Why I’m Not Keen on WordPress Theme Frameworks

WordPress theme frameworks are a relatively new thing. In fact they seem to kick off when WordPress introduced the use of child themes back when WordPress 2.7. was released. However they have really caught on over the last couple of years, with many different frameworks now available for use. Here I want to talk about how theme frameworks are built to be used and my thoughts on their success.

As mentioned most theme frameworks rely on the parent and child themes process. You create a child theme based on the parents theme framework and therefore when the framework is update you changes are not lost. Most of the frameworks that I have seen out their including one I have used extensively, Thematic are essentially a parent theme. That is they are a WordPress theme that you add to your wp-content/themes/ folder. You then build a theme using this parent theme framework as your parent theme. This means you have access to all the frameworks functions and code.

So that all sounds great, but why therefore am I not that keen on using theme frameworks. Well I think it comes down to the fact that I believe that theme frameworks at the moment are going about this the wrong way. They way they are at the moment is more restrictive when they are supposed to add functionality rather than preventing theme authors from doing things in certain ways.

I created a number of child themes for a client recently using the Thematic theme framework. The idea of these child themes was that the parent theme (the framework) could be updated and this would not affect the child themes display at all. However in order to get the design and functionality elements that I wanted I ended up with child theme functions.php files that we a couple of 100kb each and about 5 or 6 theme template files that would overwrite the template files in the parent framework theme. Surely this cannot be right as child themes are supposed to be lightweight and really on contain a styles.css file and a functions.php file so that all the bulk is used from the parent theme.

To me a better way of doing things would be to make it so that the framework was not a theme at all. In fact is was simple a folder that could be added to your own parent theme and then activated with a line of code (like a PHP include) in your themes functions.php file. This seems to be the approach that themify.me have taken with their theme framework which works well.

I realise that this may well cause a great deal of debate. Maybe I am doing something wrong with the use of parent theme based frameworks. I would love to hear peoples thoughts on this.