This is a commonly asked question: How many plugins can WordPress handle? How many plugins should I install? At what point does having a lot of plugins become a problem? How many plugins are too many? The correct answer is that it is not the amount of plugins you have, but the plugins themselves.

The Brief History of Plugins

On May 22, 2004, the creator of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, announced the release of version 1.2 of WordPress. The code name of this version is Mingus. The release of WordPress version 1.2 introduced the plugin architecture feature. The plugin architecture feature is designed to extend the WordPress core.

Since then, there are at least 27,000 plugins – as of today and available on WordPress.org. There are also over 537,245,485 downloads of these plugins – again as of today. These plugins are used on millions of WordPress installation, in an uncountable amount of combinations.

WordPress rapid growth is due to its core features, as well as these 27,000+ plugins. The simplicity and ease of WordPress and its plugin architecture has opened the door for anyone to easily extend WordPress through its plugin architecture.

Plus, all of these plugins have led to development of plugins that are not really needed. They simply solve a want, usually to make things simple, especially for owners who may not have coding or website expertise.

So, What’s the Problem?

The problem? Some of these plugins have poor design and coding, which leads to performance and security issues. When it comes to performance, we have to remember that the more you add to the core of WordPress, the potential to cause performance problems, especially if you have heavy traffic. It also opens to door to security issues and the potential to cause errors because of the interaction with other plugins the core of WordPress itself.

In a way, it’s like you are playing the game of Jenga, which starts with a tower of blocks. When you start, this is the WordPress core, untouched and stable. However, when you use plugins, you are adding to the WordPress core, like removing a block and placing it on top, as in Jenga. The whole that is left after removing the block is the potential to make the Core unstable and or leave a whole in what the core of WordPress is designed to do.

Another way of thinking is by taking construction of a residential or commercial property. Where building the property is like building the core of WordPress. Once you are done building the property, you are done, the end result is the like the WordPress core. However, when you want to add an extension or feature to the property, this is like a plugin. If the addition or feature added to the property is done right, there are no problems. This is the same as a plugin, a plugin done right will not have an effect on the core. Now, let’s add another feature to the property. You have to think about the property but also the feature that you added previously. The same thing applies to plugins.

Poorly designed and coded plugins can cause an increase in server resources, which if you are using a shared hosting account, can cause your website account to be suspended.

Wants vs. Needs

You also have to think about wants and needs, as plugins can fulfill both wants and needs. Do you need a plugin to add Google analytics to the footer of your theme or can you do this yourself? If the plugin solves a want, it most likely isn’t needed, and you could most likely solve the problem by doing it yourself.

Plugins that solve a need, like a security plugin, are the plugins you should use.

Things to Consider

With this being said, we have to revisit what I said earlier. That you need a plugin that is well designed and coded. How can you find plugins like this or determine if a plugin you are using fits? You should know who the coder is and how the coder is supporting that plugin. Here are some things you can consider:

  1. Is the coder experienced?
  2. Does he or she have any plugins?
  3. Does he or she have other PHP scripting experience?
  4. What support is provided and how is it being provided?
  5. Are concerns being addressed by other users?
  6. Does the plugin have regular updates?

Test, Test, Test

You can also have a private WordPress installation, either based on multi-site or a fresh install, that only you have access to, and test the plugin before activating it on your website. This will allow you to make sure the plugin does what it’s supposed to, what you need it to do, does not cause errors, and doesn’t interfere with other plugins or WordPress core. You can also use this test environment for updates to the plugins and WordPress core.

You also have to remember that plugin coders cannot test the plugin to make sure they “play well,” with other plugins. This is due to the amount of plugins and the possible combinations of plugins.

Bloated Plugins

Publicly available plugins are designed to fit the needs and wants of the many and therefore may have more features than you need. Make sure the plugin is not bloated with features that you do not need. You can also consider if the plugin gives you the ability to disable features that you to not need. Make sure the plugin has only the features you want and if it has more features than you need, that it won’t impact your website’s performance. Testing the plugin before deploying it on your accessible website will help you check this. If the plugin has more features than the amount of features you’ll be using, it is probably best to look for another plugin – unless these features can be disabled.

Front-end vs. Back-end

Depending on the purpose of the plugin, it can affect the back-end, front-end or both the back-end and front-end of your WordPress installation. Where the back-end means the functionality of your WordPress installation and front-end meaning the output, the appearance of your website. You should be mindful of which the plugin effects. Some plugins may add CSS, JavaScript or HTML to your website. This increases the website’s page size and the number of requests your server needs to complete before it’s fully loaded. This can cause slow websites. Also consider if the plugin relies on connecting to another server, as this will increase page load time, which has the potential to decrease performance. Therefore both will have its own potential for performance and security issues.

Conclusion

How many plugins can WordPress handle? There isn’t an exact amount of plugins you should be using. There isn’t such a thing as “too many plugins.” You can use an unlimited amount of plugins, as long as these plugins are designed, supported and coded well, and these plugins should solve a need.