First, let me reassure you that it's not very hard and that AddOns are allowed (nay, encouraged) by Blizzard. I do want to clarify at this point, though, that when I say "AddOn" I mean things like LootLink and ArcHUD that are essentially scripts run by WoW. What you want to watch out for are things that are programs in their own right -- usually these will have .exe file extensions on Windows, or .app on Macs. These can be against the Terms of Service; furthermore, it's technically possible that one of them could include a keylogger to steal your account name and password. An example of an illegal program is WoW Glider, which basically plays the game for you by sending keystrokes to WoW. This program is very much against WoW's Terms of Service, and can certainly get your account perma-banned. Yikes. So watch out for EXEs. That said, there are some that are very well-accepted and generally considered safe; usually all they do is manage some of the aspects of installing mods for you (Cosmos and WoWEcon come to mind). If a program quits before it launches WoW, you probably don't need to worry about it so much (at least I wouldn't).
Having talked some about what isn't an AddOn, here's a little bit on what an AddOn is. AddOns (also known as UIs or mods) are bundles of code made by fans that extend WoW's interface in various ways. When Blizzard built WoW, they had the foresight to include an API that coders could use to essentially add their own features to the game. From simple clocks to giant databases of where to find virtually any piece of dropped loot to auction house scanners/analyzers, there an impressive array of AddOns out there.
There are a number of places to find and download mods. Among the most prominent are Curse Gaming, ui.worldofwar.net, and WoW Interface. For tutorial purposes, let's say you want EquipCompare (description here). If you went to Curse Gaming and searched for it, you'd wind up here. If you then click "Download Now", you'd end up with a nice ZIP file (most mods are ZIP compressed; some are RARs). Decompress it and you're left with a folder called "EquipCompare", containing mostly Lua and XML files. Those files are the mod.
The next step is to put this folder where WoW can find it. First, you need to figure out where your WoW folder is. If you're reading this tutorial, you probably didn't change the default install location, which is C:\Program Files\World of Warcraft\ on Windows, and /Applications/World of Warcraft/ on a Mac.
Go into your WoW folder, make a folder in it called "Interface" (if it doesn't already exist), and make a folder inside that called "AddOns" (again, if it doesn't already exist). Now, move the EquipCompare folder (or whatever mod it is you're installing) into that AddOns folder. The next time you open WoW and get to your character select screen, look for the "AddOns" button in the bottom-left corner. This opens a window that lets you decide which AddOns to turn off and on; you can keep separate lists for each of your characters. While your'e in the Addons List window, you should probably raise the Script Memory from its default of 48 MB. This tells WoW how much RAM your AddOns are allowed to use. I keep mine at 128 MB, but I have both a lot of RAM and many AddOns. 64 MB should probably be sufficient for most scenarios. While you're in this window, check the box that says "Load out of date AddOns," for reasons that will become clear in two paragraphs.
AddOn configuration is pretty ideosyncratic, so there's not very much that I can say about it in a general sense. Many AddOns are too simple to need any configuration, but if you do find that you want/need to change something, there are three common ways to configure an AddOn.
- Right-click it, if it has a visible component; this may open a menu.
- Look for a new icon by the minimap. A lot of AddOns put an icon there.
- Check for a slash command. Just like you can type "/laugh" to make your character laugh, you can type "/wowecon" to configure WoWEcon. Many AddOns print a message in the chat when you load the game telling you what their slash command is.
So far I've covered downloading, configuring, and installing AddOns. Once you've got an AddOn installed and set up, it should "just work", hopefully. Until patch day, this is. Every month or two when Blizzard patches WoW, everybody's AddOns stop working -- but not yours, because you checked the "Load out of date AddOns" box two paragraphs ago.
This simple step will keep most of your AddOns working most patches. (For the curious: every patch, WoW gets a new "toc number", which it then checks against all your AddOns to try to decide whether they're "out of date" or not. WoW 2.0.1's toc number is 20000, for instance. If an AddOn has a toc number below that, because it was written during a previous version of WoW, the game won't load it unless the box is checked.)
Sometimes, though, Blizzard actually changes something that breaks some of your AddOns. When this happens, you'll know because the AddOn will generate an error message or otherwise not work, even though you've got "Load out of date AddOns" checked, and all you can do is check online to see if the AddOn in question has been updated yet. Fortunately, AddOn authors tend to be pretty quick to update, especially if it's a popular AddOn.
Speaking of popular AddOns, here's a list in no particular order of a few that you may have seen or heard of, to get you started.
Also keep a look out for our own running feature AddOn Spotlight
, where we at WoW Insider shine the light on whatever AddOns have caught our eye.
That's it! That's all there is to installing and managing AddOns. May your interface be excellent, and your framerates high. And if you've got any questions or (gasp) corrections, please post them in the comments and I or somebody else will get to them forthwith.