Unveiling the Secrets: How WordPress Works – A Detailed Guide for 2023

Explore how WordPress works, from themes and plugins to data storage. Essential reading for anyone using this powerful CMS.

There are thousands of web pages based on WordPress, but how does it work? In these posts, I will take you behind the scenes and explain how WordPress works, where it stores all webpage data, and where it takes knowledge about web page views.

Static and dynamic web pages

In the beginning, it’s worth admitting that on the Internet, we generally have two website types: static pages and dynamic pages. This could be a little bit confusing because, on both website types, there could be engaged elements or the same animations, videos, forms, etc. So, which pages are static, and which ones are dynamic?

The major difference lies in code. To build a static page, you need only HTML, CSS, and JS. These kinds of web pages will display in a web browser, in the same way, day after day. They can be changed only by web developers.

On the other hand, dynamic web pages can change depending on visitors’ behavior. To build these kinds of pages, web developers need to use a server-side programming language like PHP.

PHP builds a webpage from data stored on the server dynamically, which means that there is no static page built from HMTL, CSS, and JS on the server; PHP connects to data storage on the server and builds a web page from these data before the server sends it to your web browser.

How WordPress work step by step

How WordPress Work blog post image

First of all, you need to know, that WordPress is just a collection of PHP functions. Of course, it’s a powerful CMS, but when you deep dive into the code, it’s just a collection of the PHP functions. So just like PHP, WordPress uses these same mechanisms. You set up which should be displayed, and when, WordPress does the rest. When the client asks the server to display your website, WordPress collects all necessary data from the server, mixes it, and sends it to a web browser.

How do WordPress themes work?

You can ask yourself now: OK, WordPress collects data and displays it, but where does stored information about the web look? The answer is in the theme. You probably know, that you can download ready themes in the WordPress dashboard, and after activating it, the web page starts to look beautiful. But how does it work?

On the server side, WordPress created a folder called themes in the wp-content destination. In this folder, WordPress stores all themes. The most basic themes should have four files: index.php, header.php, footer.php, and style.css. If you will use inline CSS style, style.css is not necessary.

The index.php file is the key because it contains all information about the web page’s look. As I wrote before, WordPress is based on PHP language and has its own function library. In these libraries, there are functions called get_header() and get_footer(). So you need to nested HTML markup into header.php to build the header section. Then, in index.php, you call these sections using the get_header() function. It’s the same situation with the footer.

The last thing, if you use an external CSS style, is to load the CSS style files. In WordPress, this is not obvious. Web pages are generated dynamically, and you have no access to the head section. But in the head section, we need to put a link to CSS files. How to do that?

We have a WordPress function to do these, called wp_enqueue_style(). In this function, you will declare from where you want to load your CSS styles.

How do WordPress plugins work?

Plugins in WordPress generally are pieces of JS or PHP code created to make things that aren’t available in basic WordPress configuration. WordPress has a function that allows you to add extra scripts to your page called wp_enqueue_script(). In this function, you can declare where your script is stored and if it is connected to other files or not. Finally, when you activate some plugins, behind the scenes, WordPress will add the function wp_enqueue_script() to index.php, which means that the script will be fired up when somebody opens the web page.

Where WordPress storage data

You may be interested in where WordPress storage all data. There are several databases where the information is collected. WordPress uses SQL language to create tables and communicate. I wrote a little more about it here: How to move WordPress site to new hosting

A complex description of database structure in WordPress you can find here: https://codex.wordpress.org/Database_Description

But you may also know, where are stored the most common information, so here is the list of these tables:

  • wp_commentmeta: comments metadates;
  • wp_comments: comments contents;
  • wp_links: added links and their information;
  • wp_options: web options;
  • wp_postmeta: post metadates;
  • wp_terms: categories and tags;
  • wp_term_relationships: connected categories and tags with posts;
  • wp_term_taxonomy: categories and tags descriptions;
  • wp_usermeta: users metadates ;
  • wp_users: users.

Where WordPress storage image

There is one more question about WordPress databases: where does WordPress store images? There is no way to store images in SQL databases, which is a complicated system, but not so much. In databases, WordPress stored links to images, but all images that you upload to the server via WordPress dashboard are stored in /wp-content/uploads location. WordPress generates in this location another folder named form years and months, but this is just for neatness purposes.

How WordPress works – summary

In this post, I show you how WordPress works behind the scenes. Of course, it is just a short view in these cases, but knowing that helps you better understand what’s going on when you use the dashboard and helps you search for trouble reasons when they appear.

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