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How to use WordPress database class

How to use wordpress database class

This content below I was summarized from Professioncal Worpress Design and Development by Brad Williams, Davide Damstra and Hal Stern.

WordPress features an object class with method functions for working with the database directly. This database class is called wpdb and located in the wp-includes/wp-db.php. Any time you are querying the WP database in PHP code, you should use the wpdb class. The main reason for using this class is to allow WordPress to execute your queries in the safest way possible.

Simple Database Queries.

When using the wpdb class, you must first define $wpdb as a global variable before it will be available for use. To do so, just drop this line of code directly preceding any $wpdb function call:

1global $wpdb;

One of the most important functions in the wpdb class is the prepare() function. This function is used for escaping variables passed to your SQL queries. This is critical step in preveting SQL injection attacks on your website.

Warning: All queries should be passed through the prepare() function before being executed.

The prepare() function accepts a minimum of two parameters:

1$wpdb->prepare($query, $value1);

The $query parameter is the database query you want to run. The $value1 parameter is the first value you want to replace in the query. You can add additional value parameters as needed. Let's look an example:

1global $wpdb;
3$field_key = 'address';
4$field_value = ' 1428 Elm St';
5$wpdb->query($wpdb->prepare("INSERT INTO $wpdb->my_custom_table
6(id, field_key, field_value) VALUES (%d, %s, %s) ", 1, $field_key, $field_value ) );

This example adds data into a none-default, custom table in WordPress that you would have previously created. When using prepare(), make sure to replace any variables in your query with %s for strings, %d for integers and %f for floats. Then list the variables as parameters for the prepare() function in the exact same order. In the preceding example %d represents 1, %s represents $field_key, and the second %s represents $field_value. Examples throughout this section all use the prepare() function, which highlights its importance when working with database queries.

Notice that this example uses $wpdb‐>my_custom_table to reference the table in WordPress. This translates to wp_my_custom_table if wp_ is the table prefix. This is the proper way to determine the correct table prefix when working with tables in the WordPress database.

The $wpdb->query() method is used to execute a simple query. This function is primarily used for SELECT statements. Despite its name, it's not only for SQL SELECT queries. but will execute any SQL statement against the database. Here's a basic query function example:

1global $wpdb;
3$comment_count = $wpdb->query($wpdb->prepare(" DELETE FROM $wpdb->my_custom_table
4 WHERE id = %d AND field_key= %d", 1, 'address'));

Complex Database Operations

To retrieves an entire table row. You will want to use the get_row() function.

1global $wpdb;
3$thepost = $wpdb->get_row( $wpdb->prepare(" SELECT * FROM $wpdb->posts WHERE ID= %d", 1));
4echo $thepost->post_title;

The standard SELECT queries should use the get_results() function for retrieving multiple rows of data from the database. The following function returns the SQL result data as an array:

1global $wpdb;
3$liveposts = $wpdb->get_results( $wpdb->prepare( "SELECT ID, post_title FROM
4$wpdb->posts WHERE post_status = %d ", 'publish' ) );
6foreach ( $liveposts as $livepost ) {
7 echo '<p>' .$livepost->post_title. '</p>';

The WordPress database class also features specific functions for UPDATE, INSERT, and DELETE statements. These three functions eliminate the need for custom SQL queries because WordPress will create them for you based on the values passed into the function. Here is how the insert() function is structured:

  • Insert Function $wpdb->insert( $table, $data, $format );
1$wpdb->insert( $wpdb->postmeta, array(
2 'post_id'
3 'meta_key'
4 'meta_value' => '1428 Elm St.'
5 ), array(
6 '%d', '%s', '%s'
7 )
  • Update Function $wpdb->update( $table, $data, $where, $format, $where_format );
1$wpdb->update( $wpdb->postmeta,
2 array('meta_value' => '333 Wonderview Ave' ),
3 array(
4 'post_id' => '1', 'meta_key' => 'address'),
5 )
6 array( '%s' ),
7 array( '%d','%s')
  • Delete Function $wpdb->delete( $table, $where, $where_format );
1$wpdb->delete( $wpdb->postmeta,
2 array(
3 'post_id' => '1',
4 'meta_key' => 'address'
5 ),
6 array( '%d','%s' )

The insert(), update(), and delete() functions shown do not need to be wrapped with the prepare() function. These functions actually use the prepare() function after concatenating the query from the values passed to the functions. This is a much easier method than manually creating your INSERT, UPDATE, and DELETE queries in WordPress.

Dealing with Errors

Any time you are working with queries, it's nice to see error messages. By default, if a custom query fails, nothing is returned so it's hard to determine what is wrong with your query. The wpdb class provides function for displaying MySql errors to the page. Here's an example of using these functions:

2$liveposts = $wpdb->get_results( $wpdb->prepare("SELECT ID, post_title
3FROM $wpdb->posts_FAKE WHERE post_status = 'publish'") );

The show_errors() function must be called directly before you execute a query. The print_error() function must be called directly after you execute a query. If there are any errors in your SQL statement, the error messages are displayed. You can also call the $wpdb‐>hide_errors() function to hide all MySQL errors, or call the $wpdb‐>flush() function to delete the cached query results.

The database class contains additional variables that store information about WordPress queries. Following is a list of some of the more common variables:

1var_dump( $wpdb->insert_id ); // Inserted ID after execute insert query
2var_dump( $wpdb->num_queries ); // total number of queries ran
3var_dump( $wpdb->num_rows ); // total number of rows returned by the last query var_dump( $wpdb->last_result ); // most recent query results
4var_dump( $wpdb->last_query ); // most recent query executed
5var_dump( $wpdb->col_info ); // column information for the most recent query

Another very powerful database variable is the $queries variable. This stores all of the queries run by WordPress. To enable this variable, you must first set the constant value SAVEQUERIES to true in your wp‐config.php file. This tells WordPress to store all of the queries executed on each page load in the $queries variable. First drop this line of code in your wp‐config.php file:

define( 'SAVEQUERIES', true );

Now all queries will be stored in the $queries variable. You can display all of the query information like so:

var_dump( $wpdb->queries ); // displays all queries executed during page load


The database query class is a major asset when working with the WordPress database directly, as you will see when developing a plugin or building a more complex Loop. All of the previously mentioned database class functions use specific escaping techniques to verify that your queries are executed in the safest manner possible.

The query preparation and escaping functions ensure that inputs don’t become SQL functions, no matter how craftily they’re set up. It is essential that you follow these methods for querying data to ensure your website is the most efficient and uses the safest techniques possible.

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Kent C. Dodds

Kent C. Dodds is a JavaScript software engineer and teacher. He's taught hundreds of thousands of people how to make the world a better place with quality software development tools and practices. He lives with his wife and four kids in Utah.