Guide to WordPress Sidebars

Have you ever visited a WordPress website and been drawn to the neatly organized sections on the side? Those are sidebars, and they play a pivotal role in enhancing user experience.

Sidebars in WordPress have come a long way. In the early days, they were just simple vertical columns, often filled with basic widgets or static content. Fast forward to today, and sidebars have evolved into dynamic widget-ready areas. These areas can be customized to display a variety of content, from recent posts to custom menus, making them an essential tool for website owners to guide their visitors and showcase important information.

1. Understanding Sidebars in WordPress

Imagine you’re building a house. Just as you’d have specific rooms for specific purposes, in the WordPress, sidebars serve as specialized “rooms” for your content. But not all sidebars are created equal. Let’s break down the two main types of sidebars you’ll encounter:

I. Dynamic Sidebar

Think of the dynamic sidebar as a room with movable furniture. It’s a widgetized area where you can add, remove, or rearrange widgets as per your needs. Whether you want to display recent posts, a search bar, or custom menus, the dynamic sidebar gives you the flexibility to customize the content displayed on the side of your main content.

For those who love a hands-on approach, the dynamic sidebar is like a playground. You can experiment, tweak, and tailor it to fit the unique needs of your website.

II. Sidebar Template

On the other hand, the sidebar template is like a room with fixed furniture. It’s a predefined template in your WordPress theme that displays content in the sidebar. While it might not offer the same level of customization as the dynamic sidebar, it ensures consistency and uniformity across different pages of your website.

2. Registering Sidebars in WordPress

Imagine you’ve just bought a brand-new shelf. Before you can start organizing your books or decor on it, you need to assemble and secure it in place. Similarly, in the WordPress, before you can start populating your sidebars with widgets, you need to register them. Let’s delve into the why and how of this process.

I. Why Registering Sidebars is Crucial?

Registering a sidebar is akin to laying the foundation for a building. It ensures that the sidebar is recognized by WordPress and is ready to house the widgets you want to display. Proper registration ensures that your sidebars function seamlessly, appear correctly on your site, and don’t cause any unexpected issues.

For those who’ve dabbled in WordPress and wondered why a particular sidebar isn’t displaying as expected, the answer often lies in its registration.

II. Step-by-Step Guide to Registering Sidebars

1. Theme’s functions.php File

Your journey begins with the functions.php file of your theme. This file acts as the brain behind many of the custom functionalities on your WordPress site.

2. Using the register_sidebar() Function

Once inside the functions.php file, you’ll employ the register_sidebar() function. This is the magic wand that officially registers your sidebar with WordPress.

3. Parameters and Their Significance

Every sidebar you register needs a set of parameters to define its properties:

  • name: This is the display name of your sidebar. It’s what you’ll see in the WordPress dashboard.
  • id: Think of this as the unique fingerprint of your sidebar. It ensures that WordPress can distinguish between multiple sidebars.
  • description: A brief note about the sidebar’s purpose or location, visible in the dashboard.

Here’s a simple example:

function custom_sidebar_registration() {
            'name'          => 'Custom Sidebar',
            'id'            => 'custom-sidebar',
            'description'   => 'A unique sidebar for custom widgets.',
add_action( 'widgets_init', 'custom_sidebar_registration' );

4. Sample Code for Multiple Sidebars

If you’re feeling ambitious and want to register multiple sidebars, here’s how you can do it:

function multiple_sidebars_registration() {
    // First sidebar
            'name'          => 'First Sidebar',
            'id'            => 'first-sidebar',
            'description'   => 'This is the first custom sidebar.',

    // Second sidebar
            'name'          => 'Second Sidebar',
            'id'            => 'second-sidebar',
            'description'   => 'This is the second custom sidebar.',
add_action( 'widgets_init', 'multiple_sidebars_registration' );

By following these steps, you’ll have your sidebars registered and ready to be filled with widgets. For more insights on maximizing the potential of your WordPress site.

