WordPress Theme Frameworks: Pros, Cons and All You Must Know

A few years ago, WordPress sprung into life. But it was a baby and imperfection reigned supreme. Many features that we love now were either non-existent or in development phase where they were riddled with errors. One such feature was the WordPress template system, which has come of age and now looks like nothing it was, say, five years ago.

In the past, it was impossible for WordPress users to update their websites without losing custom styling. If you’ve been using WordPress for long, you know how tiring and infuriating this was. Many people were forced to copy all their custom styles to a document before changing themes. Afterwards, they were forced to spend hours on end uploading the custom styles to the new themes.

People were wasting time left, right and center not to mention some websites broke after the new changes. And this was the norm for quite sometime until WordPress theme frameworks were born. The birth of WordPress theme frameworks ushered in a new future for WordPress themes by adding flexibility and changing several other aspects of the WordPress template system.

In today’s post, we will demystify the WordPress theme framework. We will look into:

  • What is a WordPress theme framework – the few things you need to know about WordPress theme frameworks
  • Advantages of WordPress theme frameworks
  • Disadvantages of WordPress theme frameworks
  • Examples of WordPress theme frameworks
  • Should you choose a WordPress theme framework?
  • WordPress theme framework resources

By the end of this post, you will have a crystal clear understanding of WordPress theme frameworks you will be glad you stuck around. Please come with me to the next section.

What is a WordPress Theme Framework

wordpress-theme-framworks

A WordPress theme framework is nothing but a basic albeit well-coded parent theme. The major difference between a framework and a normal theme is you need a child theme to add custom styling with the former, which isn’t necessary with the latter.

If you create a child theme for your parent theme, you have every right to call that particular parent theme a WordPress theme framework. However, you should note that not all parent themes can be good theme frameworks, but all frameworks can be great parent themes. But before I go ahead of myself, let’s us see what WordPress says about theme frameworks.

WordPress Codex provides two meanings for the term “Theme Framework”:

  1. A “drop-in” code library that is used to facilitate development of a theme – A drop-in code library is not and can never be installed or used as a theme. Instead, a code library is included to a theme using the functions.php file. Examples of frameworks that qualify as code libraries include Hybrid Core, Redux Framework and Options Framework.
  2. A stand-alone base/starter theme that is intended to be forked into another theme or else to be used a parent theme template e.g. Thematic. (Our post concentrates on this definition)

In simple words, a WordPress theme framework takes care of functionality and stores the base code, but/and requires a child theme for further styling. A single framework can be used to power many different websites. The Thesis 2.0 framework, which powers over 57,000 WordPress websites, is a case in point.

As a developer, you can easily develop your own WordPress theme framework (since it’s just a basic WordPress theme) and use it to power your own personal projects or serve it to the entire world. Now that WordPress theme frameworks don’t sound like mysterious gifting from Asgard or the twelve (12) gods of Olympus, let’s look at the pros and cons.

Advantages of WordPress Theme Frameworks

  1. Time efficient – WordPress theme frameworks speed up the process of development since they come prepacked with starter code. This means, as a developer you don’t need to code your theme from scratch. Just pick a framework of your choice and build your designs on it.
  2. Faster page load speeds – Most WordPress theme frameworks load a lot faster than typical themes. This is because frameworks are generally free from heavy graphics and junk code. The code quality of WordPress theme frameworks is generally good compared to most stand-alone themes.
  3. Support – All (or most of) WordPress theme frameworks including the free ones come with lifetime support. You will get answers to most of your questions in the support forums or on the developers’ sites.
  4. High web standards – WordPress theme frameworks are written by diligent WordPress developers following strict web coding standards. Other than that, frameworks are peer reviewed, which means you get the best standards and more awesomeness. Lastly, most developers comment-out their code, which helps you to modify anything with ease.
  5. Easy to upgrade – On top of getting a lifetime of updates, WordPress theme frameworks rely on child themes, which let you keep all your custom changes when upgrading.
  6. Community – Popular WordPress theme frameworks have huge communities of like minded people. Having a community by your side as you develop your online business is always a great plus.
  7. Ease of development – Some frameworks ship with massive code libraries. Some frameworks come with drag and drop interfaces that remove the need for programming knowledge. You don’t need to be a pro developer to craft amazing themes using a WordPress theme framework. As a novice, you can create a professional WordPress site in no time.
  8. Increased functionality – WordPress theme frameworks come with built-in functionality including widgets, extended functions and so much more. Often, frameworks provide more functionality than normal themes not to mention they (frameworks) are way easy to customize and extend.
  9. Plenty of design freedom – If you pick the right WordPress theme framework, you can develop any design you set your mind on. You can create simple blogs thro’ to dynamic portals with multiple layouts. Once you understand the workings of your framework, you will be able to achieve so much more than just simple blogs!
  10. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – You cannot ignore the value of SEO in online marketing.  Your online business will benefit greatly when you optimize your website for search engines. Most WordPress theme frameworks have built-in options for search engine optimization.

