WPLake > Blog > ACF, MetaBox and Pods: An Independent In-Depth Review

ACF, MetaBox and Pods: An Independent In-Depth Review

Time to read: 8 mins

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ACF Meta Box Opinions Plugins Pods

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Updated 09.02.24

ACF, MetaBox, and Pods are the best plugins for managing meta fields and Custom Post Types (CPTs). In this comparison, you'll learn their differences.

Table of Contents

Whether you're in search of a meta fields plugin or already using one and looking for better alternatives, this article will guide you through of the three most popular and widely recognized plugins for managing CPTs and meta fields.

Note: "ACF" is a commonly used abbreviation for the Advanced Custom Fields plugin. To ensure clarity, we will use "ACF" as the name in the table comparisons.

If you've come across any of the plugin names mentioned above, you probably already know that these plugins not only allow you to add custom fields to your pages, posts, and CPTs but also provide user-friendly interfaces for creating Custom Post Types and Taxonomies. Additionally, they offer features called custom option pages and custom Gutenberg blocks.

We have selected these top three plugins and will compare all the key aspects so that you can choose the one that best suits your needs.

Tip: This comparison focuses on a table-based analysis of the top three plugins for meta fields. For a more detailed one-to-one comparison, please refer to the ACF vs MetaBox article.

1. Maintainers and business models

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Let's begin by exploring the maintainers and business models behind these plugins to help you gain a better understanding of them as products.

PluginYear of creationCurrent maintainerBusiness model
ACF2011Delicious Brains agency
(now they're part of WPEngine)
Free Basic plugin.
Paid Pro plugin.
MetaBox2010eLightUp agencyFree plugin.
Paid add-ons.
Pods2008Team of the contributors and communityFree plugin
(all the features are built-in)

The primary distinction lies in how ACF and MetaBox handle their Pro features. ACF bundles all Pro features into one product, whereas MetaBox offers them as separate add-ons.

If you only require specific add-ons, you have the option to obtain the product at a lower cost. Additionally, MetaBox provides lifetime licenses, which can be advantageous if you frequently build websites.

On the other hand, Pods is entirely free, with support being sustained through community donations. While there are a few paid integrations available for purchase, they do not introduce new features.

2. Features comparison

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Let's clarify the features we are going to compare:

CPT and Taxonomy management:

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WordPress allows us to create Custom Post Types (CPTs) and Taxonomies out-of-the-box but lacks a UI for this purpose. The plugins we're reviewing provide an intuitive interface for managing CPTs and Taxonomies.

Number of field types

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When discussing meta fields, the variety of available field types is crucial. It enables us to precisely define the appearance, data format, and behavior of fields.

Conditional field logic

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Another vital feature allows us to control the appearance of fields. With this functionality, we can associate field groups with specific pages, such as the home page, rather than applying them globally.

Moreover, it empowers us to manage field visibility within the group itself. For instance, we can incorporate a 'type' selection field and display different sets of fields based on the chosen value in the selection.

Note: Please be aware that here we are referring to conditional field logic for editor screens. It does not affect field appearance on the front end.

Options pages

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Options pages are another valuable feature that enables the creation of custom settings pages. This functionality proves extremely handy when you want to incorporate global site or theme-specific custom settings.

While WordPress allows you to achieve this without plugins, these tools streamline the process by providing a user-friendly UI. You simply specify the page name, create fields, and associate them with the options page. The plugins handle the rest, including page display, rendering, validation, and field saving.

User/Taxonomy meta

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While it's clear that meta vendor plugins allow us to add meta fields to pages, posts, or Custom Post Types, what about other WordPress objects? Often, we need to introduce custom settings to Taxonomies or User profiles. These objects use distinct database tables compared to pages/posts, making the ability to manage meta fields for them a separate feature.

Custom Gutenberg blocks

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This is a game-changing feature. While the Gutenberg editor provides enhanced flexibility, it lacks a proper PHP API for creating blocks with fields. With this functionality, you can effortlessly design your own Gutenberg blocks and utilize a wide array of available field types to configure custom settings for the block. The plugins take care of adding the block and rendering, allowing you to concentrate on the block's visual presentation.

