‘Without a Plugin’ and all that Crap

If you’ve ever done a search trying to find out how to accomplish something in WordPress, you’ve undoubtedly found post titles extolling the virtues of not using a plugin. You know something like ‘Build the Best XX Widget – Without a Plugin’.

If seeing a tutorial titled ‘Without a Plugin’ doesn’t annoy you, then you need to know a bit more about WordPress and plugins.

Are Plugins Bad?

It’s a long running debate, but no plugins aren’t bad. They don’t have to slow down your site. Poorly written plugins are the bad thing, but that’s the same with poorly written themes.


These ‘Without a Plugin’ tutorials undoubtedly tell you to put code in your theme’s functions.php file. News Flash there is no fundamental difference with code running in a plugin, or code running in functions.php. Bad code will still slow down your site and make it unstable.


The real thing these titles are doing is preying on unknowing site owners. See most site owners have installed a plugin, then had site issues. Of course uninstalling the plugin resolved the issues. Since the plugin caused them, and removing it fixed them, of course plugins must be bad.

Most site owners didn’t evaluate the plugin to begin with. They didn’t see that it was running SQL queries for posts, or enqueueing JavaScript the wrong way. Nor should site owners always be expected to have this knowledge.

Plugins !== Bad

So no plugins aren’t bad. No, not all your code should go in a plugin, nor should it go in a theme. The short version is that functions you want to live past this design of your site should be plugins. Functionality you want to only be around for the current site design, are prime candidates for themes.

Not putting code in the right spot has bitten me before. So put the code where it should go, and if you don’t know it’s time to learn.

At the end of the day, naming your tutorials ‘Without a Plugin’ does a disservice to the WordPress Community. You help perpetuate a myth, in a quest for pageviews. Unfortunately, it’s probably going to work and so many will continue to believe a myth.

Curtis McHale

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Curtis is a web designer/developer specialized in WordPress eCommerce development on WooCommerce. You can get in touch with him about projects on SFNdesign.
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3 responses to ‘Without a Plugin’ and all that Crap

  1. But if those site owners aren’t required to know the difference, it really is to their benefit to let their developer develop their site with as few plugins as possible. If they have a good developer they shouldn’t need a bunch of a plugins anyway. I totally disagree. :)

    • I think you misunderstand what a plugin is meant for. The number of plugins has no bearing on how good/bad a site is. Plugins should be used for functionality that is meant to live past a current theme (think data like custom post types) and a theme is used for functionality that is specific to the current theme (menus, sidebars).

      I good developer knows when to put functionality in a theme or a plugin. You do your clients a long term disservice by just putting everything in the theme. If you do that then you’re not separating functionality to where it’s meant to reside inside the WordPress CMS ecosystem. That’s simply a recipe for disaster later.

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