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Introducing Components: A Toolbox for WordPress Theme Development

We love a good starter theme. Since launching Toolbox and its popular successor, Underscores, we’ve always reached for a starter theme when building our next, awesome WordPress theme to get us off on the right foot. With Underscores, we always say it gives you a 1,000-hour start. We get excited when we see someone fork Underscores and make it their own, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we’re obsessed with evolving what we think of as a starter theme.

Continuing that journey, we’re pleased to announce Components. Think of it as a toolbox for taking your themes where you want them to go, faster. Forked from Underscores, Components gives you a solid base to work from – but it also takes the starter theme to the next level, offering a choice between five different theme types. Each one adds the code needed for starting a certain type of theme. You can select from:

The Classic Blog

  • A two-column layout
  • A sidebar with widgets
  • Navigation in the header
  • A fixed maximum width of 1120px in your style.css file

The Modern Blog

  • A single-column layout
  • A sliding panel for navigation, social menu, and also widgets
  • A large featured image with full-width script

Portfolio

  • A portfolio post type, courtesy of Jetpack, added to all the necessary files
  • A grid portfolio view
  • A single column blog template
  • A sliding panel for navigation, social menu, and also widgets
  • A large featured image with full-width script

Magazine

  • A front page template with featured images in grid a layout, plus a two-column blog
  • Layout with excerpts
  • A two-column layout
  • A sidebar with widgets
  • Navigation in the header
  • A fixed maximum width of 1120px in your style.css file

Business

  • A front-page template with a custom header, testimonials section, and  page content area
  • A custom testimonial post type turned on, courtesy of Jetpack
  • A two-column layout
  • A sidebar with widgets
  • Navigation in the header
  • A fixed maximum width of 1120px in your style.css file

Why Components?

So why the different approach with Components? Three main things inspired this direction: the community behind Underscores, the people who use our themes every day, and the web design and development community.

While maintaining and improving Underscores, we always see great pull requests from the community that we turn away because the contributions end up being too specific for a normal starter theme. Many of those additions would have been perfect in most themes. Now, some of them have a home in a project that zeroes in on a certain kind of user with each theme it builds. Speaking of users, we know from launching hundreds of themes on WordPress.com that themes are one of the most challenging areas of WordPress for people to understand. They need more themes that “just work,” and we hope Components will help achieve that. Lastly, the web community has embraced building systems, methodically created with the pieces that make up a site. Even some popular libraries have taken this approach. We see Components as the first step to allowing you to make a starter theme that’s just right for your project.

We’re very excited to see what the community brings to the project and are looking forward to evolving Components with your help. Right now, we’re in the early stages of our vision and execution for Components, so expect both repositories that power this project, theme-components and components.underscores.me to evolve quickly and constantly.

Fork or download Components on GitHub or generate your own custom starter theme at components.underscores.me and have fun making awesome new WordPress themes!

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Give Your Jetpack Themes a Boost

If you’re making themes, Jetpack allows you to easily add additional functionality to your themes in a consistent way without a lot of overhead — and without accidentally wandering into “plugin territory.” Here at Automattic, more and more of our themes take advantage of Jetpack to implement site logos, featured content sliders, testimonials, portfolios, food menus, and other special functionality.

The trouble is that users don’t always realize they need to activate Jetpack in order to turn on this functionality. With so many installing themes directly from their WordPress dashboards, most users don’t even know where to find a readme file. As a result, we saw tons of confused users posting in the WordPress.org forums, asking how to make their sites look like our demos.

What we needed was a way to easily inform our users that their theme relied on certain Jetpack modules, and help them install or activate them as needed. This would save on support time as well as make our users happy. We also needed a solution that would be easy to add to lots of different themes, without requiring a lot of manual labor.

Enter the Jetpack Dependency Script

We’ve been working on a solution to this problem over the past few months, and we’ve come up with a simple script that helps our users figure out what’s going on. Since starting to use it in our themes, we’ve seen the number of support requests drop substantially.

Since we love open source, we’ve made the code freely available on Github — so you can use it, too!

Give It a Spin

Want to start using it in your themes? Download it from our Github repo, put it somewhere in your theme — I recommend the inc folder — and include it from your theme’s functions.php, like so:

/**
 * Load plugin enhancement file to display admin notices.
 */
require get_template_directory() . '/inc/plugin-enhancements.php';

You’ll want to replace all instances of textdomain in the script with your theme’s text domain, since it adds a few new strings. You’ll also want to regenerate your theme’s POT file once that’s done.

How It Works

Here’s how it works in Sela, which uses a Site Logo and the Testimonials custom post type.

If the user doesn’t have Jetpack installed, they’ll see this:
Install Jetpack

If the user has installed Jetpack, but hasn’t yet activated it:
Activate Jetpack

If the user has installed and activated Jetpack, but hasn’t activated the required modules:
Activate Custom Content Types module

The notifications appear on the user’s dashboard and on the Themes and Plugin pages. The notifications can be dismissed so they don’t annoy users who don’t want to use Jetpack.

What’s Under the Hood?

Since the script is looking for theme support using current_theme_supports(), themes need to explicitly register support for the Jetpack features they support. Some Jetpack features — like testimonials and portfolios — are available across all themes, and don’t require the theme to explicitly declare support for the feature. Be sure to add theme support for all Jetpack features you intend your theme to make use of. You can declare support like so:

add_theme_support( 'jetpack-portfolio' );

The script checks for theme support first, then checks to see if the required plugins (Jetpack) and modules are activated. It then builds out notifications tailored to the user’s individual situation, so that users are effectively guided through the process of installing and activating the plugin.

