According to the WordPress Codex, a WordPress theme framework is “a drop-in code library that is used to facilitate the development of a theme.”
The codex adds that frameworks are stand-alone or starter themes that are needed either to be “forked” into other themes or used as parent themes.
Frameworks simplify theme development through the pre-loaded codes WordPress understands. They kick-start the development process, making it better and faster.
WordPress Theme Frameworks are also considered parent themes. Functions located in a theme can be found in the framework and the designer will just create Child Theme through style customizations.
Parent themes handle functionality and child themes handle design. WordPress frameworks are becoming increasingly popular to build themes with.
What are WordPress Theme Frameworks?
Frameworks set the foundations for a theme. You can then focus on designing rather than programming.
Frameworks do have important drawback. They limit flexibility and creativity. Themes based on frameworks have the tendency to all look the same.
Also it may take some time before getting to know framework.
In the WordPress beginnings, there were problems with the way how themes were developed and maintained.
There was no good way of upgrading WordPress themes without losing all the custom styling options.
The core team and community decided to fix the issues by introducing the concept of Parent Theme and Child Theme.
WordPress theme frameworks are intended to be used as a parent theme template.
Developers can then create a child theme to add custom styling while leaving the functionality aspects of it to the framework.
If the core development team decide to deprecate a WordPress function, or there is a bug found in a specific theme framework, then it is very easy to make an update without losing anything the child theme has.
This method allows you to keep the “framework” of your site strong without modifying how it looks.
What Types of Theme Frameworks Exist?
There are a few type of frameworks. You can find complete drag and drop frameworks like Headway Themes.
There are pseudo-drag drop frameworks like Pagelines and Thesis.
These frameworks allow users to drag and drop pre-define sections (similar to how WordPress widgets work).
Then there are theme frameworks that are full of options. Themify and most others fall in this category.
Lastly, there are the theme frameworks that are built for developers to get a head start without the clutter and bloat like Genesis by StudioPress.
Why do People use WordPress Theme Frameworks?
Theme frameworks drastically reduce the development time if you intend to use theme from scratch and not ready-made themes bloated with hundreds of functions you will mostly never use.
The development time is improved because all theme frameworks offer a great deal of functionality and customization options, so the user does not have to code everything themselves.
These features can range anywhere from drag-drop functionality, sliders, SEO widgets…
Instead of creating a theme from scratch and modifying all the files, creating a child theme can be as simple as creating a new style.css file and customize a few functions using the functions.php file.
WordPress Theme Framework Advantages
1. Development Speed – Using a theme framework will help speed up theme development process. As starter code is already pre-loaded you don’t need to start from zero.
You just start with a parent and build your design from there.
2. Page Loading Speed – WordPress Theme Frameworks have faster loading time.
Unlike standard themes, WordPress Theme Frameworks are not bloated with heavy graphics and unneeded code.
Visitor browser will have fewer files to load thus increasing page loading time.
3. Support – Stand-alone themes are mostly made by individuals to small group designers.
Frameworks are made up of more people, thus support will probably be better.
4. Web Coding Standards – Theme Frameworks adhere to WordPress and web standards. These frameworks follow coding standards strictly.
5. Lifetime Updates – Theme frameworks have lifetime updates.
6. SEO – Theme frameworks are often built with SEO in mind.
7. Community – Most popular theme frameworks have a huge community behind it.
This makes it much easier to get your support questions answered.
WordPress Theme Framework Disadvantages
1. Cost – Most WordPress theme frameworks are not cheap. Pricing is often one-time purchase meaning you get the theme and you could use it forever, or an annual membership fee which will require you to pay a recurring amount.
2. Learning Curve – Most frameworks have their own hooks and filters.
To use the full power of the framework, you must familiarize yourself with the framework.
Your first few child themes might take you longer just because you are learning things.
3. Unnecessary Code – Frameworks come with tons of built-in functionality which you may not use.
This is not such a huge deal because it doesn’t directly influence you.
4. Framework Limitations – Often frameworks have limitations. Sometimes to make customizations, you might have to override core files.
Popular WordPress Theme Frameworks
Price: $59.95 one time fee
Unlimited Updates, Support & Sites
Theme + Genesis Framework will cost you about $99 or you can buy all Genesis themes + framework for about $399.
Genesis is one of the most popular WordPress theme frameworks. It is developed by the team at Copyblogger Media.
