Get involved with WordPress development

4 ways you can start getting involved with WordPress development

Will Morris's Layout avatar

If you’re a WordPress user and budding developer, you might be tempted to put your own stamp on the platform. Since WordPress is open-source and almost entirely managed by its community, contributing to its ongoing development is actually quite easy and rewarding.

The best part is that there are so many ways you can help the platform grow. Naturally, as a developer, you might want to write your own plugin or build a new theme. However, you can even make a difference by becoming a tester, or by contributing directly to WordPress’ core.

In this article, I’ll discuss how you can get started with WordPress’ development, even if you’re a beginner. I’m also going to show you how you can do this with the help of Local by Flywheel.

Why you should consider developing for WordPress

You’re probably aware that WordPress is ‘open-source’ software. This means, unlike many other pieces of software, it’s not developed by a single company with their own in-house staff. Instead, WordPress is developed and maintained entirely by its own community.

As such, every aspect of WordPress, including all plugins, themes, and even the core platform itself, are all products of the broader community. It also means that literally anyone is able to contribute to the platform as the platform wouldn’t even exist without volunteers.

In fact, this is highly encouraged. WordPress-founder Matt Mullenweg has actually recommended that companies using WordPress in some capacity should contribute 5% of their resources back into the platform.

Developing for WordPress is also a great way to learn new skills and build connections. This is because the WordPress community is truly global and encompasses a wide-range of elements. Even non-developers can help out in several ways, such as by providing support, performing translation, or working to improve the platform’s accessibility.

Naturally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that another reason to work with WordPress is the potential to earn money. Many developers create plugins or themes, which they monetize to make a tidy profit. While some use this to earn extra pocket money, some developers are so successful that they can make a living solely through WordPress development.

4 ways you can get started developing for WordPress

How you decide to take your first steps into the world of WordPress development will naturally depend on your pre-existing skills and interests. As such, I’ve collected some of the best entry-points to get started.

  • Beta test new WordPress releases
  • Try WordPress plugin development
  • Start WordPress theme development
  • Contribute to the WordPress core

Before I move onto the first way to get started, let’s quickly run through some prerequisites. As I mentioned, anybody can develop for WordPress, regardless of their location or experience. However, if you’re planning on getting into development, you should at least have a basic understanding of PHP (as this is the language WordPress is built on), as well as working with HTML and CSS.

1. Beta test new WordPress releases

If you have minimal coding experience, a good starting point is to become a tester. Every new version of WordPress needs to be thoroughly tested before it goes live, so contributing at this stage is hugely beneficial for the platform.

It also gives you insight into the development process, while learning more about the ins and outs of how WordPress works behind the scenes. In turn, this can be helpful if you later decide to start contributing directly by creating your own assets or code.

First of all, I recommend you become familiar with the WordPress Test team. These are the people who dedicate their time to testing each new version before release, and if you’re interested in helping out you can do so by joining the #core-test Slack channel.

Once you’re ready to get started, you can download and install the beta version of WordPress. The easiest way to do this is with the WordPress Beta Tester plugin, which will install the latest “nightly build.” This is a pre-release version of the software, which is currently in need of being tested.

A screenshot of the WordPress beta tester plugin

You can then go ahead and use the platform as normal to look for bugs and other issues. If you come across a problem that hasn’t been discovered yet, you can then report a bug. For more information on how to do this, check out the official testing handbook.

2. Try WordPress plugin development

Plugins are pieces of software you can install on your WordPress site to add new functionality. You’re probably more than aware of this already, but I’m reiterating it here because I want to demystify them. It’s easy to think that plugins are only created by seasoned developers, but this is not the case. Simply put, plugins can be created by anyone with even a small degree of coding experience.

In fact, a plugin can technically contain a single function with only a few lines of code. As such, a good way to get started is to write a very simple plugin and activate it on your site. This will help you understand how plugins fit into the WordPress ecosystem before you start creating something more ambitious.

A good way to do this is by using a local development environment. We (of course) champion Local by Flywheel for this!

A screenshot of Local by Flywheel

This gives you a lot of freedom to experiment without needing to worry about hosting or potentially causing damage to a live site. It’s also free, so there’s no budgetary threshold for getting started.

Once you’ve created a functioning plugin, you can even share it with the world. In fact, you can even submit it to the WordPress.org Plugin Repository. In order to publish your plugin, you need to ensure that you follow the standards outlined by the Plugin Review Team.

3. Start WordPress theme development

In many ways, WordPress themes are not dissimilar from plugins. Like plugins, they are an extension you can add to your site in order to change its appearance and functionality. They also offer you a good introduction to WordPress development, as it’s actually not very difficult to create your own theme.

The best way to get started with theme development is to use a starter theme, such as Underscores. This is a bare-bones theme that only includes the most basic elements you need, which you can then style and modify. Effectively, this removes the most tedious and difficult aspects of creating a theme, enabling you to focus on the design and layout.

WordPress starter theme: Underscores

If this approach seems overwhelming, you can instead opt to create a child theme. This lets you modify an existing theme by adding new functionality. This way, you can experiment to see how certain changes affects your site’s appearance by using a familiar theme as a base. As you get more knowledgeable, you can then expand on your theme to create something more ambitious and unique.

Once again, I recommend you use a local environment to create your theme. (Local by Flywheel is still your go-to choice here.) This will let you work alone, unhindered by the risk of affecting a live site or having to worry about finding web hosting.

When you’ve created a theme you’re happy with, you may also be able to submit your finished themes to the WordPress.org Theme Repository. However, in order for it to be accepted, you’ll need to follow the theme development standards.

4. Contribute to WordPress core

The final frontier when it comes to WordPress development is undeniably contributing directly to WordPress’ core. This is the term used to describe the basic WordPress platform, as in its default setup, without any plugins or themes.

First, you’ll need to understand that WordPress is developed using a project management system called ’trac.’ This works by letting users log tickets, which are public tasks that anybody can work on. Trac can be a little overwhelming at first, but the WordPress Handbook features information on how the system works.

As such, the best way to get started is by looking at the tickets that are marked as “Good First Bugs.” These are tasks that have been specifically highlighted as a good starting point for inexperienced contributors. Take a look at the open tickets and see if there are any you feel you could take care of.

Finally, I’d recommend joining the #core channel on Slack. This is where contributors come to discuss their plans, and how they’re moving forward with different goals and bugs. It’s also a good place to introduce yourself and get to know the other developers.

BONUS: Create an add-on for Local by Flywheel!

Local add-ons

Local by Flywheel is powered by thousands of talented developers just like you. If you’d like to join the journey to build the best local development platform in the world, you can build you very own add-on to share with the rest of the Local community! Plus, you can even apply for a development grant thanks to the Local Dev Fund.

Learn more about contributing to Local by Flywheel’s Community Add-ons Library here.

Conclusion

WordPress lives and breathes thanks to the volunteers who are willing to put their time into improving the platform. This means anybody who wants to can help out by contributing to the platform in some way.

In this article, I’ve discussed the following ways you can start developing for WordPress:

  • Beta test new WordPress releases.
  • Create a WordPress plugin.
  • Design a WordPress theme.
  • Contribute to WordPress core.

Do you have any questions about getting started with WordPress development, or how Local by Flywheel can help? Let us know in the comments section below!

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