2.1) Comparison table

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PluginCPT and Taxonomy managementNumber of field typesConditional fields logicOptions pagesUser/Taxonomy metaCustom Gutenberg blocks
ACFfree30 free
4 paid
freepaidfreepaid
MetaBoxfree50 free
1 paid
paidpaidpaidpaid
Podsfree20 freefree*freefreefree

*Pods' Conditional Logic feature supports individual fields but does not extend to groups of fields.

Note: Unlike ACF and Pods, MetaBox does not offer a built-in UI for field creation. You can either utilize the free online official field configuration generator or opt to purchase an add-on that provides a UI for field creation.

While it may appear that MetaBox offers a broader range of field types compared to ACF, in practice, the distinction is not as straightforward as it may seem. It actually represents a different approach to field types.

For instance, in ACF, there is one field type for a single Image, whereas MetaBox provides four different field types for a single Image, all of which handle the same data type but offer varying appearances and behaviors for editors. Therefore, when considering the number of unique data types, both plugins are quite similar.

The advantage of MetaBox lies in its ability to offer different field types for the same data type, granting you finer control over the appearance of fields for administrators. However, this can also lead to more decision-making during the field creation process, especially if you are new to MetaBox.

2.2) Repeater field

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Additionally, it's important to highlight the significance of the repeater field type and the repeatable option, as these are essential aspects you will frequently encounter. The repeater field type enables you to include multiple meta fields within a single row or instance, giving editors the ability to replicate this row multiple times.

On the other hand, the repeatable option permits editors to duplicate a single field multiple times. While both features enable field repetition, the repeatable option is restricted to a single field, whereas the repeater field can accommodate any number of fields within each repeated instance.

PluginRepeater fieldRepeatable option
ACFpaid
(in the Pro version)
not available
Meta boxpaid
(as an addon)
free
Podsnot availablefree

ACF and Meta Box offer the repeater field as a paid feature, whereas the repeatable option is available for free in Meta Box and Pods.

2.3) Table storage

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Storing custom data in meta fields is a conventional solution in WordPress. It's straightforward and enables data querying from the same table. However, as with most things in life, nothing is perfect, and if your project heavily relies on meta fields, it can potentially lead to performance issues.

We are not referring here to adding just a few or even ten fields to your page; the difference in performance is hardly noticeable in such cases. We're addressing situations where there are numerous custom fields, including complex types like repeaters. This occurs more frequently than you might think, especially when dealing with Custom Post Types.

The issue stems from the storage type of these meta fields, which are stored in the wp_postmeta table. This table is universal and not specifically designed for your particular set of fields. So, should we avoid using meta fields in data-intensive projects? It would be unfortunate to forgo all the convenience and features that meta fields offer.

Fortunately, there is a solution known as 'table storage.' The core concept behind this feature is to replace the default wp_postmeta storage with custom tables, where each Field group has its dedicated table. There are no changes during the fields creation process or in how they appear to editors; all the magic happens in the background when you hit the save button or load the page.

As you can see, this feature is absolutely vital for websites with extensive data requirements. Let's take a closer look at how different vendors support this feature.

PluginTable storage featurePrice
ACFavailable
(via a third-party add-on)
149$
MetaBoxavailable
(via an official add-on)
49$
Podsavailable
(out-of-the-box)
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3. Pricing

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Pods is entirely free and will not be included in the pricing comparison below.

ACF offers three different yearly license tiers, whereas MetaBox offers six tiers, including a lifetime option. We have compiled a summary of the most commonly used options to facilitate pricing comparison.

Plugin1 year for 1 website1 year for unlimited websitesLifetime
ACF49$
(includes all Pro features)
249$
(includes all Pro features)
not available
MetaBox49$
(includes some add-ons only)
149$ with some add-ons
229$ with all add-ons
299$ for 3 websites
699$ for unlimited

MetaBox proves to be more cost-effective for a one-year license with unlimited website usage, particularly if you do not require all the add-ons. Additionally, the MetaBox lifetime license may be an appealing choice for agencies.

On the other hand, ACF's advantage lies in its default packaging of all the pro features into a single product.

