With more than 54,000 plugins downloadable through WordPress alone — and thousands more available through websites like CodeCanyon — it can be a challenge to find the right plugins for your needs. Furthermore, the sad truth is that there’s a whole host of plugins out there that make big promises yet, because of bugs or compatibility issues, fail to deliver.
As a busy web developer, you have no time to scroll through endless lists of plugins to find the ones that will streamline your workflow, address bugs, and boost your website’s security. Fortunately for you, this curated list of our favorite WordPress web-development plugins have you covered. We’ll also reveal three plugins you should most definitely avoid.
What We Look For in the Best WordPress Plugins for Developers
We investigated dozens of plugins available in the WordPress repository and third-party websites. The plugins that made our list are:
- Updated frequently. Frequent updates give you peace of mind that the developer behind the plugin is addressing known issues and adapting to changes in the WordPress platform.
- Compatible with the most recent version of WordPress. We showcase only plugins that have been tested with the latest version of WordPress.
- Free of malware. It’s important that your plugins aren’t going to introduce more problems than they solve.
Keep Your Plugins Up to Date
Even if you install all the best plugins on your WordPress site, they won’t be much good if they’re outdated, or if one conflicts with another. It can be hard to keep track of everything, especially when you’re knee-deep in code. That’s where managed WordPress hosting comes in.
Many hosts offer managed WordPress hosting plans, but Liquid Web is one of our experts’ top recommendations. The Liquid Web team can take care of all your updates for you. Before updating a plugin, they’ll test the new version in a separate environment. Your live website won’t be updated before they make sure there are no conflicts or other issues. You’ll also have daily backups, staging sites and more – but you still get full server and database access.
WP Reset – The Best Plugin for Resetting Your Website When Things Go Wrong
When you’re working on a website and something goes wrong, sometimes the best way to solve the problem is by resetting the database and starting again. WP Reset makes this process rapid and simple — and ensures that files won’t be modified. What’s more, it comes with fail-safes to ensure you don’t lose data by mistake.
The key features of WP Reset include:
- A quick way to restore the database back to the default installation. This process deletes your customizations, posts, pages, users, and default WordPress database tables. Media files aren’t deleted, but they won’t be visible in the Media section of your the admin panel.
- Additional functions that allow for selective resetting. WP Reset isn’t just useful if you want to reset to a fresh WordPress installation. You can actually delete just the themes, or just the plugins, rather than resort to a full reset.
- Fail-safes that prevent the accidental resetting of your website. To reduce the risk of deleting your hard work by accident, WP Reset asks you to confirm your desire to reset several times:
- WP Reset allows you to return to a clean installation within seconds, enabling you to retest customizations and code quickly and easily.
- WP Reset saves time by providing tools that allow you to test configurations and debug issues.
- WP Reset has WP-CLI support if you prefer to type rather than click.
- Post-reset setup can be configured so that plugins, themes, and options can be automatically set up once the reset is complete.
- With database snapshots, you can restore your WordPress installation to a specific snapshot. This is useful if you want to test demo data and then return to an earlier snapshot with little hassle.
- The reset action can’t be undone once you’ve confirmed the reset. There’s no going back if you later regret resetting!
- WP Reset hasn’t yet been tested with multisite (WP-MU), so the plugin’s developers caution against the use of WP Reset with WP-MU installations.
- The plugin retains only one user login, so if you use it on a website with multiple user roles, knowing which user is retained can be tricky.
Choose WP Reset If:
- You want a fast way to reset to a clean WordPress installation.
- You want to test customizations and demo content, and then be able to easily return to a previous database snapshot later.
Query Monitor – The Best Plugin for Debugging
Debugging is a regular part of a developer’s life, so it’s essential that you have a plugin in your toolbox that simplifies the process and saves you time. Fortunately, Query Monitor gives you an array of tools that’s more comprehensive than what similar debugging plugins offer:
- Standard debugging tools for issues with:
- Database queries
- PHP errors
- Hooks and actions
- HTTP API calls
- Advanced debugging tools for resolving issues with:
- REST API calls
- AJAX calls
- User capability checks
- Detailed reports which allow you to identify the problems that need fixing first.
- Standard debugging tools for issues with:
- Query Monitor allows you to quickly see the plugins, themes, or elements slowing your website down.
- Unlike other debugging plugins, Query Monitor doesn’t just spit out an information-dump. For example, you get organized tables with aggregate database query information.
- The admin bar gives access to frontend (on-page) and backend debugging options.
- Because Query Monitor tells you what’s slowing your website down, you no longer have to manually deactivate individual plugins by trial and error to determine the culprit.
- Query Monitor works with a wide range of add-ons, including all of Debug Bar’s add-ons. It’s also compatible with third-party plugins like Query Monitor Extend, which can boost its functionality when using WooCommerce and multisite installations.
