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About a compound capability

Vasyl MartyniukUsers, Roles & CapabilitiesAbout 2 min

If you've ever ventured into the depths of WordPress administration, you've likely come across the term "capabilities." In the WordPress context, capabilities are often described as permissions or access rights that determine what a user or role can do within the system. This definition implies a straightforward relationship: if a user possesses a certain capability, they should have permission to perform the corresponding task. However, this assumption doesn't always hold true and these type of exceptions we call as "compound capabilities."

Deceptive simplicity of capabilities

At first glance, WordPress capabilities seem simple and intuitive. For instance, a capability remove_user might lead you to believe that a user with this capability can remove other users from the system. Similarly, the manage_links capability might suggest that it grants the ability to manage links on a WordPress site. However, the reality is not always as clear-cut as it appears.

Enter the map_meta_capopen in new window function, a core component of WordPress with an interesting twist. This function adds a layer of complexity to capabilities by introducing conditional requirements. In other words, certain capabilities, often those that seem self-explanatory, may have hidden prerequisites that users must meet to effectively use them.

The hidden complexity

Capabilities that require additional conditions or prerequisites we call as "compound capabilities." These elusive functionalities don't adhere to the straightforward logic of permission assignment that you might expect. Instead, they demand specific circumstances or configurations to be fully functional.

For example, let's revisit the remove_user capability. While its name suggests it grants the power to remove users, it's not that simple. On a multi-site network, a user with the remove_user capability can only remove other users if they have super admin privileges. This adds a layer of complexity to what initially seemed like a straightforward capability.

Similarly, the manage_links capability, which appears to offer control over links on a WordPress site, comes with a caveat. It can only be utilized if the link_manager_enabled WordPress core option is enabled. Otherwise, it remains dormant, leaving users wondering why their seemingly relevant capability isn't working as expected.

The quest for understanding

So, how can you identify these enigmatic compound capabilities within WordPress? Unfortunately, there is no easy way to spot them at a glance. In many cases, you'll need to dive deep into the source code or consult documentation to unravel the mystery behind a capability's behavior.

However, fear not! While WordPress capabilities may sometimes resemble a labyrinth, there are resources available to help you navigate this intricate landscape. If you find yourself grappling with capabilities and yearning for clarity, consider contacting us. We can provide valuable insights, answer your questions, and guide you through the nuances of WordPress capabilities.


WordPress capabilities, often perceived as simple permissions, can harbor hidden complexities, giving rise to compound capabilities that require specific conditions to function as expected. Understanding these nuances is crucial for effective WordPress administration. While the path to comprehension may be convoluted, our experts assistance is readily available to illuminate the way. Don't hesitate to seek guidance with us when navigating the intricacies of WordPress capabilities.