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How Many WordPress Plugins Should You Install on Your Site?

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Elegant Themes
How Many WordPress Plugins Should You Install on Your Site?

How many WordPress plugins should you install on your site? How many plugins are too many? Aren’t plugins bad for performance? Don’t plugins increase your risk of security exploits? Isn’t it better to avoid plugins at all costs? These are some of the most asked questions we see by WordPress beginners. There are numerous articles in the blogosphere that directly or indirectly misguides new users (including some on our site). The goal of this article is to better educate the beginners and power users alike in hopes of clearing up some misunderstanding that may have existed previously.

Ever since WordPress 1.2 (when support for WordPress plugins were added), plugins have been a blessing for users. WordPress without plugins is like a toy store with no toys. That’s no fun. Even though the WordPress core provides a strong publishing framework, it is the plugins that is widely responsible for the platform’s success. As the WordPress community grows, the number of WordPress plugins have too. At the time of writing this article, there are over 21,000 free WordPress plugins available in the WordPress plugins repository.

The purpose of plugins is to extend WordPress to do almost anything you can imagine. However, now we see a sense of fear or restraint towards plugin from many users. Folks are worried about performance, security, reliability, etc. This is mainly because designers and developers get really frustrated when their client has a mess of plugins installed on a site. In their frustration, they make comments like have less plugins, or it is the plugins that are slowing your site down. These statements have resonated through out social media and in-person events. The biggest issue with those statements are their ambiguity. What is less? How many plugins should you install? Plugins in general don’t slow down your site. Only bad ones do.

There are articles through out the web that shows you: “How to do XYZ without a Plugin” (like this one and many others on our site). The purpose of these kind of articles are not to discourage the usage of available plugins. The purpose of these sort of articles are to show you how to do things yourself. Placing a code in your theme’s functions.php file would function identically to adding it via a plugin (i.e same amount of resources are required). So in other words, if you paste 30 code snippets from various places on the web into your theme’s functions.php file, then you added 30 plugins to your site.

There is a whole debate about not adding every snippets to your functions.php file anyways. Mainly because if you switch themes, technically you will lose all the functionality that you may not want to get rid of. You can read more about this in our article regarding: What, Why, and How-To’s of Creating a Site Specific WordPress plugin

Many users are under the illusion that adding the code in their functions.php file or in a site-specific plugin will speed up their site. Or it is better for “security” to do this. It’s NOT the case. You can have poorly coded function that can exhaust your server resources and cause the site to crash. You can have a poorly coded function that can create a security vulnerability on your site.

Before we go any further, let’s establish that it is NEVER too many plugins that are slowing down your site. It is always poorly coded plugins that are slowing down your website.

The answer to the question: “How many WordPress plugins should you install on your site” is as many as you need. When we tell this answer to folks, they are like you are being just as vague as others. How many plugins do you use on your site? Currently, there are 53 active plugins on WPBeginner. A good number of the plugins we are using can be seen on our Blueprint page.

According to Pingdom, our homepage load time ranges from 483ms – 1.7s depending on the time of the day. Below is a screenshot that we took at the time of writing this article:

WPBeginner Pingdom Screenshot on September 27th

At this point, you should have your question answered. However if you want to further understand the impact of plugins and how to choose the best plugin, then continue reading.

Plugins and Performance

There are various types of plugins. Plugins that affect the front-end (i.e social plugins, usability plugins, etc). There are plugins that are mainly for the back-end (i.e Hot Fix, Backup Plugins, etc). There are plugins that do both backend and front-end (i.e SEO plugins, etc).

Plugins can impact your site performance by:

  • Additional HTTP requests – Some plugins (mainly front-end ones) may require custom styling or scripts to work properly. Because of this, they may add an extra JS and/or CSS file(s).
  • Additional DB Queries – Some plugins may increase your database queries. If you are using a plugin for popular posts, related posts, or anything else that pulls database elements and display it on the front-end will add additional database queries.

Out of the box some plugins do present these issues however there is a fix for it in most cases. Let’s take a short term and a long term fix for these issues. Before we do this, let’s establish that everyone NEEDS to have caching installed. We recommend and use W3 Total Cache plugin.

Additional HTTP Requests Issue – Yes, some plugins HAVE to add additional http requests (i.e JS and CSS file) to work out of the box. For example, when you install a contact form plugin, do you NOT want it to work out of the box? People complain about additional HTTP queries as if they would be OK with having an unstyled form. Not sure what an unstyled form look like?

Unstyled Form

Most of you would freak out saying that’s broken. Stylesheet is missing. Well that is exactly what would happen if the contact form doesn’t add the additional HTTP request. We all want our forms to look stylistic. We all want the captcha to work, so we don’t get SPAM email. In short, the additional style and script needs to be added for the plugin to function properly.

