Joomla extensions: where to find them?
With all its options and all kinds of custom fields available in the core, Joomla is a pretty complete content management system. But sometimes you need functionality that is not among the core features. A webshop, for instance, enhanced forms, a newsletter, e-learning platform, a gallery or a different template. For these purposes you can use an extension.
Where to find information about Joomla extensions
Your first (and only) source for all extensions (except templates) should be the Joomla Extensions Directory. For templates, there is no single source, although a good starting point could be themeglobe.com (not an official Joomla source, but nevertheless a great directory of Joomla templates).
For all other extensions: clicking on “Install from web” in the backend of your Joomla website takes you to all extensions in the Joomla Extensions Directory. You can also visit extensions.joomla.org. In this directory you’ll find thousands of extensions available for Joomla, varying from small plugins to complete components. You have a lot of filtering options for finding the extension that fits your needs.
How to choose the right Joomla extension
In the Joomla Extensions Directory you can find out quickly what type of extension it is, if it’s compatible with your Joomla version, if it’s free or paid, if it has a demo, when it was last updated, what users think of it, and much more. Personally, I find it a huge plus if the extension has a demo, so I can play around with it a little before you decide to install. The ability to update through Joomla’s own update system is an absolute must for me.
I find the information in the reviews very useful as well: before I install extensions I haven’t used before, I think it’s important to know if the extension is easy to configure and if the support is good. The latter, by the way, has a bit of a downside: if all reviewers say the support is awesome, my alarm bells start ringing immediately, because apparently they needed the support. I believe that with a good interface, a good workflow and good documentation, support shouldn’t always be necessary. On the other hand: it’s good to know the developer helps out when needed.
Another thing I always do is check out the documentation: do you need an account to see it, is it clear and up to date, is it extensive, well-structured and presented in a user-friendly way? Or is it just a list of specifications? Good documentation should take you step by step through everything you need to know to use the extension.
If you have checked out the documentation on the developer’s website, you might want to take a look at the support as well. Is there a forum? And if so, what are the answers like? If the developer asks for super user and FTP access a lot, this might mean he or she’s really keen to help you fast, but it could also mean the developer doesn’t like communicating through a forum, or doesn’t like sharing knowledge, or doesn’t know what the problem might be. A developer asking for access is not necessarily a bad sign, especially if the problem is solved quickly and the developer shares in the forum what the problem was and how it was solved.
I need a free extension for...
OK. So far the official way of finding and getting extensions. But what if you need functionality that can only be achieved by installing a paid extension, and you can’t or won’t pay?
Sometimes I hear fellow Joomla-users talking about free extensions they found on a warez-website or ‘from a guy on GitHub’. Some of those users don’t want to pay for extensions as a matter of principle. Some of them have hobby websites and state that they can’t pay for extensions, since it’s just a hobby. Which is interesting, because if your hobby is playing soccer, you do pay for your soccer outfit, if you’re a guitar player you need to buy strings every once in a while, if you like reading you buy books or get a library subscription... I guess you get the picture here.
Users who think all extensions should be free to use, might even start looking for a way to get paid (!) extensions ‘for free’. Now this is where it gets tricky, because that’s a dark place you’re entering. So-called ‘community sharing’ sites may look promising, but are often quite dodgy, especially if you have to pay a subscription fee to be able to download stuff.
Think about it: the one who profits from this is the site owner, not the extension developer. All this site owner does is provide a platform, users do the rest. Think a little further: do you know the person who uploaded the extension you need? It is never the developer who uploads it, that’s for sure. So if you don’t know the source your extension is coming from, how do you know it’s safe to use? How do you even know for sure it actually is the extension you’re installing, and not a piece of malware disguised as an extension? Downloading extensions from an unknown and not trustworthy source is like playing Russian roulette with your website. And if it goes wrong – which happens very often – you’ll find it is hard to get help.
What you need to consider is that most extension developers, the name kind of gives it away, develop extensions for a living. So if you need a paid extension, paying for it (often a subscription plan) is usually the way to go. That way you make sure you really get what you paid for, the extension stays up to date and secure (you get updates), and you get all the support you need.
Is there an alternative?
Sure: ask your friends! Is there a Joomla User Group near you? Go there (they’re also great for meeting new people and learning new stuff)! Ask if somebody knows a good free extension for the functionality you’re looking for. They might come up with ideas and solutions you’ve never thought of.
If you’re considering a paid extension, ask if someone has ever used it and what they think of it. You’ll find JUG members are always friendly and eager to help. Maybe someone has a multisite subscription for the extension you need and lets you join in on their account, so you can try the extension and buy it yourself if you like working with it.
Also good to know: some extensions offer free versions with fewer options, a great way to try them out. And sometimes custom fields, maybe combined with free extensions, can go a long way. Be creative!