WordPress Frameworks for Mass-Distribution Theme Development

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Many WordPress developers are trying out their luck with selling themes on places like Themeforest or on their own site. Although it certainly seems like a crowded space, there is a lot of growth potential, in my opinion. Just take a look at one of our recent posts, where we asked which themes are missing from the market. We had quite a varied and interesting response to that question.
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Many WordPress developers are trying out their luck with selling themes on places like Themeforest or on their own site. Although it certainly seems like a crowded space, there is a lot of growth potential, in my opinion. Just take a look at one of our recent posts, where we asked which themes are missing from the market. We had quite a varied and interesting response to that question.

The topic of today concerns the development aspect of building and selling themes. A framework can help you build a more homogenous backbone for all your themes, and also helps you speed up things. Most of the frameworks available for WordPress developers take the form of a parent theme, leaving you to create the child theme. One such example is Genesis by StudioPress. When developing sites for clients, I wouldn’t use any other framework, as Genesis is so cleanly written and targeted towards speeding up a developer’s theme creation process.

On the other hand, this approach of parent theme framework doesn’t work too well for themes that are intended for mass distribution. If you create say a Genesis child theme and try to sell it, you will be limiting yourself to the market of Genesis users, as a prospective user would also need to have bought the Genesis parent theme.

Clearly, another solution is needed. That’s where the other type of WordPress frameworks come in. Yes, there are other frameworks, and they work by giving you a collection of files that you include in your theme. This way, your new theme is a parent theme, and just calls the framework. This system also makes it easy to update the framework independently of your theme. Others can also create a child theme off your theme.

The best two such frameworks, in my opinion, are Hybrid Core by Justin Tadlock and WooFramework by WooThemes.

Hybrid Core

Hybrid Core  WordPress theme development framework

Hybrid Core has been freely available for a number of years now. It is very good and proven by the likes of Justin himself with his ThemeHybrid themes, as well as more recently by DevPress, who use Hybrid Core for all their themes.

Hybrid Core is a WordPress theme development framework for creating solid parent themes. It allows theme developers to forget about all the complex functionality and dive straight into coding their theme’s HTMLCSS, and JavaScript.

The purpose of Hybrid Core is to have a solid PHP code base for theme developers to build from. It is a modular framework that allows the developer to pick and choose commonly-used features in themes.

If building custom themes on top of a true framework interests you, please read the more-detailed explanation of Hybrid Core.

Download Hybrid Core


WooFramework   WooThemes

WooFramework is used on all WooThemes themes, and as you can expect is pretty solid and feature-packed. It is less evident that you can grab it and use it in your own themes, but you can do so by downloading any theme from WooThemes and taking the WooFramework from that theme. Two nice free themes I can mention are Swatch and MyStile.

Among the premium themes, there is Canvas which is an excellent bare bones theme you can get inspiration from. You are of course free to modify WooFramework and use it however you deem fit. I’ve used a modified version of WooFramework when using some earlier themes from ThemeZilla.

Skematic is a good theme framework based on parent+child themes and there is also Jumpstart which is worth considering as a starting point. Having mentioned these two, it’s worth noting that Underscores is the most popular (albeit bare bones) starter theme for WordPress.

Are you a theme developer? Which framework do you use? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Jean Galea

Jean Galea is an investor, entrepreneur, and blogger. He is the founder of WP Mayor, the plugins WP RSS Aggregator and Spotlight, as well as the Mastermind.fm podcast. His personal blog can be found at jeangalea.com.

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24 Responses

  1. Hello,
    Awesome job you made.

    Can you help me with some infos?
    I want to create some theme to sell them on themeforest (wordpress with woocomemrce): i want to be fast, secure, nice design.

    Can you tell which framework-starter theme is the best and i can use without problems ? I want something if is possible with: boostrap added, responsive full, redux or smof included … something good to not start from 0.

    Thank you verry much

  2. I suppose if you want the framework to be completely free, your best bet would be Thematic, from Automattic itself. Your process should be to develop locally, using MAMP/WAMP/LAMP and a local IDE. I’m very pleased with Aptana Studio, which is free for all three platforms and has an outline feature for CSS and php – as well as upload to FTP on save.

    Under no circumstances should you do ANYTHING in the WordPress editor – that’s an excellent way to get locked out of your installation. And while you can get back in with FTP or cPanel, you need to know how to use those first, before you get into trouble.

  3. Hi Jean, can you tell me what framework do you use for wordpress themes sold on themeforest? My next step is to develop wordpress themes to sell them on themeforest but i’m loosing the ideea with the framework, i understand that Genesis i can’t use because the buyers will have to buy the framework, how about the Headway Framework? can i use this? or help me and tell me only one framework for begining to start develope Premium wordpress themes. Thank You

  4. Great article. It finally clarified for me how woo framework works. Thanks a lot. Robert’s comments are making me worried about using it now, but I think I’ll go ahead for now. If there’s problems I can always switch later.

  5. It’s a shame really, because WooFramework has the advantage of good and freely accessible documentation. (Although WooThemes will not provide any other support of course for theme buyers of competitors.)
    I just re-checked to make sure that I didn’t accidentally enqueue Modernizr in the theme on top of WooFramework, or anything else which could cause the delay. But I didn’t.
    And I was being nice actually by writing 1-2 second delay.
    In the end 2+ seconds load time before anything shows, could have visitors click away, or buyers whinge.

    Thanks for giving your input. WooFramework is not off my list yet, but it’s dropped to third place.

