What's a block?
In Pages, a block is simply a section of reusable content. These can come from the applications in your community, be custom ones based on other built-in blocks, or be entirely custom.
If you're comfortable with code, custom blocks allow you to achieve some complex results since the full range of IPS4 template logic is available to them. If you aren't comfortable with code, you can still create blocks based on built-in blocks using a simple wizard.
Blocks can be inserted into your own custom pages, but also into any page generated by IPS4 (if the sidebar appears on the page, this can be done with drag and drop from the sidebar manager, or you can manually show the block by including its tag in IPS4's templates).
What can blocks be used for?
There's a huge range of uses for blocks. Custom blocks based on built-in blocks are a great way of highlighting worthwhile content in your community. For example, you could create a block showing a feed of the most popular topics in a particular forum you specify, and use the block to cross-promote that forum in related areas of your community.
Blocks are primarily managed in the AdminCP by going to Pages -> Blocks. Blocks can be organized into categories, although this has no impact on users - it's simply for ease of management via the AdminCP.
Blocks are created from the same screen. When you click the Create New Block, you're prompted to choose between Plugin and Custom.
A plugin block is one based on an existing data source from the IPS Community Suite, such as members, forum topics, upcoming calendar events and so forth. Although the data source provides the data, the block configuration you set up allows you to define filters to customize what subset of the data is shown. For example, you could create a feed of topics, from a particular forum, with more than 10 replies. Plugin blocks use a default template, but you can choose to override or customize this template with another.
A custom block can be created using a rich text editor, HTML (including IPS4's template logic), or pure PHP.
On pages built using the Page Builder, blocks can be dragged and dropped into position by using the sidebar manager (the available areas on the page to receive the block will depend on the layout you chose when the page was created).
On pages built using custom HTML (or if you want to insert the block in an IPS4 template), a special tag is used to insert the block:
Custom blocks can optionally be cached, meaning the resources required to render the block are reduced. If your block is dynamic in any way (such as rendering differently based on the user viewing it, or the page it is being shown on), you should ensure that caching is not used.
For plugin-based blocks, IPS4 handles the caching behind the scenes for you.