WordPress is one of the most popular content management solutions and blogging platforms available. It offers an easy to use interface that is perfect for novices while still allowing experienced coders or web designers to tweak settings and add advanced functionality. Best of all, it installs in minutes on most servers.

One of the most powerful features available in the WordPress API is shortcodes. With some basic programming knowledge, any web designer can harness the power of shortcodes to add functionality and convenience to any project.

Shortcode Basics

At their core, shortcodes are an integrated way to utilize macros in WordPress site content. With a simple handler and tag, common tasks are automatically parsed from the code of the site, manipulated and displayed. Shortcodes can be complex, such as creating dynamic post lists based on categories, or simple, such as formatting text with header tags. While there are some limitations to the shortcode API, these handy objects are a common part of most professional WordPress site designs.

Common uses for WordPress Shortcodes Include:

  1. Custom post types such as galleries or video
  2. Text and CSS formatting
  3. Text widget generation
  4. Integrated URL shortening
  5. Displaying members-only content
  6. Creating boiler plate content

How to Get Started with Shortcodes

Getting started with shortcodes is a three step process. The bulk of the actions will be performed within the functions.php file of your WordPress installation. If you do not have a preferred software for editing the site’s PHP files, you can simply use the editor built into the WordPress Dashboard by clicking “Appearance” followed by “Editor” in the Sidebar. Once you have the functions.php file open for editing, you are ready to start creating shortcodes.

Step 1: Create Your PHP Function

Shortcode functions should be created using the common “function functionname(parameters)” syntax. Contents of the function can be anything from simply displaying the date and time to lists of related posts or interactive elements. One key requirement to keep in mind is that you must return information to be displayed using “return” instead of “echo.” If “echo” is used, formatting and placement will not be preserved and results will be unreliable.

Step 2: Define Your Shortcode Handle

This is done by using the add_shortcode() function included in the WordPress installation. Proper usage of the function is “add_shortcode(‘handle’, function’)”. In most cases, hyphens should be avoided in shortcode handles due to limitations of the shortcode parser implemented within WordPress.

Step 3: Using Your Shortcodes

All that is left is to implement your shortcodes in the content of your site. The most common way is simply enclosing the handle of the shortcode in square brackets in a post, page or widget. Attributes may be passed by including them within the square brackets or by enclosing the parameters between and opening and closing shortcode.

This is just a glimpse of what can be done with WordPress shortcodes. Shortcodes are implemented in a number of popular WordPress plug-ins for easy use as well. For more information on shortcodes, check out the WordPress Codex orSmashing’s Complete Guide to WordPress Shortcodes.

About the author: Mathew Ellis is a freelance writer with many years of experience covering the tech industry. When he’s not writing, you can find him www.acquirent.com or working on his upcoming novel.