Stories about Software


Adding a Menu Placeholder in WordPress


In a bit of a reversal, I’m going to cut right to the chase and post my solution, followed by the back-story for those interested. I’m posting it right at the top because this would have saved me an hour or so had I stumbled across it last night, and I’m hoping it helps someone else later. So, without further to-do (points to anyone who can name the movie reference), here’s how to create a placeholder menu item in WordPress, without using the control panel’s menus (i.e. just the default menuing used by your theme).

The basic idea is that I wanted a menu at the top that had sub-menus, but without the menu item itself being clickable. The default in my theme (as well as twentyten and twentyeleven) is to have pages with no parent as menu-items and pages assigned a parent as sub-menu items. This is perfect, except for the fact that every menu item is a page, meaning that adding a page as the placeholder menu item forces me to add a navigable, empty page, which is kind of low rent from a design/UX perspective.

Here’s my solution to the problem. I created a file called “gohome.php” and added it to my theme folder. The file’s contents are simply:

Now, with this added, when I create or edit a page from the built in wordpress menu, I see the following options for template:

So, the interesting thing here is that wordpress picks up a page theme from a file by parsing its content for the commented line. I pieced this together from some blog and forum posts that I read (described in more detail below) and learned only through trial and error/deduction that WordPress picks up the fact that this is a page theme from the comment containing “Template Name” and the display name.

All this actually does is redirect the user to the home page if he or she happens to click on the menu item. It is perhaps not the most elegant possible solution (I would say that it would be more elegant to have the link not clickable in the first place), but it’s better than directing people to an empty, useless page and I like it better than another solution I found which was redirecting them to the first child. If clicking the menu item was a miss-click when going for first child this makes sense, but if not, I think this would be confusing.

Another alternative that I put into place was goback.php:

This uses javascript to effectively redirect the user to the last page he or she was on, instead of home. The “php code” here feels kind of weird, since the PHP serves only to house the necessary comment, but it works. I have both page themes in my arsenal now so that I can adopt whatever implementation I see fit. I’m leaning toward the “Go Back” theme since that seems a little closer to the actual desired effect – I’d rather the user click result in nothing than the user click result in going home (which will be jarring if not initiated from home page) or, worse, going to an empty page.

This is ultimately a hack. After all, I’m still actually creating a wordpress page and all that goes with it just to get the menu item. However, the page is empty and it does nothing but route the user elsewhere. This is the magic behind the hack.

So, use in good health – I hope someone finds this helpful. It’s not the most elegant solution in the world, but it’s one that clearly works within the confines of WordPress and doesn’t require modification beyond adding things to the theme. I prefer adding to the theme rather than modifying it, and I prefer either of those to modifying WordPress source, and this requires only adding to the theme. Furthermore, it doesn’t require using the WordPress menu structure, the motivation for which I’ll cover below.

My Quest For Sanity

Up until recently, I’ve had no need for a menu item place holder, as the only menu/sub-menu situation I had was one where clicking on the main menu item made sense. However, I’m in the process of prototyping a new menu layout for daedtech locally and the need to have a simple place holder came up. So, the first thing I did was follow the built-in menu-by-page paradigm, and that left me with the empty page. I looked in the wordpress control panel for a way to make the page non-navigable but this functionality is (understandably) not supported. I then tried making the page private, but I tried this half-heartedly, figuring it wouldn’t work. It didn’t.

So, I alighted to google to see what I could find. The first thing of note I found was in a lot of places, such as here, here, and here. WordPress has a built-in, customizable menu functionality. Great – problem solved!

Not So Fast

I could see how most people had solved this problem, and I followed suit. I diligently created a menu from the control panel using the pages that had previously been auto-menued by the theme. This took a while, and the API was intuitive if a little slow and cumbersome, but I finally had my menu structure in place. I saved it and viewed it on the actual site and saw that I had made a few mistakes. So, I went back in and modified a couple of things and saved again… only to get an error 500. I reloaded the page and tried again. 500. I closed my browser and tried again. 500. I restarted apache and tried again. 500. I tried other browsers. Yup, you guessed it… 500. Apparently, the menu structure save operation was passing too many post variables or some such thing.

Alright, time to take a break. I went and got some water and then decided to go back to google again. I read a few pages like this one and saw that the WordPress menu feature works great until you have about 24 menu items. Then glitchiness starts. As you increase it, the glitchiness becomes more apparent until, at 70 or so, there is nothing but glitchiness. I was closer to 24 than 70, but this apparent complete lack of scalability did not bode well for my future plans.

The general consensus in defenders of what was going on seemed to be “why would you want more than 20 menu items?” I view this kind of response as a non-starter and, in fact, a conversation ender, so I decided that if this was the prevailing attitude, I’d chalk the menu system up as worthless and seek another solution. I have to say that (1) I use WordPress and for free (2) the people from WordPress that I saw commenting on it did explain that this was an ongoing technical challenge that they plan to address in future releases. So, I’m not complaining at all – just a dispassionate assessment of the situation.

Back to the Drawing Board

At this point, I figured I’d exhausted my options for using the WordPress GUI and I started looking at plugins. These are so numerous and searching for them can be sort of exhausting, so I gave up on that. After a fruitless half hour or so of poking around, I stumbled on this blog post, by Bruce Header. He had borrowed a solution from here and linked to it.

Now, I was really onto something! This wasn’t really the behavior that I wanted, but it gave me two important pieces of information: this is how the page templates get incorporated and it’s possible to use your themed page to do a redirect. So, from there, I mustered my own solution of redirecting to home out of my limited knowledge of the WordPress codebase. Then, I created the place holder page as an empty page and set it to this new “Go Home” theme. I was finally in business.


After I got this setup, I realized while using it that the redirect to home was great if you started at home, but seemed a little weird if you hadn’t started at home. So, I debated how I’d want to handle this and concluded that a conceptual refresh (i.e. redirecting to the previous page) would be best, or at least desirable enough that I ought to include a template for that as well. From there, the javascript was really trivial. So, leaving the page empty and using the “Go Back” template creates a situation where the user navigates from X to Y, and Y simply deposits them right back at X. Short of eliminating all clickability, this is probably the best solution.

In the interest of non-clickability, this is the most promising thing I’ve found so far. However, it appears only to be for making the menu items non-clickable if you use the WordPress custom menu scheme and set the placeholder links to “#”. This isn’t actually possible when using pages, so the solution would require some modification here. I have no doubt that this is doable, but I don’t know if this rates high enough on my list at the moment to go poking through the theme and WordPress PHP until I can figure out how to do this. If I have some downtime, it might be interesting, and I’ll make another post about it if I do.

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Erica Mueller
12 years ago

Just wanted to say thanks for linking to my tutorial. I guess I didn’t cover creating a static top-level nav item that doesn’t link anywhere! If you’re using the custom menus you’d just link to https://daedtech.com/# and give it whatever name you wanted so you didn’t have to create a page!