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Using Namespaces and Autoloading in WordPress Plugins, Part 2

In the previous tutorial, we began talking about namespaces and autoloading with PHP in the context of WordPress development. And although we never actually introduced either of those two topics, we did define them and begin laying the foundation for how we’ll introduce them in an upcoming tutorial.

Before we do that, though, there’s some functionality that we need to complete to round out our plugin. The goal is to finish the plugin and its functionality so that we have a basic, object-oriented plugin that’s documented and works well with one caveat; it doesn’t use namespaces or autoloading.

This, in turn, will give us the chance to see what a plugin looks like before and after introducing these topics.

Before proceeding, I recommend reading the previous tutorial. This way, you’ll have the understanding of what namespaces and autoloading are, you’ll have the working version of the plugin up to this point (since we’re going to be building on it), and then you will be ready to proceed from that point forward.

Once you’ve read it, feel free to come back to this tutorial and resume your work.

Before We Begin

As with all of my tutorials, I assume you have a working development environment on your machine. This includes the following:

  • A local development environment that includes PHP 5.6.20, the Apache web server, and a MySQL database server.
  • A directory out of which WordPress 4.6 is being hosted.
  • A text editor or IDE of your choice that you’re comfortable using for writing a plugin.
  • A working knowledge of the WordPress Plugin API.

If you’re this far into the series (or have read any of my previous work), then I assume you already have something like the above already in place. 

And when you do, we’re ready to get started.

What We’re Building

Recall from the previous tutorial:

We’ll be building a plugin that makes it easy to load stylesheets and JavaScript styles in our plugin, and that displays a meta box that prompts the user with a question to help them brainstorm something about which to blog.

Yes, it’s simple and it’s not likely something that anyone will use outside of studying the concepts we’re covering in this blog. But the means by which we’re teaching the concepts that we’re using are what’s important.

This plugin gives us the ability to do exactly that.

At the end of the last tutorial, we left with a plugin that displays a random question to the writer at the top of the sidebar in the WordPress post creation screen.

Random questions appearing in a meta box

Each time you refresh the page, a new question is loaded. As it stands, it’s not bad, but there are some improvements we can make in terms of the style of the content in the meta box.

That is, we can introduce stylesheets that will help us create a slightly more visually appealing presentation. Additionally, it will give us a chance to explore a few more object-oriented techniques that we can use when working with assets like stylesheets.

So let’s begin.

Introducing Stylesheets

For the purposes of this tutorial, I’m not going to be using any type of preprocessor. I’m just going to be using vanilla CSS. But the way in which we enqueue assets will be a bit more object-oriented than what many WordPress developers are used to seeing. 

This will all contribute to the goal of using namespaces and autoloading in this series. But first, let’s start with introducing these stylesheets, creating the necessary class interfaces, classes, and communication with the WordPress API.

Add the CSS File

In the admin directory, create a subdirectory called assets. Within the assets directory, create a subdirectory called css and then add the file admin.css

The final directory structure should look something like this:

The final directory structure for assets

We’re not ready to provide any type of styles just yet. Instead, we need to turn our attention to the server-side code responsible for enqueuing this stylesheet.

Enqueue the Stylesheet

When it comes to registering and enqueuing both stylesheets and JavaScript, most WordPress plugin developers are familiar with the hooks necessary to do just that. Specifically, I’m referring to admin_enqueue_scripts and wp_enqueue_style.

And though we are going to using these hooks, we’re going to be setting it up in a simple, object-oriented manner. No, this series isn’t meant to take a deep dive into object-oriented principles but, when applicable, I’m happy to try to show them to you.

The Assets Interface

In object-oriented programming, an interface is defined as such:

An interface is a programming structure/syntax that allows the computer to enforce certain properties on a class.

Another way to think of it is this: 

If you have a class that implements an interface, the class must define functionality that the interface dictates.

So if the interface has two method signatures with a specific visibility and name, then the class implementing the interface must have two methods with the same visibility and name as well as an actual method implementation.

And that’s what we’re going to do. First, we need to define our interface. So in the util directory, create interface-assets.php and then add the following code:

Notice, the interface doesn’t actually define functionality. Instead, it specifies what the classes that implement this interface should define. 

As you may surmise, the classes that will implement this interface will have two methods above along with an actual implementation for each function. And we’ll see how this works momentarily.

Next, make sure to include this file in the main plugin file:

Next, we need to create a file that implements this interface. Since we’re working with CSS files, we’ll create a CSS loader.

The CSS Loader

This is the class that is responsible for implementing the interface and doing the actual work of registering the function with the necessary WordPress hook (and actually giving the implementation to said function).

If you take a look at the code below, it should look very similar to something you’ve seen or perhaps worked on in a previous project:

The code above should be relatively easy to follow given the code comments, but I’ll outline what’s happening:

  • init and enqueue are both functions required as the class implements the Assets_Interface.
  • When init is called, it registers the enqueue function with the hook responsible for registering a stylesheet.
  • The enqueue method registers the admin.css file and uses filemtime as a way to know if the file has changed or not (which allows us to bust any cached version of the file when serving).

In this implementation, the actual admin.css file is added on every page. Adding a conditional to check which page is currently active and then determining if the stylesheet should be added or not can be added as a post-tutorial exercise. For a hint, check out get_current_screen().

Next, we need to include this file in the main plugin file:

Next, we need to instantiate the CSS loader and call its init method in the main tutsplus_namespace_demo function:

Assuming you’ve done everything right, you should be able to refresh the Add New Post page, view the source, and see admin.css listed as an available stylesheet.

We’ve one more thing to do before we’re ready to wrap up this part of the tutorial. We need to actually write some CSS.

Style the Meta Box

Since the majority of the tutorial has focused on some object-oriented techniques and we still have some new topics to explore in this series, we’ll make this part relatively easy.

Rather than just using some default styles as provided by WordPress, let’s enhance the meta box just a little bit. 

First, locate the render function in the Meta_Box_Display class. Let’s modify it so that it outputs the contents of the file in a paragraph element with the ID attribute of “tutsplus-author-prompt”.

To do this, we’re going to introduce a new method that will use a WordPress API method for sanitizing HTML. 

We’ll then call this function from within the render method to display the content in the meta box.

Now we can open admin.css and make some small changes to update the look and feel of the meta box in the Add New Post screen. Let’s add the following CSS:

And at this point, your meta box should now look something like the following:

An updated version of the styles of the metabox

As mentioned at the beginning, it’s nothing major, but it’s something that enhances the look and feel of the question just a little bit.

What’s Next?

At this point, we’ve introduced a number of different classes, interfaces, and other object-oriented features. We have a plugin that uses data from a text file, that communicates with the WordPress API, and that sanitizes information before rendering it to the homepage.

We’ve got a good foundation from which to begin talking about namespaces. So in the next tutorial, we’re going to do exactly that. If you’ve yet to catch up on the rest of the series, then I recommend it as we’re only going to continue building on what we’ve learned.

If, in the meantime, you’re looking for other WordPress-related material, you can find all of my previous tutorials on my profile page and you can follow me on my blog or on Twitter.

Until then, don’t forget to download the working version of the plugin (version 0.2.0) attached to this post. The link is available in the sidebar under a button titled Download Attachment. And, as usual, don’t hesitate to ask any questions in the comments!

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