theme-code-matters

Theme Code Matters, Too

Hey there, WordPress theme developers. When you’re crafting themes, are you checking the quality of your theme code? The design is important, yes, but so is the code. Within the past year, the WordPress theme review team has been hard at work encouraging best coding practices among WordPress theme developers, with the goal of raising the overall standard of the themes that appear in the WordPress.org theme repository. Even if you don’t intend to submit your theme to the WordPress.org theme repository, it’s wise to develop your themes as though that was your intention. I hope that by the end of this post, you’ll have a better understanding of the benefits of doing so.

The WordPress Theme Review Team and its guidelines

Just in case this is the first time you’ve heard of the theme review team, I’ll describe it briefly. They’re a group of volunteers from the WordPress community that reviews each theme that is submitted to the WordPress.org theme repository to check for compliance with the guidelines and standards that they have set forth. I’m not going to list all of the guidelines here because you can read them at the theme review team’s website, but I do wish to highlight a few here because they’re especially relevant to coding practices:

Briefly, a description of each of the above:

The Theme Check plugin

This is a plugin that tests your theme to see if it meets the latest theme review guidelines. If your theme is missing a required or recommended feature, or if it contains deprecated functions, the plugin will let you know and suggest possible fixes.

Code quality

These are a general set of guidelines that specify how you should format the HTML, CSS, and PHP in your theme. All HTML and CSS mark-up must validate to W3C Standards, and your PHP must neither generate any notices, warnings, or errors when WP_DEBUG is turned on (turn it on by placing  define('WP_DEBUG', true) in wp-config.php).

Does your theme contain hidden PHP warnings like THIS?

The Theme Unit Test

How well does your theme handle posts without titles? Do images resize properly? Do floated elements inside posts clear properly? Are all possible HTML tags that users can use in the visual editor styled? Are all widgets styled? The theme unit test is a set of sample data that you can use to test your theme in scenarios such as these.

Example of a Unit Test post on the Twenty Eleven Theme

Example of a Unit Test post on the Twenty Eleven Theme

Of course, as I stated earlier, these are just three of the areas in the theme review guidelines. A theme passes its review and is accepted in the WordPress.org theme repository when it satisfies the criteria for all of the areas.

So, why should you care?

The theme review team’s guidelines are important for all WordPress theme developers for three basic reasons:

  1. They establish general consistency among WordPress themes for users and developers.
  2. They ensure protocols for theme security.
  3. They raise the bar for overall theme quality.

Let’s discuss these three areas in more detail.

Consistency

WordPress themes are a eclectic bunch, but they do have at least one thing in common — they are all WordPress themes. It’s important to always keep this in mind.

When your theme deviates too far from the core WordPress functionality, you run the risk of users becoming frustrated as to why certain features that they’ve come to expect from WordPress don’t seem to work with their site. Listed below are sections of the theme review guidelines that help establish a base consistency among themes in the WordPress.org theme repository:

Before you add a custom feature to your theme, check to see if WordPress already has a core function that can take care of it. The table below highlights core features your theme should utilize as much as possible.

Theme Feature WordPress Feature to Use
Custom Logo/Banner Custom Headers
Background Color/Image Custom Background
Menu Management WordPress Navigation Menus
Theme file editing WordPress Theme Editor and Plugin Editor
Theme Options Page Settings API
Theme Options Page Design Stick with the WordPress UI instead of making your own design. (Ryan Imel from WPCandy wrote a blog post on this subject)
Design options (color pickers, font size tools, border size, etc) Keep to a minimum. Encouraging users to make design changes with CSS is more scalable in the long run.
Direct Database Queries WordPress Template Tags and Functions
Thumbnails Post Thumbnails (Featured Images)

Security

Constant Vigilance: Keeping themes secure requires active, continuous effort

Themes play a large role in WordPress sites, so it pays to ensure that your theme’s code is as secure as possible. Don’t let your theme be the one that leaves your users’ sites vulnerable to hackers. No one wants (or deserves) to have their site hacked. If you follow the theme review team’s security-related guidelines, you will be one step closer to building a theme that is as safe as it is gorgeous. The following are the theme review team’s guidelines related specifically to security. I highly recommend that you read them as you develop your theme:

  • Theme Settings and Data Security – Properly escaping all data throughout your theme and using the Settings API for theme options pages are essential characteristics of a secure theme.
  • Theme Obsolescence – Outdated code and deprecated functions are a security threat because they may contain known vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit. Themes in the WordPress.org repository will be removed if they are not updated on a regular basis to comply with the latest version of WordPress. In a similar vein, third-party scripts can also pose security risks, as we saw with the recent TimThumb vulnerability. If you use third-party scripts in your theme, please, please, please check those scripts regularly to make sure they are up to date. If the original author of a script does not put out regular updates, think twice about using it. Security is never a “set it and forget it” deal — you must approach it Mad-Eye Moody-style: CONSTANT VIGILANCE.

