Free software technology review—December

As far as hosting services are concerned, WordPress is a good example. At its heart, WordPress is a simple blogging application, and it can be used as such, but behind the basics of the ability to blog comes an array of powerful features and the ability to extend the functionality of your blog through the use of various plug-ins.

WordPress is based around at least two of the main components of the LAMP (Linux Apache MySQL PHP) stack, and more usually in the case of many hosting services all four. The two primary components are MySQL (used to store blog information) and PHP. Both MySQL and PHP are regularly supported as options by hosting services, so supporting an application based on these two components is quite straightforward.

Looking at the core functionality of WordPress you get a rich platform for creating blog entries. Unsurprisingly the entire interface to WordPress is through a dedicated administration website that provides a clean but efficient way to access all of the different elements.

Before I look at the specifics of the blog components—the posts, categories and link database—it’s worth noting that the entire system is multi-user aware. Users can “register” at any time with a WordPress website, and the system provides a series of user levels. Each level provides the user with certain abilities; for example, the lowest level only allows people to post comments.

Upper levels allow you to create posts, add static pages of information and even administer certain parts of the site and content. Higher-level users can also edit and modify content created by lower level users. This simple, but effective system allows you to give control and abilities on an increasing basis, making it easier to spread responsibility and administration amongst a group of individuals and making administration of even very large sites very easy.

Individual blog posts can be as simple or as complicated as you like. All posts are assigned into one or more categories, and you can choose the number of categories, with or without a nested structure in which to organize the content. As well as providing a method of classification for posts, categories can also be used as a quick and easy way for readers to navigate through your content—by clicking on a category name (automatically generated by WordPress) a list of posts in that category is displayed.

As you would expect from a community application, WordPress allows users to post comments onto individual posts and it includes a system for filtering spam messages and other content. Comments can be switched off, require moderation or registration, or be completely open.

Blog posts are obviously categorized and dated, and work like a standard blog system. You can also create static Pages. These are usually designed to appear as a list of page titles on the homepage of your blog and can be used to provide information about the site, its owners, or any other information that you don’t want appearing as part of a blog post. Unlike blog posts, Pages are not dated and therefore remain an active part of your blog, regardless of the date. Through plug-ins, Pages can also be used to show other information such as contact forms, site statistics and other data.

In addition to the blog post category system there’s also a built in bookmark system that allows you to categorize bookmarks and make the lists available through your blog so that readers can see the other sites and blogs in which are you interested. For company blogs the link system is often a way to provide links to areas of the company website and affiliated sites and companies.

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All of the above functionality is provided as standard within the WordPress system and many other blogging environments. The popularity of WordPress comes from the flexible way in which you can extend and enhance the software through a combination of plug-ins, and themes (which act like a form of plug-in).

As already noted, WordPress is based on PHP which it makes it very easy to understand how the application works. The WordPress developers have also done a significant amount of work to make certain areas of the WordPress code open for use and adaptation.

The primary way of making use of this API is to change the theme—the look and feel of the your WordPress blog—into a style that suits your needs. Elements of the WordPress blog—the list of categories, posts, links and other information from the application and the database that supports it are available through the API. To develop a new theme, you develop your style, colors, graphics, and then use the PHP-based API to insert information from the database into your page.

By combining your layout and style with the core of the WordPress application and database you can create a blog that looks the way you want, but with all the functionality of the WordPress system. Essentially it gives you the ability to create a custom-looking blog application using the WordPress engine. Users can also share themes that they have created.

Plug-ins are an extension of this idea. By using a similar model to the themes system you can extend the functionality of the WordPress engine to provide additional services, databases interfaces or to merge information from other websites such as Flickr, Gallery and others.

Plug-ins are available that provide contact forms, additional statistics, comments, picture viewers and organizers, enable blogging from your mobile (mobblogging), GeoLocation, calendars, online statistics and many others.

Finally, it should go without saying that WordPress supports and provides both Really Simple Syndication (RSS) and Atom for syndicating blog posts and blog comments. Through additional plug-ins you can also syndicate content by post categories.

WordPress is a powerful tool in its own right, but is made all the more powerful through its free software nature (using PHP and MySQL). By supporting PHP you can extend and enhance the functionality by writing additional themes, plug-ins and facilities—a technique not often available in other blogging solutions. It is easy to see why WordPress is so popular with hosting companies as a powerful and easily deployable application.



Alex King’s WordPress Theme Browser

WordPress Plug-in Database


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