Blast Off!

Presto! In only 366 lines of code, we have happier support people and happier users. Feel free to use this script in your own themes, or remix it for your own purposes.

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Challenges in JavaScript-Based Theming

Welcome to part three of our tutorial on building themes with JavaScript. In part one we considered the JavaScript web landscape and where it leaves us today. In part two we looked at the forthcoming WordPress REST API. In part three, we will consider the most pertinent question: how do we apply all this to WordPress theming? Some of you are likely already realizing that there are surely a lot of challenges in doing so. And you would be right.

Watch the video presentation or read the transcript below.

Demo Materials

You’ll find accompanying material for this screencast available in a public GitHub repo — each screencast has a corresponding folder with a very simple theme that can be activated.

Getting Real

As you may have noticed in the previous tutorial’s files, we need a theme skeleton to make a project like this work. Fortunately, WordPress only requires themes to have a style.css and index.php file to be recognized. Beyond these two files, we can build the whole thing in JavaScript. If this thought is setting off alarm bells for you right now, I understand. Put those alarm bells to one side for just a little while.

If we are going to build a theme with JavaScript, we probably don’t just want one massive JavaScript file. We also don’t want to have to enqueue lots of separate JavaScript files just for the sake of keeping things tidy. Fortunately, others have already done this work for us. CommonJS — a project which, like Node.js, kicked off in 2009 — has created a myriad of specifications and conventions for JavaScript developers to follow; they’re a bit like a JavaScript version of the W3C. The CommonJS project has created specifications for JavaScript modules, which we can use to split up our code. JavaScript modules allow us to create something similar to a WordPress theme, with different JavaScript files containing different template parts and theme files.

Although we can split out our code into different JavaScript files as we can with PHP, unlike with PHP, we’ll want to concatenate these files into one when we run the theme. In theory, we don’t have to do this — but if we don’t, each page would need to enqueue lots of different JavaScript files, which is bad for performance and user experience.

To concatenate the files we’ll will need to use a build tool, such as CodeKit, Grunt, or Gulp. We can even use Unix’s Make utility, which was first released in 1977(!), to run our build process. At this stage, it doesn’t really matter, as the main thing our build process will do is smoosh our JavaScript files into one file, so whichever utility you’re most comfortable with is fine. For this tutorial, I’ll use my current favourite, Webpack.

Let’s take a look at how these JavaScript modules work. In part two, I showed an example of a very basic JavaScript theme with some inline JavaScript. We were breaking quite a few WordPress conventions, with everything in one big index.php file.

I’ve now broken this up and turned it into a more conventional theme. In index.php we now just get a header and footer. We’re now enqueueing our JavaScript in our functions.php file correctly. And our JavaScript file now sits on its own.

But if you look closely, you might notice something has changed. Our changePost function has disappeared, and instead we are requiring the changePost function. If we go back to the containing directory, you can see that we also have a changepost.js file. This file now contains the changePost function. Note that at the bottom, we have a line that says module.exports = changePost. This is the CommonJS convention for defining what the module actually is. So when we require it, this ensures that what we require is the changePost function itself.

Let’s get concatenating. I’ve mentioned that we’re using Webpack, so let’s get that set up. First, you need to install Node.js. Fortunately, this is a lot easier than it used to be — simply go to nodejs.org and download the automatic installer for your system. Once node.js is installed, we can run a command to install Webpack:

npm install webpack -g

This gives us global command-line access to Webpack. With this done, we can now run the most basic Webpack command, which is to take a source file, and smoosh it into a compiled file. The command for this is:

webpack ./theme.js compiled.js

We can now view the compiled file and see that it contains the contents of both changepost.js and theme.js. An extra little bonus with Webpack is the -p flag, which simply means that you want to minify the file – remove whitespace and remove all comments etc. You can see that even this simple example our compiled file is almost a third of the size it was unminified.

We can also add the -w flag which means we want Webpack to watch the files and automatically recompile whenever we change anything.

With the file compiled, we can see everything in action working together.

The Route of All Evil

With everything we’ve looked at so far, you can probably imagine stringing together a theme that allows a user to browse through different chunks of content from their website. However, a major missing piece is routing, something that you may not have heard of. Routing broadly encompasses the way that we deal with URLs changing. Let’s say a user visits our site, clicks to a different post and wants to share the link. With the examples we’ve looked at so far, this isn’t possible. Routing also ties into our user’s history. If we have no routes, the user can’t press the back button. No routing also means we have little chance of anything meaningful being indexed by search engines. I’m sure you can now appreciate that routing is very important.

In PHP, WordPress deals with this for us. There is a rather large class called WP_Rewrite (you can find it in wp-includes/rewrite.php). This handles every different type of URL and works out what should be shown to the user. In JavaScript, we don’t have this luxury, so we have to deal with it ourselves.

Let’s look at something basic we can implement.

If you look closely at changepost.js, you’ll notice that I’ve added a new line since the last tutorial. As well as editing the document on success, I’ve added a line that redefines window.location.hash. This is the most basic way of changing our user’s route. You’ve probably seen this used on other websites and it amounts to the same thing as using an anchor link to take the user to certain heading on a page.

Let’s look at this in action. Our eventListener has been added to the first link in the menu. If we click it, note that the route now changes.

