WordPress Database – How Sidebars Work

Sidebars are a great way to add extra content to your WordPress website. They are typically located on the right or left side of the page and can contain a variety of content, such as menus, widgets, and other elements.

WordPress uses a database to store all of the information related to sidebars. This includes the sidebar name, the sidebar content, and the sidebar settings. When a user visits a page, WordPress will query the database to retrieve the sidebar information and display it on the page.

The sidebar settings allow you to control how the sidebar is displayed. You can choose to show the sidebar on all pages, or only on certain pages. You can also control the size of the sidebar, the order of the elements, and other options.

The sidebar content can be anything you want. You can add menus, widgets, images, videos, and other elements. You can also add custom HTML and CSS code to customize the look and feel of the sidebar.

WordPress also allows you to create multiple sidebars and assign them to different pages. This allows you to have different sidebars for different pages, giving you more control over the look and feel of your website.

Sidebars are an integral part of the WordPress experience but understanding how they work on a database-level is not at the forefront of tutorials. You can find any number of posts about creating widgets, customizing them, extending them and so on, but how they are actually put together at the end and come together in multiple sidebars is often overlooked.

In this article – true to the database series – we’ll be looking at how sidebars and widgets are stored in the database.

The term sidebar is actually a misnomer since that’s not really what we’re talking about. The term sidebar comes from a time when sidebars became prevalent and they were the first to be “widgetized”. Since then we have found that footers, headers and other sections can sometimes benefit from widgets – modular content blocks.

From here on out I will be referring to “widget areas”. A sidebar can be a widget area, just like any other section on your website can potentially contain widgets. In a nutshell: any area that can contain widgets and can be controlled from the widgets section in the admin constitutes a widget area.

The widget areas – and indeed all widgets – are stored in the options table. The first row to look at will be the one with the option_name of sidebars_widgets. The content of the option_value column contains all the defined sidebars and the ID of the widgets within. If you use var_dump( get_option( 'sidebars_widgets' ) ) you’ll see something like this:

    [wp_inactive_widgets] => Array

    [sidebar-1] => Array
            [0] => text-2
            [1] => categories-2

    [array_version] => 3

In my current setup, I don’t have any inactive widgets and I have one sidebar (sidebar-1) with a text widget and a category list widget – the ID of these widgets is shown in the array.

Based on this info we know what sidebars are defined and what widgets they contain but we don’t know anything about the configuration about each specific widget. To get that information we need to look at some further rows.

Each widget has a separate row in the options table. The value of the option contains all defined widgets of the type and their settings. To get all defined text widgets we need to look at the value of the widget_text option. To view category list widgets we need the widget_categories option.

    [1] => Array

    [2] => Array
            WordPress Database - How Sidebars Work => First Text Widget

=> Fist Content
[filter] =>

[_multiwidget] => 1

I’ve pasted the results of get_option( 'text_widget' ) above. There is an empty array there which is the remnant of a deleted widget, the second member corresponds to text-2 from the value of sidebars_widgets. It contains all the options for the widget.


We now have all the data required to assemble sidebars of our own accord if needed, and hopefully a deeper understanding of how things work in the background. I think that knowing how sidebars work on the database level gives us insight into manipulating them with the functions available out of the box, and manipulating them in unique ways if the need arises.

Want to get rid of sidebars? Check out: How to Remove the Sidebar in WordPress (4 Methods).


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Jaspreet Singh Ghuman

Jaspreet Singh Ghuman


Passionate Professional Blogger, Freelancer, WordPress Enthusiast, Digital Marketer, Web Developer, Server Operator, Networking Expert. Empowering online presence with diverse skills.

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