File Under: Blog Publishing

Get Started With WordPress

Back when blogging was just catching on, a small PHP-based publishing system was quietly released and quickly took the blogging community by storm. WordPress, as the system was known, was an instant hit thanks to its simplicity and open-source license which allowed interested developers to extend and improve the system without hassle.

Today, WordPress powers everything from huge sites like CNN’s Political Tracker to thousands of personal blogs. Thanks to an easy step up process and the widespread availability of web hosts offering one-click WordPress installs, you can start blogging with WordPress in a snap.

In this tutorial, we’ll assume your web host doesn’t have a one-click installer. Maybe you’ve got a bare-bones host, you’ve decided to host your own site, or you’re simply setting up a local installation to see what WordPress can do. At any rate, fear not — getting WordPress working on your server only takes a few minutes. Of course, you’ll need a few skills in the bag first, like a knowledge of PHP and a comfortable working relationship with MySQL databases.

Once your blog is up and running, we’ll take a look at different ways you can customize and extend your blog.

Contents

  1. Installation
  2. Digging In
  3. Customize WordPress
    1. Themes
    2. Plugins
  4. Suggested Reading
  5. Other WordPress Links
  6. Other Blogging Tutorials

Installation

Much of WordPress’s popularity stems from its famously dead simple installation process. All you need to get started with WordPress is a web server, a MySQL database for WordPress to talk to and of course the WordPress software itself.

Unzip the WordPress download and rename the wp-config-sample.php file to wp-config.php.

Drop that file in your favorite text editor and fill in the details about your database so WordPress can connect to it properly.

Now you just need to upload WordPress using an FTP program. Upload all the files to where ever you’d like you new blog to live. For instance, if you want your blog to be the root of your domain, upload all the files to your root web directory. If you want your blog to be at, say, mysite.com/blog, just upload all the WordPress files to a “blog” directory within the website’s root directory.

Now you just need to run the install script by pointing your browser to:

http://mysite.com/blog/wp-admin/install.php

Just adjust that URL to fit wherever you placed WordPress.

The install script will walk you through naming your blog and creating a username and password for accessing the administration panel.

Once that’s done, log in to WordPress and you’re ready to roll. If you run into any problems, have a look at the official WordPress installation guide, which covers most of the common installation issues.

Digging In

When you log in to WordPress for the first time, you’ll encounter what’s known as the Dashboard. The Dashboard tracks your recent activity and lets you know about and manage comments your visitors have left and tracks any incoming links from other sites.

In order to have some content for when we start customizing our installation, go ahead and click the “Write a new Post” link and, well, write a quick post or two. Once you have a couple of posts done, click the “Write a new page” button.

Now what’s the difference between a “page” and a “post,” you ask? Well, a post is an entry on your blog, whereas a page represents something static like a contact page or an “About me” page. Go ahead and create a couple of pages so you can see how they work in the next section.

The other section that might catch your eye is “Links.” Older versions of WordPress referred to this section as the Blogroll, but the name change reflects the more general purpose usefulness of Links. While you can still use Links to generate a blogroll linking to your friends’ sites, you can also do other things like create an entire site navigation system for your sidebar.

If you click the “visit site” button from any of the Admin pages, WordPress will dump you onto your live site so you can see what your changes look like.

Customize WordPress

The default look for WordPress is a blue header above a two column layout — you’ll probably recognize it since many sites don’t bother to customize the plain installation. It’s OK for a default layout, but if you want to personalize your WordPress site a bit, read on.

Themes

Customizing WordPress’s look happens through “themes.” If you log in to your WordPress dashboard and select the Design tab, you’ll see the main themes panel. Also check out the Header Image and Color tab which features a very nice inline theme editor, complete with color pickers and other tools that make it easy to customize the default theme.

But frankly, one of the advantages of WordPress is the number and variety of custom themes that members of the community have created. The official repository of themes is the WordPress Theme Viewer, so browser through that list, find something you like and download it.

Then just unzip and upload the theme to the wp-content/themes directory provided by WordPress. Then, just head over to the Design tab inside the WordPress admin interface and select your new theme.

From there, you can customize and tweak the theme to fit your whims. Different themes offer different levels of customization so what you can and cannot do will depend on the theme you’re working with. In general, you should be able to change the header image, layout options and colors on any theme.

Also note that themes don’t have to be site-wide. If you happen to blog about both cupcakes and software, you can assign your archive pages for cupcakes to use one theme and the software posts to use another.

If you’d like to create your own theme, it isn’t too difficult. The best place to start is to open up an existing theme and study how it works.

You’ll notice it’s more complex than just throwing together some HTML and CSS in a template. It helps to have a decent knowledge of PHP, and if you need help getting up to speed, Webmonkey has you covered. Read our PHP Tutorial for Beginners

Plugins

One of the chief appeals to powering your blog with WordPress rather than building your own system is that you can take advantage all of the cool tools that other people have developed. The WordPress plugin universe offers something for everyone, whether you just want to add some photos or turn your blog into a proto-social network using the plugins from the DiSo project.

To get you started, here’s a few of our favorites:

  • WP-Cache – Caches your pages for much faster loads. An absolute must, this should be part of WordPress by default. It works by caching WordPress pages and storing them in a static file for serving future requests directly from the file rather than loading and compiling the whole PHP code and the building the page from the database. Your site will thank you when Digg and Slashdot readers start pouring in.
  • Twitter Tools enable you to integrate your WordPress blog and your Twitter account. Pull your tweets into your blog and create new tweets on blog posts and from within WordPress.
  • EasyTube – post YouTube videos using just the URL. This plugin takes the URL and uses it to embed the actual video.

Suggested Reading

Other WordPress Links


Other Blogging Tutorials

Get Started With Movable Type