How WordPress Works
You may have initially learned to make websites in HTML and CSS. When you publish those websites, you move all of the website files to the server. That’s when you can see them live. For published websites, all of the website files are stored in the web server.
WordPress uses a hosting server as well but the arrangement is much more complicated. WordPress uses website files, but it stores the website content in a database and retrieves that content when a web page loads.
WordPress Uses PHP and MySQL
MySQL is a relational database. Think of a database as bunch of spreadsheets (tables) that store data. The database is where all of the website content is stored. The list at right is a list of tables in a typical WordPress website. As you can see, there are a lot of them.
For now, note the highlighted table called wpmq_posts. This is where the posts are stored. Whenever someone adds a Post or Page in WordPress, a new row is added to the wp_posts table. On this website, the table is named wpmq_posts, but it is the same as the wp_posts table. If you have cPanel, you can access the tables in phpMyAdmin.
If this seems complicated, don’t worry! Most owners of WordPress websites aren’t even aware of the tables. For non-developers who use WordPress, how the data is stored is a black box for them.
PHP is often integrated with HTML. When writing code, when the programmer needs to access something from the database, he/she switches from the HTML to the PHP language.
Use PHPmyAdmin to View the Database Tables
If you have cPanel, then you can use the PHPmyAdmin tool to view and and edit the table rows. (If you don’t have cPanel, your website hosting will undoubtably have a different tool that will allow you to view the MySql Tables.)
As you can see in the screenshot below, a database table is like a spreadsheet table, like Excel, Numbers, or Google Sheets. Each row is another post.
WordPress Folders and Files
Here are the folders and files you will see in a typical WordPress installation. Note that instead of an index.html file there is an index.php file. Website files that include PHP use the .php extension.
See the WordPress Files with Chrome Inspector
You can use Developer Tools to see if a website was made with WordPress.
Click on Sources in the Dev Tools, and look for folders that start with wp.
WordPress Started as a Blogging Platform
To understand how WordPress works, you need to know a bit about blogging. WordPress began its life as a blogging platform in 2003, and then evolved to more general use. This history is evident throughout WordPress.
Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little were the initial developers. In the early years, you could only use WordPress for blogging. The home page was a list of blog posts website visitors could click into. Over the years, more and more functionality was added, so that today it is much more than a blogging platform.
What is a blog, anyway?
A blog is a sort of like a website journal. A blogger writes regular posts about their topic of expertise. Here are some types of bloggers:
Recipe blogger: Each recipe is a blog post.
Travel blogger: Each location or trip is a blog post
Craft blogger: Each craft is a blog post
Bloggers make money by putting advertisements on their websites.
Farmtojar.com: This is a food blogger I support who writes posts about recipes and gardening.
GeeksUnderGrace.com: This is a team of people who write blog posts about video games from a Christian perspective.
WebDevStudents.com/blog: On my website for students, I have a section devoted to a blogging. Only part of the website is a blog.
As you can see, each of these blogs has a specific topic and posts that relate to that topic.
Many businesses have blogs that supplement their business websites. They write articles about their area of expertise because it’s a great way to get traffic to their website from search engines, like Google.
Here are a few examples of companies that may have a blog as part of their business website:
- A plumbing company would write articles about plumbing problems, and that would increase traffic to their website.
- A landscaping company may write blog post about various high-end landscaping projects, to showcase their work and get more customers.
- A pest control company blogs about
As you can see, only a subset of websites are blogs or include a blog. A typical business website probably doesn’t include a blog, unless blogging is part of their marketing strategy.
The “real” WordPress is WordPress.org
The “real” WordPress comes from wordpress.org. WordPress.org is for developers and business websites. WordPress.org is the home for the real WordPress blogging platform.
WordPress.com is a for-profit company run by Automattic. It is used by a small subset of WordPress users.
The point is that when you hear someone talking about WordPress, they almost certainly are referencing WordPress.org, not WordPress.com. In the image below, you can see the relative importance of WordPress.com and WordPress.org.
So, what is WordPress.com?
WordPress.com is a product of Automattic
Automattic is a for-profit business led by Matt Mullenweg, one of the creators of WordPress. One of its products is WordPress.com, a platform that uses a version of the open source WordPress code to sell websites. Most WordPress users do not use WordPress.com.
WordPress.com has a limited free level. To move to your own domain, you need to pay WordPress.com. WordPress also provides website hosting.
Automatic also owns WooCommerce, JetPack and other WordPress plugins. Of note, WooCommerce is a free plugin and has made WordPress the leading e-commerce platform.
Automattic is a much-loved part of the WordPress community. It provides significant support to WordPress.org. Matt Mullenweg gives an annual presentation each year called, “State of the Word”. He is one of the primary leaders of WordPress.org and his company does a lot of work to support WordPress.org.
Understanding a bit about how WordPress is structured and its history as a blogging platform is important for a true comprehension of WordPress.