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WordPress: The Missing Manual by Matthew MacDonald

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Throughout history, people have searched for new places to vent their opinions, sell their products, and just chat it up. The World Wide Web is the culmination of this trend—the best and biggest soapbox, marketplace, and meeting spot ever created.

But there’s a problem. If you want a website that’s taken seriously, you need first-rate content, a dash of good style, and the functionality that ties everything together. The first two items require some hard work. But the third element—the industrial-strength web plumbing that powers your site—is a whole lot trickier. Overlook that, and you’ve got a broken mess of pages that even your mom can’t love.

This is where the ridiculously popular web publishing tool named WordPress comes in. WordPress makes you a basic deal: You write the content, and WordPress takes care of the rest.

The services that WordPress provides are no small potatoes. First, WordPress puts every page of your content into a nicely formatted, consistent layout. It provides the links and menus that help visitors get around, and the search box that lets people dig through your archives. WordPress also lets your readers add comments with their Facebook or Twitter identities, so they don’t need to create a new account on your site. And if you add a few community-created plug-ins (from the vast library that currently tops 20,000 items), there’s no limit to the challenges you can tackle. Selling products? Check. Setting up a membership site? No problem. Building forums and collaborative workspaces? There’s a plug-in for that, too. And while it’s true that WordPress isn’t the best tool for every type of website, it’s also true that wherever you find a gap in the WordPress framework, you’ll find some sort of plug-in that attempts to fill it.

WordPress is stunningly popular, too—it’s responsible for roughly one-sixth of the world’s websites, according to the web statistics company W3Techs (see http://tinyurl.com/3438rb6). And one out of every five new sites runs on WordPress, so you’re in good company.

The Very Basics of Reading This Book

You’ll find very little jargon or nerd terminology in this book. You will, however, encounter a few terms and concepts you’ll come across frequently in your computing life:

  • Clicking. This book gives you three kinds of instructions that require you to use your computer’s mouse or trackpad. You already know how to click—that is, point the mouse cursor at something and press the button on your mouse (or laptop trackpad). You also know how to double-click—just point and click twice in rapid succession. And hopefully you remember that to drag means to move the mouse cursor while holding down the mouse button.

  • Keyboard shortcuts. Every time you take your hand off the keyboard to move the mouse, you lose time and potentially disrupt your creative flow. That’s why many experienced computer fans use keystroke combinations instead of menu commands wherever possible. Ctrl+B (⌘-B for Mac folks), for example, gives you boldface type in most programs.

    When you see a shortcut like Ctrl+S (⌘-S), it’s telling you to hold down the Ctrl or ⌘ key and type the letter S, and then release both keys. (This command, by the way, saves changes to the current document in most programs.)


Throughout this book, and throughout the Missing Manual series, you’ll find sentences like this one: “Choose Appearance→Themes in the dashboard menu.” That’s shorthand for a longer series of instructions that go something like this: “Go to the dashboard in WordPress, click the Appearance menu item, and then select the Themes entry underneath.” Our shorthand system keep things more snappy than these long, drawn-out instructions.

About WordPress

This book provides a thorough soup-to-nuts look at WordPress. You’ll learn everything you need to know, including how to create, manage, maintain, and extend a WordPress site.


Notice, we haven’t yet used the word blog. Although WordPress is the world’s premiere blogging tool, it’s also a great way to create other types of websites, like those that promote products, people, or things (say, your thrash-metal chamber-music band), sites that share stuff (for example, a family travelogue), and even sites that let people get together and collaborate (say, a short-story writing club for vampire fans). And if you’re not quite sure whether the site you have in mind is a good fit for WordPress, the discussion on What You Can Build with WordPress will help you decide.

What You Need to Know

If you’re planning to make the world’s most awesome blog, you don’t need a stitch of experience. Chapters Chapter 1 to Chapter 12 will cover everything you need to know. However, you will come across some examples that feature HTML (the language of the Web), and any HTML knowledge you already have will pay off handsomely.

If you’re planning to create a website that isn’t a blog (like a catalog of products for your handmade jewelry business), you need to step up your game. You’ll still start with the WordPress basics in Chapters Chapter 1 through Chapter 12, but you’ll also need to learn the advanced customization skills you’ll find in Chapters Chapter 13 and Chapter 14. How much customization you do depends on the type of site you plan to build, and whether you can find a theme that already does most of the work for you. But sooner or later, you’ll probably decide to crack open one of the WordPress template files that controls your site and edit it.

When you do that, you’ll encounter two more web standards: CSS, the style sheet language that sets the layout and formatting for your site; and PHP, the web programming language up on which WordPress is built. But don’t panic—we’ll go gently and introduce the essentials from the ground up. You won’t learn enough to write your own web programs, but you will pick up the skills you need to customize a WordPress theme so you can build the kind of site you want.

Your Computer

WordPress has no special hardware requirements. As long as you have an Internet connection and a web browser, you’re good to go. Because WordPress (and its design tools) live on the Web, you can use a computer running Windows, Mac OS, Linux, or something more exotic; it really doesn’t matter. In fact, WordPress even gives you tools for quick-and-convenient blog posting through a smartphone or tablet computer (see Using Post Formats for the scoop).

Hosting WordPress

There are two ways to host WordPress: you can use the free WordPress.com hosting service, or you can install WordPress on a hosting company’s web server and run the whole show yourself, which is called self-hosting. WordPress Hosting has much more about the difference.

