Enjoying the fame of being the easiest to use piece of software, WP allows to manage a website without getting the hands dirty over codes and scripts. Therefore, many beginners and even longtime WordPress users do not suspect about complex functionality hidden under the hood of the platform. Let’s now focus on the very basics of how WordPress works behind the scenes.
The first thing you need to know is that WordPress can be accessed on three levels: the user-facing website, the admin area and the WP Core.
The user-facing website is the part of the site that users interact with when they follow its web address. It is basically what visitors see.
The admin area – also known as Dashboard, is accessible when you log-in to the WordPress site as an administrator. This area allows to manage the content (for example, add posts, pages, media, etc.) and change the website settings (including themes, plugins and widgets). Since WordPress admin panel is very intuitive and user-friendly, many site administrators do not go beyond that. However, the dashboard is only a part of the CMS’s back-end.
WordPress’s Core, another part of the back-end, contains the platform’s own files with the actual code on the server. Every WordPress site is powered by the same core code, no matter how differently those sites operate or look. It also includes themes, plugins and the database. Let’s look at the different elements of WordPress’ Core in more detail.
First of all, to run a WordPress site the host needs two things: PHP and MySQL.
PHP (PHP Hypertext Preprocessor) is the language WordPress is written in, and it is what makes WordPress dynamic. More broadly, it is a widely used open source general-purpose scripting language. PHP is great for adding and extracting the information to/from databases based on given criteria.
MySQL (My Structured Query Language) is an open-source relational database management system (RDBMS). A MySQL database stores all the information added via the dashboard. It allows to perform four types of tasks – create, read, update and delete (CRUD operations). These tasks are all performed by WordPress, so the users don’t need to deal with the database itself.
The other elements of the WordPress Core are themes and plugins.
Themes provide all of the front end styling for WordPress sites, such as the overall design, colors, widget location, fonts, etc. Themes can be downloaded for free, bought or custom made.
Plugins have been specifically developed to add features and functionality to WP sites beyond the built-in options. There are more than 37,000 plugins in the official WordPress Plugin Directory.
While the theme is a necessary element of the website’s functioning – plugins are not required, so the user may choose whether or not he/she wants to install any.
The interaction between all of the above mentioned elements can be described through the following sequence:
- You can add or edit the content on your site through the dashboard (administration area);
- It is then stored in MySQL database (a part of the core);
- The stored database content becomes visible on your website and its appearance depends on the chosen theme (the user-facing website).
Finally, it is important to mention a couple of concepts which make many users confused – pages vs. posts and categories vs. tags. Understanding the difference between those will help you meet your website goals and organize the content better.
Pages vs. Posts. The main difference between these two entities is the type of content they are best suited for. While pages are good for storing static information that does not need to be frequently updated (for example, the about page, services, menu, etc.), posts usually contain timely data that loses relevance relatively fast (those are news articles, etc.). Pages can be organized in a hierarchy on a parent child principle (where pages are the parent pages and subpages are the child pages). Posts, on the other hand, are grouped differently – they can be classified with the help of categories and tags depending on the topic.
Categories vs. Tags. As it has been mentioned, categories and tags can be assigned to posts in order to organize the information better and help the readers navigate through the website. The main difference between categories and tags is that the former ones encompass broader topics and describe things that are equal or related in a certain way, while the latter signify narrow topics and can be completely unrelated.
Now when you know the basics of what happens behind the scenes of every WordPress website – it’s time to put theory to practice. Go ahead and install WordPress on your computer and feel free to experiment (remember though, the general advice is not to edit the WP core code)!
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