WordPress plugins – reStructure

By using a unified naming convention you know where the class you need is declared, to be able to load it into your code. The mind forgets easy, and you want to focus on solving your programmatical problems instead of trying to remember where you put your six weeks old myURLHelper class.

This is a follow up on my last post about the directory structure of WordPress plugins. Previously I grouped the PHP files in directories based on functionality, such as “admin”, “js” and “widget”. Now it’s time to refactor this. This does not apply only to WordPress plugins, but to all software development.

When using a programming language, it’s not a bad idea to follow some of the best practices that already exists. PEAR is a large PHP project repository. Most of the up-to-date packages there follow strict directory and file structures along with a set of coding standards. The classes use namespace alike names where each nested namespace is separated with an underscore. These classes are then placed in files named after the last part of the class name, in a directory hierarchy where each directory is named after each part of the namespace.

As an example, the class “Datafeel_Util_URL” is defined in the file “URL.php” under the directories “Datafeel/Util”.

If you have multiple projects that requires the same functionality, you keep all your files and directories under a single path, which you add to the PHP include path configuration parameter. If you create a PEAR package of your project, you can install it globally on your system, and PHP will most likely be able to find your files without changing the include path. Please note that setting up and creating PEAR packages can take some time if you haven’t done it before. Unless you have special needs, such as releasing the project on PEAR, you can happily change the include path and you are good to go.

I have been working on functionality for two WordPress sites lately, and those two sites require some of the same functionality. I started out by just copying the code from the first project to the second, but then all the hard work begins. I decide to rewrite the configuration handler, then add a new web service and fix some bugs related to file uploads. I think it’s hard to keep the plugins from the two projects in sync. Imagine if I had three projects, or ten…

WordPress plugins – Directory Structure

When you develop a plugin for WordPress that continuously grows with new functionality it can become very large with an unmanageable amount of files in the plugin directory. The files can grow that large that it becomes almost impossible to understand the flow and integrity of the code. This will also affect the gain of WordPress. One example is the plugin administration page that searches through all PHP files in all the subdirectories one level below the plugin directory for files with a valid plugin header.

This document contains some thoughts about a well structured plugin directory to speed up you plugin and keep the code for all the functionality in a maintainable structure.

If you only store one PHP file in the main directory of you plugin, a file we can call the “loader”, we might increase the gain a little. The only task of this file is to load the rest of the files in the plugin. This loader will load a controller that we name the “core”. The controllers tasks are, among others, to set up action and filter hooks to integrate into WordPress and other plugins and to control the flow of data inside the plugin.

The most important reason to arrange the files is to get a better overview. One way to do this is to make use of subdirectories based on functionality and file types. You could place all your Javascript files inside a “js” directory and your CSS files inside a “css” directory. If your plugin has a administration interface those files could be placed in a directory called “admin”, likewise could widget related files be located inside a “widget” directory. Keeping a structure like this demands a little extra code and will give you more files to keep in mind, but in return you’ll never see your files grow into huge monsters of several thousands lines. Files growing out of control can easily become a problem, which I have experienced myself when developing WordPress plugins.

An example with a directory structure for a plugin of a pretty large size:

my_plugin_loader.php
/actions/controller.php
/actions/widget.ajax.php
/admin/options.php
/core/my_plugin.php
/css/admin.options.css
/css/widget-css.php
/js/script-loader.php
/js/some_lib.js
/js/widget-js.php
/languages/my_plugin-nb_NO.po
/languages/my_plugin-nb_NO.mo
/widget/widget.control.php
/widget/widget.php

I have used some suitable file names. It is not necessary to specify the directory name as a part of the file name, as I have done for some of the files above, but you might want it if your editor only shows you the name of the file. I use Eclipse for development which only shows me the name of the file. That makes it harder to separate different files with the same name from each other.

In my example I have a file named “script-loader.php” which is used to load Javascript files. WordPress contains functionality to register scripts with a name, URL and dependencies. It is also possible to specify the version of the script, which becomes a part of the URL. This is useful to force browsers to downlad the new script file instead of using a cached one.

You might want to make directly calls on functionality in your plugin, not from a file in another plugin or a file in the selected theme, but maybe to load some data with a Javascript, execute an update or print a CSS or Javascript file requested by the browser. You need a front controller to handle these requests.

I use PHP5 and an object oriented structure when I develop plugins for WordPress, but the thoughts and suggestions in this article might be used perfectly with a structural, non object oriented, methodology. There are many pourly written plugins for WordPress, hacked together to give only the functionality needed at the given time. This makes it harder to maintain the plugin later when new requires show up and makes the integration with other plugins or newer versions of WordPress to a nighmare. Those plugins are then used as a base for other peoples plugins with the famous copy and paste method. I believe that better documentation with good examples can increase the code quality for plugins.

This is a translation of my norwegian blog post.

WordPress plugins – Front Controller

WordPress supports extensions through plugins. Plugins integrate into the core of WordPress with hooks. These hooks are executed at places in the WordPress code. An example of this is when a web page of posts is displayed, when a user is created or when a post is deleted.

