How to Do ‘XYZ’ Without a WordPress Plugin

February 13th, 2010
General, WordPress, WordPress Plugins

If you do a quick Google search for, “without a plugin”, you’ll find a gazillion results for how to accomplish simple to complex tasks for WordPress without the need of a plugin.

With so many articles about not using WordPress plugins, it just begs the question: “What’s wrong with WordPress plugins in the first place?”

I personally love my installed plugins. I have 25 installed on my personal blog, and I couldn’t live without a single one of them. If you venture off to Jeff Chandler’s site, he has 31 installed. Are we freakin’ nuts, or what?

So what’s the deal with all these “without a plugin” posts? I mean, you don’t see plugin authors posting, “How to accomplish ‘xyz’ without a WordPress theme” do you?

Okay, I’m slightly kidding, but this question needs to be asked: “What benefit is there to integrating a plugin into a theme?”

Does the theme load faster? Will there be support for the extra functionality? Will the plugin be better integrated as far as appearance?

Granted, there are many good reasons to integrate some plugin functionality as part of a WordPress theme (breadcrumbs anybody?).

The problem I foresee cropping up, however, is the user becoming too reliant on the theme for functionality that a WordPress plugin should ideally provide. As a result, that user may be ‘locked in’ to using the theme, whereas others can easily change out their theme without sacrificing functionality (if you’re like me, you go through 2-3 themes a year).

An argument for plugin integration is that of WordPress frameworks. Since frameworks typically rely on child themes for the appearance, the user doesn’t need to change the theme; The user is afforded the functionality of built-in plugins, and the flexibility of changing out themes.

An Exercise for the Reader

Okay, you’ve heard my spill on plugin integration. As an exercise for the reader, please consider the following and join me in the comments section:

  • What types of plugins should be built into themes?
  • What benefits do built-in plugins provide for you?
  • How far should theme frameworks go to limit the need for plugins?

And lastly, are plugins evil?




  1. R.Brian Burkhardt says:

    Using a plugin in the SEO area is a must, those that increase traffic are helpful-like those that put up related posts and “all in one seo” (one that should be named).

    SEO Plugins should be integrated in themes.

    Some themes restrict plugins and this is one of the most frustrating part of wordpress. Free and purchased themes are often both restrictive of plugins.

    Plugins need to be tested when changing themes

    • Leland (16 comments.) says:

      Yeah, but when you use a SEO plugin integrated in a theme, it makes it somewhat difficult to change themes after that, no?

      That is, unless you want to stick with the same theme for the rest of your blog’s life.

      If you use a third-party plugin like, All In One SEO Pack, all the data would be seamlessly transitioned no matter which theme you use.

      • Otto (215 comments.) says:

        The idea that “SEO” is something you can tack onto a site is fundamentally flawed to begin with.

        A properly designed theme needs no “SEO” type of thing. It’s optimized from the beginning.

        • Leland (16 comments.) says:

          When I say “SEO plugin” I’m referring to something that lets you have more fine-tuned control over page titles, meta tags, stuff like that.

          Of course, SEO is a bit more complicated than changing up your title tags and meta tags, or whatever else a typical SEO plugin helps facilitate.

  2. Mark says:

    I have been working through this very concern myself. I am not in a position to be a blogger. I think it is cool and fun, however I know I don’t have the time to work it on a consistent basis.

    What I would love is a “very, very” basic theme theme that can work as a CMS (aka:Website) for a single user only.

    I would love a theme with a full clean php/html markup for each of the 3 basic page types, Page, Single and Index; no header, footer, sidebars, comments, archives etc., are needed for a simple theme based website.

    If I tried to integrate plug-ins or other functionality with my “theme” I risk the chance of breaking my website with every update of WordPress. In addition I might inadvertently leave a security hole. WordPress gets hacked too much already, adding to the complexity to any part of it, core WP code, themes or plug-ins just asks for more trouble. IMO ;-)

    Still I use only 6 plug-ins. (Can you tell I am not a blogger?)

    1) Articles by Alex King
    2) Category Description Editor by Andrew Ozz
    3) Google XML Sitemaps by Arne Brachold
    4) WP-Spamfree by Scott Allen
    5) WP-Super Cache by Donncha O Caoimh
    6) Yet Another Related Posts Plugin by Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine

    All the best!

  3. mupet (1 comments.) says:

    I like to coding manualy for certain task on my wordpress, a lot of plugin make our wordpress loaded slowly.

  4. James (1 comments.) says:

    Isn’t this at the heart of the extendible open source vs supply it fully featured up dilemma? I’ve got 22 plugins in use on my own site. Each time I figure out how to use a function to replace one, it seems I find I need another, so the total never drops.

    The thing is, each site that I build uses a different set of plugins. If they all were built in, the WordPress core would become huge.

