One of our most frequently requested topics for people new to Joomla is an explanation of the difference between components, modules and plugins – so that’s exactly what we’re going to look at here.
The text of this article you’re reading right now is generated by the core component of Joomla (‘core’ as in it’s part of the stock Joomla installation). A component is essentially what makes up the content part of a Joomla page. The core Joomla component can display your content grouped together into categories, as a blog layout and as a single article with text and pictures, but if you want to use Joomla for different types of websites, there are plenty of other components available.
E-Commerce is a very popular use for Joomla and the component part of an e-commerce extension is what displays your product categories, the product detail pages and lets the whole buying process take place – take a look at the screenshot below of a VirtueMart page – it’s the highlighted area that’s the component – in this case, showing a product category:
It might sound like a strange way to look at it, but an easy way to think of a component is that it’s the bit that you can’t do without – it’s the content of the page, rather than bits to help with navigation or to make the page look prettier. In theory, you could have a Joomla website with only a component used – no extra modules and no extra plugins – it would be a pain to navigate, but it could be done.
In essence, a Joomla component is the bit that provides the main content in the front-end of your website and it’s the thing that lets you edit that content in the admin pages of your site.
The other bits around the main content part of your website are normally modules. There are loads of ‘core’ Joomla modules and plenty that you can download to make your site either easier to navigate, more accessible or just look nicer.
If you take a look at the right hand column of this page, you’ll see one of the core Joomla modules – it’s the ‘most popular’ articles module, that shows the most read articles in a particular category. Just below it is a contact module that comes with Fox Contact. Joomla also comes with a ‘custom html’ module that you can see if you scroll down to the bottom of the page – this basically let’s you put whatever you want into a module and publish it around the site.
One of the most common Joomla components is a menu, but things like image scrollers, latest news and social media feeds are also widely used. If you take a look at the image below, the bits in the highlighted area are all Joomla modules.
In the image above you can see the login module, main menu, the logo (this could be part of the template or changeable in a module) and the categories.
Modules are essentially extra bits of content that can be published on some or all of the website pages, depending on whether they’re needed or no – they add to the experience of the site by giving extra functions or aiding navigation.
The unsung heroes of Joomla websites, plugins are a bit difficult to describe. Components and modules are quite easy because you can see them, but plugins are normally hidden away doing something in the background.
If you think of a plugin as helping to run part of the website, you’ll probably not be too far off what they’re for. For example, there’s a plugin that allows the search function to work – it’s a module that you type your search query into as a user, but it’s the plugin that does the work – the module will still be there, but it wont do anything. There’s also a standard plugin that authenticates users when they log into the site – it isn’t the same as the login module, it works in the background.
Just to confuse things slightly, there are some plugins that do get seen in the front and back-end – the comments box below is actually a plugin, but it looks like a module; the text editor used to edit articles is also a plugin. See, told you it was a difficult one to describe!!