When you start any website, one of the first steps is to pick a theme. This sounds easy enough, but once you get a little deeper, you may find all the options overwhelming. You can’t just pick a theme off the shelf. Sometimes you need a framework or a parent theme. But what is a theme framework and how should you choose to start your search for the perfect website theme?

What is a Theme Framework?

A theme framework is a set of conventions or code library to help developers more easily build out a theme. This is great for developers, because they don’t need to start from scratch. There is a set of tools to start with and predefined criteria to work from. Instead of delving into the inner workings of the theme, they can focus on design and the uniqueness of their creation. But as much as this makes a web developer’s job easier, what does it mean for a theme purchaser or end user?

What is a Parent Theme?

A parent theme is the whole kitchen sink. Most themes that you find for WordPress are parent themes. A parent theme is not of itself a framework. A parent contains the theme design, functionality and templates required for it to work on WordPress. Rarely will a parent claim itself to be so, but if a theme isn’t labeled as a child, it will be a parent.

What is a Child Theme?

A child theme isn’t a complete product. It’s really only the customized look and functionality. The child theme inherits functionality from the framework or, in some cases, a parent theme. The hard working back-end stuff that you never want to touch is included in the framework so that a designer creating the site can focus on just making it pretty with the child theme.

Why Use a Framework?

eat cake
Eat your cake, too.

A framework cannot be used out the box. Think of the framework as a boxed cake. When you bring home the box, you have the instructions and the basic ingredients to bake a cake. Even so, it’s not yet a cake. You still must add in the wet ingredients and bake it to fully have your cake and eat it too. A framework is also much more flexible than a parent theme. Because functionality is separated from customization, the framework focuses more on making things work, allowing creativity to abound within the child theme itself. A parent theme is meant to be used as-is, so it reins in control over all aspects of the website, instead of allowing a looser hand like the framework.

If we stick with the cake mix analogy, a framework is a white cake mix. To it you can add all sorts of ingredients, like fruit, or sprinkles, or different icings. Change the shape if you bake it into cupcakes or a bundt. A parent theme is more like a full German chocolate cake mix, including the coconut frosting. You could play around with it a little bit, but really you are going to end up with a German chocolate cake, instead of the pineapple upside down cake that might be possible with the white cake mix.

Another great thing about the framework is that, inevitably the theme designer will need to upgrade. If a parent theme is upgraded after you’ve put all your work into customization and tweaking the features to get them to work just right, your changes will be lost. A framework separates the base functionality from your customization, so the developer can update the theme without you losing your changes and having to start over, while cursing the theme developer.

Agent Evolution has built out a specific framework for real estate websites. Check out Equity and some of our child themes to see if they work for your site.

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