‘Frameworks’ for WordPress

frameIt seems like every month there’s a new framework template system for WordPress getting some buzz. There’s a reason people are excited about frameworks with WordPress: they are more than just a theme (themes essentially are just a way to display the basic WordPress functions with a particular “look”). WordPress frameworks add their own set of special functions in separate files alongside the WordPress core functions, and call them from within WordPress using the custom_functions file. This makes framework templates much more flexible for anyone wanting to use WordPress as a CMS rather than a blog only.

These frameworks mostly involve adding new ‘hooks’ that can be used for innovative customisation outside the areas already covered by the default WordPress ‘hooks’. Depending on the framework, you either need to know how to manipulate these hooks directly, or it can be much easier if the development team has included a custom admin interface accessed from the WordPress Dashboard. There are also several framework-specific plugins that help make manipulating the framework hooks much simpler.

I’ve become increasingly interested in how these frameworks operate, and what each of the designers is doing with them. It seemed like the more CSS, XHTML and PHP I learnt, the more I wanted to be able to tweak things, and the problem with tweaking normal themes is that they are often coded so quirkily that it’s easy to break something unexpectedly. These themes based on improved frameworks are meant to be more robust because of the way that the frameworks are coded with customisation hooks built in right from the basement, as it were.

I’ve played around with three of these framework templates recently:

  • The Thesis Theme from Chris Pearson and DIYthemesMy social commentary blog, Hoyden About Town, uses the Thesis framework.  This is a “premium” theme – payment is required in order to receive a license to use it and to access the support forums (which are truly excellent). There are options for Personal licenses and Developer licenses (and Client Site licenses for Developers, which don’t allow the Client to access the support forums). The basic theme is very simple – almost a plain sandbox – and there are tons of admin-options for customisation as well as a system of “hooks” which can be used to add all sorts of custom content.
  • WooThemes affiliate badgeMy Australian live comedy site, Gagging For It (Oz Comedy News), uses a WooThemes premium theme (purchasing a theme also purchases access to the support forums, there is a Developer’s Club option as well).  Woothemes has built its own framework and offers an extensive collection of themes based on it, each theme offering a variable array of features out of the box (perfect for that client in a hurry). Woothemes can be customised quite extensively, but it’s a very different beast from Thesis, because it has so many different looks right up front to start from.
  • themehybridThis site, tigtog’s corner, is using the Hybrid framework and the Hybrid child-theme “Life Collage”, which I chose mostly because of its lifestream page feature (its default styling is nicely relaxed, but you can’t see much of that any more).  Hybrid themes and child-themes are free, and basic access to the support forums is free, but tutorials and forum answers from the Hybrid core developers have to be paid for (although at $25 to join the Hybrid theme club is by far the least expensive framework option of these three).  Hybrid offers a variety of child-themes to jazz up its basic framework, plus offering a Sandbox version which allows for complete customisation control via hooks. I’m looking forward to playing with the possibilities, so don’t be surprised if the appearance of this site changes quite often while I play with it.

So far, these frameworks have been as far as my budget extends. I’d like to hear about anyone else’s experiences with other frameworks though.

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