7 WordPress Plugins To Help You Turn The Tables (Into Works Of Art)
Tables are a pretty common content component but are unsupported out-of-the-box by the WordPress Visual Editor.
Not surprisingly then, there are a number of plugins that solve the table problem from those that make the TinyMCE table buttons live again, to Admin interface visual table builders and pure shortcode plays.
But which is best for you? Which WordPress table plugin will help you turn the tables, into works of art?
On reflection, it does seem slightly odd that WordPress doesn’t have table support built in. Perhaps it was part of that initial effort to keep the application as simple as possible or perhaps the thinking was that if a post needed a table then it was easy enough to slip into text mode and add the HTML by hand.
Manually adding a table is, of course, still an option but it’s tedious, laborious and error prone. And there are better, much better options available to WordPress users.
Plugins that provide table functionality are basically split into 3 camps:
1. TinyMCE Enablers
In its purest form, the TinyMCE editor has table support (much like Word) and these plugins make those functions live again.
This provides the best visual editing experience by some margin but at the cost of practically no additional functionality. No sorting, no paging, no filtering.
2. Post Editor Shortcodes
The shortcode-based plugins allow the post author to define the table and its data directly in the post editor.
This is quick, easy (especially if the plugin allows the entry of data in CSV format) and keeps all the content creation in the one place. The downside is that it requires copy and pasting to use the table elsewhere in your site and, of course, can be typo sensitive.
3. Visual Builders
These plugins provide their own interface in the WordPress admin area for building and configuring tables.
Although slower than the free-form shortcodes, this approach is less error-prone and provides visual feedback of how your table will potentially look when published.
So, let’s take a look at 7 WordPress plugins that can help you create tables for your posts and pages.
A plugin that certainly lives up to its name but doesn’t compromize on features and options.
Easy Table takes the shortcode path to inserting tables into your WordPress posts and pages.
This plugin lives up to its name whilst simultaneously offering rowspans and colspans in an impressive range of features that can be set globally (for all tables) or locally for individual tables and cells.
Table sorting is available (it uses the tablesorter jQuery plugin) although I could only get it working if I set it globally.
Data for the table can be entered in CSV (comma-delimited) format in the shortcode or dynamically pulled in by specifying a CSV file (useful for data that updates frequently or using the data on more than one page).
The plugin comes with 3 themes but adds classes to the tables that enable an easy path to custom styling.
Easy Tables certainly lives up to its name and is a solid (and very popular) plugin with a great range of features and options.
The replacement for WP-Table Reloaded is a sophisticated plugin that is best suited to sophisticated needs.
TablePress’ downloads are second only to its predecessor, WP-Table Reloaded and is a visual table builder where the table data is input in a purpose-built, easy-to-follow Admin interface rather than in a post.
TablePress integrates with the Data Tables jQuery plugin which elongates TablePress’ impressive list of features to include row and column spanning, sorting, searching, filtering, paging and horizontal scrolling (nice).
Tables are inserted into posts and pages with a simple shortcode (or a template function) that allows for the same table to be easily used across multiple pages. There’s also the option to export and import tables for sharing across sites.
If your needs exceed the simple CSV style implementation, or you like the idea of visually building a table then TablePress is worth a download and play.
Websimon offers a simple method for visually building and styling tables.
There’s not too many bells and whistles with this plugin but it does a reasonable job of enabling the creation and styling of tables.
The DSV import is labelled as experimental and when I tried to use the file that I created when testing Easy Table’s CSV import, it didn’t work so it seems you are stuck with entering the data by hand.
Websimon’s emphasis is on the styling and it comes with quite a range of themes coupled with the ability to build your own.
This is a simple table plugin that might appeal to those who don’t want all the features of TablePress and don’t want to code data directly in the content.
A plugin that likes to shout!
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Sitting between Websimon and TablePress, another visual table builder that also integrates the Data Table script to provide sorting, filtering, paging and searching.
The building approach is similar to its cohorts although it does operate in a single page which makes it feel a little quicker and more intuitive.
There’s no real styling capability beyond setting a class for the table, so you’ll need to roll your own if you don’t like the default.
Tables are embedded into posts and pages using a shortcode or, somewhat uniquely, in sidebars via a widget.
The widget is a nice touch and the plugin is capable. Ultimate it is not but If you value features over styling but don’t want to get too sophisticated then it might be an option.
A markup-via-shortcode solution that lives up to its simple billing.
OSD Simple Table Generator (STG) relies almost entirely on its markup to provide the simplest of table implementations.
In using | as the default column separator, it’s almost an extended Markup approach, although you can change the delimiter. Curiously, each row also needs delimiting rather than just using the line-break.
There’s no styling (you specify a class on the shortcode) and no integration with either Data Table or tablesorter.
This really is basic table generation but if simple and lean is what you are looking for then this is the plugin.
Visual Table Formatting (VTF) Lite brings simple table creation to the Visual Editor.
But not how you might expect. VTF Lite adds its own button to the Visual Editor which opens up a dialog where you can generate a table by hand, by entering the data CSV style (although you can use any delimiter) or by pasting in an existing VTF Lite-generated shortcode.
The editor is pretty nice with the ability to select multiple cells and then apply some simple formatting (bold, italic, underline, color) across them all.
All pretty straight-forward but the shortcode output is not exactly human-friendly so you might find yourself jumping in and out of the VFT Lite editor to make small data changes.
There is nothing in the way of additional features – this is a formatter, after all – and you’ll need to upgrade to the Pro version ($18) to get many of the features that the other plugins provide out-of-the-box.
For a true visual table creation experience and nothing else.
MCE Table Buttons is one of a number of plugins that brings the TinyMCE table formatting buttons to life.
This does give a great visual table creation experience allowing tables to be easily resized, columns added, merged and formatting at a cell, column, row or table level.
There’s even movement between cells using the tab and the cursor keys.
But that’s it. No features beyond formatting at all and you’ll likely still need to do some styling although at least you get to see (and potentially tweak) the table HTML.
Which Is Best?
Well that all depends on what sort of tables you want to build, how much data you want to display, how static that data is, how much control you want over the styling and the features you want.
Several of the plugins make use of the excellent Data Tables or Tablesorter libraries to extend their feature list by providing sorting, searching, filtering and paging on the client-side. Others just go for the bare essentials.
If you want features then the choice comes down to two: Easy Table and TablePress. Both provide excellent features but which to choose will depend on whether you want to add data in the post editor itself (Easy Table) or in a specific interface (TablePress).
TablePress is an excellent plugin but my choice would be Easy Table for two main reasons:
- It is quick and easy to enter the data into the post editor with the option always available to cut and paste.
- A slight contradiction to my first reason, but the ability to easily use a CSV file as the data source is very appealing – especially if the data is likely to be updated frequently.
As always, though, you should try a variety, see how you get on, see how each fits your personal requirements. Then you can start to turn your tables into works of art.
Do you have a favorite WordPress table plugin?