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I know they both modify your gameplay, but I don't really know the difference and I feel like no one I ask truly knows.

When I talk Minecraft with my friends mod and plugin show up often when I'm building vanilla worlds. Example: "Just install a mod or a plugin"

Well I don't really understand. I have a slight idea of what they do, but I would like to know what they truly do and what the difference is mostly in relation to Minecraft.

  • 1
    The answer is slightly different depending on whether you mean "What's the difference between a mod and a plugin in general" or "What's the difference between a mod and a plugin in the context of minecraft". – Pharap Apr 4 '16 at 22:45
  • Mainly just in general because they apply to all sorts of games. – Jason_ Apr 4 '16 at 22:48
  • Trying to answer this across the entire scope of gaming is far too untenable. If you want to limit it to one specific game, that might be something we can do, but as it stands, we can't answer this in anything approaching completeness. – Frank Apr 16 '16 at 18:54
  • @Frank I added a tag to make it less broad. – Jason_ Apr 16 '16 at 19:12
  • I did answer it generally, Frank. It's really not that tricky to wrap one's head around. That answer doesn't really apply, anymore, though. – The Nate Jul 8 '16 at 20:12
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As you mentioned Minecraft as a prime example of game regarding your question, here is a Minecraft related answer:

Wrapper: Sits between the Java runtime and Minecraft server -- usually provides extra functionality externally (i.e. providing remote management, querying, statistics, and uptime assurance) and work by simply inputting commands to the Minecraft server console and listening to what they return (stdio). They usually do not need updating when Minecraft is updated as they are not dependant Minecraft in any way, but are more limited in what functionality they can provide in game. Multiplay Admin and McAdmin are wrappers.

Mod: Decompiled Minecraft server binary and injected with modified code -- usually internally (i.e. providing extra commands, game play changes, and a plug-in framework). As they have to modify the game code they will almost certainly need updating when Minecraft is updated to be compatible with the core updates, but can offer a much wider range of in game functionality than a wrapper. hMod, CraftBukkit, and Llamacraft are mods.

Plug-in: Dynamically loadable code that sits on top of a plug-in framework to create an unmatched level of extra features with ease. They often don't need updating when Minecraft is updated as they depend on the framework from the mod, and any required update is often trivial work. iConomy, Stargates, WorldEdit, and WorldGuard are plug-ins.

To add and expand to this: In counter strike 1.6 you'd have mods like TFW3 or jail break or zombie mod. AND THEN you can add plugins to these mods, like the long-jump plugin to the zombie, the 2nd items shop to the War3 mod, or the jet-pack etc.

  • Well, in Minecraft, people usually use "Mods" for things that modify clients and servers, while "Plugins" for only server-side things. Problem is that by your definition, Forge mods are also plugins, but common usage will always say that Forge = mods, Bukkit = plugins. Even when Forge mod is strictly server-side, thus working exactly same as plugin. Nobody will say "Forge plugin" :) – Antoine Hejlík Apr 4 '16 at 16:49
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    Funny to mention mods of Counter-Strike as examples since Counter-Strike started life as a mod itself! – Todd Wilcox Apr 4 '16 at 18:25
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    Here's some more confusion for Valve games: The most popular Valve Server Plugin (VSP) for Counter-Strike: Source is MetaMod: Source. So yes, it's a plugin that has "mod" right in the name. And to be more confusing, MM:S itself has plugins, which can have extensions and plugins of their own. – Powerlord Apr 4 '16 at 20:05
  • I'm not sure about minecraft specifics, but it seems strange that plug-in gets "unmatched level of extra features" qualifier when it's the mods that have access to the source code and therefore are able to change and/or add absolutely everything – Deltharis Apr 5 '16 at 14:30
8

This is a bit of a tricky one, because the terms are used interchangeably in the gaming world, and have changed in meaning over the lifetime of gaming.