It comes with features like:
- Detailed SEO options
- Responsive design based on HTML5
- Various pre-made child themes (for an additional payment)
- Lots of documentation to lower the learning curve
- Unlimited support and updates
The framework is secure, SEO friendly and highly customizable. It is designed to always be used with a child theme. It is up to you to use one of the many offered by StudioPress or create your own.
Some of the top-selling child themes include Parallax Pro, Magazine Pro and Centric Pro.
The Genesis framework is more for intermediate and advanced developers.
The most beginner-friendly option is Prose, which has a point and click design that allows you to control the theme’s design without going anywhere near the code for the majority of the time.
What You Should Know:
- It may be difficult to customize a Genesis child theme if you don’t know CSS and PHP
- Many Genesis child themes use a custom homepage template
- Every Genesis child theme comes with setup instructions and demo content
- When you purchase Genesis, you get a developer license
Price: $87 Basic, $164 Basic Plus and $197 Professional plan
Support: Unlimited support (Professional plan and up) + active community
Thesis is an advanced WordPress theme framework. It offers more control over design and functions.
Increased flexibility comes with a higher learning curve if you want to write your own code.
Luckily they also offer a drag-and-drop layout tool with a visual template editor, so non-developers can create custom designs without the need for leaving the dashboard.
Main Thesis features:
- Boxes you can use to add integrations for newsletters, Facebook Like boxes etc.
- Almost unlimited control over fonts
- Easy integration with Google Webmaster Tools
- Thesis API
Thesis is a great framework for the more advanced theme developer. Its pricing is little high compared to the other frameworks, especially if you want a few base skins to work with (as these are not included in the cheaper $87 Basic license).
The Professional license comes with unlimited support and updates as well as a few extra Boxes and skins.
Built-in tools like a patent-pending color scheme picker and golden ratio typography controls will make possible customization of site per needs.
Every copy of Thesis comes with the Classic Responsive Skin, which has been optimized for performance, search engines, mobile devices…
The framework can’t be bought on its own, so they developed a base theme called Canvas.
Canvas Theme Price: $99 Standard, $119 Developer
Support: 1 year of support and updates + community support
WooThemes is one of the leading theme shops in the WordPress world. They build all of their themes on their own framework, called WooFramework.
It will serve as the foundation for your own theme or you can use Canvas which is a great theme already.
WooFramework and Canvas combined offer features:
- WooCommerce ready
- Portfolio functionality with advanced display options
- One-click updates within the dashboard
- Customize the style and typography of most elements
- Easily change your site width
- The design will scale to fit on all browser widths/resolutions and on all mobile devices
The Canvas theme is loved by many developers around the world. It is already attractive by itself. It already includes some popular features like portfolio functionality and custom shortcodes.
The only downside (and by my opinion very important) is that you only pay for one year of support and updates, while with the other paid frameworks offer one time payment.
Price: $59 Personal, $99 Business and $199 Developer plan
Support: 1 Year of support and updates + community support
Headway is a drag and drop theme builder for WordPress. The tool allows you to use a visual editor in order to build your own layouts and themes.
Headway also has a design editor for customizing the styling of the site by changing the fonts, colours, borders, and many other visual elements.
All of the above can be done using a WYSIWYG editor. You never need to enter or edit any code to create your WordPress theme.
However, for those that do want to edit the CSS, it can easily be done using the Live CSS editor. Headway is great for designers and those who don’t know how to code.
It’s a drag and drop framework that allows you to control almost every element of a theme’s design, such as layout, colors and fonts, by pointing and clicking.
The Headway Grid makes possible to create any kind of layout. One column, two column, three column, a mix.
Once your layout is complete, you can style site with the Design Editor. It allows you to select any element on the page and style it in a number of ways.
Headway is up to date with the latest standards in coding, HTML5 and CSS3, and the Responsive Grid means your theme will look great on handheld devices.
Headway isn’t just for non-coders. Developers can take advantage of the live CSS editor, build child themes for Headway and create custom Bock types.
You can even sell custom Blocks in the Headway Marketplace.
Blocks are a way of extending the functionality of Headway. There are the core blocks that come with Headway Base and there are the extra blocks that can be added via Headway Extend.
If you’re a web designer and you want full control over your sites but would prefer not to have to learn how to code, Headway is the right choice for you.
