How to Create Nested Shortcodes in WordPress

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When an editor adds a WordPress [shortcode] to a post or page, it’s replaced by the returned output of a handler function within a plug-in or the theme’s functions.php file. Let’s create a simple example:

// create a styled button
function ContactButton($params, $content = null) {

		'url' => '/contact-us',
		'type' => 'style1'
	), $params));

		'<a href="' . $url . '" class="button ' . $type. '">' . ucwords($content) . '</a>';

When the following code is encountered in page or post:

[button]contact us today[/button]
it’ll be translated to:

<a href="/contact-us" class="button style1">Contact Us Today</a>
The editor’s job is made far easier and they don’t need to worry about learning HTML. Let’s look at another example which creates a simple callout box:

// callout box
function CalloutBox($params, $content = null) {

		'type' => 'style1'
	), $params));
		'<aside class="callout ' . $type . '">' . $content . '</aside>';

But what if our editor wants to insert a button inside their callout box?…

[callout]For more information [button]contact us today[/button][/callout]
As it stands, the current code will fail. The CalloutBox function is called first but the inner [button] will not be translated accordingly. The key function for fixing the problem is do_shortcode() — it applies WordPress’s shortcode filter to any content. In this case, we want to allow the editor to add a [button] within our [callout] so we’d change modify the return statement of CalloutBox accordingly:

	'<aside class="callout ' . $type . '">' . 
	do_shortcode($content) . 
The nested code above will now work as expected. However, the editor wouldn’t be permitted to nest a [callout] inside a [button]. It’s flexibility such as this which makes WordPress a joy to use — version 3.3 is available now.

Frequently Asked Questions about WordPress Nested Shortcodes

What are nested shortcodes in WordPress?

Nested shortcodes in WordPress are essentially shortcodes within shortcodes. They allow you to use one shortcode as an attribute or within the content area of another shortcode. This can be particularly useful when you want to create complex content structures or functionalities on your WordPress site without having to write extensive HTML or PHP code.

How do I create a nested shortcode in WordPress?

To create a nested shortcode in WordPress, you first need to define your parent and child shortcodes in your theme’s functions.php file or in a custom plugin. The parent shortcode should have an attribute that can accept the output of the child shortcode. The child shortcode should return its output instead of directly printing it. This way, the output can be passed to the parent shortcode.

Why are my nested shortcodes not working?

There could be several reasons why your nested shortcodes are not working. One common reason is that the child shortcode is directly printing its output instead of returning it. Another reason could be that the parent shortcode is not properly set up to accept the output of the child shortcode. It’s also possible that there’s a conflict with another plugin or theme.

Can I use a shortcode within a shortcode attribute?

Yes, you can use a shortcode within a shortcode attribute. However, this requires a specific setup in your shortcode functions. The parent shortcode function needs to use the do_shortcode function on the attribute that will contain the nested shortcode.

How can I debug my nested shortcodes?

Debugging nested shortcodes can be done by checking the output of each shortcode separately. You can also use various debugging tools available for WordPress, such as the Debug Bar plugin, which can provide useful information about the shortcodes.

Can I nest the same shortcode within itself?

Yes, it’s possible to nest the same shortcode within itself, creating a recursive shortcode. However, this should be done with caution as it can potentially lead to infinite loops if not properly controlled.

Are there any limitations to using nested shortcodes?

While nested shortcodes can provide a lot of flexibility, they can also make your code more complex and harder to maintain. It’s also important to note that not all themes or plugins may support nested shortcodes.

Can I use nested shortcodes with any WordPress theme?

Yes, you can use nested shortcodes with any WordPress theme. However, the specific functionality of the shortcodes will depend on the functions defined in your theme or plugins.

How can I style the output of my nested shortcodes?

The output of your nested shortcodes can be styled using CSS. You can add custom classes to your shortcode output and then use these classes in your CSS to apply the desired styles.

Can I use nested shortcodes in my posts and pages?

Yes, you can use nested shortcodes in your posts and pages. You can also use them in widgets, as long as your theme or plugins support shortcodes in widgets.

Craig BucklerCraig Buckler
View Author

Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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