If you're a WordPress developer and have worked with custom post types and custom fields many times, you surely have heard about Meta Box or Toolset plugins. They're two famous plugins that help developers deal with custom post types and custom fields.
Both plugins target developers and own many tools to help users release the burden of working with custom fields, so they have many features in common. However, there are still some differences between Toolset and Meta Box. To give you the most in-depth and comprehensive view of them, we have analyzed and synthesized their features, advantages, and disadvantages in this comparison.
Meta Box is a WordPress framework to add and manage custom post types, custom fields for WordPress sites. It has the free version on wordpress.org with more than 500.000 active installations and over 20 extensions providing premium features.
Toolset is also a custom fields plugin that focuses on developers and provides a toolkit for users to deal with post types and custom fields. Previously, Toolset has a free version called Types on wordpress.org. However, this version has been removed so now you have to buy it from Toolset website.
1. After buying the Developer Bundle or Lifetime Bundle of Meta Box, you will have Meta Box AIO (All-In-One), an extension of Meta Box that helps you easily manage all extensions on only one page. Remember that you still need to install Meta Box free version.
1. After buying Toolset custom fields plugin, you will see a package with many different components, which can confuse you a bit at first. Each component is a plugin that needs to be downloaded from the website and installed individually. Even the documentation of Toolset is not so helpful in this case as it's not well-written.
Because Toolset custom fields plugin has so many components in a package (more than the number of the main components that are introduced on the Toolset homepage), it may be pretty difficult for you to know the features and functions of each one. Meanwhile, Meta Box plugin has Meta Box AIO to help you control all the extensions more conveniently and easily. Therefore, Meta Box wins in this first round.
2. You will see an introduction page of Meta Box custom fields plugin, which helps you learn about Meta Box's features and how to get started, once installing the free version.
If you install the free core Meta Box plugin only, there will be no settings page. That's the special way of Meta Box to target developers. Why? Because the Meta Box core version serves as a library where you can configure it through the code snippets that you add in your themes or plugins. Besides, this method can boost your website performance, flexibility, and make it easy to bundle into other plugins.
And when you have Meta Box AIO extension, you will see a menu as below:
This menu has everything that Meta Box plugin support like custom fields, custom taxonomies, custom post types, ...
2. Once you finish installing Toolset custom fields plugin, you will find the menu on the left where you can deal with post types, taxonomies, fields, and views.
Both Toolset and Meta Box custom fields plugin provide UI for almost every feature like post types, custom fields, views. However, the user experience of these plugins is not the same.
1. In Meta Box custom fields plugin, the section for creating and managing custom post types, custom taxonomies has a really good and intuitive interface. Because the Meta Box team puts high concentration on UI and UX, the manipulation in Meta Box plugin is very smooth. Besides, the native interface (quite similar to the WordPress interface) is another advantage of Meta Box. Therefore, it's very user-friendly and easy to use.
This is the section for custom fields:
And this is the section for editing template (through MB Views):
1. The custom post types and custom taxonomies sections of Toolset is quite native (somewhat similar to the interface of the Meta Box old version).
But the section to manage custom fields of Toolset has a quite monotonic interface with a lot of pop-ups, giving a sense of "inconvenience". Also, the options for each field type are not really sufficient.
2. Meta Box custom fields plugin hasn't had UI for forms (submit posts and create user profiles on the front end) and relationships yet. The team is developing a UI for relationships and settings pages. Let's wait!
2. Toolset has UI for forms (submit posts and create user profiles on the front end) and relationships.
The interface for the form building of Toolset is different from other parts of the plugin. Although there is the set-up wizard, setting up a form is a bit complicated and not really user-friendly.
Both custom fields plugins support the UI for the major features quite well. However, regarding the user experience and aesthetic, Meta Box has done better.
Toolset and Meta Box support these objects:
- Post (including posts, pages, attachments, and all post types);
- Taxonomy terms;
- Front-end forms.
Meta Box allows you to:
- Create custom fields for comments;
- Create settings pages;
- Create Gutenberg blocks.
Toolset doesn't allow you to:
- Create custom fields for comments;
- Create settings pages;
- Create Gutenberg blocks. But don't misunderstand it with Toolset Blocks - the plugin to create templates/views in the block editor (you can't create custom Gutenberg block with PHP like MB Blocks).
Toolset and Meta Box both support cloneable/repeatable features for fields and field groups as well as support creating a repeatable group containing subfields.
1. Meta Box supports a large number of field types: 40+ field types.
1. The number of supported field types in Toolset is quite small: 20 field types.
2. There are field types that are supported in Meta Box while Toolset doesn't support:
- Image/File/Video (with drag-and-drop interface);
- Image select;
- Button group;
- Custom HTML;
- Open Street Maps;
2. Toolset supports file/image field type and allows you to upload files through Media Library. However, it just displays and saves the values in the form of URL, which corresponds to the file_input field in Meta Box.
This method of saving URLs is quite limited. Therefore, Toolset has to create an extra table in the database to save the ID of these files. but that's quite redundant, making your database bloated unnecessarily.
