I have been tremendously impressed with the number of jQuery plugins and open source JavaScript tools. In recent years there has been a large uptick in the number of open source projects found in Github. But the jQuery library is enormous and has quite the following. Frontend developers can save a lot of time and effort by working along with these various plugins.

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But why should you include certain plugins within your own layout, rather than coding one from scratch? And which features would be worth developing a plugin where it does not exist? I hope to address some of these questions within this article. The number of benefits far outweighs the negatives when building on jQuery plugins. But you need to have a good sense of coding and how to organize files so that everything runs properly.

The Large Catalog of Plugins

Right away it is worth mentioning that jQuery has a tremendous library of plugins which is only growing every week. New developers are entering the field and pitching their ideas onto code hosting repositories such as Github. And we can find curation services like jQuer.in which catalogs new plugins and resources for jQuery developers.

When you start digging into jQuery and toying around with plugins, you will begin to recognize the catalog is simply enormous. This benefits developers because there are so many cool scripts worth checking out. And even projects which have not been updated in a couple years should still work properly in newer websites. Granted this is not always the case, and sometimes it may require some tweaks to get stuff working. It still shaves off enough time to be worth the effort.

jquery plugins jquer.in website homepage gallery listing

And it is also true that developers have a choice in dealing with newer plugin releases. Anybody may build their own and publish the source codes online. Even if the plugin idea has already been created by someone else. This leaves opportunity for developers to create something even better. As jQuery continues to grow, their library of plugins will see a very similar rise to fame.

Saving on Code Time

One of the more obvious reasons for using jQuery plugins is to save production time. Whether you are a freelancer, design studio, or a smaller startup company, time is a valuable resource. Why spend 4 or 5 hours writing your own codes and slashing bugs just to duplicate functionality which is already out there? Functionality that you could potentially download and use for free!

By allowing developers to release their codes on Github it creates a surrounding principle for other JS developers. You always want to keep on top of the latest releases to ensure that you have the upper hand when developing new web applications. There will be circumstances where no matter how long you search, there just aren’t any good plugins available. This is a great opportunity to start writing your own or at least dig a bit deeper into the concepts.

But for the majority of basic user interface elements this should not be a problem. Webmasters are often eager to jump on board with using dynamic jQuery plugins. I still agree that some minor chores are better done through hand-coding. But when the resources are still under 100kb and you barely need to customize anything, it should become obvious why jQuery plugins are a better solution.

Managed Functionality

There have been times where I am looking online for help to build a certain functionality on a website and stumbled across a free open source plugin which does everything I need. This is such a great feeling because it means I generally do not need to build the whole project from scratch. Instead I just need to manage functionality around an existing plugin.

Now some developers may cringe at this very idea. Plenty of users would rather educate themselves on how to build the plugin, and customize it with their own data. And for certain experiences I do fall into this camp of building a customized version myself. But there will still be users who just need very basic functionality. And in most cases this is what a plugin will provide – basic functionality with a bit of frills and extra tidbits if you need them.

I feel the benefits from this route are immediately obvious and developers can tell when a plugin will be worth using. jQuery is one of those code libraries where you need to dive in head-first and start going through plugin listings to realize the helpful aspects of each codebase.

A Greater Learning Process

Ultimately I think jQuery plugins do promote a sense of learning and higher education. JavaScript developers may have no idea how a plugin would work, or any knowledge of the basic template for such a plugin. Namely the jQuery Boilerplate library can be used as an open source template for structuring new plugin releases.

jquery plugin code boilerplate open source github webpage

Just getting started with writing and coding will be a detailed process. Then picking up the syntax for writing functions and plugin resources will take even more practice. But I know there are bright young developers out there who are willing and ready for a challenge. It is safe to say that JavaScript and jQuery development will be a rising industry over the next few years. Helpful and unique frontend web functionality is currently in demand, along with Ajax support and nifty HTML5/CSS3/JS animations. Spend a couple weeks toying around with jQuery plugins and your coding regiment will likely improve tenfold, following more time and research.

Final Thoughts

The open source nature of jQuery has allowed many plugin developers to jump into documentation and get started. The state of the industry was not nearly as open 10 years ago, so it is nice to witness the rise of a new community in the web development niche. Similarly webmasters who are not majorly familiar with development have been getting into scripting just for learning how to customize these fantastic plugin resources.

Overall it should be obvious who can benefit from the use of jQuery plugins. Anybody who manages websites and has a decent knowledge of JavaScript should be able to implement any kind of functionality. Plugins do often require customization or some unique parameters. But if you have the patience and determination for practicing then you are already on a good path for understanding jQuery plugins.

Posted by Jake Rocheleau

Jake is a writer & digital designer/illustrator. He writes about all things web and creative. Check out his website for work samples and follow his latest updates on Twitter @jakerocheleau.

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