How to Use Wordpress Plugins
INSTALL, CONFIGURE, & DEPLOY PLUGINS FOR WORDPRESS
There are hundreds of thousands of Wordpress plugins, for nearly every imaginable purpose. That alone can make the first few steps in blogging some confusing ones.
But once you find the functionality you want or need, it becomes even more challenging - you also must know how to use those Wordpress plugins (install, configure, and deploy).
Plugins are simply tools (essentially small PHP scripts) which work with the Wordpress software to extend (or enhance) its core functionality. Let's look at the download, installation and plugin management process in more detail and then address configuration and deployment considerations.
Download & Install Wordpress Plugins
There are two ways to access (download) plugins and install them on your Wordpress blogging system - directly from the Plugins page (as seen in the image below) which is available through the administration dashboard or by using some file transfer protocol (FTP) to upload to the appropriate folders on your Web server.
Install Plugin to Server through FTP
Adding a plugin to Wordpress through FTP is rather straightforward. To get started, first make sure you have FTP access (username, password, FTP address) and some means to transfer the plugin files (FTP software).
Once a connection with the server is established, the unzipped (most plugins are available for download in a compressed file such as ZIP) plugin folder should be uploaded in its entirety to the appropriate folder on the server. If the Wordpress weblog is on the root of the domain, the path to the plugin folder would likely be the following: wp-content/plugins/. Open the plugins folder and plugins already installed will be visible. Then upload the plugin (folder) to the wp-content/plugins/ folder. Most plugins are rather small in size so with a few quick refreshes you will be able to make sure that the file has uploaded in its entirety.
Add New From Plugins Dashboard
If you're adding a plugin from the administrative dashboard of Wordpress, it's a much easier process. Let's say for example that I want to add a plugin named Jetpack (built by Automattic, the makers of Wordpress). Wordpress enables its administrative users to search for plugins (by keyword, author, or tag), see popular and featured plugins, and most importantly - upload plugins directly. That means that you can install plugins you find - either from the Wordpress directory or from an independent Wordpress developer - without using FTP.
If you plan on uploading a file from your own computer, make sure that the file is in a .zip format. Choose the file from your system, and Wordpress will automatically unpack the zipped file and make it available in your plugin library.
If you plan on installing a plugin found through the featured or popular categories, or which you found by conducting a search through the available search interface, simply select "install" directly from the return list and Wordpress will unpack the file and install it in your plugin library.
Activate the Wordpress Plugin
That's not the last step however! Remember that it's necessary to activate the plugin before being able to use it. From the plugins page, locate the plugin you just installed (plugins are in alphabetical order) and select "Activate". Once the plugin is activated, depending on its functionality, there may be a need to configure it to work.
Configure the Wordpress Plugin (and Deploy)
Since many third-party software vendors provide plugins to the Wordpress community, there is often a need to configure each plugin you install on your Wordpress installation to enable it to communicate with those providers (through an API which requires a key for example). For example, in order to use blog/comment spam prevention plugin Akismet (also provided by Automattic) you must enter an API key - which is available (based on a sliding scale dependent on request volume) at Akismet.com. That's just onen example of what is required in configuring a Wordpress plugin. Some configuration processes are rather involved but take the time once the plugin is activated to continue the process if you want the functionality it promises to bring. The plugin you installed and configured may also require some direct integration with your theme.
Final Thoughts on Using Wordpress Plugins
Using Wordpress plugins is a great way to make your blog a better, smarter, faster, cooler destination on the Web. Plugins require near constant maintenance however. Make sure to install only plugins whose providers you trust, from destinations that are reputable, and update them immediately upon the release of a new version - or delete them outright if you're no longer using or need them. You'll find that these two suggestions will prevent quite a few security headaches down the line.