3. Meta Box supports repeating fields in one group.
3. Toolset doesn't support repeating fields in one group, and you are just able to repeat this whole field.
As for field types, Meta Box has more outstanding features than Toolset.
Both plugins save custom fields in one line in the database. However, there are still some differences.
1. If you use the relationship feature, you will have an additional table to save these relationships. Otherwise, there is no extra table created.
1. Toolset creates up to 4 custom tables in the database to save its settings, including:
wp_toolset_relationshipstable to save the relationships;
wp_toolset_type_setstable to save the type sets;
wp_toolset_post_guid_idto save the ID of the file uploads.
Creating 4 tables like that is unnecessary for your database, especially for the ID of the file uploads (you can read more about it in the Field Types section above).
2. Meta Box doesn't add any prefix to the key of fields when saving custom fields in the database.
2. Toolset add the
wpcf- prefix to the key of fields when saving custom fields in the database.
Both Toolset and Meta Box have the ability to create front-end forms to let users submit posts and register user accounts.
1. In Meta Box, you can display front-end submission forms by shortcodes.
The options of forms like reCaptcha and ajax submission are created with shortcodes while the form creation is done with a UI thanks to Meta Box Builder.
1. Toolset has a UI for building fields for forms. Besides, it has an additional interface for users to customize the form settings. Although this interface hasn't been perfect - still not really native - it plays an important role in helping users create forms easily.
2. You don't have an email section - sending emails after users submitting forms - in Meta Box. Developers can hook into Meta Box to send emails themselves as they want.
2. You have an email section to send emails after users submitting forms in Toolset.
3. Meta box allows you to create a Dashboard page so that it's easier to manage the published posts.
3. Toolset doesn't allow you to create a Dashboard page to manage the published posts.
User Profile Forms
Similar to the front-end forms feature, both plugins support creating forms for user profiles on the front end.
Toolset has the form builder and settings customization via UI.
Meta Box allows building fields for forms using Meta Box Builder and provides all the features for creating login forms, register forms, and customizing profiles. On the other hand, Toolset provides profile registration and customization only.
Moreover, Meta Box includes the password reset section that Toolset doesn't have.
Two plugins have this feature to show/hide a field or group field based on the value of another field. Conditional logic of Toolset and Meta Box work quite similarly to each other, but still, there is something that makes the differences.
2. Meta Bos has many conditional logic to display forms in
- Page templates only
- Posts in some specific categories
- Users with specific roles.
2. Toolset doesn't have conditional logic to display forms in:
- Page templates only
- Posts in some specific categories
- Users with specific roles.
3. Meta Box has more conditional logics than Toolset. For example, Meta Box has:
3. Toolset doesn't have
Creating relationships between objects is available in both Toolset and Meta Box.
They all allow you to create different kinds of relationships like one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-many.
1. With Meta Box, you can create relationships between posts, between terms and users.
1. In Toolset, you just can create relationships between posts while the relationship support between terms and users isn't available. That's one of the weaknesses of this plugin.
2. Meta Box doesn't have a UI for this section and the Meta Box team is building this feature.
3. Meta Box supports reciprocal relationships.
3. Toolset doesn't support reciprocal relationships.
4. Meta Box doesn't support creating fields for relationships.
4. Toolset supports creating fields for relationships.
Both custom field plugins use custom tables to store relationship data. So both have good performance.
However, Toolset uses too many tables (4 in comparison with 1 custom table from Meta Box) so it may make your data bloat.
This is an interesting feature that is available in Meta Box while Toolset doesn't have it.
With the custom table, you can create tables to save the value of custom fields. As a result, your data is optimized when the number of data increases. Plus, it helps your website have better performance.
Meta Box supports this feature for every object (posts, terms, users) and every other feature (group, clone, ...).
Next, we will review the most powerful feature of both plugins: Views.
1. Meta Box focuses on developers so it provides a template builder (MB Views) to help them customize templates, including HTML/CSS/JS - but you have to use code.
Plus, inserting custom fields into the template is very convenient.
1. Previously, Toolset has WP-Views plugin to create templates on the front end. However, because the interface is not user-friendly and easy to use, they have developed an alternative called Toolset Blocks plugin. This plugin helps users to build the front-end interface with block editors (Gutenberg).
2. Meta Box hasn't had a live preview for this feature.
2. Toolset has a live preview for this feature.
3. With Meta Box, if you want to create a search and filter on the front end, you need the help of a plugin like FacetWP (Meta Box has a free extension to support FacetWP).
3. Toolset allows you to create queries very intuitively, including the search and filter section.
4. Meta Box has the ability to help users create templates for single post pages, archive pages, or for some specific pages (with a lot of conditions to set up the template's location). Regarding this feature, Meta Box is more flexible than Toolset.
4. Toolset custom field plugin can help users create templates of archive pages and single post pages of post types.
Toolset seems to have more features than Meta Box, but Meta Box is much more flexible and has better performance.
Besides, Meta Box plugin has proxy, which allows running all the WordPress and PHP functions.
