Adding AJAX functionality to your WordPress site is a great way to improve your user experience, maintain users on your site longer and give your site more of an “app like” feel to it. AJAX in WordPress is a large and highly technical topic, but luckily there are some nice, free plugins to easily “AJAXify” your site.
What Exactly Is AJAX?
On the other hand, PHP, which is the language that WordPress is written in, is what we call a “server-side” language. That’s because all of its processing is done on the server before sending the results, as HTML, to your browser, all at once. Since your browser can’t run any PHP, once the page is rendered no more PHP processing can be done. Since WordPress pages are built using PHP templates your browser, only your server can build them.
That’s where AJAX comes in. The A in AJAX stands for asynchronous, IE not all at once. Thanks to AJAX, at anytime your browser can ask the server to return some new HTML. Most of this article covers how to load post content in WordPress without a new page load. The content still needs to be rendered on your server using PHP. Instead of requesting the whole page again, your browser can just send a separate, or asynchronous if you want to get technical–request for just that content.
Is There An Easy Way To AJAXify My Site?
Right now, you’re probably thinking, “Josh I’d love to have my site be totally AJAXified, but that sounds like a lot of work, can’t I just install a plugin?” The answer to that is maybe.
There is a plugin that aims to do just that Ajaxify WordPress Site(AWS) that is available for free in the WordPress Plugin repository. It takes a little setup, but if set up right it will allow for AJAX loading of all pages and update the URL in the browser properly. Once it’s working you’ll be shocked by how fast it is.
Once you install the plugin, you’ll need to tell it some information about your theme in the plugins settings page. That’s the container ID of your main content area, and the class applied to menu items. Let’s look at both of these individually.
In general you just need to set the ID of the container your main content–ie your loop–is in. To find this, you can either open up your theme in a code editor or use your browser’s inspector to find the ID tag of the container for your main content. Its value will vary from theme to theme, but it’s probably something like “primary-content”, “main” or “content”.
In the two screenshots above you can see how I found that ID I needed “content” in twentyfourteen, on the left is index.php loaded in my code editor. Once you know that ID you can enter it in the “Ajax container ID” field of the plugins settings page.
The next step is to find the class applied to menu items. This is generally “menu” or “nav-menu”. You’ll want to make sure, by inspecting a menu item.
Once those two settings are in and you’ve save your settings, you should go to the front-end of your site and try it out. When you click a link in your blog index or your menu, it should briefly show you a loading icon and then load the new content. There should be no page reload and the browser’s address bar should update automatically.
Once you do have things working properly, you should experiment from the plugin’s other settings. You can change the loader image to one of several options. In addition you can set the plugin to scroll to the top automatically when it’s completed its refresh.
Another cool way to avoid page loads and make your site more “app like” is to use an AJAX powered modal for login. A modal is a in page pop-up box. The ability for your users to login without going to the WordPress login page is great. There are several plugins that offer this, my favorite is AJAX BootModal Login, which is free to download from WordPress.org.
This is one of those plugins that just works, with minimal setup, but has some interesting options. All you need to do to make it work is install the plugin and then add its widget to your sidebar. Once you do, users who are not logged in will see a login button, and logged in users will see a profile button. As an alternative to using the widget, to add a login link in a page you use this shortcode:
One thing to keep in mind is that the plugin uses Bootstrap to power the modals it uses. If your theme or any of your plugins are using Bootstrap this could cause conflicts. The plugin’s settings page has options to disable loading its own copy of Bootstrap.
When you click the login button a form pops up for entering username and password. It also has a register and lost password link, both of which can be disabled from the plugin’s settings. In addition, you can enable captcha for login or password reset, which is a great additional feature.
Another great feature is you can set a redirect link to take the user to after they login. By default they stay on the same page, but if you want to take them to a welcome page or an account page, simply set the link in the “login redirect URL” setting. You do not need to pass the full URL, either, just the path, which is great for forward-compatibility in case your domain name changes.
What Else Can You AJAXify?
You can ajaxify most anything in WordPress. There are a lot of cool, AJAX powered plugins. AJAX is especially great for reducing the time involved in content searches.
I wrote on this blog recently about using FacetWP to created an Amazon.com-style “faceted” search system. Part of what makes that so cool is that the results are loaded via AJAX. Another cool search plugin SearchWP has a free, AJAX powered add-on for AJAX search results. The best part about that add-on is it works without SearchWP installed via the default WordPress search and should work with most other WordPress search plugins.
Another part of most sites that can be improved with AJAX is form submission. Most forms don’t really need to redirect after submission, they just do in order to allow PHP to process them. AJAX allows the data to be sent to the server for processing via AJAX without a page load. Many form builder plugins have AJAX add-ons or have it built-in as an option. My personal favorite is Caldera Forms, which allows you to turn AJAX form submission on and off per form.
Be sure to try out all these different ways to easily AJAXify your website. While you’re doing it be sure to start thinking of other ways you’d like to use AJAX. Next week I’ll be covering the basics of writing your own custom AJAX actions in WordPress. So, make sure your thinking of what cool AJAX-powered creation you want to make.
Featured image by Pagina / shutterstock.com.