If you’re making modifications to the functionality of your WordPress site or application, there are generally two places where people put the code to do it.

  1. A theme’s functions.php file.
  2. A plugin.

Given the choice, which option should you almost always choose?

A plugin.

Why? The list of reasons is longer than this, but here are the big ones:

1. Features are better organized and isolated, making it easier to debug. For example, if your application is having an issue, you can start by toggling individual plugins rather than your entire theme. If the the bug goes away when a particular plugin has been deactivated, you’ve just narrowed the down the range of possible causes.

2. You can update your theme without worrying about losing any unrelated functionality. Let’s say I’ve purchased a premium theme and also have a lazy loading plugin installed. When updates are made to the theme, or if I change themes altogether, my lazy loading should be unaffected, because that feature is contained in its own plugin.

I’ll probably be referencing this plugin-over-functions.php suggestion in my posts, so here’s a brief set of instructions on creating the most basic WordPress plugin you can use to build out a feature for your site. It’s void of any opinions on structure, design, or anything else. It’s just bare bones framework for making what WordPress recognizes as a plugin it can activate. That’s it.

1. In your wp-content/plugins/ directory, create a folder named simplest-plugin.

2. Inside that folder, create a simplest-plugin.php file.

3. Open up that newly created file and add a header comment. There are several pieces of information a plugin’s header comment should have, and you can read about them here, but I mean it when I say we’re creating the simplest plugin, so I’m just going to add a plugin name:

<?php
/*
Plugin Name: Simplest Plugin
*/

4. Confirm the plugin exists and can be activated. Head to your wp-admin/plugins.php page and scroll down to find your inactive plugin.

The Simplest WordPress Plugin

It doesn’t have much — no description, version, author, or details, and you should include all of these things, but that’s not the point of this post. The point here is that you now have the barest-of-bones framework in which you can build functionality into your site or application.

It’s that simple!