WordPress

After building websites for 20 years using one flavor or another of Microsoft’s Active Server Pages featuring a Visual Basic Scripting (VBScript) on the server-side and JavaScript, HTML, and CSS on the client-side, I moved to WordPress, in early 2017, featuring PHP on the server-side and JavaScript, HTML, and CSS on the client-side. WordPress offered several advantages over Microsoft’s web development products.

I have been the Web Coordinator for Gateway Golden Retriever Rescue (GGRR) since 2002. Starting in 2002 and running through about 2012 or 2013, I rebuilt the website and created dozens of behind-the-scenes administrative pages that the members use to track the organization’s membership, the dogs that come into the rescue program, the foster homes where the dogs live while awaiting adoption, and finally where they go for their forever homes. It also tracks the dogs’ microchips and any medical issues that they might have that need to be treated while they are in our care.

Unfortunately, Microsoft’s Active Server Pages (ASP) are now referred to as “Classic ASP” in favor of their current web development environment — ASP.NET. The GGRR website and its many thousands of lines of code, cannot be simply copied to their newer .NET platform. Most of the code needs to be rewritten. Since “Classic” ASP is now referred to as “Classic”, how long do I actually have to rebuild the website before “Classic” ASP simply “goes away”?

Since I have to rebuild the website anyway, I looked around at other web development platforms. I liked WordPress for a multitude of reasons.

  1. WordPress was built for the non-technical person to build a website. A person who wants an online voice, can set up a personal or small business website, and be typing content in less than an hour. I’ve been the Web Coordinator since 2002 and would like to step down sooner rather than later. I really like the idea of my successor, not needing to be a developer.
  2. WordPress is (nearly) infinitely expandable. Non-technical users can build their new website using any of the several thousand, free, themes, or free-to-download plugins to customize their website. More knowledgeable users can create fully custom themes, or plugins to accomplish nearly anything that they can imagine.
  3. Unlike Microsoft’s Classic ASP platform, WordPress isn’t going anywhere. Even in the future, the base environment will continue to be supported.
  4. WordPress can be run on both IIS and Linux-flavored web hosts. This is a great advantage. Microsoft IIS is built into every version of Windows. I can use it for my development environment, and I can still roll out the finished code on a Linux web host and expect it to work the same.

Reason # 1 above was the best reason. My successor won’t have to be a programmer, once I have the system rewritten. In fact, I decided to rewrite all of the Microsoft Active Server Pages code in PHP as a plugin for the Gateway Golden Retriever Rescue website.

Even better, the Animal Rescue Accounting System plugin, as I’m calling it, can be listed in the WordPress directory and be available for other rescue organizations across the country — and around the world when I add translation capabilities.

But why stop there? The more I learned about developing WordPress plugins, the more ideas that came to mind. Besides the Animal Rescue Accounting System, that will not be ready for use until late 2019, I’ve developed a few other plugins.

  • The Web Development plugin displays a block of pertinent information to the developer, right there on the dashboard. It’s smart enough to hide all of the sensitive information when a non-manage-options user is logged on. But shows the status of key constants like ‘WP-DEBUG’, or ‘ALLOW-WP-MULTISITE’, etc. It shows the currently active PHP version, the current MySQL version, database username, password, and much more. It also hides sensitive information, requiring a mouse click to keep others’ roving eyes from learning proprietary information.
  • The Child Themes Helper plugin provides the web developer with an elegant tool for copying files from a template theme to a child theme. This plugin has been approved to be listed in the WordPress Plugin Directory.
  • The Search Options plugin provides an easy way for the developer to look at the wp_options database table. The user can search for an option name and any similar matches will be returned. This plugin is very powerful. You have the option to delete any options that it finds. This can be an invaluable tool for the developer. But it can also destroy the website.
  • The local debug plugin displays a visual reminder that you’re working in the sandbox. I frequently make changes to a website — on-the-fly so-to-speak — and then am disappointed when I realize that I made those changes in the sandbox. This plugin shows a persistent message in a corner of the screen, as a reminder that you’re working on the development copy of the website.

There is more to come, I’m certain. I have plans for a “Pro” version of the Child Themes Helper, which will solve another problem facing many WordPress website owners. Hopefully, that version will be ready in early 2019, or sooner.

© 2018, Paul Swarthout. All rights reserved.