Developing Discourse Plugins - Part 1 - Create a basic plugin

Building a plugin in Discourse can be really simple, once you learn a couple of quirks. The goal of this post is to create a skeleton plugin and introduce you to the basics.

Your development environment

Make sure you have a development environment of Discourse running on your computer. I recommend you use the appropriate setup guide and come back when you’re done.


:tada: Use GitHub - discourse/discourse-plugin-skeleton: Template for Discourse plugins to create a complete discourse plugin skeleton in your plugins directory :tada:

When Discourse starts up, it looks in the plugins directory for subdirectories containing a plugin.rb file. The plugin.rb file has two purposes: it is the manifest for your plugin with the required information about your plugin including: its name, contact information and a description. The second purpose is to initialize any ruby code necessary to run your plugin.

In our case, we won’t be adding any ruby code but we still need the plugin.rb. Let’s create the directory basic-plugin with the file plugin.rb inside it, with the following contents:


# name: basic-plugin
# about: A super simple plugin to demonstrate how plugins work
# version: 0.0.1
# authors: Awesome Plugin Developer
# url:

Once you’ve created this file, you should restart your local server and the plugin should be loaded.

An important Gotcha!

If you’re used to regular rails development you might notice that plugins aren’t quite as nice when it comes to reloading. In general, when you make changes to your plugin, you should Ctrl+c the server to stop it running, then run it again using bin/ember-cli -u.

My changes weren’t picked up! :warning:

Sometimes the cache isn’t cleared fully, especially when you create new files or delete old files. To get around this issue, remove your tmp folder and start rails again. On a mac you can do it in one command: rm -rf tmp; bin/ember-cli -u.

Checking that your plugin was loaded

Once you’ve restarted your local server, visit the url /admin/plugins (make sure you’re logged in as an admin account first, as only admins can see the plugin registry).

If everything worked, you should see your plugin in the list:

Congratulations, you just created your first plugin!

Let’s add some Javascript

Right now your plugin doesn’t do anything. Let’s add a javascript file that will pop up an alert box when discourse loads. This will be super annoying to any user and is not recommended as an actual plugin, but will show how to insert Javascript into our running application.

Create the following file:


export default {
  name: 'alert',
  initialize() {
    alert('alert boxes are annoying!');

Now if you restart your local server, you should see “alert boxes are annoying!” appear on the screen. (If you did not, see the “My Changes weren’t picked up” heading above).

Let’s step through how this worked:

  1. Javascript files placed in assets/javascripts/discourse/initializers are executed automatically when the Discourse application loads up.

  2. This particular file exports one object, which has a name and an initialize function.

  3. The name has to be unique, so I just called it alert.

  4. The initialize() function is called when the application loads. In our case, all it does is execute our alert() code.

You’re now an official Discourse plugin developer!

More in the series

Part 1: This topic
Part 2: Plugin Outlets
Part 3: Site Settings
Part 4: git setup
Part 5: Admin interfaces
Part 6: Acceptance tests
Part 7: Publish your plugin


I am able to create plugin in development, it works fine. Thanks.
But I don’t see a way to install other’s plugin in development
So first question is how can I fork someone’s plugin in development and then build on top of that(hope copy paste that repo is not the recommended way)?
Second question is, it seems my created plugin is part of my repo, is there a way to create a separate github repo for the plugin automatically which others can directly use to install?

I have a preferred method to do this. First, I have a ~/code directory where I have all my git projects. So I check out discourse and the plugin in that directory so it’s something like this:



Then, within the ~/code/discourse/plugins folder I create a symlink to the plugin:

$ cd ~/code/discourse/plugins
$ ln -s ~/code/discourse-some-plugin .

Then for good measure:

$ cd ~/code/discourse
$ rm -rf tmp
$ bundle exec rails server

Now you can fork the plugin in ~/code/discourse-some-plugin, make pull requests or whatever you want. It’ll be used by discourse.


What is the best way to render ajax response inside a widget?
I was able to console.log the ajax response, but it is not rendering inside the widget.

Tried to call this.scheduleRerender() after getting ajax response but both results in an infinite loop.

1 Like

I am getting following error when trying to load a helper module inside my widget

Could you please help me to resolve this error?

You should make sure your widget can contain state. After the ajax request, set it on the state object and trigger a this.scheduleRerender and it should appear. For an example look at how the post menu shows who liked something.

