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Coding a new theme from scratch is tedious and repetitive. What if you could design a custom site, without re-inventing the wheel? That’s what a theme framework is. Not sure where to start? Here’s a brief introduction and a few recommendations to get you going.

Understanding Theme Frameworks

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You’ve probably heard the term “theme” before. It often refers to the aesthetic design of some entity, whether that’s a website, a forum, an app, an operating system, etc. In most contexts, a theme is completely visual and separate from any internal workings of whatever is being themed. That’s not necessarily true for WordPress.

With WordPress, themes are often intermingled with back-end code to extend functionality and allow for easy customization on a site-by-site basis. Some themes only utilize the base functions provided by WordPress itself. Either way, themes in WordPress are more than simple CSS replacements and template updates.

Furthermore, themes can be organized into Parent-Child relationships. In other words, WordPress allows themes to derive back-end functionality from another theme – the base theme is the Parent and the deriving theme is the Child. This means that any changes to a Parent theme’s functionality are immediately inherited by all Child themes.

And that’s where the theme framework comes in handy.

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A theme framework is basically a parent theme with an awesome set of core functionality that can be inherited to create powerful child themes, relieving you of the burden of reinventing the wheel.

Long story short, theme frameworks speed up site development and you end up with a lot of cool features that you probably wouldn’t have been able to implement yourself.

Getting Started With A Free Theme Framework

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Hybrid Core: As far as free frameworks go, Hybrid is one of the best out there for straight up simplicity. It provides a sturdy foundation of PHP and is structured in a modular way, which means you can implement the features you need and ignore the rest. The best part is that you don’t need to concern yourself with the PHP – hop right in with HTML, CSS, and JS alterations.

Hybrid Core was one of the selections in our first roundup of free WordPress frameworks 3 Free Wordpress Frameworks When Themes Just Aren't Enough 3 Free Wordpress Frameworks When Themes Just Aren't Enough WordPress is extremely pervasive and all kinds of people know about it and use it. Why? Because it’s easy to set up, easy to use, and easy to customize based on your own personal preferences.... Read More .

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Wonderflux: For something more advanced, you’ll probably want to check out Wonderflux. While it’s possible to create a complete child theme without ever touching the code, the draw of Wonderflux is that you can dig around in it and alter it however you want. It comes with over 100 hooks that make it easy to create advanced themes.

Wonderflux was one of the selections in our second roundup of free WordPress frameworks 3 More Free Wordpress Frameworks When Themes Just Aren't Enough 3 More Free Wordpress Frameworks When Themes Just Aren't Enough They say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Unfortunately, the way of the world is that books are judged by their covers. People are judged by their clothing. And websites are judged... Read More .

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Cherry: In many ways, Cherry is the best of both worlds. It’s great for newbies because it has an easy install process, is frequently updated, and provides a quick way to set up a fully responsive theme. You don’t need to delve into the code to customize it; there are over 80 different shortcodes that you can use to quickly embed special content.

Premium Framework Options

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Genesis: Genesis is one of the most popular frameworks in the world. It comes complete with search engine optimization, responsive layouts, airtight security, and frequent updates. However, due to the sheer power of Genesis, it’s more for advanced users. Newbies can make use of it, but a lot of experience is required to unlock its full potential.

Genesis costs $60 USD for the basic framework and $400 USD for the Pro Plus Package, which includes all current and future child themes.

WordPress-framework-thesis

Thesis: Like Genesis, Thesis has been a staple framework of the WordPress community for several years. It’s the lesser of the two in terms of popularity, but Thesis still packs quite a punch, especially with its 2.0 update. The framework focuses primarily on search engine optimization, but the 2.0 update introduced a visual editor for more flexibility without needing to touch any code.

Thesis costs $87 USD for the basic framework and $197 USD for the professional package, which includes lifetime updates, extra skins, and extra site functionality.

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Headway: Like Thesis, Headway is a great framework for users who don’t want to muck around with code. It operates on a grid-based drag-and-drop system so you can edit almost every aspect of your site with nothing more than your mouse. There are extensions, called Blocks, which add functionality to Headway, and Blocks can even be bought/sold on the Headway Marketplace.

Headway costs $59 USD for a personal license (1 site), $99 USD for a business license (3 sites), and $199 USD for a developer license (unlimited sites).

Conclusion

This list is just scraping the surface of what’s out there. If you aren’t using a WordPress framework, you really ought to ask yourself why not. If your site is extremely simple or so advanced that you need fine-tuned control over every aspect of it, you probably don’t need one. Otherwise, a framework could make your life that much easier.

If a framework is overkill, you might fare better with one of these free responsive WordPress themes Create a Stunningly Responsive Portfolio With One Of These Free WordPress Themes Create a Stunningly Responsive Portfolio With One Of These Free WordPress Themes These days it's not enough to have a beautifully designed website, especially if you're a photographer, artist or graphic designer. These days if your site isn't responsive, chances are you're losing a significant part of... Read More instead.

For those of you with WordPress sites, do you use a framework? Which ones? If you don’t, why not? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Share them with us in the comments below!

Image Credits: WordPress Magnified Via Shutterstock

  1. Amica Catherine
    April 22, 2016 at 10:11 am

    I use this WordPress framework "TemplateToaster".

  2. Susi Schuele
    June 3, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    I have designed over 20 sites with Builder by http://www.iThemes.com . It has extreme flexibility and customization options and a fabulous support team.

    • Joel L
      June 6, 2014 at 6:13 pm

      $80 for the license and five themes? Not bad. Never used it myself so I can't really say for sure, but thanks for bringing it up. Your themes look nice as well. :)

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