Book Review: Digging Into WordPress

Digging Into WordPress by Chris Coyier and Jeff Starr is one of the most comprehensive looks at WordPress available.

At over 400 pages long, it’s massive, whether you have the PDF version or the print edition.

Whether you’re just getting started with WP or you’ve been using it for years, there’s something for everyone in this book.

In this post, we’ll review the book and talk a bit about its highlights and features.

If you own this book or have read it, please feel free to add your own comments at the end of this post.

The overall tone of the book is conversational:

If you are buying this because your boss is making you design a site around WordPress and you are none too happy about it… Bummer. But hopefully by the end we can turn your frown upside down and bring you into the light.

The authors Jeff Starr and Chris Coyier

The design and layout of Digging Into WordPress is second to none.

If you appreciate good typography and a well-thought-out book design, this is worth purchasing just on those points.

The book is filled with useful sidebars that give more detail on important topics without interrupting the flow of the main text.

Despite its bulk, it’s also a relatively quick read and is easily scannable to find just the parts that you’re interested in.

Sidebars about things like the pros and cons of Short URLs (including a WP plugin that will allow you to create your own URL shortener rather than relying on an outside service) and a rundown of useful plugins for theme developers (which includes Theme Switcher and two others) also really stand out in Digging Into WordPress.

They not only add to the design of the book, but also provide great information in easy-to-digest bites.

The first couple of chapters will be repetitive to anyone already familiar with WordPress, though they’re still worth a look if for nothing other than a review. For those completely new to WP, they’re a great introduction.

One thing that really sets Digging Into WordPress apart from other books on the subject is that it advocates diving right into using WP once you have it set up.

We have the whole rest of this book to prod and poke at settings and alter code and nitpick details. But none of that has any context unless you get your feet wet a little bit and start getting a feel for how WordPress works and how easy it makes publishing content.

After the very basic information of the first two chapters, chapter three starts getting into more of the meat of how WP works. It covers, in detail, how WordPress works: the common files used; the Loop; the header, footer, search form, comments and sidebar; and theme functions.

Many designers may already be familiar with much of this, but it’s still a good idea to review it so you’re on the same page as the authors for the remainder of the book.

Chapter four is where things really start to get interesting for designers and developers. Theme design and development are covered in depth, with sections on customizing the Loop, child themes, custom displays for sidebar and menu items, and using multiple themes.

Plenty of code examples are used, making it easy to replicate the results in your own site. An advantage to the PDF version of the book is that you can copy and paste the code directly.

The next few chapters cover other aspects of customizing WP, with chapters on extensibility, RSS feeds, comments, search engine optimization, and maintenance.

Plugins are covered in depth, though the focus is placed more on finding the right ones and using them than developing your own.

There’s a section covering using WP as a CMS, too, with information on page templates, custom taxonomies, custom fields, and dynamic menus.

The chapter on RSS feeds might be a bit surprising to many readers. It’s incredibly comprehensive at nearly 50 pages long and brings up all sorts of things many readers and casual RSS users might not have ever considered.

It gives detailed information on the types of feeds WP has available, how to configure and format them (including how images are handled in feeds) and things like using FeedBurner to handle your feed. There’s also a section on customizing your feeds with things like excluding certain categories or authors.

There are many situations in which the default WordPress feeds simply won’t do. For example, you may have a category or group of categories that you would like to exclude or include in your main site feed. Fortunately, WordPress provides plenty of special feed parameters that enable you to carefully craft the perfect custom feed.

The comments chapter covers everything from optimizing and formatting your comments and comment form to controlling comment spam. From there it moves on to SEO, where it covers WP’s strengths and weaknesses in this area, among other things.

The maintenance chapter is one everyone should read. It covers basics like security and errors as well as things like updates and optimization. General maintenance for plugins and the database are also covered.

The book closes with two particularly interesting chapters. First is the “Bonus Tricks” chapter, which includes creating and displaying author bios, creating a theme options panel (particularly useful if you want to create themes for distribution). Two free WP themes are also included, Lines & Boxes, and Plastique.

The final chapter covers new developments in WP 2.9. Considering the book will be updated continuously, this section is indicative of how future revisions will be handled. It covers everything from the new image editor to post thumbnails and new maintenance tools.

Digging Into WordPress isn’t going to be much use to advanced WordPress users, who are likely already familiar with most of what is covered. There’s limited information on creating your own custom plugins and functions, with more focus placed on using existing plugins.

The easiest way to integrate additional functionality into WordPress involves taking advantage of the thousands of plugins available at the WordPress Codex and around the Web.

Despite the few (relatively minor) shortcomings, the book is definitely one of the best resources out there for beginner to intermediate WP users.

It starts out simply enough that those completely new to WP should have no problem getting started, and covers enough more advanced material to keep those who have already started development with WP happy. If theming and customization is your primary interest, this is definitely the book for you.

Digging Into WordPress is available in print and PDF formats. The print version (which includes a download of the PDF) is spiral bound to make it easy to keep open on your desk while you work. It retails for $67. The PDF is a little less than half that at $27 (this review was based on the PDF version).

Reviewed exclusively for WDD by Cameron Chapman.

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts on it? Please share below…

  • Erico Lisboa

    Thanks!! =)

  • Omel

    Nice post, been a wordpress user, and I still need to read a book everytime I go to the bath room.

    • Lam Nguyen

      Are you trying to make fun!!! How many pages will you read each time??? :D

  • Lam Nguyen

    Yah, it’s a must-have book for every WordPress developer, but the price is quite high, thought.

    • Nuno

      I agree, I want to see with the new wordpress version coming soon…

  • Deluxe Blog Tips

    I’ve been using WP for years but I still feel this book give me some interesting and useful information. I love the SEO chapter, it opens my eye with some SEO principles, although the SEO is a hot topic for WP. I think this book is must-have for every WP user, a nice reference which we can just open and look for what we want.

