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Addons 101: The basics


Addons 101 is a four-part series for beginners dedicated to the education and understanding of what an addon is, how addons enhance the gameplay experience of World of Warcraft, some popular addons in certain categories, and popular venues in which to research, download and find addons.

For the past couple of months I have been getting emails from readers who read and enjoy my addon columns every week and love reading the addon discussions that follow in the comments, but are still very new to the idea of addons to the WoW default user interface. In addition, I am sure there are readers out there who just haven't yet wrapped their heads around the concept of addons and what to do with these pesky pieces of code. So, as per many suggestions and adding to the ever-growing library of 101 guides, I present the first part of Addons 101.

Addons 101 will be a four-part guide spanning four weeks of beginner addon advice on installation, configuration and recommendations. First, we will discuss what addons are, why you need them and how to install them. Second, we will discuss some of the categories of addons and give you a primer on what is configurable in the user interface, what important definitions and words are at play and what certain addons do. Third, we will discuss mission-critical addons that many people believe are essential to the gameplay experience. Finally, we will wrap it all up with a beginners guide to user interface design and function, providing a great synopsis on how to begin to configure your UI to be the most comfortable to you.

This series of articles is intended to be used in two ways, for two distinct types of people. First, this article will provide the basic information on what an addon is, how addons affect that game and how to find and install addons. Also, we will talk about a few types of popular addon categories. New players unfamiliar with addons will receive the basic knowledge necessary to make addons part of their WoW experience. Second, this article is for advanced players to show their inexperienced brethren, providing a one-stop shop resource when that inevitable question comes: "What addons do I need?"

What is an addon?

The simplest question actually turns out to be a fairly complicated one. It actually took me a good amount of time to figure out how to explain what an addon is. The simplest explanation is that an addon is like an app for World of Warcraft. These pieces of code run with the game to change the way the interface looks, provide new functionality to the interface or even replace Blizzard's user interface elements or pieces with your own. Blizzard made the World of Warcraft user interface malleable to support addons, so do not think it is cheating or against the rules to use addons. Occasionally, Blizzard does change the rules and addons lose functionality in those rare events, but for the most part, Blizzard is A-OK with addons.

Why do I need addons?

Technically, you don't need addons. The stock user interface is a competent piece of software that again, for the most part, gives you the basic functionality you need -- barely. But really, a WoW user interface without addons is like an iPhone without apps -- you've got the phone and none of the frills that make the whole thing come alive.

Addons can provide valuable information to a player or be instruments of cosmetic change, allowing users to fully customize their WoW experience. Don't like the way the buttons look on your action bar? Change them! There's an addon for that. Want more functionality out of chat, like being able to see previous messages sent to you? Addons can help!

For the players out there who like to compete against harder bosses or end-game content, addons play a large role in understanding, timing and navigating boss encounters. For instance, Deadly Boss Mods, a popular encounters addon, will track a raid boss' abilities and let you know when it's time to move out of the way of an attack or help out your raid members with an ability.

Where can I find addons?

Addons are sometimes tricky to find and should only be downloaded or researched on trusted addon sites. Hackers and other bad guys can potentially use fake addons to get at your account information, so being conscious of where you download addons is key. These sites are great for safe addon browsing and downloading:


Remember these URLs and make sure that they are present at the front of the link. Otherwise, you might be entering a fake website dedicated to stealing your information. Another valuable resource for safely finding and installing addons is the Curse client, a self-contained program that allows you to search for and install addons automatically. This is an excellent tool for the novice addon junkie.

Installing and managing addons

Installing addons is easy. There are two ways of going about this -- the manual way and the automatic way. The automatic way involves downloading an addon management utility like the Curse client, a great resource that allows you to search for addons on from the application and instantly install them to your addons folder. The manual way is a bit more tricky but easy nonetheless.

To install an addon, first download the .zip file that contains the addon's folder. Contained in that folder is all the code and items needed to run the addon. Next, find your World of Warcraft directory. Inside your World of Warcraft folder will be an Interface folder. Inside of that folder, you will find the AddOns folder. This is your destination. Copy the downloaded folder into the World of Warcraft AddOns folder and you're set. Here it is again in bullet-point form:
  • Download the .zip containing addon from a reputable addon site.
  • Unzip the addon folder.
  • Move the addon folder into your World of Warcraft directory > Interface > Addons folder.
In part 2 of Addons 101, we will discuss the different types and categories of addons, giving you a better understand of what people mean by "action bar addon" or "DPS meters." Stay tuned!

Addons are what we do on Addon Spotlight. This special edition of Addon Spotlight is aimed at you newcomers out there, to learn a little bit about addons. We are so happy to have you! If you have any questions or suggestions for Addons 101, email Mat at

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