WordPress Frameworks & Child Themes
By Brad Stitgen
A common way for professional web designers and developers to build fully custom websites is to use a WordPress framework along with a custom child theme. In this blog post, I’ll explain what each of these is and why this combination is so popular.
First, What is a WordPress Framework?
A WordPress framework is a special type of WordPress theme. Frameworks differ from the thousands (and thousands) of ready-made stand-alone website themes in two major ways…
First, frameworks are not intended to be used by themselves. This is also why they are often referred to as a “parent theme”. This is in stark contrast to traditional standalone themes in which the theme will likely look like the final product. Frameworks rely on a second theme, known as a child theme, to ultimately determine what your website will look like.
To sum it up, traditional (stand-alone) themes are more limited in their feature-set and the final look and feel of the websites is dictated by the theme. On the other hand, websites built using the framework and child theme combination split this functionality into 2 separate themes. The framework provides the added functionality to WordPress and the child theme provides the custom look and feel for the website. As you’ll soon see, there are some very compelling reasons for doing this.
Secondly, the purpose of a framework is to perform as a platform. Hence the name, framework. A traditional website theme will have a predefined look and feel. It may be customizable within certain parameters, but there are limits. A framework, other the other hand, does not have the limitations of a simple standalone WordPress theme since the look and feel is determined by the child theme, not the framework.
The Benefits of Using a Framework.
Frameworks have been popular for the past 10+ years for good reason. The following list shows some of the benefits of using a framework.
- Frameworks can speed up the website process of website construction.
- Frameworks promote consistency. Since the child themes are dependent on a single parent framework, the same coding practices tend to be used across all of a particular developer’s websites. This in turn, typically leads to shorter development times and fewer development errors.
- Frameworks such as Genesis, with their large user community make finding answers to questions much easier then if the site was not built on a common platform.
- For popular frameworks, plug-ins are typically available that add even more custom features to the framework.
- Because website theme changes are made to the child theme, never to the framework, they are easily upgradable. You might want to think of the relationship between individual programs and the operating system such as Windows or iOS. Microsoft and Apple are constantly upgrading and providing security fixes to their software. Yet, after the upgrade your programs, which depend on the operating system to run, still work.
The Drawbacks of Using a Framework.
Like most things in life, along with the good, there is always the less than ideal. Fortunately, the list isn’t too long. There really are only two items that come to mind.
First, there is a bit of a learning curve to using a framework. Fortunately, for the website owner, the learning curve is for the website designer/developer, not the person managing or updating the content on the website.
Secondly, many WordPress frameworks are known as “premium” frameworks. In WordPress lingo, premium means commercial… IE The software must be purchased. Fortunately, Genesis is relatively inexpensive with the developer license selling for just $60. Other frameworks cost vary depending on the vendor. When choosing a framework it’s important to determine if you can live with the cost before investing the time and effort required to use the software.
Frameworks are positive evolution in the way websites are built. For the website owner, they result in websites that are easier to maintain, more secure due to the upgradability of the framework, and contain built-in features such as SEO optimization. For website designers and developers, frameworks can speed up website development, reduce errors and bugs, and promote consistency in website production.