What Is WordPress and How Does It Work?

What Is WordPress

What Is WordPress?

WordPress is technically a content management system or CMS. A CMS is just software that allows you to organize and create content. WordPress is website creation software that allows you to create, organize and publish the content for your website easily, without knowing a lick of code.

WordPress is also open-source software. Unlike other website creation software such as Wix and Weebly, which are not open-source, anyone can reuse and modify WordPress’s source code. The purpose of open-source software is public collaboration. This why there are so many WordPress plugins and themes available to download for free or to purchase.

WordPress.org, and its parent company Automattic, have only created a handful of themes and plugins. The rest of the thousands available online are created by amateur and professional web designers and developers.

How Does WordPress Work?

WordPress uses a “dynamic templating system” to create and organize content. For example, depending on the active theme, one template file is used for all posts, another template file is used for all pages, another template file is used for all category archive pages, and so forth. This means, if you have 500 posts, 8 categories, and 15 pages on your site, additional files are not generated for each post, page or archive page. Instead, the content for each are stored in a database.

When someone visits your site at a specific web address, let’s say yoursite.com/category-name/title-of-post/, the database spits out the content (article copy, images, comments, sidebar content, and so on), and the single post template file determines the layout of the post like where the header, footer, sidebars, comment forms, and so on are placed on the web page.

The following are the most important elements in the WordPress “ecosystem”.


As far as WordPress is concerned, content is a post, a page, a comment, a form, or a media file. Posts, pages, comments, forms and media are all pieces of content that when created or uploaded in your Admin Area, are saved in some way to your database as text. Media files are the only type of content that is also stored as an actual file in a folder on your web host’s server.


The database is where content and the relationships between content is stored dynamically. As far as any database is concerned, content is just text. The text in posts, pages, comments and the urls for media files, along with all the metadata are stored in the database in tables of rows and columns like a complex, dynamic and interrelated set of excel spreadsheets.


Media files related to posts, pages and theme customization–such as logos–are uploaded via the Admin Area–where you manage your site–and stored in the “uploads” folder of your WordPress installation. WordPress supports the following media files:


  • .jpg
  • .jpeg
  • .png
  • .gif
  • .ico


  • .pdf (Portable Document Format; Adobe Acrobat)
  • .doc, .docx (Microsoft Word Document)
  • .ppt, .pptx, .pps, .ppsx (Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation)
  • .odt (OpenDocument Text Document)
  • .xls, .xlsx (Microsoft Excel Document)
  • .psd (Adobe Photoshop Document)


  • .mp3
  • .m4a
  • .ogg
  • .wav


  • .mp4, .m4v (MPEG-4)
  • .mov (QuickTime)
  • .wmv (Windows Media Video)
  • .avi
  • .mpg
  • .ogv (Ogg)
  • .3gp (3GPP)
  • .3g2 (3GPP2)

See the most up-to-date list of supported files here.


Default WordPress Themes
Default WordPress Themes

A theme is a collection of files used to layout and style your website. Within each theme are the template files which determine the layout and functionality of your site, and stylesheets, which determine how your site will look. All WordPress installations come with the last three WordPress default themes. The latest theme is active when you first install WordPress since a theme must always be active.

A theme is the most important, and the most fun, part of your WordPress installation because it determines how your site will look and to a certain extent, how it will function. If the default themes don’t suit your needs, there are a dizzying number of themes to choose from online. It’s best to begin here at WordPress.org’s theme repository of free themes. Alternatively, you can opt for paid (premium) themes at theme marketplaces like Themeforest/Envato Market.


WordPress organizes posts via taxonomies. A taxonomy is just a way to classify content. WordPress has three default taxonomies: category, tag and post-format.


A category is the best way to organize posts under a broad range of topics. Ideally, you should have only a handful of categories in which to organize your posts.

Here is a good example of how to use categories. “Gliders” are a better category than “hang-gliders” if you have a blog about airplanes. Glider is a broader topic. Hang-glider is a type of glider and might be better as a tag (see below).


Where categories are used to broadly organize your posts, tags are keywords to specifically callout what your posts are about. Posts can and often do have multiple tags, but just one category.

Here is a good example of how to use tags successfully. Let’s say you have a blog about domestic pets. A post about Australian parakeets would go under the “bird” category and have the following tags: parakeet, Australian, and small pets.


For WordPress beginners and basic users, post-formats are not important. Most themes do not design posts based on these formats. However, this is good information to know if you install a theme where, fore example, a “chat” post or “video” post are uniquely designed.

A post format is a taxonomy specifically used for theme designers to customize the look of a post. There are 10 post format options. The default is “standard”. The other nine are: aside, gallery, link, image, audio, video, chat, status and quote.


A plugin is a collection of files that add extra functionality to your website. For example, the Akismet Anti-Spam plugin, included in all WordPress installations by default, searches for spam and allows you to dictate what to do with it once it’s found. Unlike a theme, no plugin is automatically active because plugins are not necessary for your WordPress site to work. You must “activate” a plugin for it to work.

There are thousands of themes for hundreds of functions available online. The best place to find a plugin that fits your needs is WordPress.org’s plugin repository.

Please let me know of any errors, grammatical or other, in the this guide via the contact form. Also feel free to leave your thoughts and comments below.

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