Free WordPress Form Plugins
Almost all websites have (or should have) a form of some kind, to be completed by interested visitors. Whether it is a simple newsletter signup, a means of contacting the owner, or something more complex like a survey, all website authors need to be able to create a form and handle the responses that it generates.
When using WordPress to create a website, the normal (and indeed sensible) approach is to use a plugin, because the only form built in to WordPress is the fairly limited comment form. But which plugin? This article helps you compare the most well-known free WordPress form plugins – some old, some quite new.
Different websites need forms for different purposes, and will need different features. However, there are some core features which most WordPress developers will need to use at some point, and I have focused on the features that are most important to me.
I haven’t included email alerts as a core feature, because it is offered by all the plugins I have tried.
Store submissions in the database
This is vital, since alert emails can go astray. If a form submission has the possibility of generating business, you don’t want to miss one.
Upload files via the form
I use this feature less often, but for the few times I do use it, it’s essential. If you need visitors to send you files or images, asking them to use email looks unprofessional.
All field types
Clearly you will sometimes need more than just boxes for text. How about a set of tickboxes, or a drop-down list of options? A good forms plugin should let you set these types up easily.
All WordPress plugins can be updated easily, right? Well, no, there’s one particular form plugin that can’t, which is why I’ve included this feature specifically.
A GUI-based form plugin that lets you drag and drop items into place can be quicker to use, however a plugin that lets you create the form using HTML with special tags may be more flexible depending on your needs.
Summary of Findings
I have tested the most well-known free form plugins against the above criteria – here are my findings. I have included the standard WordPress comment form, partly as a comparison, and partly because if your needs are simple, it can be pressed into service as a quick and easy contact form.
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So, which is the best? Well, I can’t answer that – clearly it depends on your needs. What I can do is tell you which ones I use.
When I need power, flexibility and lots of options, I use CForms II. It has everything – customisable emails, built-in CAPTCHA, multi-page forms, you name it.
However, CForms is not part of the WordPress plugin repository, and this means that whenever a new version is released, you need to back up your WordPress site and database, download the new version from the CForms site, FTP it up to your site, deactivate and reactivate it, check certain file permissions, then hope nothing has broken. When you have it installed on 10 or more sites, that’s a real pain in the coccyx.
So, when a project only requires fairly simple forms, I use MM Forms Community. This works much like the very popular Contact Form 7, with the added bonus of storing form submissions in the site database for future reference.
The one commercial forms plugin that gains the most mentions and plaudits in the WordPress community is Gravity Forms. I haven’t yet found the need to buy it, but if you’re interested, check it out. Pricing starts at $39 for a single-site license.
Another non-free option might be Formidable Pro (from $37). There is a free version of this plugin but it doesn’t have enough core features to be included in this review.
Update, February 2011
I have now tried Gravity Forms, and I’m a convert. OK, it costs money, but it is streets ahead of all the free plugins. It does everything I need, it’s far easier to create new forms than any other plugin mentioned in this article (the admin user interface is a joy to use), and it’s very stable.