Have you heard about theme frameworks? The word “framework” has been popping up a lot lately in WordPress discussions and many have asked me to explain what that means and what effect a framework will have on their website.
Here's a simple and non-techie rundown. While frameworks are not mandatory, I'll explain why using one is recommended.
If you are not using a framework right now, and have customized your theme, do not update that theme until you review this entire article.
What is a WordPress Theme Framework?
Frameworks have several advantages. The primary being that you can run a child theme, more on that later, off the framework so that when updates to the framework are necessary you do not lose all your customizations.
If you are not on a child theme you may have had this happen to you. After you update your theme you discover that all your little tweaks and customizations are gone. Wiped out just because you updated your theme. The framework + child theme combo avoids this from happening.
A framework also means more robust functionality. This pretty much makes a whole bunch of features that used to require coding knowledge or ability to successfully weed through PHP files no longer necessary.
Specific functionality differs based on the framework in use and what each particular child theme is configured to offer.
To quote WordPress Codex:
A theme framework is a theme that is designed to be a flexible foundation that can serve as a parent theme for building child themes. The use of WordPress theme frameworks may ease theme development by reducing the volume of work which may be needed in creating a backbone for your theme (usually by using PHP and WordPress Template Tags).
These are not Frameworks
What about Divi, WPBakery, Beaver Builder, Elementor? These are not frameworks they are “builders”.
- Divi is a theme that is a visual page builder. It's great for DIYers and has all kinds of modules to build out your site. But know that you need to be committed to using Divi for the long term. If you switch themes your site breaks leaving tons of short-codes that will then need to be stripped.
- WPBakery is another builder but as a plugin. And I am not a fan. Makes sites really pokey. You'll find WPBakery included in many robust themes. Not user-friendly for the average site owner and again, uninstall and you'll have a broken site with shortcodes everywhere.
- Beaver Builder is another drag and drop layout plugin. If you remove Beaver Builder, you'll be left with a stripped-down HTML version of your layout copied to the native WordPress editor. Your content layouts may not look exactly the same as when the plugin was active, but you won't lose your content.
- Elementor is a visual drag and drop builder plugin too. With a learning curve. If you remove Elementor, you revert to the default WordPress Gutenberg editor. Elementor Pro offers all kinds of nifty built-in widgets to enhance your site's layout and functionality and is geared toward developers.
Benefits of WordPress Theme Frameworks
Frameworks provide premium theme developers a core theme that all subsequent themes, known as “child” themes can then play off of. By play off of I mean, the child theme relies on the framework for all kinds of features and functionality.
Developers have the ability to integrate cool features and functionality across all their child themes. Functionality that you can then use and config with just a click or two. No coding required.
Picture a house. The parent theme or framework are all the 2 x 4s, electrical wiring and insulation. Child themes are then the wallpaper, paint and furnishings within the house. All of which you can change without messing with the 2 x 4s, electrical wiring or insulation.
You access the same dashboard you always do with the possible addition of a child theme specific tab that will display in Appearance > Customize. The child theme basically is all about design, layout with maybe some extra specific features for that particular child theme added in.
My Choice Genesis
StudioPress has the Genesis Framework which I use exclusively for my sites. (Read more: Genesis Framework for Beginners. [PDF]) StudioPress was ahead of the curve by creating the Genesis framework to base their future themes upon.
There are a slew of theme developers creating unique, elegant and feature-rich child themes for Genesis. When choosing a child theme for Genesis, the same considerations apply as if you were choosing any other theme.
You'll discover designs and layouts to accommodate pretty much any business. Besides having a zippy great looking website, you'll have the added benefit of knowing you can customize that child theme and not have to worry about updates wiping those changes out.
Because of Genesis' standing and popularity in the WordPress eco-system, StudioPress was acquired by WPEngine a premium WordPress hosting company. Host with WPEngine and you now get Genesis and all the StudioPress child themes at no additional charge. Pretty much one stop shopping there.
That's what I do for this site. I practice what I preach. Not all WordPress themes or hosting are comparable. As a matter of fact if you are not on WordPress specific hosting, you are sacrificing performance. Yes, there are inexpensive hosts and free themes. Neither of which will do if you are serious about having a solid performing web presence for your business.
I would be remiss to not mention that there are other frameworks. I've tried some and either the load times, coding, support or the availability of child themes caused me to lose interest. And I'm not a fan of free anything including frameworks or themes — you get what you pay for.
Switching Over to Genesis
If you are investing in a new website or bringing your current website up to speed, you want to have a framework/child theme setup. If you have a WordPress website you know the constant challenge of keeping your site performance up to snuff and all the updating that goes with that.
The Genesis Framework + child theme alleviates some of that concern. Your customizations remain in place which contributes to keeping your site zippy, up to date and secure.
Just like switching to any WordPress theme, moving over to Genesis with a child theme is no different. You'll also have the peace of mind knowing you are on a solid, properly coded theme that is supported now and into the future.
The last last thing you want to experience is losing all your hard work to updates. Or not updating and risking an insecure or broken site. Use a framework, setup the child theme to your liking and maintain those changes if/when the framework requires updating.
Did I peak your interest? Check out the Genesis Child theme developers I've worked with and recommend here.
At your service,
P.S. Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” Read my full Affiliate Disclosure Statement here.