WordPress: Optional Widget Areas

When developing a new WordPress theme, sometimes you might need to create optional widget areas within the template; that is, areas that can include widgets if the user wants, but don’t appear at all if the user has not added any widgets to that particular area.

For instance, some users of your theme might want to include a tag cloud above the footer; or maybe they want to include Google AdSense ads above the content. Other users of your theme might not want anything to appear in those areas, though.

So how do you create an optional widget area in a WordPress theme? The simple answer is, you use the is_active_sidebar() function.

To begin with, you’ll use the register_sidebar() function to actually create the widget area. Once you’ve created the widget area, you will need to call the widget area within one of your theme files, but you’ll check to see if the sidebar has any widgets, first.

For instance, if you want to add an optional widget area above your footer text, you might do something like the following. First, in your functions.php file, you’ll register the widget area.

register_sidebar( array(
  'name' => 'Above Footer',
  'id' => 'above-footer',
  'description' => 'Optional widget area that appears above the footer.',
) );

Then, in your footer.php file, you would include some code like:

if( is_active_sidebar( 'above-footer' ) ) {
  <ul class="widgets-above-footer">
    <?php dynamic_sidebar( 'above-footer' ) ?>

That’s all it takes. The is_active_sidebar() function checks to see if any widgets have been registered in the widgetized area. If any widgets have been added, the function returns boolean true. If there are not any registered widgets, the function returns boolean false. It’s as simple as that.