Best Free WordPress Plugin Development Tutorials For Beginners
Developing for WordPress usually takes one of two forms: themes or plugins.
We’ve covered a lot on theme development since it’s often the more popular choice. But there’s plenty of good reason to learn how to code WordPress plugins too.
They offer your site far more functionality without slowing down the interface or being coded directly into your theme. And you can build a plugin to release out to the public to garner attention towards your name or your company’s name.
Plenty of great reasons to learn WP plugin development. But where do you get started?
Well this list should have you covered with a handful of video tutorials on everything related to plugins, hooks, filters, and standard syntax techniques for building on WordPress.
WordPress Plugin Development Basics
It’s always smart to start with the basics much like this video guide.
Over 15 minutes developer Joshua Herbison covers the absolute basics of WordPress plugin development. How they work, what files you need, and how to setup a really basic plugin just to see how it operates.
In time you may need to delve into far more complex topics like database tables and caching. But those areas are best left for later when you’re already comfortable with these basic ideas.
WordPress Plugin from Scratch
For something a little more hands-on try this free video talking about designing a full WordPress plugin from scratch.
I’m a big proponent of learning by example and this video is the best way to dive right in.
You’ll watch in a step-by-step fashion how to create a full working WP plugin from start to finish.
This can easily be installed onto any platform and even edited to include more functionality. Plus the syntax is still right on point since the video is not that old.
Unlocking Coding Power
While this video is not exactly a full plugin dev tutorial, I still think it belongs in this list.
Primarily because when you’re coding on WordPress you have to learn the syntax to get it right. There are “proper” ways to code in a WP environment, and with some patience you can learn those methods all from this video.
Note this is an absolutely massive undertaking with a total runtime of well over 3 hours. You likely won’t want to consume this all in one sitting.
But the content is on-point and worth digesting if you can find the time. Even if you watch this in smaller 20-minute intervals over the course of a couple weeks.
It’s published by the great YouTube dev channel LearnWebCode which talks about many similar subjects like frontend coding, CMS engines, and technical dev tools.
Crash Course in Plugin Development
I’ve always trusted the content on Tuts+ because it’s just so detailed and valuable. Never found a bad tutorial from them.
And that statement remains true with their WP plugin crash course video.
With just 35 minutes you can walk through a full WordPress plugin development cycle and learn how to create something from nothing.
I do realize the video is a few years old by now. However the basics are still directly applicable even to the newest version of WordPress.
Some of the function names may be different or the best uses for variable names. But overall the main structure of a plugin is very similar and this crash course should teach you everything you need to know.
Useful WordPress Widget Plugin
One of the coolest features you can add with a plugin is a WordPress widget.
These are edited on the backend so they can appear almost anywhere in a theme. They offer a tremendous amount of functionality if you code them right, and if the theme supports widgets.
Take a look at this video if you want to build a custom plugin with a unique widget setup.
It’s a pretty lengthy guide totaling around 45 minutes. But there is no better way to learn widget coding than through this video.
As a follow-up alternative I would also recommend this 20-minute tutorial on widget coding for WordPress.
It is quite a bit shorter than the previous video and it doesn’t get into as much depth. However it is also great to watch if you’re brand new to widgets and want to know how to properly add them into your plugin’s code.
This also comes from the LearnWebCode YouTube channel so you know the quality is high.
WordPress PHP Coding Standards
Here’s a tutorial that does not solely focus on WP plugin development. However it does cover something crucially important for every WP developer: coding standards.
Over the course of 20 minutes this video teaches all the fundamental coding standards that you need to know for working in a WordPress environment.
These include specifics like if/else statements, where to call functions, and how to work with the loop properly.
I’d actually say this video does not cover everything you need to know, but it’s a great starting point. Especially for aspiring plugin developers.
Create Database Entries
Now we’re getting into some of the more complex stuff with database queries and setting up your own database entries.
Have a peek at this video if you’re looking to develop a slightly more complex plugin. Many WP plugins do let you add database content, whether it’s rows into an existing table or creating your own table.
But you have to understand there are very specific procedures for adding content into the WordPress database.
This includes sanitizing content along with adding & pulling content using the proper functions.
Great video for newbies and certainly worth watching. But seek out some more content on this topic if you want to take databases even further.
How To Save Data
One task you may want to handle in a plugin is custom data.
