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Looking at wp codex it says:

The register_activation_hook function registers a plugin function to be run when the plugin is activated.

I am finding this to be not entirely correct, for example i can activate a plugin that adds an extra field to WP registration form (using the add extra field example in codex) which does not require the register_activation_hook function (nor the register_deactivation_hook).

What codex does not tell you is when and when not to use the register_activation_hook, now i am going to guess that the hook is only required when including files for install or creating db tables on plugin activation, i would be grateful if someone who has more knowledge of WP and the correct use of the register/deregister hooks could clarify its correct usage.

regards

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The register_activation_hook() is actually just a wrapper for add_action('activate_' . $file, $function); and is only executed when a plugin is activated.

This action/function is meant to be used by anything that should only execute once when the plugin is activated, things which would include stuff like

  • adding custom terms to taxonomies

  • create new database tables or rows

  • running one time db processes which might include updating certain tables, columns or rows

  • flush rewrite rules

On the opposite, register_deactivation_hook() only executes when a plugin is deactivated. This hook/function/action is meant for running processes to clean up after the plugin, which may include

  • restoring db tables, row or columns which was altered

  • removing custom db tables which was added by the plugin

  • removing any custom options which was added by the plugin that would not be necessary anymore

  • Thank you Pieter, a concise answer which has cleared my confusion on the proper use of these hooks. – MartinJJ Feb 22 '16 at 12:47

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