Brief Thoughts on a Ten Year Old WordPress Plugin

Today my User Switching plugin for WordPress turns ten years old.

Its active user base passed 100,000 last year which I think classifies it as moderately popular. For a plugin that’s primarily developer-oriented that’s a good number.

User Switching is a very tightly focused plugin. It allows users to:

  • Switch to other users
  • Switch back again
  • Switch off (temporarily log out)

I consider the plugin was feature complete just a few weeks after the first version. Version 0.2 in 2009 added the ability to switch back to the user’s previous account, and with that addition the plugin did all that I wanted it to do. So what’s changed over the last ten years?

Actions and Filters

Several hooks have been added to User Switching so other developers can trigger actions when a user switches between accounts. The hooks were added in version 0.6 in 2012 and are documented here in the FAQ.

Stacked Switching

If you switch to another user that has the ability to manage users on the site (for example by switching to another Administrator), you can subsequently switch from that account into another. You can then switch back to the administrator you first switched to, and switch into another account again, or switch back to your original account to complete the switching process.

Sure this workflow isn’t a particularly common one, but it’s been fully supported by User Switching since version 0.8 was released in 2013.

Session Re-Use

Expirable user sessions were implemented in WordPress 4.0 in 2014. When switching between users with User Switching, this meant that an extra user session was created every time you switched, and also every time you switched back.

It took me three attempts, four years, and a test-driven development approach to finally implement the retention, reuse, and destruction of user sessions when switching (to avoid extra sessions being created every single time you switch or switch back), and this was finally added in version 1.4 in 2018.

Not Much Else

That’s about it. All the other changes that have been made to User Switching over the years have been relatively minor tweaks and support for changes in or additions to WordPress core, plus a bit of extended support for Multisite, BuddyPress, and bbPress to ensure the process of switching between users is as seamless as possible.

What’s Next

I’m wary of calling anything “complete’, but User Switching is about as close to complete as I’ll ever get with any piece of code.

That said, I’m waiting for the release of WooCommerce 3.6 which will allow me to release an update to User Switching so it will more gracefully handle the shopping basket contents when switching between users. Supporting third party plugins greatly increases the maintenance burden, but WooCommerce is sufficiently popular (and this bug is sufficiently annoying) for me to decide to address it.

Here’s to ten more years of WordPress plugins! (Query Monitor also turns ten later this year.)

My Code Extensions

I’ve previously written about my Sublime Text packages, but I’ve since switched to the excellent Code editor. If you’ve not heard of this editor before, you may be surprised by it. It’s a fast, lightweight, powerful, well supported, free, open source, cross platform, MIT licensed, Electron powered editor, and it’s built by Microsoft. A few years ago nobody would have believed Microsoft would build such a product, but they have, and it’s excellent.

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Rendering Dynamic Gutenberg Blocks in Theme Template Parts

Gutenberg is an ambitious project that aims to completely overhaul the experience of writing content in WordPress.

One of the problems you’ll soon run into when building a block for Gutenberg is that as a block becomes more complex, storing its complete output statically becomes undesirable. If a block contains several fields or its output contains HTML markup, you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where this output needs to be changed at some point in the future and you need to retrospectively apply changes to stored block output in every post.

Gutenberg supports dynamic block rendering so that you can perform more complex output rendering on the fly, without having to store the complete output when the block is saved. This is the same method that shortcodes in WordPress use and allows you to move away from static block output. If you’re building a block for Gutenberg that uses anything more than very simple output, you should consider using dynamic rendering.

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A Collection of My Talks

Last updated February 2019.

Here’s a list of the various talks (mostly WordPress) that I’ve given in the past, along with the video recordings and slides when they’re available.

Zen Mode: Developing While You’re Offline

Those of us who work in the web industry find that we’re online a huge amount of the time. Going offline can make us feel disconnected. But what about going offline while we’re working? Right at the time when we think we’re most likely to need an internet connection: to get our job done.

Working offline can be highly productive, and is often calming and focused. Whether we choose to go offline, or whether our surroundings make it necessary — such as while we’re traveling — having the right tools, environment, and frame of mind allows you to make working offline a joy.

In this talk, I cover the tools and approaches that I use to develop while I’m in zen mode and not connected to the internet.

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Misleading Code Coverage Reports for Switch Statements

I was recently investigating the code coverage of the map_meta_cap() function in WordPress’ core unit test suite — particularly the large switch statement contained within the function. I was surprised to see that the coverage was higher than I was expecting, because I know for a fact that several meta capabilities aren’t tested.

It turns out there is a subtle code coverage reporting issue for switch statements that allow multiple conditions to trigger one action.

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Git changelog generator

When I’m preparing a new release of one of my plugins, its Git commit history is a great starting point to use when writing the changelog.

Rather than dealing with a bunch of parameters in git log, I use a simple Git alias which generates a plain list of the commit messages between the previous tag and the current HEAD. I can then copy and paste this into my changelog, and go from there.

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