3. Displaying Dynamic WordPress Sidebars

So, you’ve registered your dynamic sidebars and are ready to showcase them on your website. But how do you make them appear?

I. Making Registered Sidebars Appear on the Website

Registering a sidebar is only half the battle. To make it visible on your website, you need to call or display it within your theme files. This ensures that the sidebar, along with its widgets, appears in the desired location on your website.

II. Using the dynamic_sidebar() Function

The dynamic_sidebar() function is your go-to tool for displaying registered sidebars.

Here’s how you use it:

if ( is_active_sidebar( 'custom-sidebar' ) ) {
    dynamic_sidebar( 'custom-sidebar' );

In the above code, is_active_sidebar() checks if the sidebar with the ID custom-sidebar has any active widgets. If it does, dynamic_sidebar() displays them.

III. The Role of Sidebar’s ID

Remember the unique ID you assigned to your sidebar during registration? It plays a pivotal role now. The ID ensures that the correct sidebar is displayed in the right location. Think of it as the address of your sidebar; without it, WordPress wouldn’t know which sidebar to display.

IV. Sample Code for Displaying Sidebars in Theme Files

To integrate a sidebar into a specific part of your theme, you’d insert the following code into the desired theme file (e.g., sidebar.php, index.php, single.php):

/*Sidebar Section*/
<aside class="sidebar-section">
    if ( is_active_sidebar( 'first-sidebar' ) ) {
        dynamic_sidebar( 'first-sidebar' );

This code snippet checks if the sidebar with the ID first-sidebar has any active widgets and, if so, displays them within the <aside> element.

By following these steps, your dynamic sidebars will come to life, enhancing the layout and functionality of your WordPress site.

4. Advanced Sidebar Techniques

It’s about refining your approach, adding finesse, and ensuring your WordPress sidebars not only function well but also enhance the user experience.

I. Collapsing Sidebars Without Widgets

A sidebar without widgets can be like a room without furniture – it feels empty and lacks purpose. Instead of displaying a barren space, you can collapse or hide sidebars that don’t have any active widgets. The is_active_sidebar() function comes to the rescue:

if ( is_active_sidebar( 'custom-sidebar' ) ) {
    dynamic_sidebar( 'custom-sidebar' );
} else {
    // Code to collapse or hide the sidebar

This approach ensures that your website layout remains clean and uncluttered, even if certain sidebars are devoid of widgets.

II. Displaying Default Content When No Widgets are Assigned

Sometimes, it’s beneficial to have a fallback or default content for sidebars that don’t have any widgets assigned. This ensures that the sidebar space is utilized effectively:

if ( is_active_sidebar( 'custom-sidebar' ) ) {
    dynamic_sidebar( 'custom-sidebar' );
} else {
    echo '<p>This is the default content for the sidebar.</p>';

With this technique, visitors will see the default content whenever a sidebar lacks widgets, providing a more consistent user experience.

III. Using Sidebar Templates for More Flexibility

Sidebar templates offer a higher degree of customization compared to dynamic sidebars. By creating dedicated sidebar templates, you can design unique sidebars for different sections or pages of your website.

This is especially useful for websites that require varied sidebar content based on context.

IV. Different Methods to Load Sidebar Templates

There are multiple ways to load sidebar templates in WordPress:

  1. Using get_sidebar(): This function loads a sidebar template based on its name. For instance, get_sidebar('custom') would load sidebar-custom.php.
  1. Using get_template_part(): This function offers even more flexibility, allowing you to load specific parts of templates. For example, to load a sidebar template named sidebar-special.php, you’d use:
get_template_part('sidebar', 'special');

Both methods provide a streamlined way to integrate custom sidebar templates into your theme, ensuring that your sidebars align perfectly with the content they accompany.

5. Best Practices and Tips

Crafting a stellar sidebar is more than just understanding the technicalities; it’s about adopting best practices that ensure your sidebars are efficient, user-friendly, and aesthetically pleasing.