  • Andrea

    Thanks for the review.
    You mention that information on developing plugins is limited, perhaps you can recommend a book that has its focus on that? Thanks

  • Robert Chambers

    If you develop with WordPress, this is a must read – worth every penny. I have been working with WordPress for 5 years plus and this book still taught me a lot.

    Although, I’d recommend buying the hard-copy version. Reading such a big book on the screen is tiring work and printing it takes forever.

  • Rachel

    Seems like a good book for the beginner to wordpress. The price seems a little steep though…

  • Mustafa Kurtuldu

    I need to redesign my blog, Think it would be worth having this next to my desk and thumb through as and when. :) Great post !

  • Buy My House

    WordPress is immaculate and very fascinating service, which everybody likes to work on it.

  • HD Guy

    I bought it a while ago and I’m very satisfied with my investment!

  • John G.

    Looks like a good book, but $27 for a pdf is still really high. It’s *probably* worth it, but I don’t pay that much for hardcover books, much less a pdf. I wouldn’t spend over $10 on a pdf.

    I know these guys need to be compensated for their hard work, but with the amount of free info out there from places like and others, it’s pretty tough to justify that kind of price.

    Oh well, I wish them the best!

  • David

    Great book! I thought it was definitely worth the price. Learned a lot about wordpress + it’s awesome having the book AND a PDF that I can read on the go on my iPhone.

  • Matt

    “Digging Into WordPress isn’t going to be much use to advanced WordPress users, who are likely already familiar with most of what is covered. There’s limited information on creating your own custom plugins and functions, with more focus placed on using existing plugins.”

    Yep. I thought it was going to be a lot more advanced, so I was a little disapointed in that respect. It was very well written and certainly useful, though; it was just definitely geared towards beginners.

  • Jordan Walker

    I have been debating whether to buy this book or one on Magento.

  • Joel Kidd

    I have wanted to read this book for some time now. I have read the sample chapters and they were very informative. I just can’t part with the money that they are asking for it. A little too pricy!

  • Inside the Webb

    Wow this looks awesome, I’m interested in giving it a read

  • frebro

    I read it and found it very useful. I’ve been developing WP themes for years, but never really delved into the finer points like function.php and custom taxonomies. This was a nice quick read that gave me that extra leg up to get started with making more advanced designs, along with some actual tips and tricks for setting up my WP installation. Highly recommended for beginner and medium level WP devs!

  • Lena Tailor

    Yes it is a great resource. At the same time I agree with you self learning by exploration of wordpress is one of the greatest tools in learning the in’s and out’s of how to assist clients with wordpress optimization, improvements,

    I just tried the PDF sample and i found it interesting..

  • Austin Knight

    Great book, bought it last night actually haha.

  • Marcco

    No give away? ;-) That’s alright, I bought it immediately. I’ve read about this book before and this article reminded me of that. It’s really useful to me. I’m pretty handy with WordPress, but I’m still a beginner in so many aspects. That’s where the book comes in.

    • Marco

      I have to add this: I’m now on page 76 (90 when counting Table of Content and introduction) and I think it’s a really nice book. One thing that I noticed (not necessarily bad) is that in the beginning the authors even explain what an URL is, but later they don’t explain much when talking about .htacces and jQuery. It’s highly likely that someone that doesn’t know what an URL is also doesn’t know about things like jQuery and similar (more advanced) concepts. I think they decided that people are able to Google some unfamiliar concepts and the book would otherwise be way too massive. So while it may seem aimed at absolute beginners at the start, later on the book just assumes that the reader has some basic knowledge about webdesign and corresponding concepts. Again, that’s probably not a bad thing. To me the book is really useful and not even being halfway, I had a few eye-openers already.

  • Chris Coyier

    This is quite flattering! Thanks for the review Cameron Chapman and Webdesiger Depot, and thanks to everyone who has bought it, sounds like most of you enjoyed it!

    We’ll be keeping the book up to date as time goes on, and all previous buyers of the book get updated PDF copies for free, which hopefully is an enticing reason to pick it up.

  • http://Stillinthemaking. Felix

    My first impression after reading your review is that; at $27.00 the pdf-version of this book should worth a read but definitely not the print version, way too high a price to my taste, beside to save the world of more trees being cut-down to make this book. I advocate the pdf-version. Hope you too.


  • psd coder

    I am agree with felix… better the pdf version

  • steve

    I want to buy a hard copy one, but the price is way to high!

  • michelle

    I think there should be Video presentation! rather then reading whole lengthy pages

  • Peter

    I’ll add this one to my Amazon wish list.

    • Peter

      and I can’t find it on Amazon

  • David

    This is something I will have to add to my collection as most of my sites are built in WordPress.

  • Mark – Positive Web Design

    I wanted to buy a printed version of this book but I’m based in the UK and the price including shipping was just too expensive.

    I hope to get the PDF of this book when I finish reading ‘Smashing WordPress’ though.

  • Nathan B

    Love, love this book. I do wish there was a little more on using WP as a CMS — no doubt a future edition on WP 3.0 will have that covered.

  • Website Designer

    Great book on WordPress, looking forward to the updates to the pdf version. Thanks guys.

  • swandiver

    I have had a WP blog for a little over a year and always wanted to get more out of it but it just seemed so daunting because I didn’t know where to start. As soon as I this book, it looked like it was exactly what I needed.

    I have the book and am starting it tonight. It is my goal to become an advanced WordPress developer fairly soon.

  • TooTallVal

    I would love to get the spiral book but the price is a lot. And I would love to get the PDF but looking at it on screen? And forget about printing it!