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Hooks are shortcuts that allow you to “hang” your own code on the original functionality of WordPress or any theme or plugin. Hooks come in two forms, filters and actions.

A hook can be as simple as a filter like the_content() or more complex like the action get_layers_theme_mod()

For a detailed overview of the WordPress API and all available filters and actions (aka “hooks”), see http://codex.wordpress.org/Plugin_API