One way to think about plugins and widgets is to view them as programs within programs. The official WordPress Codex defines a plugin as “a tool to extend the functionality of WordPress,” which is as good a definition as any other. A widget (which often is a plugin itself designed to function in a widget area of your website) is essentially “a small application with specific functionality that is installed and run from within a website.”
There are literally thousands of plugins and widgets available that help to customize your site in exactly the ways you want. Many of them are simple to install and easy to configure and add those touches that you might want to see on your site. They range from current weather reports to image widgets that allow you to post personal pics in slideshows.
Some plugins will never show up on your front end but are critical additions to your site. I never build a website without installing a database backup plugin that will schedule automatic backups. (In WordPress, your database contains your content; your files contain all the code that tells your database how to display that content. While both are important, files can usually be repaired or replaced; if your database is gone without a backup, your site no longer exists. Rebuilding your site in this instance could be almost as expensive as it was to build the first time.)
A word about how plugins and widgets work in the marketplace. While there are some that are commercial (you pay for them) most WordPress plugins that I use are considered “shareware,” meaning the developer would love for you to donate to help defray the costs but doesn’t require that for you to install and use the plugin. There are some I use on a regular basis and always make a point to support those whose work supports us all. I encourage ANY WordPress site owner: Don’t ignore those Paypal links you’ll see from time to time on your plugin screen! That’s your way of saying thank you to a developer who has already given you his / her work!
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