If you have been doing web design and development for any length of time, you have probably needed to choose and install a jQuery plugin for a website project. So, you go out to the Wild West known as Google and start your search on the path to enlightenment. Pretty soon, you realize that jQuery plugins are plentiful. With the shear amount of options out there, it is easy to become quickly overwhelmed. I have few helpful tips to help you the next time you need to select a jQuery plugin for your website project.
For example, if you do a search for “jQuery light box,” you will find dozens of pages of results. All the results profess to be the best, fastest, easiest, and safest plugin for the task. How do you sort through the results and find the diamond in the rough? Should you just start by picking one at random, downloading the source, and start hacking away to use it in your project? There is a better way — a method to find a good plugin for your project.
Let’s start by defining the common attributes of all jQuery Plugins
- Release Date
- Current Version
- Change Log
- List of Options
- Code Snippets
The Release Date
Indicates how long the plugin has been or around. The Release Date is the date when the author first published the plugin for usage. Usually, the longer the plugin has been around, the better.
Indicates the latest major or minor releases current to the plugin. There is not a standard, formal numbering system for all plugins. Authors use different techniques for this. In general, the first numeral is the “major” version , and the succeeding numerals after the decimal point are indicators of the “minor” version. Subsequent numerals after multiple decimals points can indicate bug fixes and small incremental updates.
This is the place for the author to put it all the little details associated with each major, minor, and incremental release. The types of information included are feature descriptions, bug fixes, enhancements, and general notations about the ongoing work on the plugin.
List of Options
This is the meat of the plugin description. This is how the author describes the core functions and features of the plugin. As in “What does it do?” There should be a robust list here. This is not the place for the author to be brief.
This is the most import aspect of the plugin when it comes to implementation. Without good code snippets, it is very difficult to implement the plugin. The plugin author should have full blocks of code that can be used for the implementation of the plugin.
It is great to see fully functional examples of the plugin. The author should post a set of working examples that demonstrate all the available options for the plugin.
This is where the good plugins really start to shine in in comparison to the the poor ones. A good quality plugin will have a set of documentation that leaves no mysteries. All features should be documented fully.
So, how to you make sense of all of this?
The first thing to notice is activity. How much work is being done on the plugin? When was the last time the plugin received and update? If the the last time it was updated was 6 months ago, that is a red flag. With the rapid pace that web technology moves, a good jQuery plugin should be receiving frequent, regular updates.
Second, choose a plugin with complete documentation. Incomplete documentation may indicate that the author is either not committed to the long term success of the plugin, or they lack ability to construct worthwhile documentation. Without worthwhile documentation, you will have a very difficult time during implementation.
Finally, full code snippets are critical to the successful implementation of a jQuery plugin. The installation instructions need to be perfectly understandable and the snippets must be easy to use and ready to go.
Should you pay for a jQuery Plugin?
The answer to this question is, “sometimes.” There are clearly benefits to purchasing a plugin. The thought process in favor of purchasing the plugin is the perception that it will come with better support and more frequent updates. However, this is not always true with a jQuery Plugin. The same evaluation must be made, regardless of whether the plugin costs money.
- Is there frequent activity (Updates and Support Discussions)?
- Is the documentation complete and robust?
- Are there snippets and complete installation instructions?
For reference, here are a few examples of great JQuery Plugins