Meta Box and Toolset plugin have totally two different approaches to Gutenberg blocks. One is for creating custom Gutenberg blocks (Meta Box) and one is for getting and showing data from custom fields in Gutenberg blocks (Toolset).
Meta Box allows you to create custom blocks for Gutenberg through its API. Thanks to that, it's so easy to create blocks for Gutenberg without spending days and nights learning React, Webpack, or any tool if you already have good knowledge about PHP.
Meta Box helps users create custom Gutenberg blocks with any number and any type of field. And remember that they’re not custom fields for posts, but for only specific blocks. That brings a great benefit: you can insert as many blocks with different content (in fields) as you want into one or many posts easily.
Now, Toolset plugin doesn't have the feature to create custom blocks for Gutenberg. Again, don't misunderstand it with Toolset Blocks. As we mentioned in the Views section above, the Toolset Blocks plugin is used to create templates on the front end through the block editor, not create custom blocks in Gutenberg.
It serves as a “data connector” between Gutenberg and custom fields, which allows blocks of Toolset (Toolset actually creates some custom blocks themselves) to get and display data from custom fields.
The functionality of Toolset Blocks acts as the integration between Gutenberg and custom fields (similar to Meta Box and ACF integrate with other page builders).
Also, note that getting & displaying data from custom fields works only with the custom Toolset blocks, not default Gutenberg blocks.
Meta Box and Toolset take different approaches while working with Gutenberg. Meta Box works like a foundation for developers to let them create their own custom blocks, while Toolset works like a data connector between blocks and custom fields.
Almost all popular WordPress page builders plugin like Beaver Builder, Elementor, and Oxygen support Toolset and Meta Box.
Besides, the saving methods of two plugins are compatible with the standard method of WordPress so you are able to get and display custom fields of Toolset and Meta Box easily.
Along with supporting WordPress custom fields, Meta Box has two free extensions that help you integrate with Beaver Themer and Elementor better. Meanwhile, Toolset and page builder integration is not really good.
However, the support of page builders for groups and repeaters is not good - in both Toolset and Meta Box. So, you need to create views to display groups and repeaters and insert their shortcodes to page builders.
This feature is available in Toolset while Meta Box doesn't have it yet.
This feature in Toolset allows you to manage the capabilities of each user like adding, deleting, editing post types, accessing pages on the front end, or managing front-end forms. With Access management, you don't need any plugin to control roles and capabilities like Members.
In Meta Box, you have to use a plugin for access management like Members - which officially supports Meta Box.
Maps is a feature that gives you the capability to edit listing posts on a map. That's a useful feature with a listing page and it's available in Toolset. In Meta Box, you have to do it yourself by following this tutorial.
1. Meta Box supports users to follow the changes of custom fields through revisions.
1. Toolset doesn't support revisions.
2. Meta Box supports getting and updating data through REST API.
2. Toolset doesn’t support to take and update data through REST API.
3. Meta Box supports displaying fields in admin tables in the Dashboard.
3. Toolset doesn't support displaying fields in the admin table in the Dashboard.
4. Meta Box can shorten the input time for Geolocation fields thanks to Google API.
4. Toolset doesn't have the feature to shorten the input time for Geolocation fields.
Pricing is an important factor that affects the decision of users when buying any plugin.
Instead of buying the whole package, you can buy Meta Box extensions individually. Besides, there are three bundles:
- $99/year: 12 essential extensions for unlimited sites;
- $199/year: all extension for unlimited sites;
- $499/lifetime: all extensions for unlimited sites for lifetime.
You can't buy Toolset extension individually like Meta Box. But there are also three bundles:
- Presentation: $69/year for one website and have all extensions;
- Interactive: $149/year for three websites and have all extensions;
- Agency: $299/year for unlimited websites and have all extensions.
If you compare the full options packages of two plugins (Developer Bundle of Meta Box vs Interactive of Toolset), you will find that Meta Box is better because it supports unlimited sites.
Moreover, Meta Box has Lifetime bundle - a kind of license that lets you "buy one time and use for the whole life" that Toolset doesn't have.
Meta Box's documentation is understandable and easy for users to search for the instructions. There is also a blog written by the Meta Box team where you can read many useful tutorials and case studies.
The Toolset's documentation has a pretty complicated structure. But Toolset also published some case studies, including video tutorials for you to set up certain kinds of specific sites (like Meta Box's case studies).
Choosing a suitable plugin for post types and custom fields is one of the essential tasks for WordPress developers. If you can find the right one they will be your excellent companion helping your business more thriving. Toolset and Meta Box have different approaches but they all have the potential to become your mate in this field.
They have some similar features, but in general, Meta Box has more features and an easy-to-use interface than Toolset. Meta Box price is more flexible and affordable, particularly the lifetime bundle is a good deal for you to save your money.
Quick Comparison Table
|Creating Post Types & Taxonomies|
|User Profile Forms|
|Page Builder Support|
|Docs & Support|
If you want to read the comparison between Meta Box and ACF custom field plugins, then read this post.