Quality

The final reason that it’s important to pay attention to your theme’s code is for the sake of quality. A theme that uses well-formed, modern code is easier for you and other developers to maintain in the future. The larger the number of well-coded themes we have, the more positively this reflects on the WordPress community as a whole. The following area from the theme review team’s guidelines relates specifically to code quality (I linked it earlier, but I’m linking it again because it’s that important):

In addition, WordPress has adopted standards for writing PHP, HTML, and CSS. We use these standards when converting themes for use on WordPress.com:

Conclusion and … how to get started

I hope I’ve convinced you why it’s so important to pay attention to your theme’s code, whether you are creating free themes or commercial themes. If you’re interested in applying some of these principles to your theme development, here is a nice list of procedures to keep in mind during the development process:

  • Make sure you’re aware of the current theme review guidelines.
  • Look at the code of the current default theme, such as Twenty Eleven, as a starting point and as an example of best coding practices and implementing core WordPress functionality.
  • Get in the habit of testing your theme with the unit test data.
  • Turn on WP_DEBUG in wp-config.php to check for hidden errors, warnings, and notices.
  • Install the Theme Check, Log Deprecated Functions, and Debug Bar  plugins. Run their tests often to catch (and fix) potential problem areas before they pile up.
  • Before you add a custom function, check to see if there is a WordPress core function that can take care of it. If you feel that the WordPress core functionality is lacking somehow, try supplementing the core feature instead of replacing it completely. Make sure that any custom feature you add does not leave “debris” behind (such as broken shortcodes) or otherwise cause a site to break badly if users decide to switch their theme. What are your “fallback” features?
  • Consider joining the WordPress theme review team, which forces you to learn by checking others’ code. For more information, please read Justin Tadlock’s excellent post on this subject: Join the WordPress theme review team.

Resources for further reading

powered-by-theme

Powering Your Design With WordPress

Can you use WordPress to power your web design work? Of course you can. But how? That was the subject of a talk I gave at the 2011 Future of Web Design conference this May in London. If you missed FOWD you missed a great time and some awesome presentations but you didn’t miss everything. The video is available on WordPress.tv and I’m going to share some of the ideas I brought up in my talk right here. Including a free custom theme for you to use in your own projects.

I’ll presume here that you’re already interested in WordPress if you’re reading this but in case you’re not, why WordPress? What’s the big deal? Well, right now, about 14% of the web is built on top of WordPress. That means, as web designers, it’s important that we get this whole theming thing right. Tipping point numbers like that mean more and more of your clients are going to be asking for WordPress. It’s probably starting to happen to you right now.

You’re already a web design expert. You should be a WordPress theme expert too.

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Premium Themes on WP.com, the backstory

It’s kind of appropriate this is my first post here on Themeshaper, given I first kicked off discussion of a WordPress.com theme marketplace four years ago. (It’s funny to see some of the comments there, some of the same cast of characters.) The terms we’re launching with are the same as in that post, an even split, but the opportunity is much larger. When I wrote that post I talked about the 1,736,206 potential customers for a theme, we’re now approaching 17 million blogs almost 10x that size. In fact we now add a new 2007-sized-WP.com every two months.

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How To Reset & Rebuild WordPress Theme CSS & Define Your Layouts

Update: We’ve created a second edition of this article, with updated code samples and coverage of the latest theme development techniques. Check it out at How To Reset & Rebuild WordPress Theme CSS & Define Your Layouts. It’s part of The ThemeShaper WordPress Theme Tutorial: 2nd Edition.

CSS can be tricky. It can also be incredibly easy. I had a lot of help getting my head wrapped around CSS when I was first starting out and I take great pleasure in helping others the same way I was first helped: with solid code examples to learn from.

