Programmatically add a Navigation menu in WordPress

Programmatically add a Navigation menu in WordPress

If you’ve ever used WordPress to build a website, you know how crucial navigation menus are. They serve as the roadmap for your visitors, guiding them through your content. While creating menus manually through the WordPress dashboard is straightforward, there are times when you might want more control or automation. That’s where programmatically creating menus in WordPress comes into play.

In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through the process of Programmatically add a Navigation menu and menu items in WordPress. Whether you’re a developer looking to streamline your workflow or a website owner seeking more customization options, this article has you covered. We’ll use simple language, provide step-by-step instructions, and sprinkle in anecdotes to make this journey enjoyable and educational.

Why Programmatic Menus?

Before we dive into the how, let’s briefly explore why you might want to create menus programmatically in WordPress.

Imagine you’re managing a large e-commerce website with hundreds of products, each belonging to multiple categories. Manually updating your navigation menu every time a new product or category is added can be a daunting task. By using programmatic menus, you can automate this process, saving time and reducing the chances of errors.

Additionally, if you’re developing a custom theme or plugin for WordPress, you may need to create menus as part of your project. Knowing how to do this programmatically will give you greater flexibility and control over the user experience.

Getting Started

1. Understand the Basics

Before you can dive into programmatically creating menus, you need to understand some fundamental concepts in WordPress.

Menus in WordPress are a collection of links (menu items) organized hierarchically. You can have multiple menus, but most themes typically have a primary menu that appears in the header and a secondary menu in the footer.

Themes define menu locations where menus can be displayed. Common locations include the primary menu, secondary menu, and sidebar menu. You can create and assign menus to these locations programmatically.

2. Set Up Your Development Environment

To begin creating menus programmatically, you’ll need a development environment with WordPress installed. If you’re not familiar with this process, there are many tutorials online that can guide you through it. Once you have WordPress up and running, you can start working on your programmable menus.

Creating Menus Programmatically

Now that you’re well-prepared, let’s dive into the steps for creating menus programmatically in WordPress.

3. Create a Child Theme (Optional)

Before you start coding, it’s a good practice to create a child theme if you’re not working on a custom theme already. This ensures that your changes won’t be overwritten when you update your parent theme.

4. Open Your Theme’s functions.php File

To begin with, you’ll need to open the functions.php file of your theme. This file contains all the functions and hooks that control how your theme works.

5. Define Your Menu

To programmatically create a menu, you’ll use WordPress functions and hooks. Here’s a basic example of how you can define a menu:

// Define a new menu
function create_custom_menu() {
    register_nav_menu('custom-menu', __('Custom Menu'));

// Hook into the 'init' action
add_action('init', 'create_custom_menu');

In this code, we’re using the register_nav_menu function to create a new menu location named ‘custom-menu’. The add_action function then hooks into the ‘init’ action, ensuring that our menu is registered when WordPress initializes.

6. Add Menu Items

Now that you have a menu location, you need to add menu items to it. Menu items are typically links to pages, custom post types, categories, or custom URLs. Here’s how you can add a menu item:

// Add a menu item to our custom menu
function add_menu_items() {
    wp_update_nav_menu_item(0, 0, [
        'menu-item-title' => 'Home',
        'menu-item-url' => home_url('/'),
        'menu-item-status' => 'publish',

In this example, we’re using the wp_update_nav_menu_item function to add a menu item with the title “Home” and a link to the home page.

7. Assign the Menu to a Location

After adding menu items, you need to assign the menu to a specific location. You can do this using the wp_nav_menu function in your theme’s template files.

For example, to display the ‘custom-menu’ in your header, you can add this code to your header.php file:

    'theme_location' => 'custom-menu',
    'menu_id' => 'custom-menu-id',

8. Customize and Style Your Menu

Now that you have your menu in place, you can further customize it to match your site’s design. You can add CSS classes, change the layout, or modify the styling as needed.

Going Beyond the Basics

What we’ve covered so far is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to programmatically creating menus in WordPress. There are advanced techniques you can explore, such as dynamically generating menu items based on content or user roles.

9. Dynamically Generate Menu Items

Imagine you have a blog with multiple categories, and you want each category to have its own menu item. You can dynamically generate these menu items using a function like this:

// Dynamically generate category menu items
function dynamic_category_menu() {
    $categories = get_categories();

    foreach ($categories as $category) {
        wp_update_nav_menu_item(0, 0, [
            'menu-item-title' => $category->name,
            'menu-item-object' => 'category',
            'menu-item-object-id' => $category->term_id,
            'menu-item-status' => 'publish',
            'menu-item-type' => 'taxonomy',

This code fetches all your categories and creates a menu item for each one.

10. Use Conditional Logic

You can also use conditional logic to show different menus to different users. For example, you might want to show a different menu to logged-in users than to guests. Here’s how you can do it:

// Conditional menu based on user role
function conditional_user_menu() {
    if (is_user_logged_in()) {
        $user = wp_get_current_user();
        if (in_array('subscriber', $user->roles)) {
            // Show a different menu for subscribers
                'theme_location' => 'subscriber-menu',
                'menu_id' => 'subscriber-menu-id',
        } else {
            // Show a default menu for other logged-in users
                'theme_location' => 'custom-menu',
                'menu_id' => 'custom-menu-id',
    } else {
        // Show a menu for guests
            'theme_location' => 'guest-menu',
            'menu_id' => 'guest-menu-id',

In this example, we’re using conditional statements to display different menus based on the user’s role and login status.

Learn more about creating WordPress navigation menu using code.

If you’re having difficulty in Programmatically adding a Navigation menu in WordPress, you can learn about creating menu tutorial from wordpress and submenu with functionality to open link in new tab that will enhance user experience and increase engagement to your site.
For troubleshooting WordPress menu related issues, check this tutorial.


Congratulations! You’ve now learned how to programmatically create menus in WordPress. Whether you’re building a custom theme, managing a content-rich website, or looking to automate your menu creation process, this knowledge will serve you well.

To recap, we’ve covered the basics of WordPress menus, setting up your development environment, defining menus, adding menu items, assigning menus to locations, customizing your menu, and explored advanced techniques like dynamic menu generation and conditional menus.

Programmatic menus in WordPress offer a world of possibilities. With a little coding and creativity, you can create navigation menus that not only guide your visitors but also enhance their overall experience on your website.

So, go ahead and experiment with programmatic menus in WordPress. Your website’s navigation will never be the same again, and you’ll have more control and flexibility than ever before.

Remember, the key to mastering this skill is practice. The more you work with programmatic menus, the more comfortable and proficient you’ll become. Happy coding!

For more in-depth information and resources on WordPress menus, visit the official WordPress Codex.

Now, it’s your turn to unleash the power of programmatic menus on your WordPress website. Enjoy the journey of creating menus that truly reflect your vision and content.

Note: This article provides a detailed guide on programmatically creating menus in WordPress. While it covers the essentials, it’s essential to consult the official WordPress documentation and seek further resources for more advanced techniques and troubleshooting.

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