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Addons 101: Interface elements


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

If you missed Addons 101 part one, check it out here. Addons 101 continues this week with part two, a cursory look at the default user interface, what can be configured and changed, and the most popular categories of addons and descriptions. Hopefully, if you're new to addons, you've read through part one to get a good idea of why you'd want to use them in World of Warcraft. In part two, we will discuss implementation more than theory.

Just to recap, addons are pieces of code, kind of like apps for WoW, that alter the user interface in some way, providing new or different functionality. They live in your Interface > Addons folder in your WoW directory, where ever WoW is installed. Addons are enabled or disabled from the character selection screen, or in game through an addon called Addon Control Panel. Remember, you can reload your user interface (/rl or /reloadui) to enact any changes made to your addons, but you must restart World of Warcraft if you add or change any of the addon files themselves.

The default user interface

This is what the default user interface looks like when you first enter WoW. It is fairly sleek and intuitive, and frankly, perfectly acceptable for most gameplay needs. Where the interface fails is in group content, information management and larger-scale raiding. If you are new to the game, though, you might just become overwhelmed with the amount of options you have out there, once you figure out where to look. So before you run off to find every addon your friends recommended, take a minute to learn the pieces of the user interface and ask yourself if that piece of the user interface isn't doing quite what you want it to. This picture is not intended to show you everything about the user interface, but to give you an idea about where these user interface elements are located while we discuss them.

User interface elements and their addons

Addons generally are targeted for specific pieces of the user interface. Some addon compilations, or packages, aim to overhaul the entire user interface in one go, creating a uniform experience. If this is your first time dealing with addons, start small. Start with one addon; change one piece of the user interface, and move on from there. You may just find out you don't need to overhaul everything.

Let's go down the list of interface elements from the default user interface and discuss what it is, why would we want to augment or change that particular element, and then recommend one or two addons that do such a thing.

Action bars

Action bars are the user interface element that holds your abilities. The first row, or "action bar," is defaulted to the row of number keys on your keyboard, 1 through =. Abilities are moved from the spellbook (pressing "P" by default) onto the action bar by clicking and dragging. Now, the ability that you have moved onto the action bar is activated by hitting the corresponding button. These following lists are not comprehensive, but they should give you an idea of what this category of addon can do and why it might be beneficial to try one out.

Why would someone want to change the action bars?
  • Blizzard's defaults only allow you to have up to five bars for you to place abilities onto: three at the bottom of the screen, horizontally, and two on the sides, vertically.
  • Blizzard's defaults require going into a setup utility called Key Bindings (press ESC in game) to change what keys activate which buttons
  • Blizzard's defaults do not have the ability to change the number of slots per bar, the shapes of the bars or their position.

Action bar addons have the ability to:
  • set more than five bars
  • configure the number of slots per bar, their orientation and size
  • configure the scale of the buttons, allowing the user to create large or small icons
  • move their action bars all over the screen
  • allow easier key binding
  • allow users to configure the shape of buttons, from squares to diamonds to circles, for aesthetic purposes
Examples of action bar addons:Chat box

The chat box is the single most important communication center in World of Warcraft. This box will tell you everything that happens to you, from damage to location to what people around the world are saying. This box is your primary means of communication between other players. /w [Player's name] will direct a message to your player of choice. /p will direct your message to just your party members.

Why would someone want to change the chat box?
  • The default chat box is light on features, providing only a basic set of chat-related abilities.
  • Recently, as of patch 3.3.5., the chat frame has been upgraded somewhat, including scroll wheel support for quickly navigating chat, but not upgraded for certain functionality.
  • Channel names are remembered by number, not title, occasionally interfering with custom chat channels that you may join.
Chat box addons have the ability to:
  • allow users to reposition the "edit box" where you input text, giving it a unique border, background and position
  • copy and paste text from the chat window to your clipboard for use elsewhere
  • customize fonts, font sizes and scaling for your chat box
  • and much more
Examples of chat box addons:
  • Chatter
  • Prat
Check out Addon Spotlight: Chataclysm for more information on chat box addons.


The minimap in World of Warcraft, defaulted to the upper right portion of the screen, is an excellent resource for gathering profession (to see the location of mining nodes or plant to harvest) and terrain (following roads out of town). The minimap's outer ring also serves as an information hub for the in-game calendar, mail notifications and battleground/dungeon finder queues.

