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During theme development, I understand how to create basic widgets within the functions.php file.

However, when it comes to displaying the widget within a theme, is there a preferred way to display them - primary, what are the benefits of using the the_widget() function versus the dynamic_sidebar() function?

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the_widget() is used to display a specific widget outside of a sidebar. To be honest, this function serves no valuable purpose as you need to hard code the widget $instance parameters, this means that you will need to manually change the code every time you need to change something. So much for dynamica. It would just be easier to simply code a custom function and then calling it in your template where needed. It will be faster and much easier to use

Stick with widgets inside sidebars as they are dynamic and can be changed without touching theme or plugin code. I would rather code twenty sidebars and add them in strategic places than using one hardcoded instance of the_widget()

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Via using the dynamic_sidebar() you can change/edit the widgets in the widgets area of the appearance settings. If you use the_widget() you hard code it straight to template so you need to modify the code to change what is displayed.

Both have their uses. Too many sidebars tend to clutter the widgets area, but is very good for users that don't want to mess with the code (or if you swap around widgets/widget settings often).

The_widget isn't dependent on having a sidebar so it has it's uses too if you have a lot of custom widgets that you use around your templates, like in the footer for example.

But I don't think there are straight up benefits of using one vs the other, other than usability wise.

EDIT: altough I do agree with Pieter, I think there are at least fringe cases where you can get use out of the_widget(). For instance a project I'm working on currently I have made a custom RSS widget for displaying icons according to network wide article types. (We have multiple sites which are all linked). We also have these RSS feeds on the bottom of the page that show content from our other sites and I see no use in coding a custom function with the same functionality when I already have a working widget.

And yeah, I could use a sidebar to show these widgets but as we have multiple people updating the sites and not all are so tech savvy, I figured it was best the sidebars area had basically just the containers that they need to edit.

So I used the_widget to avoid duplicate code and to keep interface lean to other admins. But as well said by Pieter, you are probably better off always using wigdets with sidebars as they are intended to.

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    Both have their uses, not really, the_widget() is actually just a useless function in my opinion. But that is just me. Still, great answer Mar 23, 2015 at 19:37

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