Getting Started With Modern WordPress Development: What You Need

I’m teaching a few workshops this month aimed at those looking to level up their WordPress development chops. It’s got me thinking a lot about what you need to do quality WordPress development.

It’s a very subjective question, what software to use, what principles to value, what resources to learn from… So I wanted to share my thoughts on what is necessary for getting started. The list is less about software, and more about concepts because in the end, it’s about the wizard, not the wand.

Tools

You can write code in notepad and FTP it up to a shared host and hope for the best, but to do it right you need some basics tools. Here is my opinionated list. I’ve broken it down into “basics” and “important”. The first category is things you should have right away. The second list is important, but can probably wait.

Basics

Code Editor and IDE

A code editor is a specialized text editor designed for writing code. I like Atom as my simple code editor. It’s the application I use when I just need to open up a file, read it and maybe make a few changes.

An Integrated Development Environment (IDE) is more than a code editor. A good IDE provides everything you need to develop in a language. I do most of my work in phpStorm. I use it as a code editor, web server, terminal, sFTP client, Git client, and more. I probably don’t use half of its features.

Git and A Git GUI

Github Social CodingYou must use version control. It’s just not optional if you need to do anything large in terms of development or work with others. It will also be a part of your deployment strategy.

I wrote more about why you should use Git on the CalderaWP blog. WP Pusher, which is an excellent tool for deploying Git repos as plugins and themes, offers a Git course on their site that is worth checking out.

While I use the command line and phpStorm for Git most of the time, I am still a big fan of SourceTree and it’s one of a few reasons I miss using a Mac for my primary development machine.

Local Development Environment

Installing A Site With DesktopServerThe reasons to use a local environment are numerous. The short answer is — it’s faster, more secure, and no one can see your fails.

There are a lot of ways to set up a local environment on your computer.  Here are the ways I recommend, in order of ease of use:

  • DesktopServer – A simple application that gives you an interface for creating local WordPress sites. Start here if you are new to local development. It’s easy and might be all you need.
  • Valet – Made by the Laravel project, but works with WordPress. I use this on my Mac (never figured out how to get it to work in Ubuntu.) Requires Composer, homebrew and a bit of setup.
  • Vagrant – Vagrant creates a virtual machine on your computer that you can use for development. I use the popular VVV project for setting up a WordPress development environment on my main computer.

Important

Dependency Management Tools

Mandelbrot FractalI’m going to go less in depth here, as I’ve covered Composer quite a bit here and on Torque. Seriously use Composer, it makes PHP development better and easier.

Other tools I use for dependency management and task running:

  • Composer
  • NPM
  • Grunt
  • Bower

xDebug

When doing JavaScript development, you can use the browser’s developer tools to debug your code. You set a break point to stop execution and see what the variables equal at that point.

xDebug gives you that for PHP. It’s an amazing tool that takes the guess work, and the vard_dump()/die(); out of development. xDebug comes pre-installed in VVV and works great with phpStorm.

Concepts

Basics

Photo by: veeterzyIf you’re brand new to development, you need to get PHP and JavaScript fundamentals down first.

I’ve written a ton on PHP over on Torque. I recommend starting with my PHP fundamentals article and then looking at my article on using WP_Query to learn object-oriented PHP.

For JavaScript, I like CodeAcademy’s JavaScript course. The book “JavaScript The Good Parts” is also worth reading. Like most WordPress developers, I started with JavaScript by using jQuery and starting in jQuery being a smart start is the consensus we came to when we discussed this on an episode of The WPCrowd, which I followed up with an article on the same topic on Torque.

The WordPress Way

It’s hard to define the WordPress Way, without jumping into WordPress code, which you totally should do. The best way to learn after all is to read the source.

In addition, you really should read the WordPress handbooks:

If you take one lesson from the handbooks, it should be that there is a standard for documenting code and that you should follow it. Inline documentation makes it easier to work with your code, it makes it easier to read your code and it’s super useful to developers who are not familiar with your code.

Principles

I am very much a believer that pragmatic adherence to certain principles will make you a better developer. At a minumum, I think you should familiarize yourself with the single responsibility principle and the do not repeat yourself (DRY) principle.

Class Autoloaders

I’m a huge beliver in using a class autoloader. It’s becoming more common in WordPress, but is still behind. I covered using a PSR-4 autoloader and Composer’s autoloader in an article for Torque.

An autoloader is simple to setup and it forces a logical directory structure and class naming system on to your plugin or theme.

The WordPress REST API

As you probably know, I’m a huge advocate of the WordPress REST API. I think it’s super important for advancing the quality of code and end-user experience we can deliver.

I’ve written a ton on the REST API to help you get started. But, in my mind, it’s not just about learning the REST API. It’s about learning how to write plugins, themes and site-specific code that can be used with theme templates, shortcodes and the REST API.

TL;DR

Photo by: Paula BorowskaPaula BorowskaOk, that was a little long, but here is my summary:

Use local development (start with Desktop Server) and Git (Github and SourceTree FTW.) Composer and autoloaders are awesome. Read Carl and Tom and document your code.

I’ve linked to a ton of free content, mainly by me, to help you learn. I have two WordPress development courses. One on the WordPress REST API and one on modern WordPress development. You should check those out if you want to learn more and say thanks for all the articles and WordCamp talks that I’ve done to help educate the community.

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