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What are WordPress widgets (and plugins)?

WordPress ‘widgets’ are useful little things like calendars, your most popular posts, your latest posts, famous quotes, videos, slideshows, most recent comments etc. Your WordPress theme will have certain places where these can appear. In the ‘Childishly Simple’ Theme widgets can appear in the sidebars or in the footer.


How to add one of the widgets that comes as standard in every installation of WordPress

Log into your site and click on ‘Appearance’ in the left hand side and then click on ‘Widgets’. You’ll be taken to a new page. This page has loads of interesting widgets in the middle of it whilst to the right of the page are boxes that you’re going to drag your widgets into. Click on the downwards pointing arrow on the right of that box to open the box up and then drag your widget into the opened box (to ‘drag’ a widget put your mouse over the widget and hold down the left mouse button, then move the mouse). You can have as many widgets as you want in one of these boxes, one above the other, and you can reorder them at any time by dragging them up or down.

When you’ve done this and finished filling in details such as the widget’s title click ‘Save’ at the bottom of each widget. Then view your site to see what it looks like.


Adding a widget that you’ve found on the internet

The widgets that you find in Appearance/Widgets after first installing WordPress are only a very few of the many widgets that are available. To find new and interesting widgets use a search engine and search for something like ‘WordPress recent comments widget’, ‘WordPress video widget’ etc.

Nearly all widgets are free and can be added by logging into your site and clicking ‘Plugins’ in the left-hand side of the page. You’ll then be taken to a new page. Click on ‘Add New’ at the top of that page. Then paste in or type in the name of the widget that you’ve found using the search engines into the search box on that page. Now click ‘Search Plugins’. A list of widgets will appear. Hopefully your widget will be in that list. Once you’ve found your widget click ‘Install Now’ and after it’s installed (you might need an FTP password) click ‘Activate’.

If you now go to ‘Appearance / Widgets’ you should find your new widget somewhere in the middle of that page and you can then drag it into one of the boxes on the right.

You can drag more than one widget into each box so that they stack up above each other on your website and you can reorder them by dragging them up or down. You can also often add ‘shortcode’ to them (below).

Tip: you can use the ‘Text’ widget to add your own text, links etc. e.g. the following is a link to your home page that you could paste into a text widget, though you’ll have to change ‘mywebsite.com’ to your own website name: <a href=”http://www.mywebsite.com”>Home<a/>

What’s the difference between a widget and a plugin?

None really. They’re both useful bits of code that do useful things on your website. You even install them the same way – that’s right, to install a plugin go to Plugins/Add New, use the search box and click ‘Install Now’, then click ‘Activate’. Both plugins and widgets are shown on the Plugins page (Plugins/Installed plugins).

That said there ARE some differences. Widgets normally do visible things on your website, for example displaying your most recent comments. Plugins can do visible things AND invisible things such as blocking spam or improving your SEO.

The only other major difference is the way that you interact with Plugins and Widgets. Plugins normally have their own settings page and a link to it will magically appear in the left sidebar within the WordPress Admin when you add and activate a plugin. Widgets on the other hand are accessed via Appearance/Widgets, as described previously, and usually have their settings within the widget itself.

Both plugins and widgets can be activated, deactivated and deleted from Plugins/Installed Plugins


Widgets and child themes

If you have widgets installed on your parent theme and then switch to a child theme you may find that your widgets are now in the ‘inactive widgets’ section (Appearance/Widgets). Simply drag them back into the appropriate widget boxes.

It appears that a parent theme can have one set of widgets and a child theme can have another set of widgets – which sort of makes sense since a child theme and a parent theme are activated as separate themes.


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