- The plugin can conflict with other plugins (such as W3 Total Cache), which limits some of the functions in Query Monitor that rely on the db.php Symlink aspect of the plugin.
- Query Monitor’s search function doesn’t always correctly display data.
- Exporting reports to text files or to the clipboard is not possible.
Choose Query Monitor If…
- You want to save time by generating well-organized reports that identify bugs, performance issues, and errors.
- You’ve previously used Debug Bar and would like to continue using Debug Bar add-ons while benefiting from the extensive features offered by Query Monitor, such as REST API calls.
Health Check – The Best Plugin for Troubleshooting
Troubleshooting is about more than just debugging, which is why we’ve included the Health Check plugin in our showcase. This plugin is a time-saving superstar for developers, producing reports that highlight configuration problems, including PHP issues, MySQL issues, and more.
The fact that the WordPress support team uses Health Check to troubleshoot issues should give you the confidence to add this plugin to your toolkit.
The key features of Health Check include:
- A dedicated troubleshooting mode that enables you to troubleshoot issues affecting specific, logged-in website users, by disabling plugins and using a default theme. What makes this a standout feature is that only the specific user will see this mode; other users will have a regular experience.
- PHP information that allows for resolution of more complex issues involving your website’s granular settings. This is a time-saving feature that removes the need for developers to write their own files to access the information that Health Check displays.
- The troubleshooting mode is great for resolving specific issues for specific users.
- Health Check provides reports that are coded in red, yellow, and green so you can see at a glance the most important issues that require your attention.
- With the Debug Information tab, you can see at a glance a comprehensive list of things such as PHP version, installation size, server information and file permissions, which makes fixing problems much more efficient.
- The interface is intuitive and accessible.
- It’s easy to experiment with the best possible configurations using troubleshooting mode.
- To troubleshoot issues, you have to disable plugins one by one in order to resolve the problem.
- The debugging aspect of this plugin isn’t the most comprehensive; you might want to also add Query Monitor to your toolkit.
- In rare cases, plugin conflicts can cause “unexpected behaviors” — so it’s important to perform a backup before troubleshooting with Health Check.
Choose Health Check If…
- You want to be able to troubleshoot issues affecting individual website users without impacting other users.
- You want to experiment with configurations to achieve the best performance.
CSS Hero – The Best Plugin for Frontend Customization
CSS can be complicated and time-consuming, so a plugin that makes CSS customization straightforward and quick has a natural place in your toolkit. CSS Hero gives you a full repertoire of tools and resources for real-time editing.
The key features of CSS Hero include:
- Real-time customization options for all website elements, including fonts, colors, UnSplash, and ready-to-go snippets.
- Responsive customization. If you want a website to look different on different devices, CSS Hero gives you the ability to customize the CSS for desktop, tablet, and smartphones.
- Safe editing that doesn’t modify theme files, and which creates regular save-checkpoints.
- CSS Hero reduces the risk of “breaking” your website’s responsiveness by offering a tool that ensures your edits apply only to desktop versions.
- Scroll animation presets allow you to add animation features to your website in a couple of clicks.
- CSS Hero won’t affect the speed of your website, since all modifications are contained in just one stylesheet.
- Responsive customization features can be easily previewed so that you can instantly see how your edits affect the look and feel of your website.
- The Inspector function in CSS Hero gives you complete control, using a comprehensive CSS / LESSCSS editor with live rendering.
- Unlike many of the plugins on this list, CSS Hero doesn’t have a free version.
- Not all themes are on CSS Hero’s compatibility list, and although “rocket mode” can work around this, issues can occur.
- CSS Hero works only with a live internet connection, so it can’t be used on a local host in offline mode.
Choose CSS Hero If…
- You have little time or desire to write your own CSS code and want a rapid alternative that works on the frontend of your website.
- You want to customize the CSS for different device types.
Wordfence – The Best Security Plugin
For security-conscious developers out there (which should include you!), there’s no shortage of plugins that offer security features — but you want the very best.
Wordfence offers the most comprehensive security options. It has a wide range of impressive features that will protect you against malware and other malicious attacks.
The key features of Wordfence include:
- An endpoint firewall that offers superior protection against malicious traffic and attacks. With exceptional integration within WordPress, the endpoint firewall can’t be bypassed. Furthermore, an incorporated malware scanner completely blocks malicious code.
- A security scanner that checks for malware, backdoors, code injections and much more. This also checks the integrity of files and repairs those that are corrupt.
- A Threat Defense Feed that offers up-to-date firewall rules and malware signatures.
- In terms of speed and reliability, the endpoint firewall is superior to cloud-based firewalls, since the firewall blocks malicious attacks before they can connect to the database.
- Security scanning keeps websites malware-free and reports any changes in your files immediately.
- Wordfence offers the best defense against brute-force attacks by forcing the use of strong passwords, limiting the number of login attempts, and offering two-factor authentication in the premium version.
