Over the last few years, WordPress theme frameworks have gained tremendous popularity among both end-users and developers.
They make it possible for users to create a unique and flexible site with absolutely no coding experience. But on the other hand, they also provide developers the simplest, quickest and most efficient way to build custom WordPress themes.
For any reason if you’re not satisfied with your current WordPress theme framework and planning to build your own custom framework, then you’ve come to the right place. This must-read guide takes a glimpse at key considerations that you as a developer should take into account when writing your own theme framework.
The first and foremost thing you need to determine is the context in which your framework will be used.
Before going to write any code for your framework you must have a clear idea of who your target audience is. Figure out whether your theme framework is just for your personal use or for others. If it is for others, then who will use it – developers or non-technical users?
Remember, the way your framework will be used has a great impact on what features and functionality you include in it.
The Parent and Child Themes
The parent theme is one of the key components of a theme framework which can be designed in one of two ways: as a stand-alone base/starter theme or as a “drop-in” code library that only works in conjunction with child themes.
The way you adopt totally depends on your framework requirements; however, I recommend you create at least one starter child theme. This will not only help you avoid a lot of code repetition work but also give you the ability to develop custom themes fast.
Later you might consider creating multiple child themes in accordance with different types of projects.
WordPress Coding Standards
Whether you’re developing a theme, plug-in, framework, or any other thing in WordPress, make it a habit to follow WordPress Coding Standards. This is crucial to avoid common coding errors, improve code readability, and simplify further modifications.
If you don’t do so then no one will be able to understand and edit your code.
Besides, if you’ve planned to submit your framework as a theme to WordPress theme directory, you must meet all of the theme review guidelines. Keep in mind that even the world’s most beautiful framework can’t impress developers unless the code is well-structured and thoroughly commented.
Action and Filter Hooks
Hooks allow your framework to hook into when adding any custom code or changing the way how a particular theme or plug-in behaves. There are two kinds of hooks in WordPress: Actions and Filters.
Where Action hooks let you add your own code to template files without creating any duplicate files, filter hooks allow you to change the output by your template files.
So when developing your theme framework take some time to decide which content you want to include in it via hooks and what content you’ll code directly in your template files.
Your framework may also include a range of custom functions, some of which will hook into your already defined Action and Filter hooks while others will be used by child themes via functions.php file to override the inherited characteristics from its parent theme.
You can add any custom functions which you think are useful to your framework. Doing so will save you from writing a lot of duplicate code in future.
By making use of add_action() function in your child theme, you can activate your favorite functions from the parent theme at any time.
If a particular script will be used by multiple sites or if you want to empower your non-technical users with some extra options, you may consider integrating certain scripts such as jQuery slider or light box with your theme framework.
This way you(and your users) will not be required to install extra plug-ins for desired functionality.
However, including scripts in your framework will add a huge amount of unnecessary code to it. To avoid code bloat, I suggest you to develop separate plug-ins for these scripts and use them only when required.
Theme Options Page
The theme options screen which is an integral part of any complex WordPress theme proves to be extremely useful when you’re developing your framework for non-technical users.
It not only allows users to activate or deactivate scripts included in the framework, but also enables them to make various theme customizations like adjusting font size, adding custom fields, altering theme colors, etc.
For many of your options, you may give users access to the theme customizer through which they will be able to see their changes in the live mode. In my opinion, including both customizer and theme options screen in your framework would be much better.
Menus and Widgetization
Before you start coding decide how many menu areas you want to include in your framework. If your framework is for non-technical users then I recommend adding more than one area for menus so that visitors can easily navigate the site.
Also depending on your audience, consider adding a range of widget areas to your framework.
However if your framework is just for you or for a small team of developers, you may skip adding any widget areas. But in case of non-coders, it’s quite crucial to include multiple widget areas in various sections of your framework to provide users a lot more flexibility.
Flexibility and Extendibility
Would the framework you’re developing be able to stand the test of time? Would it be compatible with future releases of WordPress? Would it meet all your needs for future builds?
Ask yourself such questions to make your framework as robust and future-proof as possible.
Instead of limiting yourself to theme options screens, tap into the API so that you or your users could easily extend the framework for a range of sites in future. Keep in mind, a good framework is the one that gives you wings – flexibility and extendibility – to fly.
Documentation and Support
Extensive documentation and consistent support must not be overlooked at any cost. Where detailed documentation helps you keep track of each and every element in your framework, high-quality support provide answers to users’ questions.
Apart from the standard documentation I highly recommend you create some tutorials and videos to help users get start with the framework fast.
For better support you can create a discussion forum or a website with documentation.
Hopefully these tips will help you master WordPress and create functional, extensible, and well-designed frameworks for all audiences.