When you’re setting up a site with WordPress, it’s common to think of two choices for the design: free and paid themes. With free themes, you simply install and start blogging without spending a dime. Paid themes, however, provide more useful features, better written code and offer more options for customization.
WordPress Frameworks Explained
Basically, a theme framework is a strong, flexible foundation for WordPress for which additional themes can easily be built on top.
You can either use them “out-of-the-box,” without doing anything extra, or spruce up their appearance with new templates.
These theme extensions are referred to as child themes, and they use all the same core files, which make up the theme framework or parent theme. The child theme actually only adds two files, a functions PHP file and a CSS file for the styling and layout of the template.
At this point, you might be wondering why theme frameworks are so great if you’ll have to download or create a child theme to get a fancy look. But there are some major advantages, which I’ll explain next.
Benefits of Theme Frameworks
The major advantage of a theme framework is the parent theme on which it runs. All of the core files feature state-of-the-art code that makes your site incredibly fast as well as loved by search engines. Many themes, even paid ones, often have clunkier code which might look good on the surface but could actually be hurting your site.
These types of things change frequently, and by using a theme framework you’ll have automatic updates included.
Also, theme frameworks offer a lot of additional helpful features in the WordPress dashboard, including easy search engine optimization, custom hooks and other easy customizations that would be an arduous process otherwise.
Headway, one of the most popular, offers an amazing Visual Editor which you to drag and drop to edit the layout and customize all aspects of your site’s colors and styles without touching a line of code.
Frameworks also offer an active support community that can give you individualized help about your own site.
In addition, there are developers who create free child themes for all of the major theme frameworks. While regular free themes usually come with concerns (poorly-written code, little support, few to no updates) you don’t have to worry one bit with these—the optimized Parent theme is actually powering the site.
Which WP Theme Frameworks are Best?
There are a number of theme frameworks out there, including free and paid options.
ThemeHybrid is our pick for the best of the free, and it has good features, a library of child themes and a great philosophy of giving back to the WordPress community. To get support, however, you must pay for membership.
I personally have purchased Headway and Genesis for my sites and highly recommend both. Headway is my favorite due to its intuitive drag and drop functionality, although both provide great features.
Although not every website project will require a theme framework, they provide great features and flexibility. And they might soon be the dominant model for WordPress theme development.