Price: $69 Personal, $89 Developer, $249 Lifetime
Support: 1 Year or Lifetime support and updates depending on plan + community support
Elegant Themes is widely considered to offer the most for price. For $69 a year, you get access to 85+ quality themes, a small but growing library of useful plugins and a support forum where you can expect fast, helpful responses (from personal experience).
Unlike some other frameworks (such as Genesis), you don’t get access to the framework as such. You get access to the themes which are built on the same framework.
You will have to use, or at least start from, an Elegant Theme, rather than create your own from scratch. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
It means you will have options that you can show clients out of the box and you can swap themes as much as you like.
The options panel is fairly intuitive, easy to get to know with and almost the same on every theme.
So once you’ve used the backend on one you’ll mostly know how to use it on them all.
The plugins aren’t just compatible with Elegant Themes. They can be used with any WordPress theme.
For some customers access to the plugins alone justifies the cost of membership.
Some of plugins include:
- Bloom Email Opt-Ins – email opt-in plugin for WordPress.
- Monarch Social Media Sharing – social sharing plugin for WordPress.
- HandHeld Mobile Plugin – create an alternate Mobile layout for your WordPress installation.
- Elegant Page Builder – create advanced layouts for any post or page using our advanced visual editor.
- Maintenance Mode Plugin – quickly create a “Coming Soon” page for your upcoming website before its official release.
- Elegant Shortcodes – lets you take a collection of shortcodes from elegant themes and use them in any theme.
With Elegant Themes you don’t get a blank canvas to work from. Instead, the idea is that you pick the Elegant Theme that most closely matches your design and customize it to your liking.
This makes the framework more suited for beginners.
Price: $79 Standard, $99 Developer, $139 Master (Themify Club)
Support: 1 Year or Lifetime support and updates + community support
This is an integrated framework. This means that in order to use it you will have to choose a theme from Themify.
You can pick one of Themify membership options or buy standalone theme which will cost around $49 per theme. Themify Club gives access to all themes and plugins.
It is the best option for users who run multiple sites. You can use the themes and plugins on client sites.
The Themify framework is used to power the WordPress themes designed by the Themify team.
The framework, and therefore all their themes, include the Themify Builder.
It allows you to create custom page layouts, and populate them with a range of page elements and modules. All is done through a drag and drop interface.
Some of the page elements or modules that can be dragged and dropped into your posts and pages include sliders, maps, galleries, tabbed areas…
You can also add any widgets to your page layouts, including those widgets that are part of any plugins you’ve installed on your site, or custom ones you’ve created.
The layouts created through the builder are managed using a grid layout. It consists of multiple rows and columns which are responsive for easy use on portable devices.
The framework makes it easy for users to customize their chosen theme without editing any code or editing any templates.
Thanks to the styling panel that is included you will have a great amount of control over the appearance of your theme without the need to touch any code.
When using the Themify framework, you are able to export the settings from one site and then import them into another.
It will help save time during the setup process of a new site.
Price: $39 Starter, $49 Standard, $69 Developer, $345 Lifetime
Support: 1 Year or Lifetime support and updates + community support
Like Elegant Themes, WordPress themes from the TeslaThemes club are all built on a custom-made framework.
By joining the club, you get access to all the existing themes and future releases.
With TeslaThemes, the framework is part of the themes themselves. Themes are all built on top of the same framework which means that whatever theme you use from Tesla, it will have the same control panel and options for customisation.
Tesla Framework is a powerful administration tool that combines all features and allows you to easily customize the look and functionality of theme.
All is done without advanced knowledge of programming.
It gives you the possibility to customize and manage your theme settings from a dedicated area within your WordPress Admin.
Personalize the visual appearance and functionality of your site using Handcrafted Layouts.
There is wide variety of multipurpose WordPress templates which can be the best solution for bloggers, developers, freelancers, agencies or corporate websites.
There is no need to spend thousands of dollars for custom web design and development.
For the end-user, the only direct interaction he will have with the Tesla Framework is through the theme control panel.
From there, users can find an easy way to change some of the settings of theme:
- Upload a logo image and set the header text
- Add a favicon
- Set the default colour of the site
- Upload a background image
- Configure the social icons
- Add contact information
- Easily append code to the footer
- Add custom CSS
While this framework doesn’t give you too many options for configuring the appearance of your chosen theme, it is easy to use and find your way around.
Price: $65 Starter, $125 Professional
Support: Lifetime support and updates + community support
Ultimatum WordPress theme builder includes everything you need to build your own custom theme using WordPress.