    With regard to themes depending on plugins, that brings us round to the debate about orphan plugins. If I’d paid for a theme, and found it no longer worked because an essential 3rd party plugin didn’t work with the latest WordPress release, I’d be very annoyed.

    Candidates for core inclusion? How about phpthumb (great for image heavy sites), a backup scheduler, and something to enable contact forms to be built and configured?

  5. Keith Dsouza (82 comments.) says:

    I had written two posts which sum up my thoughts about this, it is




  6. Sberbank (1 comments.) says:

    Why not to use WordPress plugin, if you can use it?
    Why to look for new methods?

  7. Dave form Denmark (1 comments.) says:

    First of all, there should be a new way, more modern way to implement plugins. It is lovely how many options there are with plugins but the security often suffers as well.

  8. Richard Hay (32 comments.) says:

    I have 53 plugins active at the moment :-)

    • Ronald Huereca (32 comments.) says:

      Wow! I think there should be a plugins anonymous for people like you :)

      Richard: “Hi, my name’s Richard.”
      Crowd: “Hi Richard.”
      Richard: “It’s been three weeks since I installed a plugin.”

      • Iva (3 comments.) says:

        I used to have more than Richard on a website that has a reasonable amount of traffic on a clustered server. Then I got rid of everything that I did not really need and coded things such as recent comments from functions I saw in other places – some of the things you provided, as your posts are very helpful for the more advanced users.

        Why use a Twitter plugin? Why use anything that fetches stuff from other servers, then does not load and it’s your fault that there’s high load on the server?

        The only SEO plugin I have ever used is John Godley’s headspace2, simply so I could have titles differ from the actual things in the title bar of my browser – this is useful if you’re archiving magazine articles or something like that. This aside, every serious blogger should know how to add the SEO-friendly title function to the header of their theme and follow some other easier things, such as semantic navigation and the sidebar loading after the contents, JavaScript in footer et cetera.

        Things like most of Lester Chan’s plugins, the no self ping plugin, My Page, Category and Link order and a better tagging interface such as Simple Tags shouldn’t really be plugins, those things would be much better off implemented in the core, IMHO.

  9. Xerotone says:

    Some problems with plugins:
    1) WP plugins are seldom future-proof. If you use a plugin for some essential functionality you are stuck with it when the developer abandons the project and WP core upgrades are required.
    2) WP plugins are often poorly coded. This can lead to all sorts of problems with bloated database queries, security breaches, slow loading times, etc.

    When I first began to work with WP I installed plugins to add all sorts of functionality to my blog. Now I am very careful. I only install plugins with active support, a development history, and a large number of downloads from the WP plugin database. I only really look at the functionality offered by the top 1% of WP plugins; the rest probably aren’t worth the hassle.

    I make exception for really simple plugins (i.e. those that add some extra oomph to meta handling or add em-dashes to post content)… but these I integrate into a functions.php file and personally maintain.

    Blogs like this constantly promote new plugins… all I can say as a seasoned WP user is that every blog owner needs to think long and hard anytime they add a new plugin. Is the plugin well-supported? Is there a developmental history? Is this someone’s first attempt at messing with PHP or is this the product of a capable programmer? Is it fringe functionality or truly essential to your blog’s operation?

    Best practise is just making the most with the core and judiciously choosing what additional functionality is absolutely essential. That’s my take on it anyway! YMMV.

    • Ronald Huereca (32 comments.) says:

      I, too, am very picky about installing new plugins.

      The first thing I do is take a quick look through the code and check the plugin’s organization (folder structure).

      If I find anything suspicious, such as encoding, it’s an automatic delete.

      As far as your points go… theme’s aren’t future-proof either and the plugin integration may be just a copy/paste (hopefully not) of the functionality.

  10. Ipstenu (31 comments.) says:

    On one blog I have 5 plugins, another has 10 and the BIG blog has 20 (which feels like a lot to me).

    I have a policy of never doing in a plugin what I can do simply in functions.php, and never doing in functions what could be done in .htaccess. For example, feedburner redirects? It’s all done in htaccess. Why use a plugin? Killing curly quotes? Functions. WP Super Cache … ;) Well yeah.

  11. Hikari (14 comments.) says:


    Code is code, what these articles do is give webdesigners ways of adding functionality over presentations.

    It’s not harder to add code to a plugin instead of a theme, but theme authors overpower plugin authors a lot, and plugin authors are becoming pissed with it.

    IMO, the best to do is use modularity. WordPress core must be clean and only have base features, moving everything else to plugins. Themes must have only presentation code, leaving complex features to plugins. And plugins be the base of all WordPress features.

    Theme authors could easily bundle their themes with a couple of plugins that add extra features, and premium themes could offer extra value with optional plugins. Themes with a lot of code are heavier and load slowly, without leaving us with option to disable these extra features we may not want.

