Have you ever developed a theme from scratch?
Well if you have, you know how much time and skill it takes, and what a hassle it can be to get everything just right. You must enter line after line of specific code to meet the required functionality and design needs of your theme. You also run the risk of security exploits, missing out on crucial updates, or just making coding errors that can wreak havoc on your theme’s overall functionality.
Luckily for developers (and non-developers too!) WordPress frameworks exist to help streamline the theme development process so that your website is safe from security breaches, you lessen the risk of losing all of your custom design changes, and your website functions as it should to all of your loyal visitors.
Today we will look at what exactly a WordPress framework is, the pros and cons behind using one for your website, and some popular WordPress frameworks to get you started should you be interested in giving one a try.
What is a WordPress Framework?
In order to understand a WordPress framework, try thinking of your website’s theme as two separate components that will ultimately work together as one:
- WordPress Framework. The first part of your website’s theme is the foundation, or framework, of your theme. It holds the code to all of your website’s core functionality and allows your website to work properly. It can be thought of as a well-coded, advanced parent theme.
- WordPress Child Theme. The second part of your website’s theme is the child theme you create to complement the framework. While a child theme is not necessary when using a normal WordPress theme, a child theme is required for customizing a framework.
In short, frameworks lay the groundwork for your theme so that you can focus on designing your one-of-a-kind website rather than programming a functioning one.
If even this sounds too confusing to you, I will leave you with this one takeaway point: frameworks handle function, child themes handle design.
Pros of Using a WordPress Framework
Although the WordPress Codex notes that WordPress frameworks are for theme developers, and trust me they are, this is not to say an average WordPress user cannot make good use of one as well to create a stellar website. In fact, there are many reasons why using a WordPress framework is a good idea regardless of your theme development experience.
Faster Creation Time
Since frameworks come pre-developed and loaded with functionality, anyone creating a customized website, whether a theme developer or not, will have an easier time doing so because there will be no need to code the essentials required for a working website.
Rather than coding a theme from scratch, all you need to do to make a unique website is create a child theme, add a new style.css file, and possibly make a few changes to the functions.php file.
Better Support and Community Involvement
Usually, WordPress frameworks have a huge community backing them whereas standalone themes are often designed by individuals or small groups of designers. This is a bonus for you should you have any issues when working with one because access to quality support will be readily available. Better yet, many frameworks, including free ones, have lifetime support so you know your questions can always be addressed by someone dedicated to helping.
Increased Page Loading Speeds
Since frameworks are the just the bare-bones that are necessary for running a functioning WordPress website, they are usually not loaded with excessive graphics or bloated with excessive code. This, along with the fact that they are developed by WordPress developers with high standards and a respect for strict coding standards, means your theme will load quicker than most standalone themes.
Since WordPress frameworks rely on child themes, your design choices are very extendable. If you choose the right framework for your needs and get to know the framework inside and out, you will be able to customize a standout website different from anyone else’s regardless of whether they use the same framework as you. Plus, a lot of frameworks offer child themes templates to complement your framework from the get-go making website design even easier.
In addition, most frameworks come with lifetime updates so your theme is always up to par with zero risk of losing your custom changes due to the safety net you call your child theme.
Cons of Using a WordPress Framework
Though often up for debate amongst even the best WordPress theme developers, WordPress frameworks do come with a number of perceived disadvantages.
Steep Learning Curve
Even those familiar with theme development must adjust to each WordPress framework individually as they are each coded differently and have their own set of function, hooks, and filters. Because of this, it may take some time and a couple of child theme creations to get your website just like you want it. Frameworks also come loaded with built-in functionalities you may not be familiar with using which can prove frustrating.
The good thing is however, once you master a specific WordPress framework you will be a theme developing pro!
I know, I mentioned above that one of the advantages of using a framework is the flexibility in design that is offered. However, everything has its limits, and frameworks are no exception.
Though there might be tons of built-in functionality for you to utilize, there is always the chance that you want your website to perform in a way the framework is not coded to. Unless you know how to override the core code of the framework to make that function exist, it is safe to say you are out of luck. That is why diligence in choosing the right framework for your needs is so important.
Ahhh yes, most WordPress frameworks do cost a sizeable chunk of change. Though there are some free WordPress frameworks available, the truth is most cost money that come in the form of a large one-time payment or a recurring annual fee (to keep things such as regular updates and support). Understanding this upfront will save you a lot of sticker shock should you find the perfect framework (and possible premium child theme template) and realize it costs a lot to have.
Popular WordPress Frameworks
Thinking of giving a WordPress framework a try? Check out these popular ones and see if any of them suit your website design needs.
As one of the most popular WordPress frameworks to date, Genesis offers both advanced developers and novice website users a chance to create something special. Quickly start building the site of your dreams using this lean, secure, SEO friendly, and highly customizable framework. With an affordable one-time purchase fee, unlimited updates/support/site use, and plenty of tutorials to help you along the way, this framework is in the running for the number one spot.
This easy to use WordPress framework has everything you need to create a unique website, without all the cost. Boasting unlimited sidebars, mega menu ability, advanced SEO options, and custom widgets, it’s no wonder this framework is so popular. In addition, Unyson has awesome built-in extensions expanding your website’s functionality even more including an Events Extension complete with Google Maps and the Feedback option for website visitors to submit reviews and ratings.
Recommended by the WordPress Codex itself, WP Canvas is a clean and modern “starter theme”. Some may argue that it is not technically a framework since it is not designed to be used as parent theme; however I believe it is a good comparison for those just starting out in theme development.
This theme gives website creators the option to download any number of Google fonts and even allows for custom web fonts to be added. Install automatic updates, integrate with WooCommerce, upload videos, and change your layout to match the look and feel of your website using this faux framework and get a firsthand feel for web development in the easiest of ways.
These are just a few of the most popular, and least expensive, framework options out there right now. There are plenty of other options available that offer great features and may be more suited for your website’s needs such as Thesis, Headway, Gantry, and the free Cherry framework. Some are more geared towards designers rather than developers. Some offer better support while others are more lightweight and SEO friendly. It is best you do you research and find which framework will work best for what your desired results.
Whether you choose to use a WordPress framework is entirely up to you. There really is no right or wrong answer. As we saw above, even experienced theme developers have their differing opinions on using frameworks in both their professional and personal lives. However, if you are looking to spruce things up and try a little bit of theme development for a change, and are looking to create a really unique website that will stand out in the sea of competition, I recommend trying a framework and seeing how it works for you. You never know, you may just fall in love.
Have you ever used a WordPress framework? Which one have you tried and what did you like or dislike most about it? I would love to hear all about it in the comments below!