This guide can help you go from programming illiterate to freelancing programming quadrillion are. It is meant as an overview of the steps needed to become a competent WordPress developer. This guide can help both the experienced and inexperienced wrap their heads around WordPress.
Don’t believe the myths.
Many myths come attached when learning any field in programming (yes, you will need to learn). A lot of it is hype from clickbait articles preying on the ignorant. So I’m just going to lay out the three most persistent myths I see today:
No, you CANNOT learn programming in 24 hours. Or a week. Or a month. To learn the entirety of the programming world, you will need first to become an immortal being with a clear schedule. You can learn some of the basics in 24 hours, but you will never actually be done learning new programming skills (unless you are lazy).
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On the opposite end of the scale is a myth saying you’ll need to be a genius bestowed with the incredible powers of math. There is nothing further from the truth. You would be surprised by the number of potato heads one must deal with in the field and how little actual math you will be using. Maybe my favorite: There’s no point to learning programming when there are tools to make websites. This is the most aggravating because it’s the hardest to explain. But put shortly, the question “why do I need to learn to code if I have a WordPress theme?” can be answered with the following question “where would the themes come from if there were no programmers.” Same with web development tools. There are no tools on planet earth that can write more tools, except programmers. Also, any tool that has or will exist comes with severe limitations. But that’s a longer topic.
Yes, you have to learn the basics of programming.
Once again, you cry, “Why do I need to learn to program? It’s WordPress!”. I think the more you’ll learn about WordPress, the more you will learn how limited it is.
Here is the secret. WordPress is a platform, not a web development tool. Meaning, that a lot of the heavy work still requires you to flex your brain a bit and program. You might run into some issues if you don’t learn how to program beforehand: My theme is awesome! But I wouldn’t say I like the styling of the widgets in the footer. I want to build a membership site, and I need x functionality, but no plugin exists. I want to build a membership site, but my plugins conflict. It turns out the theme I bought has a big fat whopping problem, and I honestly think the theme developer is dead. What would you do in these situations if you didn’t know how to program?
Now, please learn the basics of programming.
Setting up WordPress
There are a couple of ways to install WordPress on your website. The absolute easiest is through your cPanel account. There is usually a program on your cPanel that will install WordPress for you. For example, QuickInstall has a one-click installation for WordPress. Another way is to download the WordPress source files and upload them to your server via FTP.
After installing WordPress, you will want to sign in to your WordPress site to set things up. There are many guides on setting up your WordPress site through the backend, but the basics you will need to learn are the following:
Installing your site theme: Even if you are planning on making your own theme, it is advisable to set up someone else’s theme to base your work on. This will serve as a great jumping-off point for your website. Please get familiar with plugins: they are easy to install and will provide most of the functionality of your website. Menus: learn where these are and how to set them up. You can create menus that are useable on any part of your website. Widgets: Widgets are not to be confused with plugins. Widgets are user interface elements (like a Twitter feed), while plugins are groups of files that can potentially make sweeping changes to the functionality of your site. Learn the difference between pages and posts. These things have very distinct and separate purposes. This will give you enough ammunition to set up a basic website. However, if you want something a bit less basic, you will have to continue.
How does content get delivered to the user?
It is helpful to know how WordPress takes your content and presents it to the end-user. If you learned PHP, you would probably know how a website is presented to the user. If not, and you have gotten this far, you are a shameful human being and deserve a death of a thousand cuts. It sounds silly, but it’s beneficial to know how the browser interprets data, what PHP’s purpose is in filling in content, how the website is compiled, etc.
Themes define the way that WordPress presents content to a user. They do this with PHP files that serve as templates to display certain parts of your website, like a blog post page or the header. They also include CSS and PHP files and can even provide the functionality to a website.
I highly suggest learning what you’ll have to provide in your themes. There are also certain rules that you need to follow if WordPress is going to recognize your theme. However, the main parts will be the header, the index page, the sidebar, the footer, functions.php, and the stylesheet.
One more thing you might run across is page templates. Page templates are simply different ways to display any single site page. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look up “page template”; in fact, do that anyway.
Also, learn about post types. Everything on your website is a post type, whether they are pages, posts, or attachments. A page template is a template for a certain post type. Learning about post types might clear a lot of confusion down the road.
Global variables are essential in WordPress development. There are lists of all the global variables that WordPress provides, ranging from the content you provide to users to information on the visitors themselves. Don’t bother memorizing these; just reference them as you go and be familiar with what type of global variables WordPress provides you. If you don’t find them, you might have to add the functionality yourself, either in the form of a plugin or simply in the function.php file.
Plugins allow you to add functionality to your website or others. There is actually a huge plugin market for WordPress. It’s a great way to earn some fat stacks of cocaine and gain rep in the programming community. Essentially plugins are groups of files that alter or add functionality to websites. There are certain rules, however, to setting up your files so that WordPress reads them. It is also important to learn when to add things to functions.php vs. creating a plugin.
Hooks: Actions and Filters
Hooks will allow you to “hook” one of your functions into WordPress so that it is run at a specific time. If you don’t use hooks, many types of functionality would not be possible. Trust me when I say learning what these are and how to use them will save your life and free up a world of possibilities.
Make sure to learn the difference between the two and how to use them. This knowledge will allow you to alter the functionality of WordPress heavily and will greatly open doors for your site functionality.
Actions are hooks that allow you to run a function when a certain WordPress event occurs. For example, when you create a post, you might want to update a value in your database.