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The Perils of Plugin-Driven Web Development

Perils of Plugins

In web development, we like to avoid reinventing the wheel. If a solution to your development dilemma already exists, why not use it? It’s an opportunity to free up some much-needed development time for other exciting projects.

This philosophy drives us toward content management systems (CMS) like WordPress or Drupal. When these ready-made solutions fall a few features short of what we need, the same instinct encourages us to look for other pre-packaged solutions, which often come in the form of plugins. Plugins serve up ready-to-go solutions, saving a lot of developers a lot of time.

The plugin ecosystem enables popular CMS platforms to be a sort of Swiss-army knife of modern web development. However, while they can do just about everything, that doesn’t mean they do it all well.

Plugins are not a bad thing. Far from it. As with any tool, though, there is a risk of misuse. If you use plugins as a crutch, they’re sure to cause huge headaches down the road.

Let’s examine some plugin pitfalls and take a closer look at your alternatives.

Major Plugin Pain Points

Plugins are an alluring proposition. In a plugin-centric CMS like WordPress, you can typically install them with a few clicks (and sometimes a bit of configuration).

Many plugins provide regular updates supported by professional development teams, helping things continue moving smoothly. Some exceptional plugins are free or licensed for reasonable prices, which is certainly much cheaper than developing your own solutions.

It all sounds great, right? And, sure some plugins are wonderful. They form the backbone of quite a few websites. However, we’re here to look at where and how plugin use can go wrong. Relying too heavily on plugins does cause some challenges.

Compatibility Issues

Plugins don’t always play nice — especially with each other. They run into compatibility issues with your CMS version, your theme, your server settings, and other plugins. The more plugins you have, the greater your risk of encountering incompatibilities. Compatibility problems may introduce unusual behavior and security risks, or they may even render your website inaccessible.

Questionable Quality

A plugin’s quality is only as good as the team developing it. While some plugins are developed and maintained by top-notch teams, others are created by hobbyists or as one-off projects. Despite their best intentions, poorly-developed plugins can introduce unstable or insecure code into your website with potentially devastating consequences.

Unusual UI

Plugins typically include their own user interface (UI) elements that may modify your CMS’s standard UI in unusual ways. This can confuse your users and administrators who need to navigate unique (and sometimes puzzling) plugin interfaces. User experience is often an afterthought to plugin developers, especially for administrative UI.

Unreliable Updates

Keeping pace with software changes in your server and CMS requires regular plugin updates. Unfortunately, developers don’t always update their plugins. Some plugin developers are extremely slow when it comes to maintaining their code and releasing new updates.

This can leave you in a precarious position. Your website’s security and stability are dependent on plugin developers’ unreliable schedules. Worse still, many creators abandon their plugin projects. That could leave you scrambling for a new solution — and you probably won’t even know you need to switch until your site breaks.

Configuration Conundrums

Though plugins are mostly plug-and-play, that “mostly” compounds with every additional plugin you add. Every plugin requires a bit of setup, which means diving into the plugin’s interface, readme files, and whatever other documentation and tweaking is necessary to get it running the way you want.

Accommodating one plugin’s needs may require changing settings on another plugin, which may necessitate further changes until you’ve lost hours to a cascading configuration conundrum.

Constant Cost

The best (and most reliable) plugins aren’t free. Premium plugins often have recurring subscriptions. This can mean juggling dozens of different subscriptions to keep licenses valid and plugins up-to-date for plugin-dependent websites. Not only is this a hassle, but it can also quickly rack up quite a bill for your “free” CMS.

A World Without Plugins

So what’s the answer to these plugin perils? Should you reinvent the wheel every time, just to make sure your wheel does it right?

That’s certainly one strategy — and an expensive one. Another approach is simply finding a better wheel,  one with everything you need built right into it.

CMS platforms like WordPress and Drupal do a great job at publishing, managing, and presenting content. However, that’s the software’s entire focus. Everything else you need to do — like SEO, marketing, and creating custom features and appearances  — a third-party problem.

Other platforms take a more holistic view of modern business needs. While something like WordPress makes it simple to publish content, more robust systems, such as HubSpot’s CMS Hub, synthesize marketing, publishing, and customer management tools into a single integrated platform.

CMS Hub’s managed hosting solution rids you of your plugin plague. Right out of the box, CMS Hub has most of the features that usually send WordPress developers hunting through the plugin repository. Everything you need for security, reliability, and optimization is already built-in.

Much more than a simple CMS, HubSpot’s powerful customer relationship management (CRM) software provides the foundation for a suite of tools. This enables you to integrate your entire sales, marketing, content, and creative functions into a comprehensive system where richly detailed customer data is never out of reach.

CMS Hub features a full suite of streamlined site editing tools to simplify website management. These intuitive editors make it simple for your marketing and creative teams to deploy their own updates and additions to the website — without worrying about clunky, unreliable site-builder plugins.

With HubSpot, everything works together coherently. That means you won’t worry about incompatible plugins, and you won’t get stuck looking for a bandage solution when an integral plugin is no longer maintained.

Features You Need

Modern website demands are too complex for any truly one-size-fits-all solution. Eventually, you’ll want to do something that just isn’t built-in, no matter how advanced your platform.

HubSpot answers this challenge with serverless functions. A serverless function enables you to quickly implement unique functionality through third-party APIs.

Serverless functions are just one example of HubSpot’s philosophy of avoiding plugins in favor of native solutions, whenever possible. Instead of relying on a plugin from a questionable source, you can rapidly develop and deploy custom functionality through a modern tech stack.

Avoid Plugin Pitfalls

Using plugins carefully and responsibly can be quite rewarding. However, if you rely too heavily on plugins when building your site, you might be building a house of cards. Should you find yourself installing many plugins, keep an eye out for incompatibility issues, unreliable developers, and questionable code quality.

Now that you know what to look out for, you’re better equipped to wrangle all those plugins. However, you still might consider trading in your mismatched set of plugins for a more comprehensive platform like HubSpot’s CMS Hub.

Instead of turning your WordPress installation into a Frankenstein of plugins, you can accomplish all your business needs through HubSpot’s native functionality. Want to see how simple your CMS could be? Create a free developer account and give CMS Hub a test run.

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