4. Docs, Support and Community

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Here, we will compare items related to 'support.' It's important to note that documentation and a robust community are no less important than personal support. Extensive documentation and a large community can provide a wealth of pre-existing answers to the questions you may encounter.

PluginDocs levelSupport formatNumber of active installations
ACFExtensiveForum for the Basic plugin users.
Personal support for the Pro users
2+ millions
MetaBoxExtensiveForum for the plugin users.
Personal support for the add-ons users
700 000+
PodsPrimaryForum and Github tickets only100 000+

5. Display options

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We've discussed the features of these plugins, and now let's delve into how field values can be displayed on the front end of your website.

Initially, these plugins served as wrappers over WordPress's native meta feature, offering code functions that encapsulated the WP get_post_meta() function. This approach provided full control over the layout but was also time-consuming, demanding manual work.

Over time, alternative methods emerged, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Additionally, with the rise in popularity of page builders, integrations for meta vendors have become more common.

Furthermore, it's worth mentioning Advanced Views, a plugin that introduces Smart Templates, representing a modern and efficient approach to displaying your content, including meta fields.

According to the plugin's documentation, Advanced Views is a versatile and flexible tool that distinguishes itself from drag-and-drop builders. It can be used independently or in conjunction with your preferred framework or builder.

Comparison table

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PluginSupported by Advanced ViewsCode functionShortcodeOther ways
ACFyes
(all the meta field types)
get_field()for single field
(with primitive type)
Page builder integrations
MetaBoxyes
(all the meta field types, excluding 3)
rwmb_get_value()for single fieldMB Views

Page builder integrations
Podsyes
(all the meta field types)
pods()->field()for single and multiple fieldsTemplates

Blocks

Page builder integrations

6. Summary

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All the participants in this article – ACF, MetaBox, and Pods – are well-known with a long history and their unique strengths. Therefore, your choice should be based on which one best aligns with your specific needs.

To draw an analogy, you can think of them in terms of desktop operating systems (OS).

Pods is akin to Linux. It offers all the essential features and is completely free, but it may not be as user-friendly in terms of its UI compared to the others.

MetaBox can be compared to Windows. You get a solid foundation for free, making it developer-friendly and ready for customization, but you need to pay separately for additional features.

ACF resembles MacOS, known for its seamless UI and exceptional UX. However, it lacks a lifetime license and tends to have a higher overall cost than the others. The advantage is that all the Pro features are bundled into a single Pro version for your convenience.

Pods

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Pods is an excellent choice if you're working on a small "web-presence" website that requires a few scattered meta fields. Pods offers free meta fields for everyone and intends to continue doing so in the future.

Since Pods relies solely on community donations for support, it may not offer the same seamless UI as ACF. However, the fields' appearance for editors is still of high quality. If budget constraints are a consideration in your project, Pods is worth considering.

MetaBox

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MetaBox is a strong choice for developers who are comfortable working with code and appreciate the availability of extensive APIs and numerous setting options. With over 50 field types, you can precisely define how fields appear and behave for editors.

Being a commercial product, MetaBox provides comprehensive documentation. However, you should be aware that you'll need to pay for extra features and personal support. For instance, if you prefer a UI for field creation (which is understandable given the number of field arguments), you'll either need to use the official online configurator or purchase an add-on.

ACF

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Advanced Custom Fields offers an appealing middle ground and is a solid choice if a seamless UI and exceptional UX are important to you. It is also well-suited for various commercial development projects where having dependable personal support is a priority. ACF boasts extensive documentation and the largest community among its competitors.

Superior UI and UX become especially crucial when dealing with tech-savvy clients who want the flexibility to customize their website down the line. In this regard, ACF stands out as the best choice, as its seamless UI and large community make it easy for new users to dive into the platform quickly and effortlessly.

Afterwords

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We trust that this article has been helpful to you. Please feel free to share your thoughts or ask any questions in the comments below. Happy development!

About the Author
Maxim Akimov

Certified WordPress expert from Ukraine with over 8 years of experience. Advocate of the BEM methodology and the overall modular approach. Loves sporting activities and enjoys going to the gym and regularly plays table tennis.

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