So with some very basic routing, we now want to change what happens if the user clicks back.

If we go back to theme.js, the eagle-eyed among you may have noticed another line beneath my link listener:

window.onhashchange = changeRoute

We’re hooking a new function, changeRoute, onto window.onhashchange. Every time the URL changes, the browser fires a hashchange event, so this method allows us to tag our own JavaScript on to what happens when the hash changes. You can see beneath this I have a changeRoute function. Here, we say if the hash equals nothing — as in, we’re on the homepage — show the original post that we fetched in the first place. The code here is almost identical to changePost, but it just gets the original post.

What About no-js?

A few minutes back I mentioned that you might have alarm bells ringing. We’ve now likely dealt with a couple of those alarm bells. But we’re not done. Some of you may be thinking, “But what if the user doesn’t have JavaScript enabled? Or what if something has caused JavaScript to break?” In our current scenario, our website simply wouldn’t work.

There are some who don’t think this is a problem. Today, only a tiny number of people browse the web with JavaScript turned off, and for the most part they’re probably power users who fully understand why they have it turned off and know that it will limit their experience. But I am personally not convinced that we should just forget about no-js situations.

Will Somebody Please Think About the Search Engines?!

Even if we sort out our routing, what about search engines? As it happens, Google is now able to render JavaScript. I’m not sure if it’s official yet, but I’ve experimented with this. For example, the ThemeConf website has no server-side rendering, but try Googling “ThemeConf”. It also works on DuckDuckGo. Despite this, it’s not a great idea to rely on others to render your JavaScript — there are also places where this doesn’t work. Ironically, even though Facebook developed React, it doesn’t render JavaScript-rendered content when you’re embedding a link, for example. To see this in action, and if you use Facebook, try pasting a link to ThemeConf.com there. You don’t have to actually share it of course, but you should notice that the preview of the content Facebook will embed is blank.

I believe the most compelling reason to not rely on JavaScript rendering is performance. A developer at Google called Jake Archibald has given some great talks on this. In a worst-case scenario, our current theme makes our users wait for three page loads when they first arrive. First, the page loads, then the JavaScript loads, then the JavaScript loads the content from the REST API. Yuck! This may not be a problem if you’re connected with fiber-optic broadband, but if you’re on a mobile device or a spotty Wifi connection, you’ll really feel the pain.

This ties back into the search engine point, since we know that Google does take page-load times into account when ranking sites in search results. We really don’t want our load times to be three to four times longer than they need to be.

One way to tackle this problem with our simple theme example would be to add PHP to render the theme as well. In our simple example, this wouldn’t take too long and will work fine. The content would load exactly as the menu and footer loads, then the JavaScript will load and take over. However, this would very quickly get out of hand if we tried to build a whole theme. We would be forever having to repeat ourselves, and generally getting into a massive tangle.

Already, our simple JavaScript theme is starting to get pretty messy!

In the next part of this tutorial, we’ll look at how to move from our basic theme to something more advanced, building from an altogether more stable foundation.

The Series

  1. JavaScript, jQuery and the web landscape today
  2. Introducing REST APIs
  3. Challenges in JavaScript-Based Theming
  4. Bringing React into our theme
  5. Et voila, a JavaScript WordPress theme that uses the WordPress REST API
Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 16.33.32

Introducing REST APIs

Welcome back to our tutorial on building themes with JavaScript. In part one, we considered the JavaScript web landscape and looked at where we are today. I suggested that while JavaScript lets us render content in new and interesting ways, there are challenges when it comes to fetching the content in the first place.

Watch the video presentation or read the written transcript below.

Screencast

Demo Materials

You’ll find accompanying material for this screencast available in a public GitHub repo — each screencast has a corresponding folder with very simple theme that can be activated.

Time for a REST

With traditional WordPress themes, we’ve been able to use all manner of loops and custom queries to get data. In shifting our approach to be less PHP-centric, where will our data come from?

The missing piece of our puzzle is a REST API, essentially an HTTP interface for getting data from a source. The REST part stands for REpresentational State Transfer. Think of it as a way of accessing WordPress queries directly through a URL. We can type a URL into our browser and include parameters just like we would with a custom loop, and in the browser we can see pure data from our website.

A REST API also allows you to post data, so the WordPress REST API allows you to add and update content directly without using the admin interface. Certain types of requests do need authentication, the REST API only publicly exposes content which is already revealed by WordPress through other avenues, like RSS feeds.

This all means that you don’t have to worry about connecting to a database, you just use a series of URLs to access different types of content on your site — these are known as endpoints.

The WordPress REST API is due to be fully incorporated in WordPress 4.5, due in the spring of next year. In fact, the infrastructure of the WordPress REST API will be included with WordPress 4.4 and has already been merged into trunk.

Exploring the WordPress REST API

Next, let’s look at some of the basic things we can do with the WordPress REST API.

I have a WordPress environment set up locally where I have installed WP API. Ahead of its inclusion in core, WP API is available as a plugin on the WordPress plugin repository. With the plugin activated, I can navigate to the URL /wp-json/. At this URL I can see an overview of everything that the REST API makes available to me.

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 17.39.08

As the URL suggests, WP API uses JSON formatted data. This is not compulsory for REST APIs, but most REST APIs will use either JSON or XML formatted data. More recently JSON is the preferred format as it’s less verbose and generally easier to work with. I’m also using a Chrome extension called JSON View, which adds sane line breaks and some colours to make it easier to read the JSON. Without JSON View, the JSON data is quite hard for a human to read!

