WordPress
Article

An Introduction to the WordPress Dashboard Widgets API

By Narayan Prusty

The WordPress Dashboard Widgets API lets themes and plugins add, remove or re-position WordPress dashboard widgets. The WordPress Dashboard is the first thing we see when we log in to the WordPress administration screen. The WordPress Dashboard Widget API has been available from WordPress 2.7 onwards.

In this tutorial we’ll look at the different actions and functions that are provided by the API. And, how to add, remove and position dashboard widgets using this API.

Behind the Scene of WordPress Dashboard Widgets

Internally, WordPress dashboard widgets are WordPress meta boxes. The Dashboard Widget API uses the WordPress meta box API to add, remove and position dashboard widgets.

Adding a Dashboard Widget

We can add a widget to the WordPress dashboard using the wp_add_dashboard_widget function. We need to wrap this function inside the wp_dashboard_setup hook.

Here’s some example code on how to use wp_add_dashboard_widget:

function add_dashboard_widget()
{
    wp_add_dashboard_widget("sitepoint", "SitePoint Videos", "display_sitepoint_dashboard_widget");
}

function display_sitepoint_dashboard_widget()
{
	echo "Watch Video Courses at <a href='http://learnable.com'>Learnable</a>";
}

add_action("wp_dashboard_setup", "add_dashboard_widget");

Here, we are calling wp_add_dashboard_widget inside add_dashboard_widget, which is triggered by the wp_dashboard_setup hook.

wp_add_dashboard_widget takes three arguments. Here are the arguments:

  1. $id: Every dashboard widget must have a unique id. Make sure you prefix it with your plugin or theme name to avoid overriding.
  2. $title: Title of the widget to be displayed.
  3. $callback: A callback which displays the content of the widget.

Here’s how the widget looks:

WordPress Dashboard Widget API

Removing a Dashboard Widget

We can remove a default or custom dashboard widget using the remove_meta_box function. We need wrap this function in the wp_dashboard_setup function.

Here’s how we’d use remove_meta_box:

function remove_dashboard_widget()
{
	remove_meta_box("sitepoint", "dashboard", "normal");
}

add_action("wp_dashboard_setup", "remove_dashboard_widget");

Here, we’re calling the remove_meta_box function inside the remove_dashboard_widget function, which is indeed triggered by the wp_dashboard_setup action.

remove_meta_box takes three arguments, they are:

  1. $id: The unique id of the widget. Here’s the list of the id’s of the default widgets: dashboard_activity, dashboard_right_now, dashboard_recent_comments, dashboard_recent_drafts, dashboard_primary, dashboard_quick_press, dashboard_secondary, dashboard_primary and dashboard_incoming_links.
  2. $location: This will always have the value “dashboard” while removing a dashboard.
  3. $position: If you’re removing a widget which was created by WordPress core by default, or created using wp_add_dashboard_widget then its value is “normal”.

Positioning Widgets in the Dashboard

By default, the new widgets are added to bottom left of the dashboard page. The WordPress Dashboard Widgets API doesn’t provide a way to change the position of the widgets. However, we can hack the WordPress core $wp_meta_box variable as a workaround.

Here is an example on how we can move our widget to the top:

function add_dashboard_widget()
{
    wp_add_dashboard_widget("sitepoint", "SitePoint Videos", "display_sitepoint_dashboard_widget");
	
	global $wp_meta_boxes;
 	
 	// Get reference to the list of dashboard widgets
 	$dashboard_widgets = $wp_meta_boxes["dashboard"]["normal"]["core"];
 	
 	//Create a backup of the dashboard widgets list
 	$dashboard_widgets_backup = array("sitepoint" => $dashboard_widgets["example_dashboard_widget"] );
 	
 	//remove our widget from the end
 	unset($dashboard_widgets["example_dashboard_widget"]);
 
 	//Merge the backedup and original arrays
 	$sorted_dashboard = array_merge($dashboard_widgets_backup, $dashboard_widgets);
 
 	//save the new sorted widgets array
 	$wp_meta_boxes["dashboard"]["normal"]["core"] = $sorted_dashboard;
}

function display_sitepoint_dashboard_widget()
{
	echo "Watch Video Courses at <a href='http://learnable.com'>Learnable</a>";
}

add_action("wp_dashboard_setup", "add_dashboard_widget");

You can alter this array and change the position of the widgets as needed.

Displaying an RSS Feed in a Dashboard Widget

Let’s create a dashboard widget which retrieves SitePoint’s RSS feed, then displays it. We’ll use WordPress’ API to fetch and parse the RSS feed.

Here’s the code for our widget:

function add_dashboard_widget()
{
    wp_add_dashboard_widget("rss-feed", "RSS", "display_rss_dashboard_widget");
}

function display_rss_dashboard_widget()
{

	include_once( ABSPATH . WPINC . "/feed.php");

	$rss = fetch_feed("http://www.sitepoint.com/feed/");
    $maxitems = $rss->get_item_quantity(10); 
    $rss_items = $rss->get_items(0, $maxitems);
	
	?>

	<ul>
		<?php
			if($maxitems == 0)
			{
				echo "<li>No items</li>";
			}
			else
			{
				foreach($rss_items as $item)
				{
					?>
						<li>
			                <a href="<?php echo esc_url($item->get_permalink()); ?>">
			                    <?php echo esc_html($item->get_title()); ?>
			                </a>
			            </li>
					<?php
				}
			}
		?>
	</ul>

	<?php
}

add_action("wp_dashboard_setup", "add_dashboard_widget");

Here, we are including the file “feed.php”, which exposes all of the APIs needed to work with RSS in WordPress. Then, we use fetch_feed to download and parse the RSS feed, finally we display 10 RSS items.

Here is what our RSS dashboard widget should look like:

Dashboard Widget API - RSS Example

Conclusion

Many WordPress plugins such as analytics, WooCommerce addons and various monitoring extensions use the Dashboard Widgets API. The WordPress Dashboard Widgets API is one of the most important APIs for WordPress developers, in this example we’ve walked you through some basic examples. Please feel free to comment on your experiences with the API below.

Free Guide:

7 Habits of Successful CTOs

"What makes a great CTO?" Engineering skills? Business savvy? An innate tendency to channel a mythical creature (ahem, unicorn)? All of the above? Discover the top traits of the most successful CTOs in this free guide.

Recommended
Sponsors
Because We Like You
Free Ebooks!

Grab SitePoint's top 10 web dev and design ebooks, completely free!

Get the latest in WordPress, once a week, for free.