Your Indispensable Guide to WordPress Theme Frameworks

As a WordPress developer, you’re always looking for ways to speed up your development workflow while making sure you don’t compromise on quality. And one way to make sure you’re delivering your best work is by using a theme framework.

WordPress theme frameworks give you the core feature set you need to build powerful, functional websites and the freedom to design it however you see fit without risking losing modifications every time the theme updates.

In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about WordPress theme frameworks from what they are to the advantages and disadvantages of using them to build websites. We’ll also establish an evaluation criteria to help you determine which theme framework is right for you.

Let’s get right to it!

What Are WordPress Theme Frameworks?

WordPress theme frameworks are advanced themes (and in some cases, plugins) that give users the power to customize its appearance and extend its functionality. They act as central hubs (similar to parent themes) where the theme’s functionality is stored and make it easy for developers to create, design, and customize child themes without risking losing modifications.

According to the WordPress Codex: [theme frameworks] are a set of functions/features created to aid development.

You can think of them as code libraries that contain the theme’s functionality and can be customized and extended using child themes. While some WordPress theme frameworks come with child themes right out of the box, you can always create your own from scratch.

That said, theme frameworks aren’t always created to be used as parent themes. Some WordPress theme frameworks are simply advanced, standalone themes that you can use without a child theme. And others are packaged as plugins that house the functionality a parent theme normally would and are paired with compatible themes that add styling.

What this means is that the flexibility and functionality that you’ll get depends largely on the theme framework you’re using. Theme frameworks designed to be used by non-developers will almost always have options screens or Customizer compatibility whereas others designed for programmers might be a little more complex to use.

Pros and Cons of Using WordPress Theme Frameworks

While WordPress theme frameworks can help you a great deal with website development, they might not be the right choice for everyone. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons that come with using a theme framework.

Pros

Here are some of the major benefits of using frameworks:

  • Robustness and flexibility. With a framework, you can always rest assured that it complies with the WordPress coding standards and is compatible with well-coded plugins. In addition to this, a premium framework is likely to have all kinds of built-in features that will not only save you from having to research and install plugins but make it easier to deliver last-minute project requirements.
  • Support and community. Customer support is almost always tied in with premium frameworks to make sure you get the best user experience. And if you’re going with a free framework then you can most certainly expect a large community of users eager to help you out on forums in case you have any questions.
  • Ease of development. Theme frameworks are great for web developers who intend on using them to build client websites. On top of that, frameworks come with powerful core functionality which speeds up development time.

Cons

And, of course, there are some serious disadvantages, too:

  • Steep learning curve. Since most well-coded theme frameworks use their own action hooks and filters, you’ll have to get to grips with its specific coding structure to be able to use it to its full potential.
  • Restrictions and limitations. With a single theme framework – no matter how complex and feature-rich it is – it’s nearly impossible to implement everything. If you have to build bespoke WordPress websites then you might find yourself having to override the framework’s core files.
  • Hefty costs. Most of the high-quality theme frameworks in the WordPress space aren’t free; you’ll either have to pay a one-time fee or a recurring fee for its license. And aside from that, some developers may even charge you a premium for continued updates and support.

How to Find the Theme Framework That’s Right for You

There are a number of free and premium WordPress theme frameworks out there – each a little different in its own way. So, how do you decide which theme framework is right for you?

Here are some of the key factors that you should consider before settling on a framework:

Criterion #1: Cost

The first thing you need to take into account is your budget. Buying a framework or subscribing to one makes sense if you’re going to be developing multiple client websites and can somehow recover the costs. On the other hand, if you simply want to experiment with frameworks or use one to build your personal website then you’re better off starting out with a free theme framework.

In addition to the monetary costs, you’ll also have to invest some time into learning how to use it. Once you’ve got the hang of it, it could potentially speed up development time.

Criterion #2: Coding Skills

As a non-developer, you’ll want to look for frameworks that come with intuitive dashboards and customization option interfaces. Going with a more complex framework could lead you to dead ends and you may very well find yourself hiring a developer to write custom code for your websites.

But if you’re a WordPress developer then you could certainly make do with a more powerful theme framework that lets you customize its built-in functionality and even add your own through custom code.

Criterion #3: Extendability

Opting for a framework that is flexible and robust enough to be extended via its API is a good idea for developers who’ll most likely be building many different types of websites. Even if you’re not particularly technically inclined, it’s better to go with an extendable theme framework since you can always hire a developer to write custom code for you.

Criterion #4: Support

If you haven’t worked with a theme framework before you might want to start out with one that comes with support from the developers or, at the very least, has a large community behind it. Forking out a few extra bucks to get premium support will certainly be worth your while if you’re building client websites and may require urgent support.

Which Theme Framework Is Right for You?

With that out of the way, we’ve rounded up some of the best free and premium WordPress theme frameworks based on different use case scenarios:

StudioPress’ Genesis is an incredibly powerful theme framework that’s ideal for both developers and non-developers. It can easily be extended via its API and is an excellent choice for users who can invest some time into learning it.

Those of you who want a framework that features a drag and drop interface should give DIYthemes’ Thesis 2.0 a shot. It also packs boxes and site tools which are designed to help you add functionality to your website by simply pointing and clicking.

If you want to start off with a free framework then CherryFramework is definitely worth trying out. It features a modular structure and is fully open-source. Best of all, you get access to a wide range of child themes and powerful customization options.

Conclusion

WordPress theme frameworks give you a huge step up in getting started with your site’s development. They’re great for developers who like to follow the industry’s best practices and maintain well-coded, organized themes for their own sites and client sites without having to rewrite code every time.

Let’s quickly go over some questions you should ask yourself when looking for a WordPress theme framework:

  1. Are you in the market for a free framework or a premium one? Can you pass along the framework’s expenses to your clients or will you have to absorb the costs?
  2. Do your coding skills match your framework’s complexity? Would you be better off with a framework that has an intuitive user interface?
  3. Will you need to add custom functionality to your theme framework?
  4. Does the framework come with support from the developers? Is there an active community backing it up?

Are you thinking about switching over to a WordPress theme framework? Which features do you look for in a premium framework? Sound off in the comments below!

A professional writer, digital, and brand designer, Rafay's work is published across a number of high-authority sites and magazines. He has provided services to numerous brands across the globe and is the go-to solution provider to many reputable private and government organizations. He is also the co-founder of BloggInc. When he isn't overloaded with work, you can find him tending the farm with his wife, furniture hunting, and being awesome at in-door badminton. More articles by Rafay Ansari
  • Texx Smith

    I like theme frameworks. But one of the very real cons of every theme framework is lower speed, higher download time and more client side processing. I list three and say one because they are all caused by the same thing: JS support for every feature the theme has.

    This can’t be eliminated (without removing features from framework), only partially mitigated, but in my experience it often isn’t even mitigated.

    • Hi Texx, thank you for sharing your experience!
      While what you are saying is true, I feel that it’s more of a requirement and cost thing. By this I don’t just mean “but that’s what my client wants and they are only willing to pay in peanuts and want it done in two days” scenarios. I know of a few web development agencies in my circle who have shifted to theme frameworks for their portfolio. Their portfolios consist of a few pages so the slow down doesn’t effect them that much and they can manage to revamp their whole site with just one of their guys working on it in under a week so it saves them effort (and thus money too).

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