On My Own

A Personal Journal
by Davood Denavi

Plugins vs. Add-ons In WordPress

Have you ever wondered why sometimes it seems like you just need a plugin, and other times you need an add-on for it as well? Well if you have, you are certainly not alone.

Fifteen or so years ago I was hired to add a contact form to a WordPress website, among some other tasks. The client wanted me to use the most common free form plugin for WordPress, Contact Form 7. So I did, and after creating the form and testing submissions, I had nothing except headaches getting the client’s server to generate the emails. I eventually got it working though.

After that, I never used Contact Form 7 again, and instead I looked into getting a premium plugin that would do the job. It was this research that helped me to learn the difference between plugins and add-ons.

A plugin is an extension to a piece of software that does one thing, and ideally does it in an excellent fashion both on the admin side and the user side. An add-on is an additional piece of code, which sits on top of the plugin. It requires the plugin, and – as the name implies –  adds certain functionality to the plugin.

Online stores and contact forms are the two top reasons someone would need add-ons when using WordPress. WooCommerce, for instance, has lots of plugins for shipping, payment processors, and subscriptions, among other things. There are also many form plugins, such as Contact Form 7, that have both free and premium versions, and which have add-ons for various things, including such things as stopping spam submissions.

Today, I still use Gravity Forms, which is what I started using after my horrible experience with Contact Form 7 fifteen years ago. Gravity Forms has a whole bevy of add-ons that come with the license you purchase, as well as third-party add-ons. It was my early experience with Gravity Forms that helped me to fully understand the difference between an add-on and a plugin.

I prefer a plugin such as Gravity Forms that does not have a free version when I am going to be using add-ons that are included with it. This is because the technical support that users will receive, whether they are a developer or not, is generally better with premium-only plugins. While this usually means more expense, because you need third-party add-ons, it also means there will be less need for custom code and a higher chance of receiving technical support when you run into problems.

A few years ago someone in the Chicago WordPress Community told me I should start offering a maintenance plan to new clients that included technical support. I took that suggestion a step further and also included plugins that I hold a multi-site license to – basically turning myself into the “tech support” department for my clients for everything from a theme or plugin issue to a hosting issue. So far it has done me wonders with finding more work. However, in 2024 I will be offering tech support only options which will require clients to buy their own licenses but turn to me for tech support.