The REST API adds namespaces to its endpoints. This is to ensure that extensions and future versions of the API don’t break functionality for sites and software that use it. The primary namespace at the moment is wp/v2. This means that we can build our website against version 2 of the REST API. If, in the future, it’s decided that the REST API should be structured differently, this restructure would happen under the namespace of wp/v3. Therefore the REST API could completely change, but what we built for v2 would be safe with the inherent backwards compatibility of the v2 namespace.

So, if we navigate to /wp-json/wp/v2/ we can see all of the information about this namespace. As newcomers, we don’t have to worry about this at the moment, but it’s worth understanding the path we take to what we’re really trying to get from the REST API.

If we add posts/ to the end of the above URL, we finally start seeing the data from our website. By default, posts/ will show us the same content that a generic loop on our homepage would. On a clean install of WordPress, this is usually the 10 most recent posts.

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 17.39.35

We can further narrow down our request to the REST API by adding a post’s ID to the URL. So in this instance, /wp-json/wp/v2/posts/1241/ will show us just the one post with ID 1241.

The REST API provides typical things that we might want in relation to a post. We can see the date, modified date, permalink, title, content, excerpt, format, whether or not it’s sticky, and more.

Now let’s consider an example where we use the REST API to render content on a page using JavaScript.

I’ve set up a basic HTML document set up in my text editor, including a div with the id "page", an anchor link with text “Hello world,” and an empty h1 and div element. The div has an id of "content".

Beneath that, we have some inline JavaScript inside a script tag. To begin, we use JavaScript’s native XMLHttpRequest API to fetch our data. This is what’s behind jQuery’s Ajax functions, you may remember this from part 1 when I spoke about the website YouMightNotNeedjQuery.com.

What this does is fetch the URL from the REST API that we were just looking at. If it’s successful, it will parse the JSON response so that we can access the different elements as a JavaScript object. We then use the querySelector and innerHTML methods to change the data in the HTML on this page. At the moment we aren’t dealing with errors, we would want to deal with these if we were doing this in production.

Let’s see how this works. If I activate the session 2 theme on my test site, we can see what this does. There we go, the data from the REST API is being rendered in my theme demo.

One last thing before we end this tutorial. We still have that link that I added at the top — let’s look at how this is connected.

Well, if we go back to the index of our little theme and scroll down, you can see we also have a function, changePost. This does exactly the same thing as the other bit of JavaScript, but it gets a different post (with ID 1). Beneath this, you can see that we add an event listener to the link. The link listens for a click, if it gets clicked it fires the function. Let’s see what happens.

There we have it.

You can now see how a very basic WordPress REST API-based theme can work. In the next screencast we will consider more advanced approaches to theming and the challenges we face when taking this approach.

The Series

  1. JavaScript, jQuery and the web landscape today
  2. Introducing REST APIs
  3. Challenges in JavaScript-Based Theming
  4. Bringing React into our theme
  5. Et voila, a JavaScript WordPress theme that uses the WordPress REST API
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The ThemeShaper JavaScript Theme Tutorial

Introduction

WordPress theming hasn’t changed very much over the past few years. It’s certainly become more refined, and projects such as Underscores (_s) have helped promote best practices and robust standards. That said, we can still go as far back as Kubrick and find plenty of common ground with the most recent WordPress themes.

This isn’t a bad thing, and it’s probably one of the reasons WordPress is so popular and so many people have been able to get involved in theming. But the web has changed substantially since WordPress welcomed its first default theme in 2006. More than half the web’s users now access it from mobile devices. We have HTML5, and with it a whole host of browser APIs that didn’t exist in 2006. These advances have helped a whole new ecosystem of JavaScript-based web apps blossom.

Some aspects of this ecosystem have found their way into WordPress themes. Most of us have probably seen our fair share of jQuery-enabled carousels. We have JavaScript-enhanced tiled galleries and lightboxes available through plugins like Jetpack. Yet very few of us would consider building a theme entirely in JavaScript. The thought may even send shivers down many of our spines.

Building a WordPress theme with JavaScript might be considered lunacy by some, who may wonder why you’d want to attempt such a thing. Others may have questions about SEO, performance, accessibility, plugin compatibility, among a myriad of issues. There are definitely challenges to building a theme with JavaScript, and before reading any further you should know that this is still an experimental area of WordPress theme development.

But, and this is a big “but,” a JavaScript-based approach to theme-building opens up a wonderful world of new possibilities to the curious developer, including:

  • Storing and pre-fetching content using the browser’s Web Storage API to allow server-less, seamless transitions — using the browser’s History API — between posts and pages.
  • Animations within themes, for more natural and intuitive interactions.
  • The ability to create entirely offline experiences using all new Service Workers.

Along with these exciting improvements, the WordPress REST API is being integrated into Core. The REST API makes it much easier for us to build themes with JavaScript. There is no better time to start getting familiar with how the WordPress ecosystem is changing.

The Series

In this five-part tutorial, we’ll expose you to the brave new world that WordPress theme development might inhabit in the coming years. While the best practices for building a theme in this way are still to be established, we’ll do our very best to guide you into the secret garden of the future.

