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This lesson provides an overview of the WordPress Administration Screens — the section of pages which serves as a control panel for the website, and which require a login to access. WordPress people tend to refer to it as “the Admin”. You’ll also hear it called “the back end” at times, while the public website is often called “the front end”.

All of the settings and controls for managing the website are in the Administration Screens. The Admin is reached by pointing a browser to the appropriate URL, which is normally the website’s address with /wp-admin/ added at the end, and logging in with a WordPress user login for that site.

WordPress distinguishes between several roles for users: Administrator, Editor, Author, Contributor and Subscriber. A user’s role determines what capabilities he has in the Admin. For example, a person who has the role of Administrator has access to everything in the Admin, while a person with a lesser role will have appropriate access to only some of the functionality in the Admin.

The Dashboard

The Dashboard is the screen that appears when you first log into the Admin. The Dashboard provides quick access to the main Administration Screens, as well as links to some external sources in the larger WordPress community.

By default, the Dashboard displays eight modules or blocks of information, namely Right Now, Recent Comments, Incoming Links, Plugins, QuickPress, Recent Drafts, WordPress Blog, and Other WordPress News, and each shows specific information to which you may or may not need quick access. You can customize the Dashboard screen to show only what you want, in any order you want.

Modules can be expanded or contracted, and also dragged-and-dropped into the positions you prefer on the screen. To show or hide the available module-boxes, use the checkboxes found in Screen Options at the top of the screen.

Screen Options

Every Administration Screen has a control called Screen Options. The link to access it is a hanging tab located on the top right, just beneath the “Howdy” greeting which shows the logged-in user’s name.

Clicking on it opens a drop-down panel with two sections: Show on screen and Screen Layout, both self-explanatory.

We recommend that you keep Screen Options in mind. Most likely, a time will come when you’re looking for something in the Admin and it just doesn’t seem to be where it’s supposed to be. Often that thing needs to be checked in Screen Options.

The Toolbar

The Toolbar is that black horizontal bar at the very top of the Admin Screens. The Toolbar displays some useful quick links. It’s useful for switching back and forth between the front end (the actual website) and the Admin using the Visit Site and Dashboard links on the far left.

The Toolbar is always present when viewing the Admin Screens, and is present when a logged-in user views the website itself – unless the option under Users > Profile Show Toolbar when viewing site is unchecked.

The Admin Main Menu

On the left in all Administration Screens is the Admin’s main navigation menu. This menu provides links to all areas of the Admin, with flyout links present for most top-level menu items.

When plugins are installed, typically, they add items to the Admin menu, allowing you to access settings for the plugin.

We recommend that anyone managing a WordPress site take the time to click through each section of this menu and familiarize herself or himself with the various Admin screens.

The Work Area

The central work area of the Admin Screens displays different panels of content on each screen, providing information and setting options. As usual, which panels are displayed is dependent upon the settings in Screen Options, accessed at the top of the Admin Screens.

Warning: One screen you should leave alone

One Admin feature deserves special mention: the screen you reach from the Admin Main Menu by clicking Appearance > Editor.

The heading at the top of the screen is “Edit Themes”, which isn’t a very clear or useful name; it tends to be referred to as the Theme File Editor. This feature is a code editor for the raw PHP and other files that make up the currently active theme. It allows you to open those files, edit them, and re-save them.

We recommend strongly that you never use this feature, even if you’re a competent coder. If you have the skills to edit code, it’s much better to use FTP to download the file to your hard drive, edit it there, and re-upload it. And to be safe, you should always save an un-edited copy of the original file on your hard drive.

Here’s the reasoning for this warning. It only takes a small coding mistake to cause big problems, or even bring down a whole WordPress site completely. If this happens when you’re using the Theme File Editor, that screen can disappear along with everything else. You then have neither website nor Theme File Editor to fix the mistake. Obviously that’s a bad situation. Using FTP and editing the files locally is much safer, especially if you be sure to keep a copy of the original file.