Any WordPress Theme Can Be a Blank Framework

A question from a reader has prompted this post. What makes a WordPress Theme Framework? I say, any WordPress theme can be a theme framework.

I’m researching Thematic and would really like some clarification on child themes. You say several places to use a child theme but I couldn’t find a list — is Junction the only one? I’m very interested in your comment that “if you’re starting with a Child Theme any WordPress theme becomes a blank framework”. But how? Could you explain a bit? Maybe a step-by-step explanation? Do you install Thematic, then the child theme, then how does “any WordPress theme” come into play? Valerie

So is it true? Yep. I’ll tell you how, why and what it means.

How To Make Any WordPress Theme A Blank Framework

Here’s how to make a Child Theme and make any WordPress theme your blank framework. Create a unique directory in your Themes folder. Let’s say it’s “supersample” for a Child Theme called “Super Sample”. Save a file to “supersample” called style.css. Put the following at the top of your style.css file:

Theme Name: Super Sample
Theme URI:
Description: Testing WordPress Child Themes
Author: Your Name
Author URI:
Template: name-a-parent-theme-here
Version: 1.0

Just like any other theme right? Sort of. Note the template parameter:

Template: name-a-parent-theme-here

The template parameter could take anyone of the following settings (as long as the Parent Theme defined is actually in your themes directory):

  • Template: thematic
  • Template: cutline
  • Template: sandbox
  • Template: default

Now we get to my point: the template parameter turns any theme into a Parent Theme—a blank framework—when you make that Child Theme the active one. All you have to do is select that new Child Theme in the themes panel of your WordPress admin. The Child Theme is now using all the template files—header.php, index,php, sidebar.php, etc.—from the defined Parent Theme and none of the CSS of the Parent. WordPress looks for the CSS in the Child Theme directory. Try it yourself. It works right now in WordPress and let’s you modify any theme with CSS alone.

In WordPress 2.7 any template file you add to your Child Theme will override the parent template and new custom templates from the Child Theme directory will become available. This has radical implications. Right now though, you can still interact with the Parent Theme templates through functions.php in your Child Theme—but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

If you’re looking for examples of Parent-Child themes, my themes Acamas and Travailler, along with the theme you see here on ThemeShaper, and Pat Dryburgh’s Junction, are all Child Themes of Thematic. Justin Tadlock has several Child Themes available, and more coming, for his themes on Theme Hybrid. All the designs entered in the Sandbox Design Competition are Child Themes of The Sandbox.

And I think you’ll be seeing a lot more Parent Child Themes soon.

All Frameworks Are Not Created Equal

One caveat. The extent to which a blank theme framework can be a good Parent Theme depends on the support for the theme and the markup. A good theme framework needs to keep up with WordPress development. Technically, this makes the Default WordPress theme a good framework. But only technically. I don’t know if the markup really lends itself to that good use as a theme framework. Good, lean markup that lets you create hundreds of different popular layouts is rare in the WordPress theme world.

Rare too are semantic class names. No one wants to float a div named “sidebar-left” to the right of their layout. And what if you’re not going to use it as a sidebar?

What does this mean? While you can use any WordPress theme as a blank framework, not every theme makes the best blank framework. But! If all you’re looking for is a blank canvas, well, you’ve got that when you select any WordPress theme as your next theme’s Parent Theme.

More Information on WordPress Theme Frameworks

For more information check out the following posts on ThemeShaper:

Themes To Consider as WordPress Theme Frameworks

43 thoughts on “Any WordPress Theme Can Be a Blank Framework”

  1. I’m just excited about all the work you and a few others have been putting behind child themes, and I definitely think we’ll see a lot more theme authors going this route once the concept catches on.

    As you said, “All Frameworks Are Not Created Equal.” It takes a lot of careful planning to really put something together that can be used in a lot of ways.

  2. Brilliant. I’ve read this many times and experimented, but this was the lightbulb moment when I realized that maybe we don’t really need Starkers, Naked, et al. Of course what will all this mean for WP 2.7? Will/should we rely on just Child-Theming the Default theme since it will most likely be the one that has all the updated template tags and new features built in?

  3. @Kel: You could use the default theme for Child Theming. And I suspect a lot of people will—but I wouldn’t. There would be just too much I would have to override. Which is why I maintain Thematic. 😉

  4. Hi Ian… between what you’re doing with’ Thematic’, Justin’s very clean themes like ‘Bliss’ and Ben’s ‘Tarski’ theme, this opens up so many possibilities. Having a rock solid framework that’s maintained and upgraded to build upon is a dream come true for blog designers.

