Incorporating the Settings API in WordPress Themes

Filed in Web DevelopmentTags: Settings API, Themes, tutorials, WordPress

Enqueueing Admin CSS

In my above examples, I add some inline CSS. With only a handful of options, that's not such a big deal. However, it's not ideal for larger and more complex Settings pages. If you need to add custom CSS for such pages, you will want to use a stylesheet, which you will enqueue using wp_enqueue_style(), and then hook into the admin interface.

Now, you'll want your stylesheet to play nicely with the rest of the admin pages - ideally, you don't want to enqueue your stylesheet unless your Settings page itself is being displayed. Fortunately, WordPress includes a very powerful hook for just such a circumstance: admin_print_styles-{hook}, where {hook} is Theme/Plugin-specific. Nifty, eh?

First the code, then the explanation:

function oenology_enqueue_admin_style() {
     // define admin stylesheet
     $admin_handle = 'oenology_admin_stylesheet';
     $admin_stylesheet = get_template_directory_uri() . '/functions/oenology-admin.css';

     wp_enqueue_style( $admin_handle, $admin_stylesheet );
// Enqueue Admin Stylesheet at admin_print_styles()
add_action('admin_print_styles-appearance_page_oenology-settings', 'oenology_enqueue_admin_style', 11 );

Let's briefly take a closer look at how this is put together.

Function: wp_enqueue_style()

Codex: wp_enqueue_style()

The wp_enqueue_style() function is used to add a defined stylesheet to a WordPress-generated page. This function is used in conjunction with a hook in order to enqueue the stylesheet at the appropriate location.

The wp_enqueue_style( $handle, $src, $deps, $ver, $media ) function accepts several arguments, but for now we concern ourselves only with the first two:

  • $handle: the handle, or name, of the stylesheet to be enqueued
  • $src: the filepath to the stylesheet
Hook: admin_print_styles-{hook}

The admin_print_styles-{hook} hook is used to hook into a Plugin- or Theme-specific admin page. It takes the form $page_type . '_page_' . $page_slug:

$page_type: if using add_theme_page(), this is 'appearance'

$page_slug: this is equivalent to the page slug passed to the add_theme_page() function call, which in this case is 'oenology-settings'. (Note: this will be the same value as found in the URL parameter 'page=$page_slug'.)

So, putting it all together for our Theme, the hook name becomes:


So, when we hook wp_enqueue_style() into this hook, our custom stylesheet will not load unless our Theme settings page is being displayed. No need for any conditional checks, or $pagenow, or anything else. Nice!

Now, we turn our attention to the final piece of the Settings API puzzle: validating user input.


Comments (Comments are closed)

47 Responses to “Incorporating the Settings API in WordPress Themes”
  1. chip_bennett says:

    Incorporating the Settings API in WordPress Themes –… #wordpress

  2. Sayontan says:

    This is an exceptionally detailed tutorial, Chip! Looks like you beat me to it – I had started writing one based on my experience.

    I have grappled with a lot of these concepts while rewriting the options for Suffusion. In my case the situation was more complex – I have 2 levels of tabs: a horizontal one similar to your General / Varietals, and a vertical one within each. So basically I have GUI settings and Back-End Settings, with the first having Header settings, footer settings, fonts etc, and the back-end having tabs for SEO, Analytics etc.

    Also, instead of using one form, I had to use one form for each tab. Otherwise with my number of options I was running into issues with PHP installations that had Suhosin enabled (that restricts the number of post variables). That pushed the complexity to a whole different label, and I had to keep track of post variables in other forms (otherwise the whole array gets rewritten to only have options from the current form). Anyway, I guess you can see what I am saying when I submit my next version for review.

    One small note – in page 3 you are retrieving “settings-updated”. That applies to WP 3.1 onwards. In WP 3.0 you get “updated” as the returned URL parameter.

  3. chip_bennett says:

    Incorporating the Settings API in WordPress Themes –… #wordpress – I don’t do this often, but: please RT

  4. chip_bennett says:

    Incorporating the Settings API in WordPress Themes –… #wordpress – I don’t do this often, but: please RT

  5. Hi Chip,

    Great (and comprehensive!) tutorial here! One thing I had to find out the hard way: if you use the Settings API, you need the ‘manage_options’ capability to update the options. Normally this works fine, as only administrators have those two capabilities, but if you give editors the ability to edit theme options, they’ll need ‘manage_options’ too. This is built into the settings api, since it’s assumed it’s going to be used for options pages.


  6. Chip Bennett says:

    @John P. Bloch

    Are you 100% certain that you are unable to use the edit_theme_options capability with add_theme_page()? I can confirm that I have used it with no problems whatsoever, and edit_theme_options is the capability officially recommended by the WordPress Theme Review Team and far-more-expert-than-I Theme developers such as Justin Tadlock.