The tool comes with a powerful form builder, a range of sliders for creating post and image slideshows, it is fully WooCommerce compatible, and comes bundled with the powerful Visual Composer drag and drop page builder plugin.
Creating custom layouts for individual posts and pages is very straightforward and produces great results.
This theme builder also gives you a few options for working with templates, allowing you to create your own or import any existing ones.
When creating the template for the basis of your theme, you can opt to use the popular Twitter Bootstrap to create a fully responsive layout, as well as having the option to use a mobile web app template.
More advanced features include Custom Post Type creator which allows you to create your own post types and custom taxonomies for organising your content more effectively.
The tool also comes with optional integration with Google Fonts and a large selection of icons for giving your designs greater visual appeal.
If you are looking for a blank canvas to build your design and would like access to a wide range of drag and drop page elements and configurable settings then Ultimatum is a good choice.
Price: $80 Foundation Pack, $150 Developer Pack, $197 All Access Pass
Support: 1 Year or Lifetime support and updates + community support
Builder is another framework that doesn’t require the user to know code to build powerful sites.
It is made up of the Builder Core Theme, child themes (the exact number will depend on which package you go for), the Style Manager plugin and a year of support and updates.
Builder’s layout engine lets you create layouts and widget areas exactly the way you want.
Builder themes handle the design, typography, colors, spacing and overall style.
If you change to a different theme in the future, you can keep the layout, views and widgets from your site.
You can use Builder’s style manager plugin to make tweaks to your child theme without digging into code.
Builder includes a Layout Editor. It allows you to create a layout by pointing and clicking.
You choose the modules, such as header, navigation bar and footer, and insert them in the order you want on the page. There is no coding involved.
There are 80 Builder themes to choose from. You can then add your layouts and style the design elements just the way you want.
Like Headway, Builder makes use of Blocks to add niche-specific functionality. The Restaurant Block, for example, allows you to add menu items and location details to your site.
Builder is one of the better supported frameworks, with support staff, a comprehensive codex as well as video tutorials and walk-throughs.
Builder enables anyone to build a great website fast.
PAGELINES DMS FRAMEWORK
Price: $99 Standard, $179 Developer, $129 Join the Club
Support: 1 Year or Lifetime support and updates + community support
PageLines DMS is a well-designed front-end solution with good documentation and a substantial community.
Web professionals with above-average design skills with multiple projects will find PageLines DMS to be excellent value for money.
PageLines DMS operates almost exclusively as a front-end editor using a simple model of templates > rows > columns > sections. Sections are DMS’s equivalent of widgets.
Existing elements can be deleted, moved, cloned and edited simply by rolling over the element and then clicking the relevant icon on the revealed toolbar.
New sections are added to the layout by clicking on Add To Page. and finding the section you want to add by dragging it onto the layout.
Available areas for the drop are highlighted making it easy to see where the section will be located.
Changes are only saved “locally” and need to be published to actually take effect on the public view of the site.
DMS also provides a roll-back to the last published configuration.
Support: 1 year of paid support for $99 a year + 2 active Google Groups
Gantry is a framework by another popular theme shop, RocketTheme. They offer some themes themselves, and have made their framework available under the GPL license.
They have documented Gantry very well, and actively improve it based on their experiences and community input. It can easily compete with the other frameworks.
Some of its features are:
- Responsive design based on Twitter Bootstrap
- Extensive customization options
- Tons of included widgets and built-in fields
- Support for LESS CSS and the popular 960-grid system
Gantry is not the easiest of frameworks to work with, but it does allow wide customization.
Paid support is available, but only if you buy a commercial license at RocketTheme itself. At $99 a year it’s not cheap. There is also an option to buy a shorter support period for a smaller amount.
If you’re still not sure whether you want to work on a framework at all, Gantry may be a good fit to test the waters.
WordPress Theme Framework Wrap Up
The advantages of using frameworks outweigh its disadvantages.
Some are more lightweight than others, and some have more support and community options. In the end the best framework for you is the one that best fits your needs and workflow.
Of course there can be no winner because a fantastic framework for one person may be a nightmare for another.
For beginners, you should consider using a framework like Headway Themes. They have a drag-drop interface that lets you create websites using a visual interface.
If you think I missed something, then please let me know in the comments below. If you are using a framework on your site, then let me know which one.
Why do you prefer to use the framework that you do? Looking forward to hearing your responses.