If you design website themes for clients and know how much effort it can be to start from scratch, you might be interested in WordPress frameworks. You’re probably already familiar with WordPress, a versatile, low-end CMS (Content Management System) which is often used for weblogs and a variety of types of websites as well. But are you familiar with WordPress Frameworks, which can reduce your website design time significantly by giving you a functional or near-functional WordPress theme to start with?
WordPress frameworks often give you one or more starter themes that usually just work as is, plus an infrastructure that allows you to quickly customize the design for yourself or a client. The infrastructure includes the necessary HTML, CSS and WordPress-specific PHP code, and a specific usage license terms.
Key features that a website theme designer might want:
- CSS framework – e.g., Blueprint or 960.gs
- Gallery features
- Drop down menus
- Choice of fixed or fluid layout
- Choice of multiple columns
- Variety of templates
- Versatility – busy designers don’t have time to use multiple WP frameworks. If they can please the most clients with the versatility of one framework
Of course, designers are often design for clients, who are publishing some sort of website or blog. A designer will usually build a custom theme that works, but a website publisher will want certain key features:
- Easy to tweak conceptually simple changes without consulting the site designer.
- Search engine optimized.
- Widgetized, for easy addition or change of feature blocks on the site.
- Speed – web pages should not be hampered by use of a WP framework.
If you’re not using a designer, you’ll also want a framework (or theme) that works out of the box. (Too many of the more sophisticated WordPress themes look great in their promo pages but just don’t work out of the box, even for compatible versions of WordPress.)
10 Free WordPress Frameworks
The following WP frameworks and pseudo-frameworks range from the gorgeous to the, well, plain, but all provide strong starting points for WP theme design, saving you time. They’re arranged in alphabetical order for easy reference. Some come with a starter theme or child theme, though a few have communities where others have created additional free/paid child themes. All are free and tend to lack support beyond some documentation or community tutorials. A few have pro versions where the price gets you extra features as well as technical support. WordPress version compatibility is listed when that info was readily available. The snapshots shown here are either of the theme’s home page or either of the main theme or a child theme.
The Ashford basic framework is probably one of the more fleshed out freebies. It has a ton of features, only a few of which are listed below. For extra features, broader licensing terms and unlimited tech support, you can purchase the Pro version.
- Appearance – Control colors, background, log and other attributes with theme options.
- Columns – 2.
- CSS – 16 column grid using 960.gs CSS framework.
- Gravatar support.
- Images – Support for auto-thumbnails, Lightbox, content carousel.
- Menus – Multi-level drop-down, with custom link colors.
- Related posts, with thumbnails, is automatic.
- Templates – over a dozen, to suit different page content needs, including TOC (Table of Contents) and FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions).
- Theme options – Minimizes need for code changes.
- Wireframe support
Biblioteca is an offshoot of Alex Denning’s redesign of WPShout.com’s redesign. He added a number of features and three theme looks that work out of the box, and released it as a pseudo-framework.
- Appearance – Magazine, Tech and Bloggy choices – set in options page.
- Footer – three columns; enable or disable from options page.
- Images – jQuery slider to feature content; auto-resizing of images on home page.
- Layout – Multiple layouts with different widths for main content area.
- Menus – Drop-down navigation.
- Plug and play – works as is.
- Styles – Lets you create multiple themes styles: Magazine, Tech blog, etc.
- Theme options support.
The Buffet framework has features for theme designers, as well as easy-to-use options for end users
- CSS – Choice of 960.gs and Blueprint CSS frameworks, included.
- Localization support.
- Microformats support – hAtom, hCard, XOXO.
- Theme extensions, built from action and filter functions.
- Theme options support.
The Carrington framework offers community support, a variety of crisp looking base themes — including one for mobile web browsers. One look at the showcase of themes other designers have built shows you Carrington’s versatility. You can even add your own Carrington-based theme to the showcase.
Seems incredibly versatile. A look at the showcase of sites using Carrington-based themes backs up this claim.