Why would someone want to change the minimap?
  • Blizzard's default minimap comes in one shape: circle.
  • Changing the minimap's shape allows players to place the minimap more snugly in with other addons that have straight edges.
  • The default minimap cannot be moved in the default user interface.
  • The default minimap offers little customization of the buttons on the outside of the map.
Minimap addons have the ability to:
  • move the minimap anywhere
  • change the minimap's shape and behavior
  • hide all of the minimap buttons around the perimeter, showing up only on mouseover
  • scale the minimap independently of the user interface, add borders, custom skins, etc.
Examples of minimap addons:Player, group, target frames -- "unit frames"

The player, group and target frames, collectively the "unit frames," are integral to the WoW game. The player frame shows your health, mana, focus, energy, rage status and your level. The group frame shows similar information for the other players in your current group. Healers also use party frames to pinpoint who needs help and heals.

Why would someone want to change the unit frames?
  • The default frames are locked in place on the left side of the screen.
  • The information displayed in the default frames are minimal at best.
  • The only resizing option is scaling the entire user interface along with the player/group/target frames.
Unit frame addons have the ability to:
  • be fully customizable, from colors to fonts, information to appearance
  • be movable and re-sizable, any position and any size
  • change the shape and texture of the bars, providing tons of customization
  • augment your unit frames with even more information, or tie your unit frames into other addons
  • completely revamp the way information is handled through HUD-like interfaces
  • enable or disable any module in the unit frames that you do not need
Examples of unit frame addons:Raid frames

Raid frames are similar to group frames but for your 10 or 25-man raid, showing all of the other players' health pools, mana, etc. For healers, raid frames are extremely important, as healing is a dedicated and sometimes difficult job requiring detailed, quickly updated information about the players they are to protect. Some raid frames addons are healer-centric. Others, like Grid, are for anyone, but can be augmented to be more healer-friendly.

Why would someone want to change the raid frames?
  • Blizzard's raid frames are universally panned as being inadequate for end-game raiding and healing.
  • Not enough information, including buffs, debuffs and other status changes, is shown in a comprehensive matter.
  • The default frames are large and bulky.
Raid frames addons have the ability to:
  • assign abilities to mouse clicks and modifier buttons, plus mouse clicks that can be used quickly on a target
  • be extremely customizable; show certain buffs and debuffs, ranges of raid members, and other status updates
  • be movable and scalable, fitting any user interface
  • set main and off tanks in separate windows for easier healing
Examples of raid frame addons:
  • Grid
  • Vuhdo (healing-centric, but useful for any character)
  • Healbot
  • Most Unit frame addons have a raid frame component as well.
Cast bar

The cast bar might seem like a simple user interface element, but there are consequences to using a non-addon-enhanced cast bar. Cast bar addons have a unique ability to show an estimated latency bar, allowing you to begin casting a spell before the first one finishes to alert the game that you with to cast the next spell. Because of latency between your client and Blizzard's servers, ample time is lost if you do not have an estimated latency time to begin casting your next spell.

Why would someone want to change the cast bar?
  • Blizzard's cast bar is light in features and plain-looking.
  • Default bars have no ability to show estimated latency for maximum casts.
  • Defaults are stationary and only sizable with UI scale.
Cast bar addons have the ability to:
  • show you estimated latency amounts so you can press the next button without waiting extra time
  • be totally movable and customizable -- colors, sizes, "mirror" bars, enemy cast bars and textures for the bar
  • much more! I swear!
Examples of cast bar addons:Bags and inventory

Your inventory and bags are crucial to the game, as the items you collect, the equipment you loot and the quest items you must use are all stored in your bags. Having easy access to your inventory and quick access to lots of different items is rough with the default system.

Why would someone want to change the bags/inventory display?
  • Default bags are just that: plain and default.
  • The default offers no ability to sort items by name, rarity, slot, etc.
  • It's difficult to search through bags for one specific item, especially when your bags are full or crowded.
Bag/inventory addons have the ability to:
  • sometimes add a search bar to text search for items in your inventory
  • sort your items based on rarity, name, slot, weapon or armor, and more
  • offer a better bag interface, allowing you to create "virtual" bags that hold the items you want to view or create just one big bag that allows you better functionality
Examples of bag/inventory addons:
  • Bagnon
  • Arkinventory
  • Combuctor
Check out Addon Spotlight: Battle of the Bags for more information on bag mods.

Next week, in part three of Addons 101, we will discuss mission-critical addons and other mods that do not really fit into categories above. These addons, instead, create new user interface elements that add to the gameplay experience. 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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