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Back in the day when WordPress was brand new, there were a lot of problems with theme development and maintenance. WordPress theme frameworks changed that forever.
WordPress theme frameworks provide webmasters with the basic functionality of a theme and gives them the flexibility to design the theme’s appearance however they see fit. Best of all, since the underlying functionality is a framework, webmasters no longer have to update the theme’s core files manually and keep track of the customizations they make.
In this article, we’ll explore the basics of theme frameworks and discuss the benefits and drawbacks of using them for developing WordPress sites. We’ll wrap up with a review of some of the best WordPress theme frameworks and the features they offer.
What Are Theme Frameworks?
A WordPress theme framework is nothing more than an advanced theme with additional features that enable web developers to enhance its functionality and customize it.
Frameworks are for theme developers. They offer a set of standards for theme developers to use in creating their own themes. They’re a set of functions/features created to aid development. – WordPress Codex
When you use a theme framework to build a WordPress site, you’re going to have to create a child theme to use with it. In this way, theme frameworks function similar to parent themes. It’s entirely up to you whether you decide to buy the child theme or build it yourself.
Basically, theme frameworks store the functionality and base code of a WordPress theme and allow web developers to add custom styling to it using a child theme. In most cases, a single WordPress theme framework can power thousands of WordPress websites.
WordPress theme frameworks are often also thought of as massive code libraries that are used to develop themes without recreating the wheel. The frameworks hold the basic functionality of the theme and you’re free to design the appearance of the theme however you’d like.
Customizing Sites With Theme Frameworks
A WordPress website running a theme framework is much easier to customize than a site without one. The different customization options that theme frameworks feature to developers and webmasters include:
- Widgets: Developers can customize the widget areas on the pages and different template files.
- Dashboard: The theme options available enable webmasters to customize the appearance of their site without having to code. This includes customizing everything from the layout of the page to the design elements it holds and the content that’s displayed on it.
- Template files: Theme frameworks often comprise of several template files that developers are able to customize to fit their design requirements.
- APIs: Theme functions and hooks make theme development and maintenance infinitely easier. Theme frameworks leverage the powerful functionality APIs offer and enable webmasters to tweak them if needed.
- Extensions: Some theme frameworks come with a range of plugins right out of the box and integrate seamlessly with the framework itself. Web developers have access to customize the plugin files to personalize them for their WordPress sites.
These are the most common customization available with theme frameworks. The theme options available to you depend entirely on the theme framework you choose to work with. Depending upon your technical expertise and ability to code (or lack thereof), you can pick a theme framework that can be customized by simply clicking buttons here and there or one that allows for more fine customization through coding efforts.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Using WordPress Theme Frameworks
Now that you have a pretty good understanding of what WordPress theme frameworks are, let’s evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using them on WordPress sites. We’ll start with the pros.
There are numerous advantages to using a theme framework (or any sort of framework for that matter). Most importantly, it saves you the trouble of having to reinvent the wheel each time you need to create a theme for your WordPress site. If you’ve been a web developer for some time now or have used WordPress for a while, you might have noticed that the underlying functionality of some themes is basically the same. Why code it all over again every time?
If you’re a web developer who plans to use a theme framework for all of your client’s sites then it’s a pretty good idea to invest your time and effort in learning a robust WordPress theme framework. The advantage here is that larger theme frameworks tend to be more powerful and flexible as compared to simple parent themes. If you understand the structure it’s built on, the theme framework will become easier for you to extend upon.
On the other hand, if you’re a webmaster who expects to develop one or two of your own websites then it’s probably better to employ a parent theme to get the job done. Though theme frameworks are easy to work with, they do come with a learning curve which we’ll talk more about in the next section.
Theme frameworks ensure that you’re working with standardized code that is compatible with and adheres to the best practices set by WordPress. This proves to be infinitely advantageous when you have to install reputable plugins and extensions – a well-written plugin works seamlessly on a well-written theme!
It’s generally a good idea to use a popular theme framework that is backed by positive user reviews and ratings. There’s no way of making sure a theme framework is absolutely perfect for your site’s needs prior to testing it out. The best you can do is ask around the community and talk to people who may have a site similar to the one you’re developing.
Robustness and Flexibility
If you’ve been a web developer for some time, there’s one thing you are 100% certain about: your clients don’t know what they want.
To conquer the struggle that indubitably comes with working on projects with clients who keep changing the requirements or will, later on, expect you to add a module that wasn’t discussed earlier, web developers need to be prepared ahead of time. And what better way to get ready for unpredictable future development than using a super-flexible framework that’ll help you cope with any builds that come your way.
WordPress theme frameworks offer all kinds of flexibility – theme options, customizations, function extensibility, and design alterations. Whether or not you think you’ll be using certain features at this point, it’s always best to go with a more flexible theme framework.