Here we’re going to layout a WordPress Theme CSS development arsenal for you:

  • A stylesheet that resets default CSS across all web browsers and makes a sane standard we can work from
  • Another stylesheet that rebuilds our typographical foundations in a smart way
  • A stylesheet just for WordPress classes (keeping the first two pure so we can use them for non-WordPress projects)
  • A series of 6 fluid stylesheets that will create ALL the common blog and website layouts you expect—and each one ready to adapt into a fixed width layout.

All the code we’ll talk about is open-source, under the GPL, and browse-able at the Your Theme Project Page. View the raw source for any one of these files and copy-paste at your leisure.

First things first, make a “style” directory in your Theme folder. That’s where we’ll be putting everything. Your CSS quiver, as it were. Ready to hit the target?

Reset CSS

Our Reset CSS is adapted from Eric Meyer’s famous Reset CSS with some minor, minor changes. Basically what it does is take all the typographical defaults of every browser and … obliterates them. You’re left with a squashy, gray mess.

It’s beautiful.

What this does is equalize the rendering of every browser, leaving you free to ignore countless individual quirks particular to each one.

Using it is simple. Add the following lines to your style.css, at the very top, immediately after the initial comments section.

/* Reset default browser styles */
@import url('styles/reset.css');

Reload, your page and check it what reset.css does in multiple browsers (if you can). It’s wonderfully gross, isn’t it?

Rebuild CSS

Our Rebuild CSS is my own personal invention adapted from an early version of the Blueprint CSS typography stylesheet and refined in the Thematic Project. What it does is swing back some vertical rhythm in our pages, but in a really smart way.

What I’ve tried to do with this iteration of my typography-rebuild CSS is combine the best of both worlds for web typography: using Pixels for font height, with relative line-height for the main declaration on the body element, and Ems for all subsequent vertical margins (like for paragraphs and lists).

What does this mean? It’s really easy to set your font height later—without doing any math work—and have all of your typographical elements follow suit with an appropriate vertical rhythm (the vertical space between type elements like paragraphs and lists).

Using rebuild.css is also really easy. Just add the following lines immediately after your reset.css import.

/* Rebuild default browser styles */
@import url('styles/rebuild.css');

The Basic WordPress Styles

There are some elements in WordPress that you’re just going to have to style every time. What I’ve done is taken those styles and put them in there own little corner called wp.css.

Right now, what we’ve got in there are styles for floating all the images—including handling captions and image galleries. And! preset styles for simple pull-quotes. All you need to do is add a class of left or right to the blockquote tag and you’re ready to roll.

Can you guess how we’re going to use wp.css?

/* Basic WordPress Styles */
@import url('styles/wp.css');

All The Layouts You’ll Ever Need

For your new theme, I’ve taken the rock-solid, indestructible layouts that shipped with the Sandbox Theme and adapted them for your new HTML structure. There are 6 in total. Each is a fluid layout (that stretches to fill the width of your browser window) but each one is easily adaptable to a fixed width layout.

Using anyone of these layouts is simple. Immediately after your basic WordPress styles import, import one of these layouts. Here’s how to import the 3 column layout, with the content in the center.

/* Import a basic layout */
@import url('styles/3c-b.css');

The simplest method of turning any one of these layouts into a fixed-width layout is to add a width and centering margin to the #wrapper div.

#wrapper {
  margin: 0 auto;
  width: 960px;
}

Bonus: Styling The Menu

If you’ve never taken an unordered list (that’s the smart markup generated by wp_page_menu) and styled it to look like a menu before it can seem kinda weird. As a bonus, here’s the CSS I use when I start out creating menus for WordPress Themes.

#access {
	margin: 0 0 1.5em 0;
	overflow: auto;
}
.skip-link {
	position:absolute;
        left:-9000px;
}
.menu ul {
	list-style: none;
	margin: 0;
}
.menu ul ul {
	display: none;
}
.menu li {
	display: inline;
}
.menu a {
	display: block;
	float: left;
}

It’s pretty simple but it’ll put you on sure footing. Good luck!

How To Create a WordPress Theme

This post concludes the WordPress Themes Tutorial series that shows you how to create a powerful WordPress Theme from scratch. Read it from the beginning and code yourself up something awesome.

  1. WordPress Theme Tutorial Introduction
  2. Theme Development Tools
  3. Creating a Theme HTML Structure
  4. Template and Directory Structure
  5. The Header Template
  6. The Index Template
  7. The Single Post, Post Attachment, & 404 Templates
  8. The Comments Template
  9. The Search Template & The Page Template
  10. The Archive, Author, Category & Tags Template
  11. The Sidebar Template
  12. Reset-Rebuild Theme CSS & Define Your Layouts

If you have any suggestions for posts that will fit in this series or complement what we’ve done so far I’d be glad to hear them. Let me know in the comments.

