Digging Into Wordpress

***** Feb192011

I am a Textpattern devotee. I could write a small tome covering all the things I love about Textpattern, but it’s enough to say I find it intuitive, fast, and extremely flexible. I had previously tried to explore Wordpress (WP) a bit, but found its spaghetti mess of intertwined html and php opaque and inelegant, to put it politely. But with the release of Wordpress 3.0, I could no longer write off WP as just a “blogging platform,” and of course I had always been envious of its pretty admin side. So I plunked down $70 for the Digging Into Wordpress print and pdf bundle (the pdf is also available on its own, for $27), and steeled myself for a harrowing experience.

Digging Into Wordpress, by Chris Coyier and Jeff Starr, has been my guide to the sometimes convoluted ins-and-outs of Wordpress, and it hasn’t been so scary after all.

User-friendly format

The authors clearly gave careful consideration to what kind of book they would want to have, if they still needed a book about WP:

  • Spiral-bound, so it lays completely flat next to your computer
  • Nice large pages, with plenty of information, but not overly dense
  • Clear information hierarchy
  • Plenty of external resources given, including plugins and further reading
  • A thorough table of contents (It’s missing an index, but instead you can easily word-search the pdf version.)

What is covered

This book will take a first-time Wordpress user from zero to functional site in about 30 pages. It goes beyond the simple 5-minute install, however, and right away provides techniques for building a more secure Wordpress-powered site (such as installing most files in an oddly-named subdirectory, p. 24).

Chapters 3 and 4 then delve into Themes, first covering in detail how the theme files work together, and then how to go about building your own themes with custom loops, menus, sidebars, and footers.

Chapter 5 examines ways to extend Wordpress, both through installing plugins, writing your own, or adding functions to the functions.php file.

Chapters 6 through 9 cover four of the topics anyone building a blog will be focused on, and which may at first be a bit intimidating to the average blogger: RSS feeds, comments, search engine optimization, and security. Throughout these chapters, the authors offer a good mix of easy “plug and play” solutions alongside more expert ways to customize things.

Ongoing updates

One of the best things about this book is that the authors promise to keep it up to date. In my edition Chapters 11 and 12 cover the 2.9 and 3.0 Wordpress releases, respectively, which each contained some important new features and capabilities. In the future, when WP issues a significant release, anyone who buys this book will get updates to the pdf version.

What is missing

For most blogs and websites, images (and increasingly video as well) are an integral part of their content. I was therefore quite surprised not to find a chapter in this book called “Images”. Short of that, I expected at least to find a section on customizing output for images, comparable to “Customizing the Loop”, section 4.1.1. When I started playing around with an actual Wordpress site I realized one possible reason for this: Wordpress’s image handling kind of stinks. The fancy new image editor notwithstanding, Wordpress out of the box treats images as an afterthought. I did find, way back on page 398, an excellent explanation of Post Thumbnails, which left me hankering for a full chapter on images even more.


This book is an great guide for anyone who needs to get up to speed with Wordpress efficiently.

I still don’t love Wordpress, but now it’s because of legitimate (I think) complaints about its inner workings or user interface, which I’m now familiar with thanks to Digging Into Wordpress, not out of some vague fear of the unknown.

Buy Digging Into WordPress. (NB: this is an affiliate link, but I would not have given this book 5 stars if I didn’t think it was worth owning, if you have to do anything with Wordpress. You can also get just the pdf version, for $27.)

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Author(s)Chris Coyier, Jeff Star

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