Stay tuned for:

  1. JavaScript, jQuery and the web landscape today
  2. Introducing REST APIs
  3. Challenges in JavaScript-Based Theming
  4. Bringing React into our theme
  5. Et voila, a JavaScript WordPress theme that uses the WordPress REST API
JavaScript-logo

JavaScript, jQuery and the Web Landscape Today

This is the first in our five-part series on building WordPress themes with JavaScript. Let’s kick things off with an overview of today’s web landscape and how JavaScript fits in. The vast majority of WordPress themes today use jQuery for at least something, so I’ll look at how we’re building themes today, and how we can think about using JavaScript techniques that may be less familiar.

Check out the video presentation or the written transcript below.

Screencast

A Brief History of JavaScript

What is JavaScript? In Douglas Crockford’s JavaScript: The Good Parts he describes JavaScript as the language of the browser. It enables developers to manipulate the web browser, and therefore affect users’ interactions with the browser. This is at the core of why we should even be thinking about JavaScript in the context of theming.

I’m not just talking about the DOM (Document Object Model). Of course, without JavaScript we can control what the user sees in the browser. But with JavaScript, we can interact with things beyond the DOM. We can edit the browser’s history, we can store data in the browser’s memory, and now we can even create push notifications. This takes us even further than the browser and into the user’s device.

For a long time, JavaScript also allowed us to do things asynchronously, loading things in the background while the user is doing something else. Google, via Gmail, have been doing this since 2004. At that point, working with JavaScript was prohibitively difficult, and unless you had a lot of developers and money, you didn’t generally use it in the way Google did. That said, developers did start making basic use of the Ajax techniques that Google largely pioneered with Gmail. Ajax stands for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML.

Getting Our Hands Dirty

Let’s look at some simple things we can do with JavaScript in Chrome’s developer console, using the BBC website as an example. (All modern browsers have an equivalent way of doing this.) I’m not going to use jQuery, just so we can get more comfortable with the idea of pure JavaScript.

First, we want to select something in the DOM. The two most common methods for doing this are getElementById and querySelector. They’re similar, except with querySelector we can select elements by their class. As its name suggests getElementById only allows us to select elements by their ID.

With something selected, we could now change pretty much anything about it. This is basically what jQuery does behind the scenes.

jQuery etc.

I’ve mentioned jQuery a few times. Years ago, many felt JavaScript was arcane and hard to understand. There were a lot of browser inconsistencies and compatibility issues. The jQuery project, which kicked off in 2006, tried to abstract the difficult problems with JavaScript, and allow people to more easily make use of it. At its essence, jQuery is a library of abbreviations. A great introduction to jQuery is the website YouMightNotNeedjQuery.com.

When this site first went live it was the butt of a lot of jokes, but it’s actually quite a useful resource. On the one hand we can see how jQuery really does shorten how much code we need to write, but sometimes the jQuery version is no shorter than pure JavaScript. Occasionally, the jQuery way is even slightly longer, such as with outerHTML.

I’ve used jQuery a lot in my time as a developer and while it can be useful, I do believe that jQuery can restrict those using it to what it is able to do. I also think that because of jQuery, a lot of developers remain mostly unfamiliar with JavaScript itself.

It’s also worth noting that there are/were some other players in the same field as jQuery, for example MooTools and YUI.

A Whole New Node

In 2009, JavaScript saw the start of a bit of a renaissance, as Node.js landed, which allowed you to run a server with JavaScript. The JavaScript renaissance really hit its stride in 2011 with the arrival of npm, the Node Package Manager. This was huge because it made it trivial to create and distribute JavaScript modules. In a way, npm is like a JavaScript version of the WordPress plugin repository. Since Node’s arrival, lots of new JavaScript libraries and frameworks have come onto the scene including Backbone, Ember, Angular, and React.

These new libraries and frameworks have made it easier for developers to create quite impressive app-like websites with JavaScript. At the same time, many of the browser inconsistencies and compatibility issues with JavaScript have been ironed out. We are now in a position with JavaScript where we can take pretty much complete control of the user’s experience on our websites. The one missing piece of the puzzle in the context of WordPress is data. Yes, we can manipulate the DOM and move things around, but how do we get the data from WordPress? That’s where the REST API comes in, and that’s what I’ll be focusing on in the second part of this tutorial.

The Series

  1. JavaScript, jQuery and the web landscape today
  2. Introducing REST APIs
  3. Challenges in JavaScript-Based Theming
  4. Bringing React into our theme
  5. Et voila, a JavaScript WordPress theme that uses the WordPress REST API
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Theming with the REST API – Meet Picard

If there’s one thing that has been making waves in the WordPress ecosystem this year, it is the new REST API. Officially known as WP-API, and currently available as a plugin, it is due to be rolled into core at some point this year.

A REST API?

A REST API may not initially seem like a useful feature for theme developers. It is clearly very useful for those looking to use WordPress as an application platform, but how the REST API can be used within a theme is perhaps more opaque.

The Theme Division at Automattic have had an eye on the potential uses of a REST API powering a theme for at least a couple of years now, and in recent months some concepts have started to take shape.

The Future is JavaScript

There are many potential benefits to building themes that rely more than ever before on JavaScript and the REST API, including but not limited to:

  • Design: We can have smooth transitions between the different types of content on our websites.
  • Speed: We can store content from the REST API in localStorage (effectively the browser’s memory). This means that on the initial site load we can store any post that is retrieved. Imagine a user clicking a ‘read more’ link and the full post being displayed without the need of a further server request.
  • Offline: By handling interactions with JavaScript, as developers we gain control of what happens if the user goes offline while browsing our site. We can let them know that the server doesn’t appear to be reachable and we can present content that we know is stored in their browser in a graceful way.