    But there is really a “split” between WP theme and WP plugin authors. It’s rare to see somebody that develop both. And I also feel WP theme authors fear to distribute their themes with special plugins and even support plugins in their code, IDK why.

    And of course, “what the eyes don’t see, the heart doesn’t feel”. Users will “feel” their site heavier if themes come with plugins. And complain about that as if it was a bad thing, while real heavy plugins with a bunch of code are able to hide all that code to users.

    I’m reaching 60 plugins, and some code I added to my theme will be ported to a plugin soon.

    • Ipstenu (31 comments.) says:

      Code is code, what these articles do is give webdesigners ways of adding functionality over presentations.

      Was that the issue?

      Look at Justin Tadlock. His Hybrid theme makes MASSIVE use of Functions. But he also has plugins. Should some things in his theme be done by plugins? Yes. Like, recently, he decided to move his SEO stuff to a plugin and out of Hybrid.

      Themes with a lot of code are heavier and load slowly, without leaving us with option to disable these extra features we may not want.

      And contrarily, sites with a lot of PLUGINS are heavier and load slowly. Some themes (again, Hybrid) allows you to disable the extra features. Ones that don’t, I would say, are bad themes.

      Not everything SHOULD be a plugin. If you need a lot of modularity and flexibility, then yes, of course, a plugin would be better 99.999% of the time. But for things like redirecting RSS to feedburner, why on earth do you need a plugin for that?

      I don’t think we can make a blanket statement that one is better than the other. I think we have to judge each ‘add on’ by it’s own merits and how YOU are going to use it on YOUR site.

  12. Shane (1 comments.) says:

    I use less than a dozen plugins on most of my sites. I don’t know why, but I’m always a bit weary of installing more and more plugins. It just seems like that might lead to problems (I guess this shows that I have no clue about coding).

    I did have one of my sites become inaccessible for a while because of a plugin. It was working fine for a long time, but then some update must have created an incompatibility. I still don’t know what the problem was, just that the site became accessible again, as soon as I deactivated the plugin.

  13. Dana @ Blogging Update (27 comments.) says:

    Plugin surely save our time as wordpress bloggers — but sadly, not all thing can be served by plugin so i still have to do some template customization — to better placement of author bio and social networking button. I hope in future that all thing can handle by plugin. :D

  14. Andrew@BloggingGuide (63 comments.) says:

    For me, plug-ins are not evil, they are actually angels, so to speak because they make everything easier. They make your site look good, they protect your site, plugins does a lot of things. And what’s more, no more need of html coding. Blogging life is easier with wordpress plugins.

  15. Hedley says:

    Well… I like plugins too. However, I would rather find a way to do what I need to do using built in WordPress functionality, if possible, than using a plugin, as built in functions may be more likely to be maintained. I don’t want to be in a position a year from now having to choose between upgrading WordPress to the latest release (and dumping a plugin that isn’t being upgraded along with it), or using old versions of WordPress just so that I can keep using a plugin. It’s a big pain to establish a readership based on content that depends on a particular plugin, and if there’s another way of achieving the same goal, I’m interested, even if it’s more work to achieve initially.

  16. Amit Sharma (2 comments.) says:

    I don’t like plugins at all. But, I am not a web developer. I use few. I think plugins make websites slow. But its the easiest way and it saves time. I’m planning on learning more about wordpress so I can be free from plugins and themes.

  17. Tomas Kapler (6 comments.) says:

    as it was mentioned many users before – most of the plugins are complete crap and adding them to your wordpress mean adding insecurity, instability and no future proof. Also often i need some small change and than with plugin upgrade you loose the change. For me as non-english person with non-english-speaking users of my wp installs there is very often problem with not using __() and _e() functions for translations…
    But what i hates probably most, that for a one stupid thing which i need and which is e.g. one row function i simply do not want plugin with hundrets of rows with options etc.

    I’m using about 10 plugins, which are perfectly writtent and are not mission critical (e.g. backend redesign etc.), and then i got about 100 functions, which i wrote myself or took from some plugins etc.

  18. Christopher (18 comments.) says:

    it is good to have some things integrated in the theme and other things in plugins. Anything theme related is a good candidate for being integrated in the header or functions.php.
    Other functionality probably would be best as a plugin.
    I admit that I rarely change themes because I have so much stuff integrated like metadescriptions,meta keywords, etc as custom code. When I switch themes It takes me a while to reintegrate that info. Why did I never set up a plugin to add that code? I’m not really sure. I guess it is because there wasn’t a need to.
    Also things like caching my sidebars, I’ve never figured out how to do with a plugin but it is quite simple to edit the files sidebar.php and add caching code.

    Perhaps if the WordPress API were properly documented more people would write plugins?


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