A WordPress Plugin is intended to extend the abilities and functionality of WordPress.
The WordPress.org Plugin Directory, displays data about each WordPress Plugin. This data is extracted from the plugin file, the readme.txt file, and from the subversion repository. There are always questions about this information and WordPress.org addressed many of them on their Plugin FAQs page.
WordPress Plugin developers are required to create and maintain a readme.txt file, in order to submit their WordPress Plugin to the http://www.wp-plugins.net and http://www.wp-plugins.org plugin websites.
The WordPress.org Writing a Plugin Codex says:
If you want to host your Plugin on http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/, you also need to create a readme.txt file in a standard format, and include it with your Plugin.
The readme.txt file may be required for the original plugin submission to WordPress managed Plugin Directories, but it isn’t required of all plugins.
The WordPress file header Codex states:
Some plugins contain the readme.txt file which might contain look-a-like headers as well. Those files are not handled by WordPress but by third-party applications.
To me, the word “some” means you may not find a readme.txt file with all WordPress plugins, especially those not available through WordPress managed Plugin Directories.
The readme.txt file gets a significant amount of attention in the WordPress Plugin Development Codex. However, WordPress and the plugin developers fall asleep on the job when it comes to updating the readme.txt file. Plugins are often updated, but the readme.txt file tends to remain the same.
The WordPress Plugin Development Guidelines, set a clear expectation about the readme.txt file. However, after a plugin has been accepted and listed in the WordPress Plugin Directories, there doesn’t seem to be any processes in place to ensure plugin developers continue to meet the expectation.
http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/about/readme.txt shows the expectation for the readme.txt file.
Why does it matter?
To me the readme.txt file is the best way to identify which WordPress Plugins have been given the most attention. If a plugin developer doesn’t care enough to update the readme.txt file, what am I supposed to think about the effort put into the continued development of the plugin? What should I feel about the quality of the plugin?
In the recent article, First Five WordPress Plugins, I talk about the Better Plugin Compatibility Control WordPress plugin:
I refer to the Better Plugin Compatibility Control WordPress plugin a lot. It helps me keep an eye on which versions of WordPress, specific plugins are compatible with. This information is displayed below the name of each installed (activated or deactivated) plugin, in the plugins section of the WordPress Administration Panel.
When the Better Plugin Compatibility Control plugin identifies version compatibility issues, the entire plugin becomes suspect. I begin to question the quality of the plugin and the organization of the developer.
In the image above, I shed some light on how the Better Plugin Compatibility Control plugin and the readme.txt file is of assistance. The Categories to Tags Importer Converter Plugin is identified as only being compatible with versions 3.0 to 3.0.3 of WordPress. For the “bigger picture,” click on the image above.
The Categories to Tags Importer Converter Plugin information, on the WordPress.org Plugin Directory, says it is compatible with WordPress 3.0.4, so why is it the developer doesn’t identify this in the readme.txt file?
I have WordPress 3.0.4 installed. So is this plugin compatible or not?
FYI: You will not see this version information in your list of installed plugins if you did not install and activate the Better Plugin Compatibility Control WordPress Plugin. However, this information is still available to you, after you install any WordPress Plugin, by using the editor to view the readme.txt file.
You may also find the information in the WordPress Plugin’s readme.txt file is out of date.
The many WordPress Plugins available, provide all kinds of cool new ability. However, if the WordPress Plugin compromises your WordPress website, it hasn’t done anything for you, except cause problems.
If you need help with WordPress plugins or your WordPress website, hire a professional to help.