WordPress is the number one Content Management System (CMS) for both small time blogs, huge corporate websites and even online shops thanks to an endless sea of plugins such as WooCommerce, for example. With thousands upon thousands of free wp themes available on the internet, it’s almost guaranteed that you will find the one template that suits You perfectly. However if you are after a more professional and a truly one of a kind appearance, developing your own WordPress theme is probably a better idea.
Requirements for building a WordPress template
- Cascading Style Sheets or CSS for short is the first one on my list because it’s the most important part of any theme/template. This is what gives your website (the skeleton) an actual “skin”. Without it there would be no “web design”.
- Hypertext Markup Language or HTML for short is next in line because it’s “the skeleton” of your project. Without it there would be nowhere for your “skin” to go.
- Hypertext Preprocessor (PHP) is yet another very important part of a WordPress theme because PHP is a server side scripting language which makes your entire website “tick”. You can think of PHP as a set of cogs, strings and wires that when put together just right, will make the clock run.
PHP is important too, but since WordPress is a very advanced platform, you will find that there is little to no need to actually add/edit any PHP code when creating a new theme. It’s possible to get away with just knowing how to use PHP’s include function in order to include certain page elements together (for example header, content and footer).
However if you want to build custom plugins or other functions that no other website uses, you have to dig a little deeper into PHP.
Recommended framework to work with
I seriously advise against building a WordPress theme from scratch unless you’re doing it because you want to learn everything there is to know about the wonderful CMS. Why? Because WordPress is quite complex and it would take you a very long time, especially if you have never done this before, to go through all of the code and create a template on top of it.
It’s simply a lot easier and faster to use a “naked” framework which includes all the basic back-end stuff so you can get developing the front-end immediately. One of my favorite “skeleton” frameworks is Underscores and I have designed many WordPress themes on it. It’s basically a fully functioning wp theme with absolutely no design so it looks like you’re back in the 90’s.
You will need Notepad or better yet, Notepad++ to write code which I assume most of you already have and a testing platform with PHP 5 support, an SQL database and optionally FTP access if you’re not doing it locally.
Google Chrome is great for developers as it comes with the Inspect element feature which means you can inspect any element on your web page and the browser will show you exactly where it’s located within your code. It’s especially useful for figuring out where the element is rendering, what id and class it has and a lot more.
WordPress Codex is a useful repository of code (mostly back-end) with great examples and a very active support group ready to answer your questions. Only StackOverflow can outshine it’s activeness!
Finally the Theme Unit Test data will populate your WP blog with dummy content with the sole purpose of breaking your theme, which is good of course, because otherwise we would miss the small stuff and our project wouldn’t be whole.