The Definitive List of WordPress Theme Frameworks

By Chris La Nauze

SitePoint already has a long list of articles on WordPress theme frameworks, but as you’ll see, there are dozens of frameworks out there, all with their own strengths and weaknesses, and catering to different styles of development.

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Introduction to WordPress Theme Frameworks

I was sitting in my office, scratching my head, thinking about WordPress theme frameworks. It is late I’ve been researching for this article for days, weeks, even months and wondering what to write, that is different and unique to the other writing styles about frameworks.

Lost in my thoughts I had a brain wave. It occurred to me that when people write about WordPress frameworks they tend to cover only the main ones, you know… the ones that the developers in your local WordPress Meetup community specialise in. frameworks like Genesis, Thesis or WooCommerce.

Why is that? Maybe they didn’t look hard enough, or maybe they didn’t want to write about frameworks that might just die off (or are no longer developed). Or maybe they had a tight deadline, and defaulted to the top ranking ones from the search engines. Who knows?

I want to be different! Yeah that’s right, sit back grab a coffee. I’m going to take you through a Definitive Guide to WordPress Frameworks.

Why definitive? Definitive by definition means “done or reached decisively and with authority. synonyms: conclusive, final, ultimate”.

I’m not going to stop at one, two, or even ten frameworks. As I said I’ve been researching this for some time. The list is massive. There are quite a few here that many of you may or may not have heard of. But that’s ok for the purpose sharing and learning from each other. You may find a framework here that you want to contribute too, or suggest one that’s not listed.

Are you ready? Here we go!

What Defines a Theme Framework or What Is a WordPress Theme Framework?

Before diving into the list, I just need to cover some background into theme frameworks. After all, this may be the first article you’ve ever read about theme frameworks and I don’t want you to be left out. If you’re a veteran of frameworks you can skip down below to the long list of frameworks.

A theme framework is essentially a Parent Theme in which a development team or individual developer would create to offer some functionality, that would make it easy to update, and reuse on many sites without effecting the design of individual sites.

A Child Theme would then be created to create the custom style sheet, but the functionality would be left up to the main framework.

On a side note, this doesn’t mean that every parent theme is in fact a framework. There are template providers out there that provide parent themes with many hundreds of child theme variations, but then don’t use that same code base on their next parent theme (they tell you it’s a framework, when technically it’s not).

Over at the WordPress repository they break down three meanings for the term “Theme Frameworks” drop-in, stand-alone, and Parent Theme template, it’s pretty hard to define it any simpler and I suggest you have a read over it sometime.

Theme Frameworks WordPress Codex

For the purposes of this article I’m going to concentrate more on the last one, Parent Theme Templates. This is the most common form known to the greater development community and the general public.

Different Types of Theme Frameworks

Frameworks come in many forms, and tackle different aspects of business and design. Some are free and some paid.

There are major frameworks which are generic, in the fact that they don’t target any one specific niche but cover broad multifunctional aspects of any industry, helping web designers and developers world wide offer advanced websites with quicker turnaround and build costs, by leveraging these code frameworks.

Some of these frameworks have been built over many years with countless thousands of hours of development, to build out extensive, extremely well documented and supported frameworks.

Some advanced features of these frameworks are the allowance for frontend drag and drop editors, backend drag and drop, shortcodes, built for many devices and layouts.

It’s no wonder why web businesses love using frameworks.

My current favourite framework is the SEO Design Framework, built to help rank you better.

Why Use a Framework?

It’s a good question, why use a WordPress framework?

While you may think that you may never actually need to build your own framework, you may have already used a framework without really realizing it. Frameworks like Genesis and WooFramework, Thesis, are now so common that you could almost be forgiven (or at least forgive a newbie) that it was part of WordPress core.

Let’s take this example. Noel Tock built websites for the hospitality industry niche. Building his own framework was a benefit to him, so he could deliver great projects to his customers and continually add value and optimize it for performance, without the bloat of other functions that his customers will never need.

This helped him to speed up development, and offer a more long lasting solution to his clients. Added benefits can go as far as saving his team support and training time for new staff and clients.

There are many benefits that he had to consider like SEO and development best practice. But he had the benefit that he didn’t have to go and get a bunch of plugins to add much needed items like rich snippets, social comments, and mobile first design. As well as build email lead generation forms and so on.

He gave the clients flexibility of a semi custom design, and could easily create new designs just by editing a new style.css and functions.php file.

For him this has evolved into a SaaS solution, and his framework turned into the service Happy Tables.

Have I got you thinking? What’s your niche? And how about a framework for your vertical?

