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How to Activate Plugins & Themes Upon WordPress Installation

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This post is part of a series called Out-of-the-Box WordPress.
Out-of-the-Box WordPress: Bundling With Themes & Plugins and wp-config Tweaks

In the previous part of this series, we learned about bundling a WordPress installation with plugins and themes, and tweaking the wp-config-sample.php file.

Granted, bundling themes and plugins isn't such an amazing idea, but you have to admit that editing wp-config-sample.php to install WordPress with custom wp-config.php tweaks is kind of cool. Plus, both tips work in conjunction with the magical trick we're going to see in this tutorial and complete an extremely useful way to use an out-of-the-box WordPress installation for your future projects.

In this part, we're going to uncover an exciting discovery about activating the bundled themes and plugins upon WordPress installation. You will see this first on Tuts+ because it hasn't been revealed anywhere on the internet until today.

Get excited.

One of the Handiest WordPress Constants I've Ever Seen: WP_DEFAULT_THEME

About a year ago, I shared a little discovery I made on Tuts+ about using the wp-config-sample.php file to customize the generated wp-config.php file before installing WordPress. And it was the example of a known wp-config.php constant called WP_DEFAULT_THEMEyou can read the article here, if you're interested.

If you delete all the default "Twenty-Something" themes from the default WordPress package, WordPress will give you an error instead of a front-end after the installation, because every WordPress version comes with a "default theme" and it doesn't look for another theme in the wp-content/themes folder if the default theme isn't there. 

That's why after writing that article, I thought I could use that tweak for another tutorial, called something like "Building an Out-of-the-Box WordPress Package". I just noted the title, didn't care to create an outline, and left the note in my computer for almost a year. (Talk about procrastination... I should write an article about it. I should note that down.)

Over 10 months later, I decided to create an outline and submit to the project management system of Tuts+ Code and get our editor Tom McFarlin's approval. When he approved the outline and I started writing the single-part tutorial I initially had in mind, I started thinking about WP_DEFAULT_THEME.

While it's kind of unusual to think about a WordPress constant for two days, I ended up with an idea that I could use this constant and the trick of editing wp-config-sample.php before installing WordPress to do some errands (like deleting the default post and page, changing the permalink structure and disabling comments) that I normally do with a "starter plugin". Then I realized I could activate some plugins, bundled with the package beforehand. Then I realized I could switch the theme to a real theme after this sort-of-theme is done.

And then it hit me: All of this meant that I can actually activate pre-bundled plugins and a theme automatically upon the installation of WordPress! You probably can feel my excitement from the words you're reading now—imagine how I felt when I made this discovery.

Is it a workaround? Absolutely. You might even call it a WordPress "hack". But it doesn't edit any core files (other than wp-config-sample.php, which we are allowed to edit) and it's not against any WordPress convention other than "functional code is plugin territory", but I believe using a "disposable theme" that deactivates itself in a second isn't "not kosher". In the end, it doesn't break any files or rules, and it's a completely safe solution to an out-of-the-box WordPress installation.

Making the "Warm-Up Band" Theme

Now that we've gone through the logic of what we're going to do, it's time to create the disposable "Warm-Up Band" theme.

In this theme, there will be just two files: The mandatory style.css and the functions.php file which will run our four-part code that will:

  1. change the default options
  2. delete the default content
  3. activate our pre-bundled plugins
  4. switch to the "Headliner" theme

I'm putting the style.css file content below for you to copy:

Changing the Default Options

WordPress doesn't let you change the default options because, well, it would be a longer install if it did. But that doesn't mean that you can't change them programatically. With the help of some core functions, it's easy to tailor the options for your needs:

As you can see, we:

  • first created an associative array of options and their values
  • ran the array in a foreach loop to use the update_option() function for each array item
  • flushed the rewrite rules because we changed the permalink structure

There are many, many default options you can play with—check them out here in the wp-admin/includes/schema.php file.

Deleting the Default Content

Now that we've changed some default options, it's time to delete that unwanted content that we always delete manually. This one's easier:

Activating Bundled Plugins

Remember that we decided to bundle our package with three popular plugins back in the previous part? We settled on WP Super Cache, WordPress SEO by Yoast, and Contact Form 7. Let's activate them now:

We could also deactivate the default Akismet and Hello Dolly plugins, but I believe you already deleted them from your package just like I did.

Switching to the "Headliner" Theme

Everything is set, and now we can switch to the actual theme we're going to use! It's the easiest part because we're going to run the switch_theme() function with the folder name of the theme as the parameter:

Easy as pie!

The Full functions.php File

The End

While WordPress is famous for its "five minute installation process", I believe that it's possible to save a few minutes more, if you know what you're doing. With the things we've covered in this series, you might gain more time before and during the WordPress installation process.

What do you think about creating automated WordPress installs? Do you think there's more room to improve the series? Tell us what you think by writing in the Comments section below. And if you liked the series, don't forget to share both parts!

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