Child Theme Inclusion in the WordPress Directory

Standard

Before you get too excited, child themes aren’t yet in the theme directory. That’s what this post is aimed at achieving though.

For those unfamiliar with child themes, just take a look at this explanation of why and how to use them.

Just this week I released two child themes for Hybrid. Obviously this is my motivation for promoting the inclusion of child themes in the official WordPress theme directory. Though, I think this idea can greatly benefit the entire community. Today you won’t find any child themes in the directory because it doesn’t support theme yet.

Back in April, Justin Tadlock wrote a similar post that proposed several changes to the directory. Joseph Scott took some time to reply and address some of the issues facing his proposed upgrades.

Child themes pose an interesting challenge. In part because they can, at their own option, replace portions of the parent theme which makes automated testing harder. But perhaps the most difficult part to that puzzle is providing an easy experience for end users when they want to use a child theme. A number of people find it challenging to install a regular theme, adding another layer of issues for them to be aware of isn’t likely to help.

I’d like to expound on the problems and propose some specific solutions.

Problem: Testing and Approval

One of the problems brought up is that automated testing of child themes would be harder. I can’t really speak to this specifically since I’m not familiar with the automated testing that goes on behind the scenes, but here’s what I know is included in the automated testing:

  • Verification of certain style sheet requirements (i.e. theme name, version, tags)
  • Checks for the existence of a screen shot
  • Checks for the uniqueness of the theme name and directory name

Perhaps it checks for the existence of certain templates, but in the case of a child theme the automated checker could ignore that rule.

Other than that, I can’t come up with anything more that might be included in the automated testing. From my limited knowledge, those wouldn’t present any problems in the automated testing. The rest of the theme development checklist includes things that would need to be manually checked.

So, with a couple of minor tweaks (checking if the style sheet signifies a parent theme and possibly ignoring the existence of certain templates) I think the automated testing could easily be achieved.

Manual Approval

After a theme makes it through the automated process it moves onto manual approval. This process wouldn’t be any different than the existing process. In fact, child themes would probably present fewer problems than standard themes because they would likely adhere to most of the templates established by their parent.

Problem: User Experience

“perhaps the most difficult part to that puzzle is providing an easy experience for end users when they want to use a child theme”
–Joseph Scott

Indeed, this is a hard part. Especially since another point Joesph made was that lots of users still have a hard enough time understanding how to use themes in general. So let’s keep that in mind while I present some options to integrate child themes into the directory.

Redesigning the Theme Page

We’ll start with the parent theme and we’ll use Hybrid as an example. Essentially, we need to make Hybrid the primary theme and avoid the child themes dominating any of the UI. Since the theme pages already use tabs I figured we could add a “Child Themes” tab if any child themes exist.

Parent Theme
Hybrid Theme Page

Clicking on the theme title or the screen shot would take you to the child theme’s unique page.

I think child themes should have their own pages. They would need their own page because they too would have their own “Stats” tab, ratings, and what “others are saying” section.

Child Theme
WP Full Site Theme Page

Of course a reference to the parent theme is necessary so a simple information box should suffice.

This is where the user experience complications begin.

Notice the “Download” button has a note that the parent theme will be included in the download. This prevents anyone from downloading a child theme, uploading it and being confused as it why it doesn’t work. There’s one foreseeable dilemma here. If someone downloads a child theme, uploads the child and the contained parent theme and unknowingly overwrites an older version of the parent theme there may be compatibility issues. I don’t see any way around this, but I wouldn’t say its a deal breaker. More on this in the next section…

Automatic Installer

Installing from within WordPress presents another issue. The installer would need to check if the parent theme exists. That should be easy enough. If the theme exists then skip installing it, however, what do we do if an older version exists? Do you prompt the user with an option to upgrade the parent?

Problems:

  • User installs the child, upgrades the parent, but the child theme isn’t compatible with the current parent version
  • User installs the child, skips upgrading the parent, but the child theme is dependent upon the latest version

I’m actually stumped on this one. I could really use some ideas here.

Summing it Up

The inclusion of child themes in the official WordPress Themes directory is good idea because it gives themes greater flexibility and makes theme management easier for users. There’s a few problems to overcome before allowing child theme submissions into the directory, but nothing a little more brainstorming can’t resolve. I think with enough support from the community we could get this implemented rather quickly (who can even know what that means though?).

Update: Vote for this idea on WordPress.org

  • http://www.gouri.info/ Gouri

    Inclusion of the child theme in the WP repository would be of lot of help to the users..

  • http://www.designisphilosophy.com Morten Rand-Hendriksen

    Any update on the progress here? Child themes in the Template directory would be a great idea, especially with the release of Twentyten as the stock theme.