When a backend user edits a post, or changes a username, or does anything else related to database content, you want to save those changes.
In this brief video you’ll learn which functions to use and how to properly send data back into the WordPress database.
It may seem weird that you have to work with a specific set of functions just to add content into the DB.
But this ultimately comes down to a security issue and it’s up to every developer to take security seriously.
Custom Fields & Post Types
One situation where you might want to save custom user data is with a custom field or custom post type(CPT for short).
These were introduced somewhere around WordPress v3 and they have become a real staple in the platform.
Take a look at this video if you’re new to CPT’s or custom fields. These can be added using existing plugins but those can slow down your website very quickly. That’s why I always suggest adding your custom fields programmatically through a theme file or through a plugin file.
While this 30-minute tutorial won’t make you a total expert in custom fields, it will fill in some gaps and help you get started.
Add Frontend Login Page
When it comes to adding functionality into your site, a custom login form is one of the easiest techniques.
But that doesn’t mean you should have to do it alone!
Have a peek at this video showing you how to create a frontend login page from scratch. It’s one of the best tuts on this subject and covers the entire WordPress ecosystem in full.
Not to mention this video is short. Only about 8 minutes long.
So if you’re new to the whole programming area then this video might be right up your alley.
One of the most powerful techniques you can use in WP programming is the hook.
This is one part of the WP plugin API that lets developers “hook” into other functions to add things, edit things, or append functionality into the main function.
It’s incredibly powerful and quite versatile considering just how much you can do with this. And if you’ve never used hooks before I highly recommend this video guide focusing just on WP hooks and the techniques you can use with them.
Hooks are part of any plugin developer’s toolset. And in just 11 minutes you can quickly understand why.
Actions & Filters
There are two subsets of hooks in the WordPress API: actions and filters.
These both perform different tasks and are used for different reasons. Although they can be interchangeable in some cases.
Basically an action performs a specific execution somewhere in a core WP function, while a filter runs over function contents and changes/alters it somehow.
This may sound confusing but have a look at this free tutorial covering the basics of actions and hooks. You’ll definitely pick it up fast.
I’d argue this video is a great follow-up to the previous one since it gets a little more in-depth into the differences and when you should use one over the other.
Note it is absolutely crucial that you learn how actions and hooks work. These will become a staple in every single plugin you develop.
You can learn a bit more in this article from Treehouse covering the details of actions, hooks, and how they work. But if you’re a visual learner this video should have everything you need.
Sending Ajax Requests
Dynamic Ajax lets you load content into the page without a full refresh. It first started back in the mid-2000s and has since become the norm for many websites.
Take a look at this video if you’re curious to learn more. It’ll cover all the fundamentals of running Ajax requests in WordPress. And you should be able to pick it up fast since this technique isn’t all that complicated!
But keep in mind that not all functions require Ajax.
If you search around you can find some handy guides teaching custom Ajax techniques. Although you don’t always have to run Ajax for every interface feature.
Try to use these sparingly where they would mostly improve the user experience on the site or the backend.
REST API Tutorial
One of the largest additions to the WordPress core is the REST API. This lets developers connect into a WordPress website and create a full-blown webapp with dynamic data access.
As a general rule, REST API development is not as common with WP sites. But it is quite powerful and certainly worth learning if you want to up your plugin development game.
Have a look at this intro guide to the WP REST API.
It’s a pretty lengthy video totaling around 50 minutes long. And the content is definitely complex so you should already be familiar with at least the basics of WordPress coding before you start.
However if you’re dead set on learning the REST API this video will get you there.
WP Plugin Development Class
Last but certainly not least is a series of free videos hosted by the OSTraining YouTube channel.
These are collectively called the WordPress Plugin Development Class. In total you’ll find 38 free videos all ranging from around 5-10 minutes.
They each cover a different subject of WP development like templates, content types, and how to read the WordPress Codex to debug errors.
Learning to code is no easy task. But once you get it down it’s a piece of cake, and once you learn to solve your own coding bugs or learn how to get help online you’ll be able to develop a lot faster.
Diving into the WordPress ecosystem can be a very smart step for the aspiring PHP developer. Especially if you want to run a handful of WordPress websites, or if you want to work in a WordPress environment.
No doubt these tutorials will get you started on the right track with some invaluable tips. Put in the time and you can easily go from a novice to a pro in just a few months.