WordPress theme development. What are the options developers have when customizing and developing themes?
The simple answer? There is no unanimously agreed on method on how to develop a WordPress theme. At the end of the day, it all boils down to what the developer wants to achieve.
But what if you’re just starting out on this beautiful and rewarding journey? How will you decide which approach fits your needs best as a developer?
Well, this article is here to help. In this guide, we’ll be talking about WordPress theme development and the different ways through which developers can create stunning and value-laden websites.
Before we begin, let’s lay some groundwork.
The Mechanics of a WordPress Theme
Let’s take the discussion away from WordPress for a while and focus solely on themes. A theme is the major driver of a website. It determines the aesthetics and behavior of the website.
While many consider content a part of a theme, it’s not. It’s stored in the database and can vary from website to website. On the other hand, you can use a single theme for a variety of different websites, especially if you’ve downloaded the theme from a store like the Official WordPress Theme Store.
If you ever get a chance to visit your website’s cPanel, make sure to visit the wp-content/themes folder. That’s the place where you’ll find your theme files. At its core, a theme is a collection of code files.
Every WordPress theme’s backbone consists of the following files:
- index.php – Defines the content that’s to be displayed by a theme.
- style.css – Gives the theme its style (typography, font, colors, and more).
These two files work in tandem with the following data:
- header.php – Includes the code for the header section of the website. It’s the one you see at the very top of the website.
- sidebar.php – Includes the code for the sidebar content areas and any widgets.
- footer.php – Includes the code for the footer content.
- functions.php – Contains the code for any theme-specific functionalities.
For a more in-depth study of the functions.php file, visit the WordPress Codex.
Besides these files, you theme can also contain the page.php, single.php, and other category-based or archival theme files.
Now, every WordPress theme you install will open with the following comment. Let’s look at Twenty Eleven, the default WordPress theme:
The forward slash asterisk (/*) you see in the beginning is known as a CSS parlance comment. This is written to be avoided by the browsers and used by developers when looking at code.
Now that you know the basics of how a theme works, we move on to building an idea of our own.
WordPress Theme Development: The Options
Before you start developing your theme, we feel that it’s worthwhile you invest some time in reading about the roadmaps you can take for your development process.
In this section of the article, we’ll be talking about the six options you have for developing a WordPress theme. Namely, they are as follows:
- Building an item from the ground up,
- Editing a developed theme,
- Customizing an existing theme,
- Use a child theme to alter an existing theme,
- Use your own parent theme,
- Utilize a theme framework.
1. Building a theme from the ground up
If you don’t have knowledge of how code works, this method would pose significant problems. If you’re an experienced, developer, this method of theme development gives you the most control over your theme.
If you’re using pre-made code from an HTML file, be sure to edit it according to WordPress’ coding standards. Make sure your code is clean, loads fast on browsers, and without bugs.
2. Editing a developed theme
While the process mentioned above is indeed effective, it’s by no means the traditional entrance into the world of WordPress development.
Most developers get their start from editing a pre-existing theme. All they do is download a WordPress theme, usually from the theme store and start making changes to its style.css code.
Tweaking the content, changing the theme, and adding extra functionalities to the PHP code are some ways in which developers add value to existing themes. But sometimes, the process of adding value does not go exactly as planned. Here’s why:
- If you ever want to change your theme, you’ll lose the changes you’ve already made.
- If you’re not well-versed in code, you could be adding repetitive code over existing code – making the overall codebase shoddy.
- If your code is not written correctly, you could incur the risk of getting a buggy website online.
If you run into these problems, always remember to keep a backup of your original file to avoid any problems. Thorough coding, following conventions, commenting your code, and debugging extensively should always be the main focus of your website operations.