But that’s for the future. For now, all you need to know is that you can use the information in this book no matter which approach you use. Chapter 2 explains how to sign up with WordPress.com, Chapter 3 details self-hosting, and the chapters that follow try to pay as little attention to your hosting decision as possible.

That said, it’s worth noting that you’ll come across some features, particularly later in the book, that work only with self-hosted installations of WordPress. Examples include sites that use plug-ins and those that need heavy customization. But, happily, the features that do work on both WordPress.com-hosted sites and self-hosted sites work in almost exactly the same way.

About this Book

This book is divided into five parts, each with several chapters:

  • Part 1. In this part of the book, you’ll start planning your path to WordPress web domination. In Chapter 1, you’ll plan the type of website you want, decide how to host it, and think hard about its domain name, the unique address that visitors type in to find your site on the Web. Then you’ll see how to get a basic blog up and running, either on WordPress.com (Chapter 2) or on your own web host (Chapter 3).

  • Part 2. This part explains everything you need to know to create a respectable blog. You’ll learn how to add posts (Chapter 4), pick a stylish theme (Chapter 5), make your posts look fancier (Chapter 6), add pages and menus (Chapter 7), and manage comments (Chapter 8). Even if you’re planning something more exotic than JAWB (Just Another WordPress Blog), don’t skip this section. The key skills you’ll learn here also underpin custom sites, like the kind you’ll learn to build in Part 4 of the book.

  • Part 3. If all you want is a simple, classy blog, you can stop now—your job is done. But if you’re hoping to add more glam to your site, this part will help you out. First, you’ll learn that plug-ins can add thousands of new features to self-hosted sites (Chapter 9). Next, you’ll see how to put video, music, and photo galleries on any WordPress site (Chapter 10). You’ll also learn how to collaborate with a whole group of authors (Chapter 11), and how to attract boatloads of web visitors (Chapter 12).

  • Part 4. In this part, you’ll take your WordPress skills beyond the blog and learn to craft a custom website. First, you’ll crack open a WordPress theme and learn to change the way your site works by adding, inserting, or modifying the CSS styles and PHP commands embedded inside (Chapter 13). Next, in Chapter 14, you’ll apply this knowledge to create a WordPress product-catalog site that doesn’t look anything like a typical blog.

  • Part 5. At the end of this book, you’ll find two appendixes. The first (Appendix A) explains how to take a website you created on the free WordPress.com hosting service and move it to another web host to get more features. The second (Appendix B) lists some useful web links culled from the chapters in this book. Don’t worry—you don’t need to type these into your browser by hand. It’s all waiting for you on the Missing CD page for this book at http://missingmanuals.com/cds/wpmm/.

About the Online Resources

As the owner of a Missing Manual, you’ve got more than just a book to read. Online, you’ll find example files as well as tips, articles, and maybe even a video or two. You can also communicate with the Missing Manual team and tell us what you love (or hate) about the book. Head over to www.missingmanuals.com, or go directly to one of the following sections.

Web Links

Often, this book will point you to a place on the Web. It might be to learn more about a specialized WordPress feature, or to get background information on another topic, or to download a super-cool plug-in. To save your fingers from the wear and tear of typing in all these long web addresses, you can visit the clickable list of links on the Missing CD page at http://missingmanuals.com/cds/wpmm/.

Living Examples

This book is packed full of examples. But unlike many other types of computer books, we don’t encourage you to try and download them to your own computer. That’s because once you place WordPress files on a local computer, they lose their magic. In fact, without the WordPress software running on a web server, your website loses all its abilities. You won’t be able to try out even a single page.

To get around this limitation, many of the finished examples from this book are available for you to play around with at www.prosetech.com/wordpress. Although you won’t be able to actually take charge of the example site (modify it, manage comments, or do any other sort of administrative task), you can take a peek and see what it looks like. This is a handy way to witness some features that are hard to experience in print—say, playing an embedded video or reviewing pictures in an image gallery.


If you register this book at oreilly.com, you’ll be eligible for special offers—like discounts on future editions of WordPress: The Missing Manual. If you buy the ebook from oreilly.com and register your purchase, you get free lifetime updates for this edition of the ebook; we’ll notify you by email when updates become available. Registering takes only a few clicks. Type www.oreilly.com/register into your browser to hop directly to the Registration page.


Got questions? Need more information? Fancy yourself a book reviewer? On our Feedback page, you can get expert answers to questions that come to you while reading, share your thoughts on this Missing Manual, and find groups for folks who share your interest in creating their own sites. To have your say, go to www.missingmanuals.com/feedback.


To keep this book as up-to-date and accurate as possible, each time we print more copies, we’ll make any confirmed corrections you suggest. We also note such changes on the book’s website, so you can mark important corrections in your own copy of the book, if you like. Go to http://tinyurl.com/7mujhnx to report an error and view existing corrections.

Using Code Examples

In general, you may use the code in this book in your programs and documentation. You don’t need to contact us for permission unless you’re reproducing a significant portion of the code. For example, writing a program that uses several chunks of code from this book does not require permission. Selling or distributing a CD of examples from O’Reilly books does require permission. Answering a question by citing this book and quoting example code does not require permission. Incorporating a significant amount of example code from this book into your product’s documentation does require permission.

We appreciate, but do not require, attribution. An attribution usually includes the source book’s title, author, publisher, and ISBN. For example: “WordPress: The Missing Manual by Matthew MacDonald (O’Reilly). Copyright 2012, 978-1-4493-0984-8.”

If you feel your use of code examples falls outside fair use or the permission given above, feel free to contact us at .

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