Picard Screenshot

Picard

In February of this year, the team worked together on a prototype REST API theme that has become known as Picard (a geeky nod to “the next generation” of themes). To create Picard, we used React, a JavaScript library for building user interfaces. Coupled with vanilla JavaScript and a number of other libraries sourced through npm, we were quickly able to produce an engaging, working prototype.

Recently, I have been talking about building themes with the REST API and our approach to building Picard at a number of WordCamps so far this year, culminating in a workshop at the inaugural LoopConf.

Today, Picard is now publicly available on GitHub.

Tango

We intend to continue developing Picard and working on some of the harder problems that we have not yet solved. We aren’t stopping at Picard either. Our experiments have led us in various directions. My colleague Kirk Wight has created another experimental theme called Tango. Tango is an extension of the concepts we are exploring with Picard, blended with the bulletproof Underscores starter theme.

Make It So

The future of WordPress theming may dramatically shift with the official adoption of the REST API but you don’t have to wait for the future to take advantage of it now. Clone Picard and Tango. Experiment and see what you can do. These are exciting times for themes!

Further Reading and Resources


 

Photo credit: JD Hancock/flickr

MacBook Air with person using keyboard

Building a Strong Foundation with Keyboard Accessibility

When you build a house, you start with the foundation. It becomes the base upon which you form everything else around. Without it, your house could crumble because of improper construction. Web accessibility shares some of the same principles. You need a solid foundation to have an accessible website and WordPress theme.

Keyboard accessibility can serve as your foundation for an accessibility-ready theme, helping you create a base that you can build on with confidence. Once you have it in place, accessibility becomes easier as you go.

Keyboard Accessibility Principles

But where do you start? You can tackle any of the four principles below one at a time. Pick one, practice implementing it in your next theme, and you’ll see the benefits. Bringing these to your project matters more than mastering them in any specific order.

Use the Keyboard

Know how to navigate with a keyboard alone. WebAIM, a non-profit organization focused on web accessibility, has an excellent article on keyboard accessibility. It includes how to use a page with the keyboard alone. From the article:

With modern web accessibility, there are many ways in which keyboard accessibility can become difficult or impossible. Fortunately, keyboard testing is easy – simply put the mouse away and test the page using only a keyboard. The tab and shift + tab keys can be used to navigate through links and form controls, and Enter can be used to activate links, buttons, or other interactive elements.

Who uses the keyboard every day on the Web? People who are blind use it almost exclusively. People with low vision may also use it if a page can be enlarged and the contrast is high enough. Those with motor disabilities often can’t use a mouse. Alternative devices also come into play too, like those that allow users to “puff and sip,” and work with airflow from the mouth. These devices interact with the computer similar to a keyboard, so they benefit from proper keyboard accessibility.

Watch your Source Order

Keep your source order in mind. Source order means how your HTML is ordered and how it flows on the page. As you create your theme, make sure that it’s logical. Turning off CSS provides a good, simple way to test this. Once everything on the page becomes linearized, does it still make sense?

Links and Buttons are Links and Buttons

Use semantic HTML and controls that have accessibility already built in. This means that links Home and buttons Main Menu are your best choice. Only three elements in HTML can be focused on by default: links, buttons and form fields. If you use a

or to create an element that’s clickable via JavaScript, a keyboard user will not be able to reach that element. Sure, you can use JavaScript to make it focusable, but why would you if HTML already does the work for you? If you don’t like the default styles of a normal , then you can style it however you’d like with CSS.

Don’t Lose Your :focus

Design and pay attention to the :focus states for your theme. Users with disabilities have an array of needs that don’t always start with a screen reader. Many users access the web using a keyboard alone, or other devices that rely on keyboard access to navigate the web. Having visual :focus styles on elements like links, buttons and form fields means they can see where they are as they navigate. For example, Underscores comes with this bit of CSS on links in the Reset section:

a:focus {
	outline: thin dotted;
}

a:hover,
a:active {
	outline: 0;
}

Having a thin, dotted outline on :focus is considered the default focus style in most browsers. It’s a good place to start, but if you’d like something different, you can design it. However, do not completely remove focus styles by setting outline: 0. That leaves your theme unusable by people who depend on the keyboard. Focus states can often mimic hover states, but they do not have to be identical. The important point here is that they do not rely on color alone. Many users have varying degrees of color blindness and/or low vision. Relying on color alone can become problematic. Using an outline, border or some other kind of shape helps your focus styles shine.

Potential Problems and Enhancements

Keyboard accessibility can become more complex in a few places. Patterns like dropdown menus, menu toggles, tabs, and modals require extra care and thought, but the same principles apply. Knowledge of the tab index attribute and ARIA roles and properties come in handy here. These advanced techniques are beyond the scope of this article, but some useful posts and tutorials have more information:

Further Reading and Resources

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments. Happy theming with accessibility in mind!

What’s new in WordPress 4.1 for Theme Developers?

WordPress 4.1 has been a long-awaited release for theme developers. Not only does this version ship with the awesome Twenty Fifteen theme, but also with a number of new functions and features that make theme development faster and easier. In this post, we’ll have a look at these new features and show you how to use them in your themes.