As you said, they both modify gameplay, but I think the difference between them comes in how they are made and run, and their size/scope:

Plug-ins, as suggested by their name, are things which are plugged in to other bits of software, using an API that the developers of software provide. A (non-gaming) example of this would be the apps available to install in the Chrome browser. The developers of Chrome provide an API for the development of the apps, and anyone can freely create one. Plugins are typically quite small and only modify a limited amount of things.

Mods then typically refer to modifications made for a piece of software without the original developer's permission, and often signify quite an invasive method of changing the gameplay. For example: changing or replacing .dlls or .exes to modifiy or replace source code; or editing 3D models and/or textures. Mods are typically quite big and aim to do a lot of things.

The big problem that muddies the water with these two terms is the fact that now, more and more developers are supporting modification of their game, and typically label it as "This game now supports modding!", when in fact, since they are providing an API, it should probably really be "This game now supports plug-ins!". However, if you said that to the average consumer, they would probably look at you slightly confused. Everyone is much more content with modding, as it has that cooler conotation of hackers, green terminal text and your super-nerd friend who speaks Assembly and can reverse-engineer C++ in 10 minutes.

So to use Minecraft as an example, I would say it only has mods, such as Forge and Bukkit, which are not officially supported by the developers, but then those mods themselves have plugins, as the mods actually provide the APIs that the plugins use, not Minecraft itself.

0

This is confusion of type and subtype:

A "mod" is any change to the basic system, however that's accomplished. Just short for "modification". If it's different, you modified it.

A "plugin is simply a modular change that the developers planned to accommodate without needing to change the existing files. That is, it calls the changes in the plug-in when appropriate and can be removed without changing the system files themselves.

All you need to do to revert the behavior is to remove the plugin.

A "patch" is a direct change to (at least one of, though possibly multiple of) the basic system files. This is what plugins allow you to avoid. To undo these, you need the original data files or run the patching backwards; the latter is normally quite difficult.

There are also real-time mods like trainers which simply alter memory as it's being loaded or after, but that's beyond the scope of my answer.

(Valve labeling a patch a mod is perfectly legitimate since it's both.)

To simplify*:

A computer game is made up of various files. These define the game, from the code that sets the system to the music and graphics.

To alter those files by either replacing them or patching them (patching is altering only part of the data.) allows you to change the game.

A plug-in system allows a third option: Plug-ins let a game load changes from somewhere else without altering the game files at all.

The changes allowed have to be planned* in to be possible. If the programmers didn't think to allow a type of mod through a plug-in, you simply can't* do it.

Any of those changes is a modification of the game: a "mod".

(*generally true)

  • A plugin is most assuredly not a 'change', it's an 'in addition to' the existing code/content. Patches are almost totally irrelevant to the discussion entirely. And it would be nice to at least have some evidence when you start claiming that Valve is labelling patches as mods, even if it's (also) largely irrelivent. – Pharap Apr 4 '16 at 23:00
  • If it didn't change anything, why would you use one, exactly? – The Nate Apr 4 '16 at 23:12
  • A plugin doesn't change any of the existing content, it adds new content. It's a very important distinction because it's one of the things that makes a plugin distinct from a mod. A 'mod' is a 'modification', a 'plugin' is something additional that can be metaphorically 'plugged in' to the existing system. You use a plugin to add new content, not to alter existing content. – Pharap Apr 4 '16 at 23:21
  • Adding or removing content is a change. A plug-in doesn't change any existing data, (the files stored on the host system) but it certainly can change existing content (the experience through the game) or there would be no point. The design of the plug-in system sets what the rules are for what can be changed. I worded it generally because the definition has nothing to do with what content changes. What matters is how that's achieved. – The Nate Apr 4 '16 at 23:43
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    @Pharap Typically, but not always. E.g., Minecraft “mods” that don't use a framework (like Forge) are actually patches. Forge itself is a patch. Any mod that isn't loaded by Minecraft voluntarily is technically a patch, so there are lots of aesthetic and content “mods” that are actually patches. – SevenSidedDie Apr 5 '16 at 1:00

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