  7. jonnyjaniero says:

    huge thanks for this. shines a big beam of light on the whole process.

  8. Looks like a fantastic tutorial.
    I didn’t read it yet, since now is not a good time for me to do this and so I wanted to print out the whole tutorial which sadly didn’t work.
    Not even using the print button to print individual pages worked but cropped content on each article.
    So I have to come back another time or cut and paste each part individually.
    Nevertheless, I think it will be worth it an am very greatful for this tutorial.

  9. Chip Bennett says:


    Check the post pagination links at the bottom of the post. I added an “all” link, that will output the entire post on a single page – specifically so that this post could be printed. Let me know if it’s not working for you!

  10. Rilwis says:


    I’ve read your article, and follow most of it. But I have a problem with tabs. As you said, you haven’t tried 2 options for tabs that handle form fields which are in current tabs. Sadly, when I update the form, only fields in current tab are save, fields in other tabs are ignored.

    I’m thinking that WP don’t automatically recognize tabs and save them. We need to do it ourselves. Do you know how to make it easily?

  11. Chip Bennett says:


    I’m sorry; I’m not exactly following your question.

    The method that I describe here separates, via PHP, the form fields on one tab from the form fields on other tabs. When viewing one tab, the form fields on other tabs are never called. They don’t currently exist on the page. So, it is true: WordPress doesn’t save any settings not on the current page, because at the current point in time, WordPress doesn’t load the fields that allow those other settings to be modified.

    To do something different, such as loading all the settings on a single page, and then separate them via tabs, you’d have to take an entirely different approach (such as using jQuery to show/hide groups of settings).

  12. Sayontan says:

    @Chip, @Rilwis,
    How I handled this is by invoking the hidden fields in the validation function itself. Basically if you have separate forms you tend to lose the settings of other forms unless you have them conveyed to the back-end. Since you are anyway constructing the forms based on information you have in the back-end, it is easy to pull up the options from other screens in the validation function without passing them at form submission.

    Moreover I prefer passing it through the validation function because that keeps your form lighter.

  13. Rilwis says:

    Sorry if I didn’t say clearly. Sayontan said exactly what I meant.

    It seems that the validation function is a good solution here. I’ll try it.

  14. Tobias says:

    Thanks, very useful tutorial!

  15. newbiewpcoder says:

    how can i display a message based on which button has been clicked for example if i click reset i would like it to display a message saying “settings reset” also like Sayontan says i had to change “settings-updated” to “updated” within the form code as it didn’t show the message “settings saved” when i clicked save settings

  16. Chip Bennett says:


    I’ll get back to you on your first question.

    Regarding your second question, by some point this morning (hopefully), you’ll need to use settings-updated, rather than updated. 😉

  17. newbiewpcoder says:

    thanks for this tutorial i’m building an options page using this method and trying to move all my old options over to this but i cannot get multi-select checkboxes to save as i have some older code to grab all pages into an array created in wordpress like

    $pages_array = get_pages('hide_empty=0');

    $site_pages = array();

    foreach ($pages_array as $pagg) {
    $site_pages[$pagg->ID] = $pagg->post_title;
    $pages_ids[] = $pagg->ID;

    function oenology_get_default_options() {
    $options = array(
    'header_nav_menu_position' => 'top',
    'header_nav_menu_depth' => 1,
    'display_footer_credit' => false,
    'varietal' => 'cuvee',
    'menu_pages' => $pages_ids

    return $options;

  18. @Chip

    (Sorry for the delayed response)
    ‘edit_theme_options’ for the theme page is fine. It’s the Settings API that requires the ‘manage_options’ capability. The settings API requires you to send form data to /wp-admin/options.php, which, on lines 30-31 has this code:

    if ( !current_user_can('manage_options') )
    wp_die(__('Cheatin’ uh?'));

    The theme options page that this code creates will work without a problem, and saving the content will work without a problem — most of the time.

    The case where it doesn’t work is when you have anybody who can edit theme options but cannot manage options.

    For example, I program clients’ sites with a non-standard ‘Admin Lite’ role which is an editor that can create, edit, and delete non-Administrator users, as well as manage theme options. Because of the way options.php handles capabilities, I cannot use the settings API to validate or save the data from my theme options page. These are very specific use cases, and it might help to know about this behavior for anybody looking up this tutorial in the future. Just trying to share some hard-won knowledge in case it’s useful. :)


  19. newbiewpcoder says:

    you can delete my last comment as i managed to solve it myself, i have created a function to return each option here’s the function

    function theme_get_option($name) {
    $options = get_option('theme_oenology_options');
    if (isset($options[$name])) {
    return $options[$name];
    } else {
    return false;

    example of usage

    of course you may not want to echo the option but you get the idea

  20. newbiewpcoder says:

    oops my code was cut off here it is

    echo theme_get_option('display_footer_credit');


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