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There are five types of extensions available for a Joomla! Website.
A template is a collection of at least two files consisting primarily of a main PHP script and a cascading style sheet (CSS). The PHP script defines the layout of the site that can vary depending on what is selected from the site's menus. PHP is interlaced with HTML in this file. The HTML provides the raw elements that define what goes where and the PHP defines the logic that can make the content different based on the menu item selected as well as invoking core Joomla! methods to insert articles, modules, and other content within the HTML elements. The CSS file defines text and background colors, graphics, and other attributes of the various elements that can appear on a page. The CSS file gives the site a consistent look and behavior.
A module is the simplest type of extension. It provides a specific type of information that can be inserted into your site template and appear on your pages wherever your template supports inserting content. Modules can be instantiated as often as necessary. Each instance can be placed at a specific position on the page as defined in the template. Positions are defined in the site template's XML file and allow modules to appear only when certain menu items are selected. Some example modules are login, online users, visit counter and Newsflash.
There are four types of plug-ins.
A search plug-in can extend the site search capability to include content in non-native components.
An editor plug-in can completely define or extend an existing content text editor. (For example, JCE.)
A component is the most elaborate and complex type of Joomla! extension. It can have both a front end (user) and back end (admin) interface. Components can have one or more ways to have features inserted as items in site menus, and the admin interface can be as elaborate as the author chooses. Some examples include photo galleries, discussion forums and guest books.
A language is a collection of one or more files that define elements of a specific language that your extension supports.
All Joomla! extensions include source code files and an XML file at a minimum. For all extension types, the XML file acts as an installation script. For some extension types, it also provides a specification for the administrator interface.
The admin interface for modules and plug-ins is completely coded in XML. There is no dynamic element to it and no real way to customize the look and feel of the parameter input part. That part is handled by the Joomla! core. The XML file also describes the extension (name, date, version, description and so on) and how it should be installed.
This is in contrast to the admin interface for a component, whose XML file is used only for installation and to define the component's administrator menu. A component is typically coded entirely in PHP and HTML by its author. There are distinct parts to a component and they are divided between the user and admin interfaces. The admin portion includes a menu, action handler, and visual components which can include forms and other input elements. The user portion has no menu component, but is otherwise very similar to the admin portion.