There are two ways of optimizing the additional HTTP requests issue. Both methods require little coding knowledge and WordPress know-how. The first method would be to unregister the additional styles and scripts that are being loaded by the plugin. Then combine the plugin styles into your style.css file. Combine the plugin scripts into your main.js file. The second method would be to conditionally load the plugin styles/scripts on pages that they are needed. We have already explained both methods in our article about disabling additional scripts and stylesheets that WordPress plugins add.

Folks who are not code savvy will argue well what about us? Sadly there is no true solution available. However, you must understand that few additional HTTP requests are not as significant as you may think. We are talking about microseconds of differences here. Sure, if you have a lot of HTTP requests, then a little coding know-how will allow you to shave a few seconds off the loading time. At this point, you would have to think how big of a priority this is for your business. If it is a big priority, then it is worth hiring a professional to speed up your site. We are always available for hire.

The short term solution for this problem is that plugin authors who are loading additional stylesheets add a checkbox in their plugin settings like the WP-PageNavi plugin does.

WP-PageNavi Options

This makes it easier for folks who don’t know much of PHP to simply check the box to unregister the additional stylesheet. This way all the user has to do is take the content of the additional stylesheet file and add it at the bottom of the main stylesheet that they were loading.

A long term solution for this problem would be that someone comes out with a plugin or WordPress core adds an ability to combine all registered stylesheets and scripts as one. There are obviously a lot of issues that needs to be fiddled with here. First and foremost is the compatibility issue. Sometimes two scripts may not be compatible together. This is what we see a lot when debugging plugin issues for our users.

Now that we have this covered, lets take a look at additional DB queries.

Additional Database Queries – Some plugins may increase the load on your database server. WordPress itself does a very good job at caching the queries. Most well coded plugins will not cause a significant issue. However, if you have a very very large site, using related posts plugin like YARPP can become an issue specially if you don’t have good server resources.

At this point, you would probably want to consider upgrading your hosting. The only other solution would be to get rid of the plugin and hire someone to build a custom solution for you. Sometimes, you may have to do some aggressive server-side caching to make the existing plugin work. The custom solutions vary from site to site.

Plugins and Security

Sometimes folks raise a concern with plugins and security. Yes, in the past there have been issues that some plugins opened up a big security vulnerability. These mostly happen with poorly coded plugins. Besides that, security is a risk with just about every software that exists. Oversights are bound to happen. However, the best part about open source is so many people are using it that it gets picked up a lot faster.

The best security you can have for your site is a regular WordPress backup. You can also improve your security by using Sucuri.

Plugins and Reliability

Some folks have raised the issue with plugin’s reliability. What if the plugin gets discontinued? What if the updates are slow? This is the risk you run with when using any software right? What if Adobe goes out of business, then we won’t have Photoshop. What if Apple goes out of business, then we won’t have iPhone. Well, guess what, then you will have something better. The best part about WordPress is the community. This community is growing faster than ever. If you use a popular plugin, chances are that it will not be discontinued. If it is, then someone else will likely fork it and continue the development. That’s the power of GPL. This is exactly how WordPress came in existence.

Thanks to services like gitHub, developers are combining efforts by submitting patches to each other’s plugin. This is only going to get better as long as folks continue to work together.

We would recommend that you pick plugins with a good track records, and you will be fine.

How to Pick the Best Plugins?

This is a big issue for new users. Which plugins are the best? Which ones should I use? We recommend that you pick plugins that have good track records. How to determine that?

Well, look at the number of downloads. Look at the plugin ratings. Look at how many support threads have been answered. Look at how many people are saying that it works. Read some reviews about it. Look at the credibility of the author. Hopefully after all this, you should have your answer.

Hint: You can see all these metrics on the WordPress plugins repository. As for reviews, Google it. Then use your best judgement.

Conclusion

We hope that this article has helped you understand that there is no such thing as “too many” plugins. The answer to how many plugins you should install on your site is as many as you need. Always remember that the number of plugins do not slow down your site. Number of poorly coded plugins do.

If you have additional thoughts, disagree with our opinion, or want to add something to the discussion, then we encourage you to leave a comment. We are also curious in seeing how many plugins are you running on your site. Leave a comment and let us know.


Editorial Staff at WPBeginner is a team of WordPress lovers led by Syed Balkhi. Page maintained by Syed Balkhi.

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Comments

  1. Ileane says:

    Hi Syed, I saw you link to this post from a comment you left on Ian’s blog.

    My question is this – since I’m not familiar with code, when I install a plugin and something breaks, how can I possibly know for sure which plugin is poorly coded.

    For example, I know that we can troubleshoot by removing all the plugins and putting them back one by one. butt that doesn’t really tell me for sure which one is poorly coded because it might just be the new one that I added and not any of the old ones.