  6. Is it just me or is Woo Framework at bit slower (or less efficient) than Hybrid Core and Carrington Core?

    I have all 3 installed on WP 3.5.1 in a VM, and chopped up HTML5 Boilerplate into a WP barebones theme on top of both. The front page has just the blog title, 1 post, and a 4-field sign-up form in the sidebar. Nothing else.
    With Hybrid Core and Carrington Core, the page is displayed instantly.
    With the WooFramework there is always a 1-2 second delay before the page appears.
    It’s noticeable, just like when you have Modernizr kick in too early in the head section (before your CSS and any JS). Then you will see a couple of seconds delay before the CSS is applied, because the Modernizr tests are running. Only this time (with WooFramework) the page remains blank.

    I did this minimal test deliberately to minimize the influence of other scripts on the result.

    1. Although I haven’t done such testing lately, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was so. Hybrid Core and Carrington Core are both known to be fast, and so is Genesis.

    2. Robert,
      I can’t say that for sure, but when I work on Woo themes, they do seem pretty pokey. As such, I would not want to use Woo as my base. I also remember reading a framework speed test article that found Woo to be quite slow, and went on to note the huge number of database calls that Woo used. That was awhile ago, but anecdotally, I haven’t seen much improvement. I’ve also been struggling this week with a new Woo plugin that seems partially-baked, so that has colored my opinion.

      I’m a Genesis guy, but you make a great case for using a different framework. I have looked at Hybrid, and was impressed with Justin’s work. I did, btw, check out Carrington, and while I was impressed, it also seemed a bit porky. I also enjoyed Thematic for awhile.

      This is timely, because a friend asked me about developing a Themeforest theme, and I agree with your stance, Genesis may not be best for that. All possible GPL WP issues aside, I think I’ll go bare framework shopping again. 🙂


      1. I also recall reading the article you mention. I can only praise Hybrid, this site has run on it since the start, and I haven’t had any problems.

        There’s also Underscores which is great if you prefer to start from a minimal base. You can always pick and choose functions from other frameworks and end up with your personal framework.

        1. Jean,
          Good point, Underscores is on my list to investigate. I would really have to adjust my thinking, though, because I’m totally addicted to using child themes these days.

          And after reading some of Justin’s stuff about frameworks vs. parent themes vs. child themes, I realize I have to get more up to speed on this! 🙂

  7. I never realized that. Thanks for confirming. Now I’m also going to checkout WooFramework.

    And I always thought that their bare framework (without theme slapped on) was not allowed to be used. But you were right. It’s GPL’ed. I just checked in one of their free theme downloads.

    That makes the situation I’m in even “worse”. 🙂 Now it’s 3 contenders, instead of 2. Luxury can become a problem sometimes.


  8. Hi Jean,

    I’ve used a modified version of WooFramework when using some earlier themes from ThemeZilla.

    Just confirming. Do you mean that ThemeZilla builds their themes on a modified version of WooFramework?

    Also is Carrington Core no worthy anymore?

    1. The last time I used a ThemeZilla theme that was indeed the case, although they might have written something from scratch since then.

      I haven’t tested Carrington Core lately so I cannot say if it’s still a top contender.

  9. This article is just what I was looking for. Although I know wooframework is is available for free but wasn’t sure if I can use it in my theme that I plan to sell in the market soon.
    Thanks heaps!

  10. Hey Jean, Thanks for the speedy reply! I have now got FileZilla connected to my remote server where all of my WordPress sites exist at GoDaddy (which I will eventually upgrade to RackSpace Cloud Sites in the next month or two). But what I am trying to figure out is how to edit these sites locally and publish them remotely? And how can I preview how my changes look before uploading them?

    I see how editing locally could be best because I don’t want to make changes that could disrupt the website until I know that those changes are correct, especially since I am brand new to Sublime. But there is a Sublime SFTP plugin that can be installed via Package Control, but it costs some money through mbound. Anyways, I am still trying to figure out my configuration set up before I start installing more useful plugins/packages.

    What’s the best way to edit a site locally, preview it, and publish it through FileZilla? What is your setup?

    Thanks so much! WP-MAYOR IS AWESOME!

    – Houston Golden

    1. Welcome Houston, in my setup I have a local server (MAMP Pro) so I can make all changes and see them there before uploading everything.

    2. @houston the SFTP plugin for sublime 2 is free to try — it’ll periodically ask if you want to install premium (~$15).

      I edit files locally then simply push ctrl+s to upload. No FTP client needed.

      Would definitely recommend it. Message me at jon@redfish.me or @jonschr sometime if you can’t figure it out and I’ll show you a sample workflow. Way simple to use, but takes a bit to figure it out the first time.

  11. Awesome article! I am very interested in building themes, parent themes, and frameworks for WordPress powered websites. I have been doing all of my editing in the WordPress Editor itself, and use GoDaddy for my hosting, so I was wondering what the best way would be to edit my existing WordPress sites in a code editor like Sublime Text 2? What is the process of setting the ftp file system so that I can edit it and refresh it instantly to see the changes online on my sites? Thanks for the help! I am trying to take my WordPress customization to the next level!

    Here is a cool project that I am working on right now called CharityTune.com

    – Houston

    1. I use Sublime Text but work on localhost mostly, so I’m not sure what the best way to accomplish your idea would be, although I’m pretty sure there are FTP plugins for Sublime Text that let you do this. I used to have a similar setup on Dreamweaver back in the day before I used WordPress, but nowadays I just develop everything on localhost and upload the finished site to the live server.

  12. Is there anything in the EULA’s for either of these frameworks that would prevent me from releasing Premium Themes using these frameworks?

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