How to Tell the Difference Between a Widget and a Plug-In

What is the difference between a plugin vs. a widget? To many bloggers, the difference is trivial and the two terms are often used interchangeably. However, plugins and widgets are treated as two distinct functions in WordPress and interact with you and your readers in different ways. If you plan to optimize the back-end of your blog or website, it’s worth brushing up on what each term actually means.  So, let’s start by defining them.

In WordPress, plugins are basically what downloadable apps are to a smartphone. They are small, non-autonomous pieces of script that attach themselves to the coding of your blog to give you, as the administrator, some extra functionality. The WordPress plugin directory currently lists 28,701 different plugins, including SEO functions, advanced image galleries, a comment spam detector, and just about anything in between.

A widget, on the other hand, is an interactive function meant to be part of the user interface. They often appear as buttons with logos or small icons. WordPress blogs come with a default suite of widgets, and like plugins, you can always download user-created ones. A convenient drag-and-drop functionality allows you to place widgets in valid locations, which will typically be the sidebar. The frequently used social media buttons seen in blogs and articles online are widgets, and your smartphone likely comes equipped with widgets for things like weather, date and time of day.

So what’s the difference, exactly? Mostly visibility.

The term “plugin” specifically refers to the coding that enhances your blogs behind the scenes. Setting them up typically involves downloading the script and uploading it via the WordPress dashboard. The plugin scripts are never visible to a reader, but some plugins need to interact with the audience in some fashion.

That’s where widgets come in. “Widgets” are the visual, interactive portion only of either a plugin or base application code that displays on a webpage. They are essentially the “face” of your plugin and therefore don’t provide functionality themselves.

When in doubt, remember that if you are looking at the button on the web page, it’s a widget. All widgets must lead to either a plugin or some base code, but plugins that have no need to interact with the end-user won’t have a widget

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2 thoughts on “How to Tell the Difference Between a Widget and a Plug-In

  1. Pingback: week 6, nov 5: photos/infographics/art | UW Digital Publishing Certificate

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