Auto-generated Title Tags

Until the release of WordPress 4.1, each theme contained its own implementation of the <title> tag. This code often varied from theme to theme, making it difficult for plugins — for example SEO plugins — to customize the content of the title tags.

The new, recommended approach is to leverage the add_theme_support() function by declaring support for title-tag:

function theme_slug_setup() {
   add_theme_support( 'title-tag' );
}
add_action( 'after_setup_theme', 'theme_slug_setup' );

By declaring theme support, you indicate to WordPress that the title tag should be auto-generated. This is done using the private function _wp_render_title_tag(), which is hooked to wp_head. You can still use the wp_title filter to customize the output of the new auto-generated title tags.

Navigation and Pagination

While WordPress has included functions to generate navigation links between posts or pages of posts for a while, each theme used these functions with different markup and text. WordPress 4.1 provides template tags that output the entire navigation for you.

This allows theme developers to focus on the most important element: styling. Additionally, when using the default strings, these are automatically translated in your theme, because the translations for these strings are included in Core.

Post Navigation

The post navigation functions, the_post_navigation() and get_the_post_navigation(), output a set of links to the previous and next posts. These functions are used on single post views (like single.php).

These functions accept an array arguments:

  • prev_text: Text of the link to the previous post. Defaults to the post title.
  • next_text: Text of the link to the next post. Defaults to the post title.
  • screen_reader_text: Text meant for screen readers. Defaults to “Post navigation”.

Sample HTML output:

<nav class="navigation post-navigation" role="navigation">
    <h2 class="screen-reader-text">Post navigation</h2>
    <div class="nav-links">
        <div class="nav-previous"><a href="http://website.com/beautiful-sea" rel="prev">Beautiful Sea</a></div>
        <div class="nav-next"><a href="http://website.com/spring-landscape" rel="next">Spring Landscape</a></div>
    </div>
</nav>

Posts Navigation

The posts navigation functions, the_posts_navigation() and get_the_posts_navigation(), output a set of links to the previous and next pages of posts. These functions are used for post listings (like index.php) or archives (like archives.php).

These functions accept an array of arguments:

  • prev_text: Text of the link to the previous set of posts. Defaults to “Older posts”.
  • next_text: Text of the link to the next set of posts. Defaults to “Newer posts”.
  • screen_reader_text: Text meant for screen readers. Defaults to “Posts navigation”.

Sample HTML output:

<nav class="navigation posts-navigation" role="navigation">
    <h2 class="screen-reader-text">Posts navigation</h2>
    <div class="nav-links"><div class="nav-previous"><a href="http://website.com/page/3">Older posts</a></div><div class="nav-next"><a href="http://website.com/">Newer posts</a></div></div>
</nav>

Post Pagination

The posts pagination functions, the_posts_pagination() and get_the_posts_pagination(), output a set of page numbers with links to the previous and next pages of posts. These functions are used for post listings (like index.php) or archives (like archives.php).

These functions accept an array of arguments:

  • mid_size: How many page numbers to display to either side of the current page. Defaults to 1.
  • prev_text: Text of the link to the next set of posts. Defaults to “Previous”.
  • next_text: Text of the link to the next set of posts. Defaults to “Next”.
  • screen_reader_text: Text meant for screen readers. Defaults to “Posts navigation”.

Sample HTML output:

<nav class="navigation pagination" role="navigation">
    <h2 class="screen-reader-text">Posts navigation</h2>
    <div class="nav-links"><a class="prev page-numbers" href="http://website.com/page/3/">Previous</a>
        <a class="page-numbers" href="http://example.com/">1</a>
        <span class="page-numbers dots">…</span>
        <a class="page-numbers" href="http://example.com/page/3/">3</a>
        <span class="page-numbers current">4</span>
        <a class="page-numbers" href="http://example.com/page/5/">5</a>
        <a class="page-numbers" href="http://example.com/page/6/">6</a>
        <a class="next page-numbers" href="http://example.com/page/5/">Next</a>
   </div>
</nav>

Archives

Archives are an important feature in WordPress. By default, WordPress supports taxonomy (categories, tags and post formats), author, and date (year, month, day) archives.

Two of the default taxonomies, categories and tags, support archive descriptions. This feature allows users to add descriptions for each term in these taxonomies.

It has become a best practice among theme developers to display these descriptions on archive pages, along with a contextual archive title. WordPress 4.1 introduces two new template tags to help with this.

Archive titles

The the_archive_title() and get_the_archive_title() functions display the title of an archive, as in the term or the date, with a contextual text prefix. The prefix depends on the type of archive:

  • “Category: ” for category archives.
  • “Tag: ” for tag archives.
  • “Author: ” for author archives.
  • “Year: “, “Month: ” and “Day: ” for date archives.
  • “Asides: “, “Galleries: “, “Images: “, “Videos: “, “Quotes: “, “Links :”, “Statuses: “, “Audio: ” and “Chats: ” for post format archives.
  • “Archives: ” for custom post type archives.
  • Singular taxonomy name for custom taxonomy archives.

Theme developers that want to modify the default strings can use the get_the_archive_title filter to do so.

The the_archive_title() accepts two arguments, $before and $after, that can be used to add additional text or HTML before or after the archive title.

Archive description

The the_archive_description() and get_the_archive_description() functions output the description of a taxonomy. These functions work with categories and tags as well as custom taxonomies.

The the_archive_description() template tag accepts two arguments, $before and $after, that can be used to add additional text or HTML before or after the term description.

