Why Flexibility is WordPress’s Technological Superpower | Camber Creative

Topher DeRosia
April 19, 2022

WordPress is famous for the number of plugins and themes it has available. The free plugin repository on WordPress.org has over 59,000 plugins available, and there are over 9,000 free themes available.

At first blush, this may seem like a boon to software developers. All that free code! Yet at the enterprise level, the real superpower of WordPress is its underlying framework that allows all those plugins to exist in the first place.

Why Pre-Built Plugins Are Less Relevant At Scale

Free or commercial plugins tend to be written to solve general problems, like “provide a membership platform” or “render photos in a gallery.” Enterprise sites tend to have very specific problems that need to be addressed like “make it interact with the custom CRM we’ve spent 15 years and 30 million dollars building” or “make it communicate with inventory systems from all warehouses, which use different inventory platforms due to acquisitions.”

Plugins like this are primarily used to solve very specific problems. So while a few plugins may be purchased or downloaded from the WordPress.org plugin repository, the vast majority of time and energy will be put into developing custom plugins for enterprise sites.

Why The Plugin Framework Is Still Vital at the Enterprise Level

WordPress is built to have software hooks and filters throughout its codebase. This allows developers to write code completely outside WordPress, and then have it run at certain times and places inside WordPress. You can dramatically change the functionality of the platform as well as edit the output from nearly any part of the site. This is called the plugin framework because it allows developers to create software that plugs into the main platform seamlessly.

Despite the fact that enterprise level sites typically custom code most of the functionality they need to add to WordPress, the simple fact that the plugin framework exists is one of the most important parts of enterprise-level WordPress.

Here’s why: in order to extend any platform beyond out-of-box functionalities, there are two choices:

  1. Edit the platform code itself (called “hacking core”)
  2. Write additional code that links into the original codebase through a framework like the WordPress plugin framework.

Hacking core is rarely a good idea, since future updates to the platform need to be carefully handled and merged into your custom code. It’s far better to have a framework, like the WordPress Plugin framework, where additional code can be written outside the core platform and still interact with it.

This is one of the places where WordPress shines above nearly any other platform. The plugin framework allows external code to interact with and change the behavior of nearly every aspect of the platform, even to the extent of making it look and act like a completely different application.

Because of this flexibility, WordPress can seamlessly integrate with any other platform that has an Application Programming Interface (API), which is the case for most platforms these days.

The Business Case

There is an ongoing discussion about whether to use off-the-shelf code, or have it custom made — whether that be in-house or by a qualified agency like Camber Creative. In most cases, it’s a mix of both, and WordPress is ideally suited for that. WordPress core used in conjunction with a few basic plugins comprise a wonderful platform on which you can build your custom code. This removes the need to maintain the entire foundation for your site, and you can focus on solving your own needs rather than recreating something already being maintained by someone else through a plugin.

Even off-the-shelf plugins can be extended when built properly. One of my favorite plugins has taken ten years and millions of dollars to create. It would be foolish to try to replicate it, but since it uses the same plugin framework as WordPress core, it’s easy to extend it and integrate it with in-house systems.

The proper use of the plugin framework is one of many things to look at when evaluating a plugin for use in an enterprise level project. Does it follow the rules? Does it integrate with WordPress, other plugins, themes, and even itself?

Summary

I’m occasionally asked about what plugins are essential for enterprise level sites, and I contend that there are none that are essential for every site. There are a few that are common, but they have replacements as well. Beyond any single plugin, the real value of WordPress in the enterprise is its ability to extend and integrate via the plugins framework in less time and with a smaller budget than other options.

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