Advantages and Disadvantages

There are many advantages to using a WordPress theme framework. From many of the popular ones, you don’t have to go far to see a hive of activity of developers, and designers, in forums, and communities helping the bamboozled.

The strength of the code, is generally of higher calibre, meeting WordPress coding standards, and can easily be put through its passes, with testing plugins and services, like WP Test, Theme Authenticity Checker (TAC) and Theme Check.

Some key points that are an advantage would be;

  • easier development long term
  • built-in functionality (less dependency on plugins)
  • code quality
  • upgrades

Some disadvantages are;

  • learning curve
  • hooks and filters capabilities
  • code bloat
  • limitations (if it’s not your own)
  • cost
  • updates and support

List of WordPress Theme Frameworks

In no particular order:

Tutorials and Articles

As mentioned in the opening of this article, SitePoint has a growing list of resources covering a variety of WordPress theme frameworks, here are a few of our most popular to get you started:

Conclusion

To gather this long list, I reached out to several WordPress communities for guidance, and an opportunity to share the not so common, and if you are serious about WordPress and want in, I suggest you join too.

Thanks goes out to the LinkedIn Community for their input into many of the frameworks above.

It’s almost impossible to cover every framework, new ones appear quite frequently.

If you find a framework not listed above, and it is based on the definitions of a framework, a real framework, not a one-size fits-all theme, then by all means, please list it in the comments below.

  • Article is a good read. WordPress is such a wonderful platform that makes it possible for the developers to design powerful websites. It comes with number of modules and themes to support any type and size of business requirements. Frameworks act as a base for the websites, and arguably WordPress has some of the best responsive frameworks to work with. Framework can be customized or act as parent theme for developing a child theme that inherits all the functionalities and code from a parent theme and yet can work as an independent theme. Beans, Genesis and Thesis are few of the most efficient frameworks that comes with number of PSDs to use the framework as per the business expectations. It is important to use responsive themes and ensure that the security is not compromised while customizing the actual framework.

  • If I was the author of this list, I wouldn’t call it “The Definitive Guide to WordPress Frameworks”.
    But it’s the most comprehensive list of WP Frameworks I’ve seen for a while, if not ever.

    In my humble opinion, the relative new Beans framework is worth a second look. It’s premium quality, but free of charge, responsive, fast and comes with a premade Childtheme.

    • Hi Holger, thanks for your feedback. Comprehensive would make sense. It was originally much longer, but I encouraged the author to split it up to make it easier to digest, there are just so many frameworks out there! We’ve got some more articles on Beans coming soon too ;)

    • Thanks Holger, the beauty about headlines, is they can be changed if the editor wishes to. The permalink is different which allows for this. I’ll pass on your suggestions to the editor. And thanks for your feed back.

    • Hi again Holger, we’ve updated this to be called the “List”, which seems better suited ;)

  • jimlongo

    I think there should be a distinction between framework and starter themes. The former meant to have a child theme to change it, the latter being hacked directly.

    i’ve been using FoundationPress (link is wrong BTW), and I wouldn’t call it a framework. it is a barebones theme with front-end tools added (Foundation6 css and js). In fact there are very few if any backend options. That’s what I prefer, it’s not intended for end users, if I need a feature I will have to add it.

    To my mind, it’s the plethora of back-end options that make something a framework. Like WooThemes “Canvas” which has a ton of backend options from the wooFramework. It gives end users an easy way to change the look, feel and functionality of the site, but at the cost of bloat.

    • Hi @jimlongo. Thanks for your feedback it should actually say Foundation 6 by Zurb, as “Foundation Press” is a starter theme not a framework.

      Valid points I suppose it totally depends on the purpose you wish to use a framework in the first place. If you are not a coder then, Yes having a framework that can do everything with a easy to use back end interface is great. But if you are a coder, then having a framework that gives you the versatility to use hooks and filters to control the advanced features of a framework is also a great Idea.

      I the later, love the idea that I can leverage a framework, for client sites, that only show what i need the client to use in the back end, instead of all bells and whistles.

      • jimlongo

        Thanks for your thoughts @Lanauze Designs. Agreed on most points.

        On a side note if you meant Foundation 6 by Zurb I don’t see how it’s in the article to begin with as it has nothing to do with WordPress themes.

        • Hmm. Thanks for feedback i will double check what i meant. And let the editor correct me.

          Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

          ——– Original message ——–

  • Thanks Alex, agree! We’ve updated this to include Beans.

  • Amica Catherine

    Thanks for the list, My choice of WordPress theme frameworks from the lists of this “TemplateToaster”

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