    Also – there’s always a change that the theme is the problem too. I had problems with Thesis theme and every time I would install a lead capture plugin my RSS feed would become invalid. I tried Optin Skin, Optin Monster, Hybrid Connect, and so many others that I can’t even remember them all. But to this day I never found out which one actually caused the issue.

    • Editorial Staff says:

      Hey Ileane,

      Evaluating the code and performance of the plugin does take some technical know how.

      This plugin is a good place to start:

      http://wordpress.org/plugins/p3-profiler/ < < Some hosts aren't configured for this plugin, so if you don't see any results, then that's the reason.

      Also bloated themes with a lot of code in their functions.php file can cause problems. Remember the codes in functions.php file are similar to plugins.

      As for your question about new and old plugins... If any of the new plugins that you mentioned you had tried for Optins and none of them worked, then I'll lean towards that the problem is with your older plugins or theme rather than the new ones.

      Also important to know that sometimes it could be a conflict between two plugins or plugin and a theme. So you always have to be open to trying things out.

      I know disabling plugins and debugging on a live site sounds scary. That's why my suggestion would be to create a staging environment.

      Then test the plugins you have installed with the default theme. If the problem goes away, then you know it is your theme that's causing the problem. If not, then try the plugins.

      Remember if multiple different "new" plugins cause the same conflict on your site, then it is very likely that the problem is specific to your site and setup.

      You can also try using the wp_debug function to see how many errors are being returned. Do this on local server environment or on a staging environment. This will give you an idea on what needs to be fixed.

      I wish I could give you an easier answer, but with the wide-variety of plugins out there coded from the wide-variety of developers all with different skill level, it's impossible to give a simple answer.

      -Syed

      P.S. Here's the staging tutorial:

      http://www.wpbeginner.com/wp-tutorials/how-to-create-staging-environment-for-a-wordpress-site/

      • Ileane says:

        Thanks Syed!!

        I use the P3 Profiler Plugin and it was really helpful. I got rid of a ton of plugins based on the heavy load times and poor performance.

        I need to set up the staging environment and do some testing. Do you offer a service for that?

        Thanks again for your response!

  2. Huguens M says:

    What a relief… before reading this article I was totally confused about this subject. You guys are awesome. The burden has now been lifted. Wooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!

  3. Ranjeet kumar says:

    Thanks for this article. This is too good!

  4. Dave Bell says:

    A great article. Really helps clarify what the real issues are. I noticed myself becoming paranoid about plugins. 10 or 11, oh my! Now I feel the pressure is off. Of course good solid properly coded plugins are the order of the day. Dave

  5. Patricio Proaño says:

    Excellent article, very usefull!

  6. Kenny Dowling says:

    Thank you. A very useful and informative article which counters opinion based guidance I have read in some well known books.

    And I agree with Waqas Lone above.

  7. Rambo Ruiz says:

    Hey thanks for clearing this up I too have been wondering if too much plugins will make my site load slower. Great to know that it won’t

  8. Frank Woodman Jr says:

    Thanks for what clearly is the best article explaining WordPress plugins and how to use them that I’ve seen. And you’ve done it in an easy to understand and follow manor that even the newbies can follow along.

    This is one article that I’ll both bookmark and share as it’s truly a wonderful resource.

  9. Martin says:

    Sometimes you can cut a long story short:
    1. Install only plugins you are going to use, do not leave them deactivated, delete them in this case.
    2. Install f.ex. 6Scan security Plugin to see whether the plugins you are using are compromizing your site’s security and deal with them appropriately.
    3. Offer links to sites who can meassure your sites loading performance http://tools.pingdom.com/fpt/
    4. install plugins like Wordfence and WP Firewall2 for neccessary protection of your site. Here we are not only talking plugins, themes can have the same security problems.
    Thank You

    • Editorial Staff says:

      Well if two parties are on the same page, you can do that. However, when you are trying to educate others regarding the issue, then it is best to be thorough.

      • Waqas Lone says:

        Well you guys have done a really good job by explaining all this. Not everyone understand the reason behind it + many people like more in-depth analysis into everything which is IMPORTANT Great article!

    • Frank Woodman Jr says:

      Appreciate your additional input and it sounds like you’ve give us some good advice.

  10. Charlie says:

    I have about 450 plugins installed on one of my multi-site networks. Obviously not all activated on the same site. I find the P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler) plugin is a good way to see which plugins are causing any issues.

  11. Mladen says:

    Thanks for this article. It was very interesting for me reading it, because i was just wondering how much is enough. Currently i am using 40 plug-ins on my site.

  12. Alex Denning says:

    Really solid advice there – especially not the number, the quality – WPBeginner is proof of that itself :)

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