    So many WP themes have quirks or aren’t built on a solid foundation. When I put together blogs for clients they don’t just want it to look “hot”, they expect it to work without constant, ongoing problems.

    I can see how with just a few, well thought out and well designed themes like what you’re doing here with Thematic will make everything we love about WordPress even better.

  5. Hey Ian–thanks for your response to my question. I followed your instructions and got the child theme installed and ready to customize for a client. I like how it’s based on the 960 grid, so I’ll be able to change the layout around when the client wants it (they will). And since there’s a real possibility that I’ll be maintaining this site for my client, upgrading will be much much better.

    It is fun to think of the possibilities child themes open up for WordPress.

    Thanks again!

  6. K2 and Cutline both make great parent themes. Unfortunately (for me), I can’t think of even one of my themes that could be used as a framework! I am hoping the collaborative theme called Aligned I am working on (currently on my site) will be packaged with the emphasis on cleaning up the XHTML.

  7. Very interesting, and something I wasn’t even aware of. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

    Going off of what Kel said, I am a bit worried about how child themes could be abused. I like the idea of child themes being available for Sandbox, etc., but too many child themes being made for too many current themes could get…messy.

    Thanks again.

  8. This theme looks almost identical to Thesis from Chris Person..

    Did you copy it or what?

    Did Chris contacted you to remove it from wp list or do you had any problems so far?

    Just wondering.. Strange.

    1. You mean the current ThemeShaper Theme or Thematic? I don’t think it looks identical to Thesis. Are you sure you know what that word means? Person would have told me if it did. If Person contacted me I remove it from wp list.

      1. Ian-
        How about the Thesis Theme as a framework in your list? It’s more flexible than the ones you have listed, imo. I know it has a trivial cost, but you really should try it out. I love it!

  9. Are you sure you are not missing a step here??

    I tried this on my theme but it didn’t work. Altough The child theme shows up in the theme section of wordpress and I can active it, the theme is not importing the child css for some reason.

    Are you sure we don’t need to enter some lines of php code somwehere else? Because in the functions of your theme you have some lines of code of child theme… And I have not checked other files of thematic but probably there some other lines there..

    In my theme, the child css code is not being inherited.. it just opens the parent css like always…

    1. Thanks Ian, your tutorials are the best, and in doing my research, I’ve chosen to use Thematic as my parent theme from now on. At least until I get Pro enough to need to roll my own framework 😉 Thanks for all your hard work, and I’ll be looking to give back as soon as I feel like I know enuff to contribute worthwhile ideas 🙂

  10. I just purchased the ThematicPowerBlog theme, so I’ve made my choice after looking at A LOT of templates. I’m a novice, so forgive me if I’m way off base (and please correct me!), but my impression is that Thematic is somewhat similar to Thesis — not as a design copy — but in that they are clean, nice designs with powerful possibilities. Apparently, Thesis is more “user friendly” but it appealed to me to give it a try to try to learn how to tweak a theme myself.

    I had also looked at Frugal. What are your thoughts on that theme? I tried out the free version and it was clean and quite easy to modify – I wanted something with a few more options built in – which is why I ended up choosing Thematic.

  11. I use premium WordPress theme framework, the headway theme and thesis theme, and studiopress will release a new theme, the free one is hard to use, at least for me

  12. Thematic framework i like, before it i used to have studiopress but i think i will check it and seems ok for me

  13. “we are designing a platform that is hopefully well-suited to large content owners…”

    if this is joost’s new approach, it’s dead on arrival. today’s content sites need to focus entirely on consumer experience. short of that, it’s just matter of time that consumer will shift their attention to somewhere they can “comfortably” consume tv content on the web. content is still the king, but experience is the king-maker. hulu seems gets it.

  14. So, let me get this straight.

    Since July I’ve been modifying the CSS in themes I’ve downloaded and found, for no reason I can discern, that I get to a certain point and a theme will just put up a brick wall, and no matter what I do, I can’t apply a given piece of styling.

    Or, I can’t remove a link to some site that sells condos in Las Vegas without breaking the entire theme.

    If I create a WordPress child theme in this way, all those problems disappear, and I can do what I want?

    Perhaps even on the first try, if not the tenth?

    1. Or, I can’t remove a link to some site that sells condos in Las Vegas without breaking the entire theme.

      I would recommend avoiding any theme that links to sites that sells condos in Las Vegas. You should try and get your themes from the official WordPress Themes Directory or places like StudioPress or WooThemes.

      It sounds like you’re running into CSS issues though. A Child Theme won’t solve those larger issues.

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