Looks like you have the wrong path to your helper. One way to see all the paths that Discourse has resolved is by typing require._eak_seen in your console. Look for the correct path name.

Thanks Robin Ward for your help. I was able to load my module after investigating with require._eak_seen.

Below is the code for my widget. The problem is that this.scheduleRerender() is causing an infinite loop. The div always shows loading animation (even without this.scheduleRerender) which seems this.state.loading is not being set.

import { createWidget } from 'discourse/widgets/widget';
import { getTopic } from 'discourse/plugins/my-plugin/discourse/helpers/topics';
import { ajax } from 'discourse/lib/ajax';
import { h } from 'virtual-dom';

export default createWidget('topic-widget', {
  tagName: '',
  defaultState() {
    return { loading: false};

  refreshTopic() {
    if (this.state.loading) { return; }
    this.state.loading = true;
    this.state.topic = 'empty';
    getTopic(this).then((result) => {
      this.state.topic = result;
      this.state.loading = false;

  html(attrs, state) {
    if (!state.topic) {
    const result = [];
    if (state.loading) {
      result.push(h('div.spinner-container', h('div.spinner')));
    } else if (state.topic !== 'empty') {
    } else {
      result.push(h('', 'No topic.'))

    return result;

Could you help to resolve this error?

Your code looks mostly fine, however, all widgets that deal with state require a key attribute. You should have seen a warning about this, although maybe the warning only appears when running tests?

Try adding a buildKey function like buildKey: () => 'topic-widget'.

That should probably fix it. Also, a much less serious issue is you might want to add topic: null to your state object. Javascript is much faster when it knows the shape of the object in advance.


Thanks Robin Ward.
Adding buildKey function worked fine for me.

1 Like

@eviltrout I got bitten by this in development and didn’t get a warning about setting a key attribute.


Ah, it only warns in Ember.testing:

We might want to just raise an error if that happens now? It is pretty dangerous for Widgets to do that.


:thumbsup: for raising an error instead. Maybe we can extend that to development too? :thought_balloon:


Hopefully this will prevent others from making this mistake:



Is this url correct? Shouldn’t this be ,

I’m new here. please correct me if im wrong :slight_smile:

In Discourse, mainly there are two big JavaScript sections “discourse” and “admin”. Also you can see few more in

In plugins, to differentiate admin & normal user section JavaScript files we use “discourse” and “admin” keywords in between like below


Also it will just work even without identification keywords like you mentioned :slight_smile:


@vinothkannans Thank you a lot for the explanation. :slight_smile:

I’m experiencing the same issue with getting symlinks to work (I’m on Linux) - the ln -s appears to work, but from inside the docker container the path is inaccessible. The plugin works when it is directly copied into the plugins folder, but I like the symlink workflow as it enables a more sensible Git arrangment.

This SO question appears to suggest that symlinks won’t work this way unless we also add the linked-to plugin volume to the docker run command Mount host directory with a symbolic link inside in docker container - Stack Overflow

Anyone any thoughts on this? What are the pro plugin developers doing for a sensible Git workflow?


I’m using symlinks but my dev setup is Docker-frei.

Symlinks are a really nice way of being able to include or exclude plugins on a ‘build’ very quickly without disturbing the codebase.


Here’s what I’ve had to do in order to preserve a similar workflow to using symlinks (softlinks):

I edited /bin/docker/boot_dev in Discourse (outside the container) so that the plugin I want to work on is added as a volume and mounted in the /src/plugins/ directory (inside the container).

In my case it looks like this:

docker run -d -p 9405:9405 -p 1080:1080 -p 3000:3000 -p 9292:9292 \
-v "$DATA_DIR:/shared/postgres_data:delegated" \
-v "$SOURCE_DIR:/src:delegated" \ 
-v "/home/marcus/code/discourse/discourse-reflective-learning-plugin:/src/plugins/discourse-reflective-learning-plugin" \
$ENV_ARGS --hostname=discourse --name=discourse_dev --restart=always \
discourse/discourse_dev:release /sbin/boot

I’ve used absolute paths because I couldn’t be bothered to get into relative paths inside Docker and $SOURCE_DIR environment variables, but I’m sure there’s a cleverer way to do this, so that perhaps all your plugins could be in directories at the same level as discourse and it would automagically include them all. Hope this helps someone.


I am totally open to a PR that automatically follows symlinks in plugins/ dir and then smart mounts volumes.