- Child theme support. (Carrington was not originally a parent theme; child theme support was added later.)
- Columns – 1, 2 or 3.
- Customization – The Carrington framework uses named templates, to reduce the use of conditional code. Separating PHP code and styling makes customization easier and quicker designers. Customization can be as simple as swapping the templates being used. So different post categories could easily have their own templates. (Of course, you’d have to create custom templates.)
- Gallery – Slideshow gallery support.
- Support for clean, crisp forms, tables, headings, subheadings and more.
- Styles – choice of base themes, including JAM (Just Add Markup), with no CSS style elements — in case you want to start almost from scratch.
Pricing: Free, Open Source under GPL v2.
A glance at the ThemeHybrid site shows a very professional approach for what is essentially a free WP framework that comes with online tutorials. The sample themes are sharp-looking and usuable. The example above is the “Hybrid News” theme.
- Child theme support.
- Hooks – Action, filter, shortcode and contextual hooks.
- Localization – Hybrid has been translated into over 20 languages.
- Plugins – Hybrid-specific plugins.
- Templates – over 15, including one each for Sitemap, Log In, Register functionality, and another for Twitter-style content (called Quick Post).
- Theme options support.
- Widgetized – 8 areas.
Compatibility: At least 2.5-2.7.
Pricing: Access to Theme Hybrid requires membership, but it’s free. Themes are also free, but for US$25/yr, you get access to help and customization tutorials.
Links: Main, Demo, WordPress page.
6. OnePress Community
The OnePress Community framework is intended for theme design for sites that have a phpBB press forum. The framework integrates with phpBB and has a unified login. (Note: if you’re using BuddyPress instead of phpBB, try out BuddyMatic, which is a port of the Thematic framework — discussed later in this article — and reveals BuddyPress features only if BuddyPress is installed. Otherwise it functions as Thematic, on both WP and WPMU.)
- Forums – phpBB support.
- Hooks for theme customization.
- Widgetized, including in the footer. Other widgets include Featured Posts, tabbed content
Compatibility: WP 2.7.
Sandbox is not a WP framework in the same sense as some of the other ones, but it is a good starting point for creating your own themes, each of which can have your GNU GPL license. Sandbox is also a good place to learn WP theme customization, without too many distractions to get in the way of learning.
- Styles – Customizable with just CSS, but works out of the box. Because it’s a very minimalist theme, it’s easier to add design tweaks without having to rip out what’s already there.
- Microformats: hAtom, hCard. The description of Sandbox says that it was the first to include full support for these two microformats. If you’re building a Semantic Web application with WordPress, you’ll likely want to use micformats.
- XHTML 1.0 validity.
8. Simon WP Framework
The Simon framework is extremely bare bones, with not a lot of evident current features and a Blank theme. However, it’s creator, Simon Design, does plan a number of interesting upcoming features. Alternatives include Vanilla, Whiteboard, WordPress Starter, Starkers.
- Columns – 2.
- CSS – Uses 960.gs CSS grid framework and Blueprint Typography framework.
- Styles – Blank theme.
- Widgets – Featured Posts is an in-built feature.
Thematic is another free framework that offers some great features, including gorgeous tables, callouts, multi-page posts and support for displaying programming code. A look at the showcase of child themes built on the thematic Framework show its versatility. There’s also a customization wiki to get you started.
- Child themes support, plus free and paid child themes available.
- Columns – 2 or 3.
- Community support.
- Layout – grid-based, so there’s a basis for multi-column themes.
- Multi-author blog options.
- Widgetized – 13 areas.
10. WP Framework
The WP framework is self-described on its main page as being “A blank” WP theme framework. Well for a blank framework, it has some of the features you’d expect to see in a complete theme. Unlike some of the other projects the documentation for WP framework is very comprehensive, giving you an easy way to find solutions to any problems you may run into.
- a WordPress theme framework that you can modify directly
- a starting base for any kind of WordPress theme project
- completely well documented from it’s code base
- extremely flexible, modular, and extensible