Screen Reader Text

When using these new template tags, you might be surprised by extra text being displayed.

This is because these functions include text that provide contextual information for screen readers. This is a very important accessibility feature and it does not impact your theme’s design, as you can remove these elements while still keeping them accessible for screen readers with the following styles for the .screen-reader-text class:

.screen-reader-text {
    clip: rect(1px, 1px, 1px, 1px);
    position: absolute !important;
    height: 1px;
    width: 1px;
    overflow: hidden;
}

Deprecated Admin Screens

WordPress 4.1 also deprecates the Background and Header screens in the admin. When users click on these links, they are redirected to the Customizer, where they can make changes with a visual preview of the results.

When adding theme support for the custom background feature, you will no longer have to implement callback functions for the admin-head-callback and admin-preview-callback arguments of add_theme_support( 'custom-background' ).

Want to know more?

You might agree these new functions are awesome, but you might be unsure how to use them. I’d encourage you to have a look at the _s (Underscores) starter theme on Github. It is up to date with all the new functions added in 4.1 and provides backwards compatibility for older versions of WordPress.  You can also look at the source code of Twenty Fifteen, which leverages all these new functions.

Happy theming!

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Working with the Eventbrite API Plugin

Eventbrite and WordPress are the perfect fit, but until now, integrating the two has not been for the faint of heart. In early 2014, Eventbrite announced its new upcoming REST API, and this became the perfect opportunity to give theme developers an easy-to-use set of tools for working with Eventbrite events: the Eventbrite API plugin.

The plugin gives theme developers three ways to interact with the Eventbrite API:

  • Theme support
  • The Eventbrite_Query class
  • Helper functions

Theme Support

While the Eventbrite API plugin can display events in any theme, events look their best if the theme declares support and provides tailored templates. This simple process guarantees that events fit perfectly with the theme design, and adding support should take no more than ten minutes.

  1. Add a support declaration, hooked to after_setup_theme. There are no arguments, and usually this can be added to a theme’s existing setup function.
    function themeslug_setup() {
    
    	...
    
    	/**
    	 * Add theme support for the Eventbrite API plugin.
    	 * See: https://wordpress.org/plugins/eventbrite-api/
    	 */
    	add_theme_support( 'eventbrite' );
    }
    add_action( 'after_setup_theme', 'themeslug_setup' );
    
  2. Create an eventbrite folder in your theme, and copy over the plugin’s main template files (tmpl/eventbrite-index.php and tmpl/eventbrite-single.php).
  3. Compare the markup in eventbrite-index.php to your own index.php and adjust as necessary. Also, verify that your markup for archive titles matches the Eventbrite template’s page title. The Eventbrite templates don’t use template parts for the post markup, so you may need to compare with content.php or the like. Of course, there’s no reason you couldn’t add a content-eventbrite.php to your theme, if you prefer.
  4. Repeat step 3 with eventbrite-single.php and your own single template.

That’s it! If support is declared, the plugin will use those templates if they exist, or fall back to the plugin’s templates. To see some custom templates in action, check out any of the Twenty* default themes; their templates are included in the plugin.

Eventbrite integration with Twenty Fifteen.

Eventbrite integration with Twenty Fifteen.

The Eventbrite_Query Class

It was important to us that working with the Eventbrite API plugin should be a simple and familiar process for theme developers, with a low barrier to entry. With that in mind, we developed the Eventbrite_Query class, so fetching and displaying events is as simple as making a secondary loop (in fact, the class extends WP_Query). This allows for easy creation of special-purpose loops, widgets, creative page templates – any combination of events you want to display in a theme.

<?php
	// Get the next three unpublicized events for the Apollo Planetarium.
	$events = new Eventbrite_Query( apply_filters( 'eventbrite_query_args', array(
		'display_private' => true,
		'limit' => 3,
		'venue_id' => 6955925,
	) ) );

	if ( $events->have_posts() ) :
		while ( $events->have_posts() ) : $events->the_post(); ?>

There are a few things to keep in mind while working with Eventbrite_Query loops.

  • You can continue to use familiar template tags in event loops, such as the_post_thumbnail(), the_title(), the_content(), etc. They’ve simply been filtered to provide content from the current event.
  • For technical reasons, a few template tags need their Eventbrite equivalent, such as eventbrite_is_single() and eventbrite_edit_post_link().
  • Being a secondary loop, don’t forget to add wp_reset_postdata() at the end.
  • All of the plugin’s template tags are pluggable, and filters exist at various points for further customization.

Helper Functions

If you’re happy processing your own results, and just want an easy-to-use set of tools to handle the API requests, the included helper functions are for you. Each supported API endpoint has its own helper function, and these functions in turn use the Eventbrite_Manager class for the heavy lifting. Not only does this class make the actual API requests, but also handles validation and transients, so you can concentrate on results rather than mechanics.


The Eventbrite API plugin is developed on GitHub, and issues or questions can be posted there or in the forums. Additional info and documentation can be found here.

Along with the Eventbrite Services plugin, it’s never been easier or more fun to display events in your WordPress website. Let us know what you’re doing with Eventbrite, and tell us if there’s anything the Eventbrite API plugin can do to make your Eventbrite integrations easier for you!

The Eventbrite API plugin requires the Keyring plugin for managing OAuth2 authorization to Eventbrite. If you get stuck, check out our detailed instructions for getting connected to Eventbrite.