I. Unique ID for Each Sidebar

Every sidebar is like an individual with a unique identity. The id parameter serves as this identity, distinguishing one sidebar from another. It’s imperative to ensure that each sidebar has a unique ID. This not only prevents conflicts but also ensures that the right sidebar is displayed in the right place.

Tip: Adopt a consistent naming convention for IDs, such as left-sidebar, right-sidebar, or footer-sidebar, to keep things organized.

II. Properly Naming Sidebars for Clarity

A sidebar’s name is its display label in the WordPress dashboard. Naming your sidebars clearly and descriptively ensures easier management, especially when dealing with multiple sidebars.

Example: Instead of naming a sidebar “Sidebar 1”, a more descriptive name like “Homepage Right Sidebar” provides clarity about its location and purpose.

III. Utilizing Descriptions for Sidebars to Guide Users

Descriptions act as brief notes or guidelines about a sidebar’s purpose or location. They’re especially useful for theme developers or when handing over a website to a client. A well-crafted description can guide users on what kind of widgets are best suited for a particular sidebar.

Tip: Keep descriptions concise yet informative. For instance, “Ideal for showcasing recent posts and newsletter sign-up” gives a clear idea of the sidebar’s intended use.

IV. Widget Wrappers for Styling and Organization

Widget wrappers are like the frames around a piece of art. They provide structure, style, and organization to the widgets within a sidebar. By using consistent wrappers, such as <div> or <section>, you can ensure uniform styling and spacing between widgets.


'before_widget' => '<div class="custom-widget">',
'after_widget'  => '</div>',

These wrappers allow for easier CSS styling, ensuring that each widget seamlessly blends with the overall design of the website.

6. Real-world Examples

Theory and guidelines are essential, but sometimes, the best way to understand a concept is to see it in action.

I. Analyzing the Twenty Seventeen Theme

The Twenty Seventeen theme is one of WordPress’s default themes, known for its clean design and user-friendly features. Let’s dissect its approach to sidebars.

Sidebar Registration:
In the functions.php file of the Twenty Seventeen theme, you’ll find the sidebar registration code:

function twentyseventeen_widgets_init() {
    register_sidebar( array(
        'name'          => __( 'Blog Sidebar', 'twentyseventeen' ),
        'id'            => 'sidebar-1',
        'description'   => __( 'Add widgets here to appear in your sidebar on blog posts and archive pages.', 'twentyseventeen' ),
        'before_widget' => '<section id="%1$s" class="widget %2$s">',
        'after_widget'  => '</section>',
        'before_title'  => '<h2 class="widget-title">',
        'after_title'   => '</h2>',
    ) );
add_action( 'widgets_init', 'twentyseventeen_widgets_init' );

Key Takeaways:

  • The theme uses a clear naming convention (Blog Sidebar) to indicate the sidebar’s purpose.
  • Descriptive text guides users on where the sidebar will appear and its intended use.
  • Custom wrappers (<section>) are used to ensure consistent styling for widgets.

Sidebar Display:
In the sidebar.php file, the theme displays the sidebar using:

if ( is_active_sidebar( 'sidebar-1' ) ) {
    dynamic_sidebar( 'sidebar-1' );

This simple yet effective code ensures that the sidebar only appears if it has active widgets, keeping the layout clean.

II. Code Snippets from Other Popular Themes

Astra Theme

Astra is known for its lightweight design and customization options. Here’s a snippet from its sidebar registration:

register_sidebar( array(
    'name'          => __( 'Main Sidebar', 'astra' ),
    'id'            => 'sidebar-main',
    'description'   => __( 'This is the primary sidebar. Add widgets here to appear in your sidebar.', 'astra' ),
) );

OceanWP Theme

OceanWP offers deep customization and has a unique approach to sidebars. A snippet from its registration:

register_sidebar( array(
    'name'          => __( 'Right Sidebar', 'oceanwp' ),
    'id'            => 'right-sidebar',
    'description'   => __( 'Widgets added here will appear in the right sidebar.', 'oceanwp' ),
) );

Key Takeaways

  • Popular themes prioritize clarity in naming and descriptions.
  • Consistent use of the is_active_sidebar() function ensures clean layouts without empty sidebars.

