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Using the posts_where Filter in WordPress

If you’ve spent 20 seconds in WordPress development, you’ve likely worked with, cursed, and fallen in love with the WP_Query class – one of the most useful, commonly used tools in any given WordPress website or application.

Aside from being responsible for the main query on any given page or post, it serves as the go-to way to interface with your database in tons of different contexts. Most commonly, you might see it used to retrieve data like custom post types. For example, getting all of the cat massage tutorials in a site:

$massageQuery = new WP_Query([    'post_type' => 'cat_massage_tutorial',    'posts_per_page' => -1]);

Even more than that, you can use this class to make slightly more complex queries based on meta data attached to different posts. Let’s get all the cat massage tutorials whose difficulty level are above 8:

$massageQuery = new WP_Query([    'post_type' => 'cat_massage_tutorial',    'posts_per_page' => -1,    'meta_query' => [        [            'key' => 'difficulty',            'compare' => '>',            'value' => 8,            'type' => 'numeric'        ]    ]]);

That’s all really neat, and honestly, relatively common to see. So, let’s do something a little more interesting and gather a set of posts not easily queryable by WP_Query out of the box.

Imagine that we want all of the “long” cat massage tutorials in our database – those whose content have at least a certain number of characters. This information isn’t stored in post meta, so we can’t rely on out-of-the-box functionality of WP_Query. So, how do we collect only the “long” posts in our database?

One option: Loop through all the things.

We could do something like get all the posts, and then loop over each retrieved post in our PHP, filtering out those under a certain character count. But this is inefficient and bit more cumbersome compared to another option we have.

Better option: Use the ‘posts_where’ filter to modify the ‘where’ clause in your WP_Query.

By modifying the SQL query underlying our WP_Query, the work can be efficiently offloaded to where it should be done, rather than dealing with it elsewhere, like in template logic.

First, create a WP_Query object querying for all of our posts.

$massageQuery = new WP_Query([    'post_type' => 'cat_massage_tutorial',    'posts_per_page' => -1]);

In our arguments, pass a query_label key and value. This isn’t a WP_Query option – it’s a totally arbitrary key we’re passing that we’ll use later to identify our query.

$massageQuery = new WP_Query([    'query_label' => 'our_cat_massage_query',    'post_type' => 'cat_massage_tutorial',    'posts_per_page' => -1]);

Next up, we need to filter part of the SQL statement that’s retrieving stuff from our database.

add_filter('posts_where', function ($where, $query) {    //-- Stuff will go here.    return $where;}, 10, 2);

Using the query_label key we passed earlier, make sure we’re only doing this on our specific query.

add_filter('posts_where', function ($where, $query) {    $label = $query->query['query_label'] ?? '';    if($label === 'our_cat_massage_query') {        //-- More stuff will go here.    }    return $where;}, 10, 2);

Now, append a condition to the where clause of that query. You’ll obviously need to have a baseline understanding of SQL here. In this case, we’re grabbing all the posts whose content is more than 1200 characters.

add_filter('posts_where', function ($where, $query) {    $label = $query->query['query_label'] ?? '';    if($label === 'our_cat_massage_query') {        global $wpdb;        $where .= " AND LENGTH({$wpdb->prefix}posts.post_content) > 1200";    }    return $where;}, 10, 2);

Now, our WP_Query object will return exactly what we defined in our arguments, but within the scope of how we filtered our where clause. All without needing to be clever with any other PHP.

“When am I ever going to need this?”

I don’t know. This WordPress development we’re talking about. Always be ready.

“This doesn’t make me feel very good.”

I’m right there with you. When querying like this, making a WP_Query object and then writing a filter in a different location is far less than elegant, and I’m certainly open to more effective ways so do this without getting abandoning use of the tool altogether. Do you have a better solution? Share it!

For better or for worse, I hope this will help tackle a task using WP_Query in the future. That said, if you’re struggling with this or anything related in your own application, I’m available for hire. Get in touch!

Alex MacArthur is a software engineer working for Dave Ramsey in Nashville-ish, TN.
Soli Deo gloria.

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  • John Bolding

    My sincerest gratitude for showing a trick with passing the $query variable to the callback function and then retrieving any arbitrary field from it! It really saved the day for me.

  • John Langlois

    I stumbled onto this page when I was searching for a remedy to "Warning: Parameter 2 to title_filter() expected to be a reference, value given"
    I appreciate the methodical development of the idea. Well done!

    1 reply
  • Aurovrata Venet

    that's a good start, but you should also check to make sure you have the correct post type, in situations where your taxonomy is registered with multiple post types, you would end up affecting all your post type queries, something that could make you pull your hair out trying to debug what going wrong.

  • Lenin Zapata

    Amazing! In no other web I found this type of documentation in space this: $query->query['query_label']
    I just corrected a large query where another plugin filtered the $where with tax, I didn't know how to avoid it because if it filtered it affected all posts_where of all the queries, thanks to the validation query_label I could request it. Thank you!