When WordPress developers included shortcode functionality, they did so to allow non-professionals to add short snippets of code in certain areas of a WordPress installation that were otherwise protected against modifications for security purposes. Practically speaking, shortcodes make it possible to increase WordPress functionality simply by inserting a single line of code that can consist of as little as one word.
If your WordPress site utilizes themes or plugins created in the last couple of years, you likely have at least minimal exposure to shortcodes. However, there is more to the shortcode concept than increasing functionality. A lot goes on behind the scenes with these individual snippets of code.
Here are five things you should know about WordPress shortcodes, especially if you use them:
1. They Are Linked to More Complex Code
A shortcode is a single line of text that indirectly tells your WordPress installation to perform a certain function. But how does that function work with just a single line of code? It’s easy. A shortcode is nothing more than a link to more complex code that is read and executed by your WordPress installation.
You need to know this for one important reason: theme and plugin developers are the ones who create the more complex code you are after. Therefore, it is imperative that you be able to trust those developers whose work you utilize. Be careful about the themes and plugins you deploy. Stick with reputable developers.
2. Changing Themes Can Break Shortcodes
You may choose a theme that makes heavy use of shortcodes. That’s great. But if you switch to a new theme that does not support the same functionality, you’ll end up breaking your shortcodes. You will then see those shortcodes represented as text wherever they are placed in your pages and posts. This creates a very unprofessional look that can turn visitors away.
3. Shortcodes Are Better with Plugins
You can use built-in shortcodes created by WordPress developers by manually entering them. For example, a while back we did a series of blog posts explaining how to use built-in audio shortcodes. However, it is highly recommended that you confine your use of shortcodes to plugins. That way, switching themes will not harm anything. Your new theme will use the plugins the same way the old one did.
4. Shortcodes Can Be a Security Risk
Despite WordPress developers implementing shortcodes to address security concerns, the codes themselves can present certain risks. The most risky shortcodes are those that do anything more than generating HTML functionality. For example, any shortcode that executes a function on its own rather than pointing WordPress to a separate piece of code is vulnerable to attack.
5. Shortcodes Can Be Used in Widgets
Finally, many WordPress users do not realize that shortcodes are not confined to pages and posts. You can insert them into widgets as well. Furthermore, developers who create plugins designed to work as widgets often make use of shortcodes by default.