By analyzing real-world examples, we can adopt best practices and avoid common pitfalls in our sidebar implementation.

7. Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

While sidebars are powerful tools to enhance user experience, certain missteps can hinder their potential.

I. Not Registering Sidebars Correctly

Often, developers might miss out on essential parameters or use incorrect syntax when registering sidebars, leading to sidebars not appearing or functioning as expected.

How to Avoid

  • Always double-check the syntax and ensure all required parameters (name, id, etc.) are included.
  • Test the sidebar in the WordPress dashboard after registration to ensure it’s available for widget assignment.
  • Refer to the official WordPress documentation to ensure you’re following the correct format.

II. Forgetting to Display Registered Sidebars in Theme Files

Registering a sidebar is only half the job. If you don’t call or display the registered sidebar in your theme files, it won’t appear on the website.

How to Avoid

  • After registering a sidebar, always update the relevant theme files (sidebar.php, index.php, etc.) to include the dynamic_sidebar() function.
  • Regularly preview your website to ensure that sidebars appear in the desired locations.
  • Keep a checklist of steps when working with sidebars, ensuring both registration and display are covered.

III. Overloading Sidebars with Too Many Widgets

In the enthusiasm to provide users with information, developers sometimes overload sidebars with an excessive number of widgets. This can clutter the layout and overwhelm visitors.

How to Avoid

  • Prioritize essential widgets that add value to the user experience. Less is often more.
  • Group related widgets together and consider using accordion-style collapsible sections for better organization.
  • Regularly gather feedback from users or conduct A/B tests to determine which widgets are most beneficial and which can be omitted.

Remember, sidebars are like the spices in a dish. While they enhance the flavor, it’s crucial to use them judiciously to achieve the perfect balance. By being aware of these common mistakes and adopting best practices, you can ensure that your sidebars not only function flawlessly but also elevate the overall user experience.

9. FAQs

Q: What is the use of sidebar in WordPress?

A: In WordPress, the sidebar is used to display information that’s not part of the main content. It often contains elements like navigation menus, social sharing buttons, advertisements, recent posts, and more, enhancing user navigation and engagement.

Q: How do I get rid of the sidebar in WordPress?

A: To remove the sidebar in WordPress, navigate to the ‘Appearance’ section, then ‘Widgets’. Here, you can simply drag and drop widgets out of the sidebar area or go to the ‘Page Editor’ and select a full-width template without a sidebar.

Q: What is the inactive sidebar in WordPress?

A: An inactive sidebar in WordPress refers to a widget area where you can store widgets or elements you’re not currently using but might want to use later. It’s a handy place to keep widgets without displaying them on the live site.

Q: What is a page sidebar?

A: A page sidebar is a vertical column present on one or both sides of a web page. It contains supplementary content separate from the main content, such as navigation links, advertisements, or additional resources.

Additional Resources

For those hungry for more knowledge on WordPress sidebars, we’ve curated a list of in-depth resources from our very own WPPedia.

1. WordPress Sidebar Menu
Discover the intricacies of creating and managing sidebar menus in WordPress. This resource breaks down the process, ensuring you can craft effective navigation for your site.

2. Dynamic Sidebar WordPress
Dive into the world of dynamic sidebars and learn how they can automatically update and change based on specific criteria or user actions.

3. How to Add Sidebar in WordPress Elementor
Elementor users, rejoice! This guide walks you through the process of adding a sidebar using the popular Elementor page builder.

4. Get Sidebar WordPress
Learn about the get_sidebar function in WordPress, a crucial tool for developers looking to retrieve and display specific sidebar content.

5. WordPress Sidebar Code
For the code enthusiasts, this resource provides a deep dive into the coding aspect of WordPress sidebars. Understand the structure, elements, and best practices for crafting the perfect sidebar code.