WordPress Theme Development Tools

Update: We’ve created a second edition of this article, with updated code samples and coverage of the latest theme development techniques. Check it out at WordPress Theme Development Tools. It’s part of The ThemeShaper WordPress Theme Tutorial: 2nd Edition.

Before we get started building any WordPress Theme we’re going to need to get our development tools in place. In this post, we’ll run through the best of the best and build ourselves a cross-platform WordPress Theme test environment that would do a professional Theme developer proud.

A Local Test Server: XAMP or MAMP

The best place to develop your custom WordPress Theme is off the web, on your home computer. To do that though you’ll need to turn your computer into a “local server”, essentially approximating the program suite on a regular web server (Apache, MySQL and PHP). This means you can install WordPress on your home computer.

Installing these separate server programs can be technically challenging but luckily for us there are a couple of free programs that will install and manage all this for us.

If you’re on a Windows computer you’ll want to try out XAMP.

If you’re running a Mac you’ll want to download MAMP. It’s what I use and it does the trick.

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How To Create a WordPress Theme: The Ultimate WordPress Theme Tutorial

Update: We’ve created a second edition of this popular tutorial! It contains updated code samples, coverage of the latest theme development techniques, and more. Check it out at The ThemeShaper WordPress Theme Tutorial: 2nd Edition.

In only 11 individual lessons this WordPress Theme Tutorial is going to show you how to build a powerful, up-to-date, WordPress Theme from scratch. As we go along I’ll explain what’s happening including (for better or worse) my thinking on certain techniques and why I’m choosing one path over another. Essentially, I’ll be teaching you everything you need to know about WordPress Theme development.

Skip to the Table of Contents.

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WordPress Child Theme Basics

In this post you’ll learn all the basics of WordPress Child Themes: WordPress Child Theme file structure, how to make any WordPress Theme a blank framework, how to import Parent Theme CSS styles, how to override Parent Theme styles, and how to override Parent Theme Template files. You’ll also learn that all of this is incredibly easy and within your grasp and that it might just change how you think about WordPress and Theme development.

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WordPress Menu Tricks

In this post I’m going to show you how to take WordPress Menu Editing to the next level. You’re going to learn how to use Primary and Secondary menus in your WordPress theme; Add descriptive sub-title links to your menu items like some popular WordPress themes and sites; Filter the menu of a WordPress theme; Add special CSS classes to wp_page_menu; and finally, how to hand-code your own WordPress menu for the ultimate in control.

Here’s how to make your WordPress menu jump through hoops.

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The Future of WordPress Themes 2009

Last year’s Future of WordPress Themes (read it here) found 11 people committed to thinking creatively about WordPress themes stopping to look where WordPress theming was heading—and now we’re doing it again! These 15 people—designers, developers, and WordPress enthusiasts—are some of the people who will shape WordPress themes, and what they mean, into version 3.0 and beyond.

Here is how they answered the question “What is the future of WordPress Themes?”

Brian Gardner

brian-gardner1I think the future of WordPress themes is heading into a very positive direction – there are a lot of designers who are developing some really great themes. It seems that a lot of us have our own unique style, which makes it great for users to enjoy a wide selection of quality themes. Another thing that I have personally experienced is building plugin-type functions into a theme, which enhances it that much more. Special thanks go to guys like Nathan Rice who are focusing more on the code/functionality of a theme, because they are adding to the overall impact that themes are making. Overall, I’d say that the next year of WordPress themes should be as productive, if not more than the last, and the ability to use WordPress as a content management system only seems to become an easier thing to achieve.

Brian Gardner has made many a WordPress theme and currently releases his pay-to-download GPL themes over at StudioPress.

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Customize Your Posts Without Touching Your Theme Files

I hate editing my WordPress theme files—and I’m a theme developer! It makes it a pain to update the theme when a new, better version comes out. And if you ever change your theme you’re either going to forget about some crucial edit you’ve made, or spend wasted hours hunting down all your customizations. Didn’t we decide to use WordPress because it was so simple to use?

Well, it is simple to use. The secret is to write a quick plugin. The really big secret is it’s not that hard.

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