Support and Community
Premium WordPress themes come with a ton of support from the developers so it’s no surprise that theme frameworks also offer the same to webmasters. For most of the well-known theme frameworks, you get support from the developers for a limited period of time which can be extended later on for a fee.
One of the best things about using a popular theme framework is that many others like you have also used it or are currently using it. The WordPress community is extremely friendly and when you have a ton of people using the same theme framework, it’s easy to ask for help from web developers on forums and receive invaluable support if you run into problems.
We’ve covered some of the advantages of using WordPress theme frameworks and they’re all pretty compelling, to say the least. Let’s take a quick gander at the disadvantages of using them.
There’s a pretty steep learning curve associated with WordPress theme frameworks. It’s easier to figure out your way around a WordPress theme than a WordPress theme framework. For starters, theme frameworks are much larger than themes and comprise of many different files – template files, hooks, APIs, etc.
Another important thing to note is that no two theme frameworks are the same. You can’t learn everything there is to know about Genesis and expect Thesis to be similar. That said, once you do come to grips with a WordPress theme framework, you’ll have the power to modify and extend it however you’d like.
Although there are some free theme frameworks, most of the widely used ones are premium. Some of the premium theme frameworks have a one-time cost associated with them while others are based on a subscription model which means that you have to pay a fixed amount every year to use the framework.
Aside from the cost of the actual theme framework license, you’ll also need to pay for updates and support. Updates are immensely important because you want to make sure your site is free of bugs at all times and you want to minimize any potential security threats. When it comes to theme framework support, paying a fee to avail the service is a good idea especially if you’re not particularly technically savvy and don’t want to access the forums every time you struggle with something.
We’ve covered the cost associated with WordPress theme frameworks and developer dependency goes hand in hand with that when you’re in search of a framework to get. Since theme frameworks are pretty huge and there’s quite a learning curve associated with them, it’s fair to assume that once you select the one you’ll be using it for a few years at least.
One thing you should understand right off the bat is that a lot can happen in a few years in the world of WordPress theme framework development and maintenance – bugs are identified and fixed, security vulnerabilities are minimized, the code is updated to reflect best coding practices and whatnot. This is why it’s best to go for a premium theme that is up-to-date, releases updates, and comes with support from the developers. Once you go for a WordPress theme framework, you’ll be depending on its developers for as long as the site’s you develop use their framework.
In case a client’s website faces security threats because the theme framework wasn’t updated, you’ll have to re-do it using another theme framework. We don’t want that, now do we?
Best WordPress Theme Frameworks
By now we’ve covered what WordPress theme frameworks are and the pros and cons of using them for the development of WordPress sites. In this section, we’ll review some of the most popular theme frameworks and highlight the standout features they offer web developers and webmasters.
One of the most popular WordPress theme framework offerings is StudioPress’ Genesis Framework. This premium theme is search engine optimized and enhances your site’s visibility on search engines with support for Scheme.org code. Genesis is built using HTML5 which makes for an incredibly responsive, turnkey design solution for a true state-of-the-art website.
One of the greatest things about this framework is that it offers unlimited updates, unlimited support, and unlimited websites! For a one-time payment of $59.95, the Genesis Framework offers great value for money and unparalleled features making it a popular choice for professional web developers and newbies alike.
Thesis is in a league of its own when it comes to WordPress theme frameworks. The premium framework powers overs 57,000 sites and the numbers keep growing! According to the developers:
For the first time, you can control every last detail of your site and design with three revolutionary features you won’t find in any other WordPress theme: Boxes, Skins, and Site Tools.
Thesis paves the way to a code-less theme development era in which webmasters won’t necessarily have to get their hands messy with code for managing their site’s design and creating custom templates. The framework uses terminology that WordPress users might find a little difficult to get used to but aside from that, Thesis has some pretty great features in store when it comes to customizations and ease of use.
Thematic is a free, open-source WordPress theme framework that’s ideal for webmasters who want the leverage theme frameworks without having to reach for their wallets and for those of you who want to dip their toes in the theme framework waters before diving in for a premium offering.
With Thematic, you get 13 widget-ready areas and a fully search engine optimized framework that can be used just the way it is or extended to support custom functionality. This framework also comes with a pre-built child theme right out of the box to allow rapid development.
For more WordPress theme frameworks, be sure to check out our post on 16+ Best WordPress Theme Frameworks.
Wrapping It Up
WordPress theme frameworks can save you a ton of time, effort, and money if you’re a web developer who has some clients lined up. They liberate you from having to reinvent the wheel each time you’re developing a theme for a WordPress site. However, if you’re a webmaster with one or two websites, theme frameworks may not be the best choice because of the high costs and steep learning curve associated with them.
Have you used a WordPress theme framework for developing client websites? We’d love to hear about your experience so let us know in the comments section below!
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