What’s In a Name – WordPress Toolbar or Admin Bar?

From time to time WordPress users are wondering why the little bar at the top of the WordPress Admin Area is called the Toolbar and the next time the Admin Bar? Is there some story behind that, maybe? And what is the true, “right” term to use, after all?

Great questions, hehe 😉

The short answer is: Both are true, both are right, kind of.

But let’s start with the whole story.

A Little History

Short history of the Toolbar, ahem, Admin Bar: The Admin Bar was officially introduced with WordPress version 3.1.0 back in Februray of 2011. It generalized the existing Admin Header and made the whole thing more useful and more like a de-facto API under the hood. Since this new approach seemed to be a success it was overhauled after a few months already.

WordPress version 3.3.0, released in December of 2011, took the Admin Bar, renamed it to Toolbar and showed it also on the frontend – when logged-in only, of course. The Admin Bar grew beyond the Admin Dashboard interface and therefore its name needed to mirror this growth and extended functionality. This is pretty much the Toolbar that we still have today, where my Toolbar Extras plugin can bring a lot of extensions and tweaks to it.

Extension of the Admin

However, since its first introduction as Admin Bar, this little bar was and is considered just that, THE “Admin Bar”. Even after officially renaming it to “Toolbar” (for logic reasons), most users and developers still call it the Admin Bar. Which is easy to understand and to follow, as it will only show to the logged-in users, it is generally considered an extension of the Admin Dashboard. And since the “Administrator” user role in WordPress has the most permissions and will show the most items within the Toolbar, it just feels as THE BAR of the Admin or for the Admin. So it all makes some sense.

A Collection of Useful Tools

But, using the term “Toolbar” makes a lot of sense, too! In an ideal world, this bar at the top would be the ultimate collection of – useful – tools, always at your fingertips. However, that is not the case with a vanilla WordPress install. This bar could be and do so much more. That thought was always my personal driving force behind, what would become my series of Admin Bar, ahem, Toolbar plugins. The day I got to know this bar could be extended programmatically, I realized what powerful tool the Toolbar could be transformed into. So the days of code snippets began, when I added special links on some clients to the Toolbar to make my life of maintaining those installs a lot easier. I was really happy with it. Still, there seemed to be a missing piece somehow.

My Plugin Work

This was when I realized, all those snippets could also live easily in a plugin. I found the missing piece for me. Plugins allowed me to generalize the whole thing to not only scratch my own itch but that of other users, too. It was amazing to learn, that I was not the only one who wanted to use this space at the top of a WordPress install more effectively. So the passion of getting more productive with the Toolbar inspired me to more than a dozen of those plugins up until now. For me it has become a habit to save scrolling and mouse travel — installing a Toolbar optimizing plugin is the first step I do after setting up a new WordPress.

Toolbar Extras in actin showing some Customizer deep links for the “Astra” theme

And, important for my plugins, I have made the decision to use the terminology that WordPress itself uses. Therefore I use the term “Toolbar” since the release of WP 3.3+. As you notice, some of my early plugins still have the name “Admin Bar” in it (for example, “bbPress Admin Bar Addition” – nowadays it would just be “bbPress Toolbar”) – they were developed and released when the “Admin Bar” still was the official branding of this thing. The next plugins after that change were easier to name, for example “BuddyPress Toolbar”. Short and simple, how I like it ;-).

Your Turn

Call it Toolbar or call it Admin Bar, it doesn’t matter, it is completely up to you. What should rather matter to you is the question, how useful this bar at the top is for you at all? Do you already use it as the central hub for your admin tasks – to get more productive and save precious time? If not yet, then check out Toolbar Extras today, it can and will power up your Admin Toolbar for you – to save you mouse travel and scrolling, to make your days within WordPress Admin and on the frontend more productive!

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