Everything that has pros comes with cons as well. Let’s look at some demerits of WordPress theme frameworks.

Disadvantages of WordPress Theme Frameworks

  1. Cost – While there are a few free frameworks such as Thematic and Cherry Framework, the majority of WordPress theme frameworks are not free. You either pay a one-time fee or a recurring annual fee. In some cases, you might even be forced to pay extra to receive updates and support. Prepare your budget in advance by doing some comparison shopping but then go for a framework that suits your needs.
  2. Time to learn – Each WordPress theme framework is unique – they are coded differently. Any framework comes with its own unique set of functions, filters and hooks, which means you have to invest time to learn if you’re to take full advantage of the framework. Nonetheless, once you learn the ropes, you will be coding child themes like a pro.
  3. Framework limitations – WordPress theme frameworks are not flawless. Each framework has its own limitations that might force you to overwrite core files to accommodate your needs. This calls for vigilance on your part during the shopping process.

The merits of WordPress theme frameworks outweigh the demerits by far, which should motivate you to proceed to the next section.

Examples of WordPress Theme Frameworks

Genesis Framework By StudioPress

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Genesis is the choice framework for many a business. StudioPress, the developer, declares, “…Genesis is the foundation of any smart WordPress design“, and here is why. The framework boasts only the best search engine optimization, responsive HTML5 design, top of the world security, nearly instant updates, easy to customizations, plently of widgets and multiple layout options, etc.

1stwebdesigner.com gave Genesis an overall rating of B+ in an article seeking to find the best WordPress theme framework. Genesis is suitable for novice and advanced developers alike, and you can get its full power for a one-tome price of $59.95 bucks only.

Get The Genesis Framework

Thesis 2.0 Framework

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Powering over 57,000 WordPress websites across the globe, Thesis is making quite a name for itself. This framework stands out for being simple and straightforward. The best part is for a one-time fee of $197 bucks, you can get the Professional Plan. This includes the Thesis 2.0 framework, host unlimited domains, a lifetime of updates & email support, access to member-only forums, a classic responsive skin, alluring social triggers skins, the pearsonified skin, Mailchimp & AWeber optin boxes, social media sharing boxes, the developer toolbox and more.

You can also opt for the $87 Basic Plan that leaves out some features and supports only one (1) domain. With great landing pages, custom 404 error pages and customizable topography, Thesis is exactly the framework you need to jump start your online business.

Get Thesis Framework

Cherry Framework

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For a free WordPress theme framework, Cherry Framework is really impressive. It’s “…the most delicious WordPress framework“, according to CherryFramework.com and I tend to agree because it’s fully responsive, easy to install, has steady updates, the included shortcode functionality makes it easy to extend the framework however you want, it includes Bootstrap support, there are useful widgets, and a ton of other elements. I just downloaded my copy of Cherry Framework and I can’t wait to give it a ride.

Get Cherry Framework

Headway WordPress Theme Framework

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Headway was built with three people in mind: the Newbie, the Design, and the Developer. To put it another way, Headway was built for the people who want to turn their “uncompromising tastes” in design into a reality regardless of their design skills. With a ton of top of the range features and benefits, this theme framework gives you exactly what you need to build a site that reflects your personality without writing code. That’s right, Headway is all drag and drop.

If that wasn’t enough, the guys over at Headway Themes have thrown in a couple of templates to sweeten the deal and to ensure you don’t start with a blank canvas. Nobody likes starting with a blank canvas. Other than that, the Headway framework is 100% responsive, HTML5 designed, SEO optimized and quite extensible. Give your business the fresh breath of life it needs for only $59.

