WP Engine vs WordPress: What’s the difference?

Long-time WPShout readers—seasoned in the world of WordPress—may want to skip this one. But for those new to the world of WordPress, I was interested and cheered to get assigned a fun explainer out to you in this week’s Quick Guide. This week we’re covering the difference between a product (really “hosting company”) called WP Engine, and WordPress (an open-source project that can run on many different kinds of WordPress web hosting). I’ll get into the distinctions in those parentheticals even more below 🙂

WordPress vs WP Engine: The Video

I’ll usually watch a video rather than read. For those of you who work like that, we’ve got a video where I do my best to breakdown of the same cover I’ll cover in more depth below. Here’s my summary of WordPress and WP Engine’s differences:

What’s WordPress?

The heart of the reason that “WordPress” confounds is that it builds upon a knowledge of like three different types of things. You need at least a little bit of understanding of “the web” in order to understand what WordPress is. My best one-sentence summary is that “WordPress is an open-source content-management system that can be hosted with a variety of PHP-supporting hosting environments.” Let’s break that down.

Open-source means that you have access to, and the right to modify, the source code of WordPress. If you don’t understand “source code,” you can just skip this part, it’s an interesting detail vs an important understanding. (Source code is the “words and grammar” that programmers type to make a program work. While not quite like English, you get pretty close to the right understanding if you think of source code as “steps the computer follows written in English.”)

Content-management system (CMS) means that WordPress is a non-programmer tool for generating web pages. Generally you’ll bring to a CMS like WordPress your “blog posts”, “articles”, etc, and WordPress will let you style and fancify those words with images, bold-text, etc just as you might be used to from a Microsoft Word in the world of “desktop publishing.”

To be hosted means, essentially “safely made available on the internet.” Lots of companies offer this service of giving you a place to run a web application. Some you may have heard of include GoDaddy, Bluehost, Digital Ocean, and more.

PHP is a programming language that the host will let you have written your application in. This starts to feel overwhelming to some people, but while “web pages” are what you host, you’ll also often want want some “dynamic changes” on your web pages. That’s where a “server-side programming language” like PHP comes in. PHP allows people do things like “show TODAY’s date here” vs having to just write “July 9, 2020” into the page’s text.

Tying that all together, WordPress is a bundle of PHP files you’ll put onto a webhost, so that you can make “web pages” without needing to understand almost anything else about how web servers, PHP, etc work. Cool!

WordPress.org vs WordPress.com — even more confusion you might have

A last wrinkle that makes this strange. There are two things “WordPress.org” which I just described, and a thing that you may have heard marketted on TV commercials, podcasts, etc called “WordPress.com.” WordPress.com is just “hosted WordPress.org” at a cool domain. (There’s lots more to say there, but that should give you enough for this context.)

What’s WP Engine? “A WordPress hosting company”

So, lots of hosts will host your “WordPress.org” site. WordPress.com just got a mention, but GoDaddy, Bluehost, Digitial Ocean, AND WP Engine are also “web hosting companies happy to let you run a WordPress site.” As you might guess from its name, WP Engine focuses more on WordPress than some of those other companies. But they’re just one of many options. For more on the best WordPress hosting companies, check out this article:

The Best WordPress Hosting: An Honest Guide (2023)

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