- Wordfence’s security experts are constantly updating the firewall rules, meaning that you can stay secure against new types of attack signatures rapidly.
- Wordfence offers blacklist checks that mean that if your IP address is inadvertently blacklisted, you’ll receive an immediate notification, allowing you to fix the issue before the website is negatively impacted.
- Real-time access to the Threat Defense Feed is available only to premium (paid) users.
- Wordfence is quite heavy on resources, so can sometimes run very slowly.
- The plugin is complex and the user interface could be improved.
Choose Wordfence If…
- You want the peace of mind of some of the best security available in a WordPress plugin.
- You want access to a wide range of security tools and scanners to monitor your website.
3 Worst WordPress Plugins You Should Avoid
There are numerous popular plugins that promise great features but turn out to be underwhelming or unnecessary. Here’s a list of developer plugins we think you shouldn’t waste your time on.
1. Theme Check
You’ll find this plugin on some lists of the best plugins for developers, but when we evaluated it, we found it to be an unnecessary addition with few actual benefits.
Theme Check seems to promise a lot, but it’s geared mostly toward people looking to have their themes listed in the WordPress plugin repository.
When Theme Check runs the checks on themes, it will pick up on general errors — but it’s mainly looking for issues that would get the theme rejected by WordPress repository checks. In fact, most premium themes throw up errors in Theme Check, despite the fact that there are no actual functional issues.
The plugin’s developers openly admit that Theme Check doesn’t give a reflection of a theme’s quality or overall functioning. Therefore, it’s beneficial only if you’re developing themes you want to submit to the WordPress plugin repository. Otherwise, it’s unnecessary.
2. Broken Link Checker
Although Broken Link Checker is a popular plugin, it has significant issues.
First, Broken Link Checker slows websites down while it runs scans, which can take a lot of time.
Second, it doesn’t actually do the job that it claims to do. Although Broken Link Checker will identify some broken links, when I ran checks on the same website using a different plugin, I found that Broken Link Checker had missed a large number of broken links — 50 of them, in fact.
If you want to use a plugin to avoid broken links, there are alternatives that do a better job, such as WP Broken Link Status Checker.
Another very popular plugin is WP-DB-Backup, which (obviously) is a plugin that backs up the database. It has over 200,000 active installations and is featured in many “best plugin” lists, but other backup plugins offer so much more.
Backing up your database is essential, but other plugins offer a wider range of features. WP-DB-Backup’s functions are limited and somewhat outdated. Database backups can be scheduled, but these are then emailed to you — so for large databases, this is often impractical.
By comparison, UpDraft, which is now the most popular WordPress backup plugin, is able to automatically upload backups to a cloud storage service such as Dropbox, Google Drive, S3 or Rackspace. UpDraft also offers the ability to complete a backup restore directly from the WordPress admin panel.
The Developer’s Toolkit – Enhancing Your Practice With The Best WordPress Plugins
Every developer needs a toolkit they can depend on no matter what issues need resolving, and the WordPress plugins we’ve showcased are definitely tools you can’t do without. They’ll take your developing to the next level, saving you time and adding extra value to the services you provide.
Our handy comparison table below gives you a quick overview of the five best plugins and their key features.
|What is it for?||Standout Feature||Key Benefit|
|WP Reset||Free||Resetting your website to a fresh WordPress installation.||Multiple failsafes that prevent you from accidentally deleting your data.||The ability to test a variety of customizations.|
|Query Monitor||Free||Debugging websites and generating detailed reports to identify major issues.||Advanced features (including AJAX and REST API support) and the ability to use a wide range of add-ons.||The intuitive and well-organized reports simplify the debugging process.|
|Health Check||Free||Troubleshooting your website, with comprehensive checks to identify and resolve issues.||Tools to troubleshoot issues affecting a specific logged-in user without affecting other users’ experience of your website.||The ability to troubleshoot issues with plugins and isolate conflicts on live installations speeds up the process of problem-solving.|
|CSS Hero||Premium||Real-time customization of your website — without you needing to have extensive CSS knowledge and/or experience.||Responsive customization tools enable websites to appear differently on different types of devices.||The ability to access a wide range of CSS customizations without having to write extensive amounts of CSS saves time.|
|Wordfence||Free, with Premium Options||Protecting your website from malware and malicious attacks, as well as identifying any vulnerabilities it has.||The Threat Defense Feed ensures that malware signatures and firewall rules are constantly being updated.||The security features of Wordfence offer peace of mind and allow you to focus on other aspects of the development process.|
Of course, there will probably be other plugins you need that are more tailored to the particular work you do. Be careful when choosing plugins for your project, because using the wrong ones can be a huge drain on your time.
Be sure to read reviews and check the support logs on WordPress.org and GitHub to learn about potential issues other users have had.
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