Get Headway Themes

Total Drag & Drop WordPress Theme Framework

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Crafted right here at WPExplorer, the Total theme is a clean and modern WordPress framework designed for multiple purposes. The Total framework can help you to create everything from elegant blogs to news sites and online stores just to mention a few. The framework comes with an intuitive drag an drop builder that allows you to create pages with different layouts. On top of that, Total comes with an extension pack that offers you more customization options.

Features at a glance include a fully responsive layout, modern design that features impeccable CSS3 animations, child theme support (obviously – that’s what makes it an awesome framework), the oh so easy Visual Composer Drag & Drop Page builder, SEO optimization, great support, and more. Checkout more Total features.

This theme framework is literally bursting at the seams with useful features. Total is the best selling WordPress theme around here, and for a small price of $55, you can have a Total solution to your design woes.

Get Total – Responsive Multi-Purpose WordPress Theme

More Frameworks

There are hundreds, or even thousands, of other theme frameworks on the web. Other renowned WordPress theme frameworks include:

At this point, you can tell what a WordPress theme framework is. You can also pick the right framework for your business. But should you choose a WordPress theme framework over a typical WordPress theme?

Should You Choose a WordPress Theme Framework?

Well, it all depends on your business needs. Your experience with WordPress doesn’t matter for everyone can get a framework that compliment their skill level. If you want to start or modify a simple blog, it’s best to go with a premium WordPress theme. If you need a powerful framework for a big website, you can choose any of the frameworks instead. Additionally, if you change your code and other elements of your website regularly, a framework is your best option.

Take time to understand your specific needs to determine the solution (framework or typical theme)  that will suit you best. Overall, WordPress theme frameworks have an upper hand over normal WordPress themes in terms of security, flexibility and functionality.

WordPress Theme Framework Resources

If you would like to expand your knowledge of WordPress theme frameworks, we gathered the following resources just for you:

Conclusion

A WordPress theme framework could be the tool you need to take your business to the next level. You cannot forget the many benefits of using a WordPress theme framework as opposed to a normal theme. At the same time, don’t go investing in a framework when all you really need is a premium WordPress theme. When all is said and done, I would like to call your attention to our very own Total Drag & Drop WordPress Theme Framework.

Other than that, we look forward to reading your thoughts in the comment section below 🙂

Freddy
Post Author: Freddy

Freddy is a WordPress theme reviewer at WP Theme Raves, published WordPress blogger, web dev and founder of Vista Media Enterprises, an online business dedicated to WordPress users looking to boost conversion rates via content marketing.