There is an action hook that is called “init” that is executed the moment before the theme gets loaded and posts gets presented. When this hook is executed all plugins are loaded and options from the database are retrieved from the database, and therefore is this hook very suitable for what I am about to show you here.

I often need to call functions available from my plugin from a JavaScript, also known as Ajax, or from an HTML form. As an example I will describe how to create a filter that lets the user use a filter, such that only posts that matches this filter will be shown. I have written a plugin that makes use of this technique. The plugin is not publicly available, but I will show you how it can be done.

This filter sets a cookie in the users web browser. The user will then have the filter active until the users changes to some other filter. I will show you two examples, first where I use a regular HTML link to change to a different filter, then I will show you how Ajax can be used to retrieve a list of available filters. Filters can be placed in levels relative to each other, where a filter will have a parent filter. Think of it as categories in WordPress.

The link to change a filter can look something like this:

<a href="http://example.com/?myplugin=set&filter=sport">Sport</a>

When i click on this link I need my plugin to check for those parameters I send. In my examples I call my plugin for “myplugin”, although thats not the real name of it, but then again it’s only an example ;) . In the URL in the example above I have used the code word “myplugin”, the same as the name of the plugin. This is to reduce the possibility of name collisions with other plugins. In the PHP code of the plugin I have connected a function to the “init” hook that checks if the code word has been given as a parameter. It will then look for a suitable action to execute based on the value of the code word.

The following example shows the PHP code that accepts both a request to set a filter and to return a list of all filters that has a certain parent. If the first test matches a filter gets set and WordPress continues to load the page. In the second test you can see that the script dies the moment after it prints the list of requested filters. That is actually desired because we are going to make an asynchronous JavaScript call to this function that will want only this list, not a normal WordPress page. With the JavaScript call we are not going to reload the page, but only update a small part of the page, whether it is a <select> list, a list of checkbox’ or some other action decided by the JavaScript.



$myplugin = new MyPlugin();

add_action('init', array(&$myplugin, 'check_action'));

//

// The main class of the plugin

class MyPlugin {

    function check_action() {

        $action = _REQUEST['myplugin'];

        switch($action) {

            case 'set':

                $this->set_filter($_REQUEST['filter']);

                break;

            case 'list':

                $list = $this->get_list($_REQUEST['parent']);

                echo $list;

                exit;

        }

    }

    // Set a new filter

    function set_filter($filter = '') {

        // use setcookie to set the filter in the web browsers cookie

    }

    // Returns a list of filters with a given parent

    function get_list($parent = '') {

        // lookup all the filters with the parent given as a parameter

    }

}

I will not go into details of how JavaScript can be used to make asynchronous calls. It would be too big and too many details to dig into in this article. There are many good resources on the Internet about Ajax, and Google knows about most of them. It can be a good thing to check out Cross-Browser XMLHttpRequest that makes it a lot easier to use Ajax without all the pain of different techniques and implementations between web browsers. Prototype and jQuery are two very powerful JavaScript libraries that are worth to have a look at as well. Beware that those two are per default not compatible with each other, use either Prototype or jQuery if you are not already familiar with them.

This article is a translation of my norwegian article from march 8.

Plugin – DF FileConf

I wrote a plugin that can be useful if you are going to move your blog to a different site. There are many options that needs to be changed if the URL of your blog changes, at least ‘siteurl’ and ‘home’. This is normally done manually updating the values in the database table wp_options, since you can not reach the WordPress administration sites if these URLs are wrong. If you use a plugin that makes use of Google Maps you need to update the API key as well.

This plugin has only been tested with the WordPress 2.1 branch, but might work with older versions. Please report on compatiblity with other versions.

Please read the readme.txt file that is included in the archives for installation directions. It is important to understant the structure of the array variable in the configuration file.

I suggest you leave the option “df_fileconf_update” to false until you are certain that you have entered the correct options and they are working. If your blog stops working then you can change the option “df_fileconf_active” to false to disable the usage of the configuration file.

This plugin is also hosted at WordPress.org.

License: GPL

Here are the archives you can download, in both zip and tar archives.

- tar DF FileConf

- zip DF FileConf

WordPress

WordPress is one of the most popular bloging tools on the web today. It is written in PHP, Javascript and regular HTML code. It was designed to be a single blog application, but several projects exists to make use of it as a multiblogging tool. WordPress Mu is an official product of the WordPress community and Lyceum is a fork of WordPress developed by Ibiblio.

WordPress supports plugins and themes. Plugins are used to extend the functionality of WordPress without touching the core code of WordPress and themes give your blog a new look.

WordPress can be used as a web applications framework with functionality to access a MySQL database, do translations of your text, execute asynchronous calls from the client using the technique called AJAX and most importantly it supports extentions of functionality through plugins. The possiblities with plugins are allmost endless. You can make WordPress present your data using custom template files. Input can be made by parsing the parameter list in your plugin. Your plugin can take full control over the workflow in WordPress and everything that is returned back to the user.