Recently, one of our users asked us the question what is a WordPress theme framework? Before answering her question we did a quick search, and the results were surprising. There was not a single comprehensive article that explained what is a WordPress theme framework. Majority of the articles were sites listing the top free WordPress theme frameworks or WordPress theme frameworks compared etc. Then there were some theme framework websites ranking among the top. In this article, we will do our best to answer questions like what is a WordPress theme framework, what type of theme frameworks exist, why do people use WordPress theme frameworks, advantages and disadvantages of using a theme framework, should you use a theme framework, and lastly what is our pick for the best WordPress theme framework.
What is a WordPress Theme Framework?
The term WordPress theme framework often refers to a code library that is used to facilitate development of a theme. In the old days of WordPress, there were some crucial problems with the way how themes were developed and maintained. There was no good way of upgrading WordPress themes without losing all the custom styling options. There was no way to prevent copying and pasting of the same functionality code in all themes. While these two issues might not seem like a problem to an average user, these can be disastrous for a few reasons. What if you realized that the same code that you had been using in all of your themes had a security exploit. Even more important, what if this theme was something that you publicly released for others to download and customize. Yes, that’s chaos waiting to happen. The core team and community decided to fix the issues mentioned above by introducing the concept of Parent Theme and Child Theme.
WordPress theme frameworks are intended to be used as a parent theme template where all the functionality resides. Developers can then create a child theme to add custom styling while leaving the functionality aspects of it to the framework. This allows for a centralized location where all the functions are hosted. If the core development team decide to deprecate a WordPress function, or there is a bug found in a specific theme framework, then it is extremely easy to push out an update without modifying anything the child theme has. This method allows you to keep the “framework” of your site strong without modifying how it looks.
What type of Theme Frameworks exist?
Well there are Free one and paid ones… Ok seriously, there are a few type of frameworks that exist. There are complete drag & drop frameworks like Headway Themes that empower users to create everything visually without any knowledge of code. Then there are pseduo-drag drop frameworks like Pagelines and Thesis. These frameworks allow users to drag and drop pre-define sections (similar to how WordPress widgets work). Obviously anyone can define custom sections using the available hooks and filters offered by the frameworks. Then there are theme frameworks that are full of options. Themify and most others fall in this category. Lastly, there are the theme frameworks that are built for developers to get a head start without the clutter and bloat like Genesis by StudioPress.
Why do people use WordPress theme frameworks?
The main reason is to speed up their development. Theme frameworks drastically reduce the development time. The development time is improved because all theme frameworks offer a great deal of functionality and customization options, so the user does not have to code everything themselves. These features can range anywhere from (drag-drop functionality, sliders, SEO widgets, and more). Instead of creating a theme from scratch and modifying all the files, creating a child theme can be as simple as creating a new style.css file and customize a few functions using the functions.php file.
What are the advantages and disadvantages?
Like with most things, there are advantages and disadvantages to using a WordPress theme framework. Let’s take a look at both.
- Community – Most popular theme frameworks have a huge community behind it. This makes it much easier to get your support questions answered.
- Ease of development – As we mentioned previously that using a theme framework can drastically reduce the development time and make things easier over the long run.
- Built-in functionality – Theme frameworks comes with built-in widgets, and additional functionality.
- Code Quality – Often theme frameworks are peer reviewed, so it is much more likely to follow all best practices.
- Upgrades – The ability to upgrade without losing any styling functionality of child themes is a great plus.
- Learning Curve – Most frameworks have their own hooks and filters. To utilize the full power of the framework, you must familiarize yourself of the framework specific lingo. So your first few child themes might take you longer just because you are learning things.
- Unnecessary Code – Frameworks come with tons of built-in functionality which you may not use. This is not such a huge deal because it doesn’t directly influence you.
- Framework Limitations – Often frameworks have limitations. Sometimes to achieve super customizations, you might have to override core files or submit a patch to be included in the future updates.
- Price – Most theme frameworks are not free. There is either a one time fee or an annual fee to receive updates and support.
Should You Use a Theme Framework?
Even though there is a learning curve, and they cost a little bit of extra money, in our opinion you should use a theme framework. Overtime, they speed up development time. It allows you to follow industry standards. Last but not least, you get great support from the developing team as well as others who are part of the community.
There are tons WordPress theme frameworks that are available. WPBeginner is powered by Genesis framework by StudioPress. You can read more about why we use Genesis. It is a great framework for development. It is not bloated like others with tons of options. You get just what you need. It plays nice with most other plugins that exist. Yes, you do need to have development skills to code a child theme for this.
For beginners, you should consider using a framework like Headway Themes. They have a drag-drop interface that lets you create websites using a visual interface.
We hope that this article helps you understand what is a WordPress Theme Framework, and if you should use it or not. If you think we missed something, then please let us know in the comments. If you are using a framework on your site, then let us know in the comments which one. Why do you prefer to use the framework that you do. Looking forward to hearing your responses.