Disclosure: This page contains external affiliate links that may result in us receiving a comission if you choose to purchase said product. The opinions on this page are our own. We do not receive payment for positive reviews.
Got something to say? Join the discussion.
  1. Cadu de Castro Alves says:
    I've been using a brazilian framework called Odin for about 6 months in four projects. The framework was created by the brazilian community. It's free and open source. The development cycle and support is very active. You can download at http://wpod.in.
  2. Chris Mavricos says:
    Cherry Framework dequeues the core jQuery and loads its own old version (1.7.2).... yikes. https://github.com/CherryFramework/CherryFramework/blob/master/includes/theme-scripts.php
    • AJ Clarke says:
      AJ Clarke
      Ouch that is bad! Got to be careful when using any Framework and really check out the code to fix out any issues such as this. Thanks for the heads up I'll leave them a message.
      Admin
  3. I don't want to knock the article because I love reading about frameworks. However, even after quoting directly from the Codex, the article continues to focus on one of the possible types of frameworks as defined in the #2 definition of the term. I don't get why folks don't focus on the #1 definition. I'm not saying you need to focus on my framework (linked in the Codex quote), which is one of the oldest and longest-running in existence, but it'd be nice to hear about drop-in frameworks, possibly a bit more than as an afterthought or footnote.
    • AJ Clarke says:
      AJ Clarke
      Hey Justin, I totally agree. Most of our readers aren't developers which is why are focus wasn't mostly on the drop-in frameworks (I think thats a reason why a lot of other blogs as well don't focus on them). Unfortunately a lot of people "developing" sites for clients using WordPress don't even know how to code! It would be a great idea to write a follow up that does focus only on the drop-in frameworks, because there are a lot of people using them and there are some really good ones out there (such as Hybrid). Would you be interest in authoring this post? We'd love to have you!
      Admin
      • I'm not sure that I've done enough research of the various drop-in frameworks. The only ones I really have much familiarity with are my own (Hybrid Core) and Carrington. WP Framework was similar, but it's no longer being developed as far as I know. The Redux and Options frameworks are both options frameworks and not necessarily what I consider in the same category. They're frameworks, but I wouldn't call them "theme frameworks" because they're extremely specialized frameworks for handling theme/plugin options. I think it'd be an interesting article to read, which is why I always read about frameworks because I'm hoping to see what other frameworks (not themes) are doing. I'm not sure that I have the time to dive into the other frameworks right now, but we'll see.
        • AJ Clarke says:
          AJ Clarke
          Definitely. A lot of new frameworks "popping" out but like you said they are mostly just admin panels, page builders or meta classes. I'll do a bit more research as I am curious as well. I think it would be nice to have a post with 1-2 paragraphs from the developers of some of these frameworks explaining what they are trying to accomplish. If I hook this up I'll send you an email if you'd like to share a bit about what you're working on. Thanks for stopping by again!
          Admin
  4. Rick Sportel says:
    Nice post Freddy! I have chosen Genesis Framework as my favorite WordPress framework. The Copyblogger people have done a good job creating a framework that is optimized for SEO, page speed and safety! The fact that it is HTML5 and responsive is also a big pro. Next to that Genesis is documented very well and not so hard to learn.
    • AJ Clarke says:
      AJ Clarke
      Awesome, glad you've had a great experience with them, thanks for sharing Rick ;)
      Admin
  5. Navjot Kaur says:
    Awesome write-up! Very well explained all about WordPress theme frameworks, their Pros and Cons and a number of frameworks that are superb to use. I would prefer to add another name to this best category list, that is Template Toaster. It is an incredible framework with lots of aspects to meet specific needs of users. Visit here, templatetoaster.com/wordpress-theme-framework You will be astonished that it is the most significant framework that contains awesome features. From the customization to responsive web designing, drag and drop tools to widget and plugin installation, compatibility for all CMSs and browsers to hundreds of fonts and color support and several other inbuilt features, everything is sufficient to generate a website theme as required. Great treasure for the web users! Thanks!
  6. Michael Thompson says:
    I used Genesis , Canvas and TemplateToaster frameworks. But i prefer TemplateToaster framework its easy.
    • Kyla
      Thanks for sharing! But to me, TemplateToaster is really a developer tool and not a WordPress theme framework ;-) (it's not a ready to use option like the ones we've listed)
      Admin
  7. Nilanchala says:
    Some of the comments here are inducing more questions then answering problems. Though I am not having expertise on WordPress development, I believe for high volume traffic websites going with any theme frameworks might not be a best option. It might be good to start with to go live quickly but overtime you will feel to write your own custom theme. On my site stacktips.com, I have tried many different frameworks. Currently I am stuck at Redux Framework. It just serve the purpose but it comes with the cost. It makes too many DB queries, and lot many useless code blocks it has to go through before rendering a page. Hence, I am writing my own theme from scratch. Design the layouts you need, and place the templates required. I believe thats the way to go! Having said that, if your client is stuck at low budget, you have no choice but to use some frameworks.
    • AJ Clarke says:
      AJ Clarke
      Writing a theme from scratch is a great idea, the issue is not everyone can do that. Also using an already made theme for client work can be a great idea because the theme developers should hopefully be making all the needed updates for security, bug fixes, etc and you wouldn't have to worry about that. Regarding Redux, this isn't really a "theme framework" since it's main purpose is providing theme panel settings and meta settings (which I agree is best done manually such as we've done in our Total theme via the core WP customizer). A Framework in my opinion is a theme that has everything you could possibly need to create a website but at the same time the ability to remove or add anything - aka, it's completely modular. Either way, I do agree, that if you can build something custom for your site it will always be a good solution since you can add only what is needed and keep it fast and well optimized. But if you are using a theme that allows you to remove anything you don't need and add what you do, then it's just as good ;)
      Admin
  8. Geekyard says:
    My site looks cool with Genesis Framework - Magazine Pro template !!! :) and it loads in lightening fast

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