WordPress.org Has Fewer Than 20 Plugins Using the WP REST API in Core

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During yesterday’s pivotal WP REST API meeting, WordPress contributors discussed adoption of the API. A cursory search of the WordPress.org plugin directory shows that fewer than two dozen plugins are currently using the API scaffolding included in WordPress 4.4. For reference, here are the 20 plugins identified by Mika Epstein during the meeting, along with active installation numbers for each:

With a few notable exceptions, most of these plugins are hovering around a range of 10 – 100 active installs. These low numbers may indicate that plugin authors have not yet readily embraced building with the scaffolding that was merged into core in 4.4. However, some developers who have embraced building with the API have opted not to offer their plugins and themes for large scale distribution on WordPress.org.

“I think the plugin directory is the wrong place to look for adoption,” WordPress developer Nate Wright said at the most recent meeting. “As a plugin author myself, I have to bend over backwards to ensure compatibility with tens of thousands of weird plugins and themes. Javascript itself is highly unstable in the ecosystem because of all the terrible code out there. I’ve used the API in client projects and am currently integrating it with some customizer tools I’m building. My publicly available plugins will be the last thing I’ll introduce to the API.”

Taylor Lovett, author of Custom Contact Forms, believes that it’s important to get REST API-powered plugins into the hands of users, despite the support challenges of public distribution.

“It pushes plugin and theme developers to start working around API JavaScript conflicts now,” Lovett said. “There are many plugins that conflict with the API for a variety of reasons, one of the big ones being modifying Backbone.sync. Having plugins use it now is painful but will push people to start reporting those JS conflicts.”

Custom Contact Forms is currently the most widely-used plugin running the WP REST API with more than 70,000 installations, but the journey to using the current version has been fraught with challenges.

“There have been a number of backwards compatibility breaks with the JSON REST API project,” Lovett said. “If I had known going into it what would happen, I probably would have not used the API.

“I am still not completely comfortable with using the API because of the perceived instability of the project,” he said.”

Nevertheless, public distribution has brought Lovett considerable feedback from users which has been invaluable for his contributions to the REST API project.

“I’ve had a number of patches to the API that were discovered through Custom Contact Forms,” he said. “I’ve discovered some real edge cases while maintaining the API across more than 70K installations.”

Distributing his plugin on WordPress.org while the API went through significant changes was more challenging than Lovett anticipated, but through it the API has gained more exposure.

“The faster the API is exposed to people and people get comfortable using it, the sooner we will see some major strides in applications being built around WordPress,” he said.

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