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Building the Favorite Plugins Plugin


Now that it's possible to favorite plugins on WordPress.org, wouldn't it be great to be able to make your favorites available for speedy install from within the WordPress dashboard? Let's build a plugin to do just that!

Finding Your Favorite Plugins

Most of us who use WordPress have, at some time or another, trawled through the WordPress.org plugin directory looking for a plugin to add a particular piece of functionality to a website. Often there's more than one option, and it can take a little time to asses which is the one that does the job best. Perhaps after a while, you have a handful of plugins you use on every install, and maybe a few that you really like for specific tasks. How do you keep track of them? Do you just search the plugin directory every time?

Not too long ago the favorites feature was released on WordPress.org, so now you can mark certain plugins as 'favorites', allowing you to easily find them from your profile. This is an excellent start to keeping track of them.

Even more recently, a new argument was added to the WordPress.org Plugin API to search for plugins favorited by a specific user. So now it would be possible to write a plugin to bring this functionality into the WordPress dashboard.

I wrote a plugin called 'Favorite Plugins', and I'm going to walk you through building it now.

Note: This functionality is actually going to be a part of WordPress when version 3.5 is released in December. We're building this plugin as an exercise in plugin building, and using the WordPress.org Plugin API.

Step 1 Building the Base of the Plugin

When building a plugin, it's a good idea to plan things out before you get too far into the nitty gritty of the code. This helps keep you focussed, and saves you writing lines and lines of code, only to realise you've got more code than you need and you've overcomplicated things.

So here's what our plugin is going to do:

  • Add a new tab called 'Favorites' to the 'Install Plugins' screen in the WordPress admin
  • On the new tab, we'll have a form to enter the WordPress.org username to use
  • If we have a username, we ask WordPress.org for the favorites for that user
  • Below the form we display a table showing all the favorite plugins for the provided user (if there are any)
  • We'll also remember the username entered to keep things convenient. After all, that's what this plugin is all about!

Now let's get our files in order. Create yourself a directory under /wp-content/plugins/ called wptuts-favorite-plugins. Inside this new directory, create yourself a file called wptuts-favorite-plugins.php. Then open the file up and, as always when developing a plugin, add the plugin header as follows:

Favorite Plugins plugin

Now we'll create the class and stubs for the methods we're going to use in this plugin. We use a class to build the plugin so we can take advantage of features provided by developing using object-oriented methods, and it also keeps all our functions nicely namespaced.

Here's the class stub and the methods we'll need:

That's it! That's all the functionality we're building into this theme. Because we're building for the WordPress admin, we're trying to take full advantage of everything that's done for us.

Also, note that I've wrapped the initilisation line in an if statement to stop the plugin working on WordPress 3.5+, which will have this functionality itself anyway.

Step 2 Adding the Favorites Tab

This is the quickest and easiest part, so let's get it done first, and then we can refresh to see any progress as we go through too.

Firstly, we need to add the following code into the __construct method of our class:

Here we're hooking onto WordPress' 'install_plugins_tab' filter which is exactly what we need to add a tab.

What's that array( $this, 'function_name' ) code doing? As you may be aware, when using object-oriented programming, the $this reserved word is used to refer to the current object. When using hooks in WordPress, the second parameter can be a string with the name of the function to use, or when using an object it can be an array with the object and specific method of the object to use.

Read more about this under Avoiding Function Name Collisions on the WordPress Codex.

Then we make the add_favorites_tab method of our class look like the following:

This simply adds an element to the $tabs array with a value of 'Favorites' to be displayed as the tab text. If you go to the 'Install Plugins' screen in your WordPress admin now, by clicking on 'Plugins' -> 'Add New', you'll see the 'Favorites' tab added there. Clicking it now will show you a lovely blank tab. Let's put some stuff on it.

Favorites tab

Step 3 Putting The Form in Our New Tab

Keep in mind that the tab is ultimately on the same page ('install_plugins') as the other tabs, and this page is actually just waiting for something to do depending on which tab is active. It also has hooks that use the tab name, such as 'install_plugins_pre_{$tab}', and 'install_plugins_{$tab}', both of which we're going to use.

What this means is that adding the form for the user to enter their WordPress.org username is also relatively simple. Add this line to the __construct method of our class:

The install_plugins_{$tab} action happens in the body of the tab, and it expects two parameters. The second parameter is for the current page in paginaton. We don't need pagination for our form, so we supply the callback function and the default priority, and then specify that we're only going to pass one parameter.

Now we fill out our function to output the form:

Username form

First of all, we're setting the username to the one submitted through the form, if there is one. Otherwise, we grab the one we already have (we'll be setting this a little later in the tutorial).

Next we're providing some text to explain to users what this form is for. In the form, we have a hidden field for the tab value, so that when we submit it we come back to the same tab. The rest is the input field, the username field, and the submit button.

Step 4 We Have a Username, Let's Get Some Favorites

Users can submit a form with their username now, but nothing happens... we need to make a request to the WordPress.org Plugin API with the username, and then display the results.

Again we need to add a line to the __construct method of our class to add a method to a WordPress action. This time it's the install_plugins_pre_{$tab} hook, which runs earlier in the page processing. A good place for an API call.

I guess if we're calling that method we better make it do something useful:

This function also checks is there's a freshly submitted username, otherwise falls back to a saved one. We then check if the username is empty, because if it is there's no point making an API request. If the username wasn't blank, we first update a user meta value with a key of 'wporg_favorites' to be the current username.

We also set a variable called $args to be an array with a key 'user', and a value of the username to find favorites for. This is passed to the plugins_api() function, which we then essentially pass the return value of to $wp_list_table, and set some argument values for that too. We set the total_items and the per_page arguments, which is enough for what we need.

If you try running this now, you'll see we still get a blank page. That's because we haven't yet told the page to display the table of results. We are actually getting results from the API, we're just not displaying them.

Now, because the 'Install Plugins' page is already ready and willing to display these results, this part is super easy. Just add WordPress' built-in display_plugins_table function to the install_plugins_{$tab} action in our __construct method, like so:

Voila! Like magic, we now have a pretty impressive table showing our favorite plugins!

Favorite plugins table

Step 5 Remember Me?

The last thing to do is make the form remember you when you come back later. At the moment, it'll remember you just fine between searches but if you browse away from the tab and back again, it'll have forgotten you.

This is just a matter of adding a small line to the __construct method of our class:

All this line does is get the value of the user meta key 'wporg_favorites' and put it in the variable we're using in our plugin object.

Because we were stil saving it before, but not using it, even just refreshing the favorites tab now will use the last username you did put into the form.

So here's what the final __construct method should now look like:


That was surprisingly easy, right? We added an entirely new tab, did an API call, and output a table full of information, but we relied heavily on built-in WordPress functionality, which sure did save us a lot of work.

Whenever you're working on WordPress projects and are adding admin functionality, think of the DRY principal: Don't Repeat Yourself, or for that matter, Don't Repeat WordPress. Look for opportunities to take advantage of what WordPress already provides for you.

Let me know what you think of this plugin in the comments. This same feature is coming to WordPress in version 3.5, do you think it adds value to the favoriting functionality on WordPress.org?

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