Comparisons Between Most Popular Theme Frameworks

This is a guest post from Dan Cole, who is currently developing his own theme called the Parallel Theme

Developing a WordPress theme from the ground up is a big task. Sure it might not take long to throw up the basics, but there are a lot of small details that can go into a site. Frameworks are a tool to make developing a theme easier and quicker. Their not something that everyone needs to use, but it’s an option for people. However, getting going in this field can be confusing. The theme development community has some issues to get through and it really messes up some ideas about what is what.

Lets start out with the general terms and move inward. Themes are a part of WordPress that make displaying content possible. Through themes, all information is formatted, styled, and structured into a website design. But because of all the features that can go into these themes, two types of master themes were created. The first type are called frameworks and like its name, are designed to be a starting point for theme developers. The second type should be called base themes, but instead are also referred to as frameworks. These base themes are designed to be parent themes for other themes and allow for easily modifying the visual look of a site. Or from the other side, allow core code to be updated without messing around with the details about what makes a website unique. However, to be technical, it’s not this black and white. Frameworks and base themes could be regular themes or vise versa.

I would like to compare and contrast some of the most popular WordPress Frameworks and Base Themes. I believe it’s something that people picking between different themes would like to see and that it needs to show the answers to important questions in a simple way. However, this comparison is going to over simplify things and hide the reasoning behind the choices made by these developers. Theme Frameworks and Base Themes are not a case of right and wrong, good and bad, or even rich and lacking, but a choice in opinion. I’m hoping this comparison points people that are considering a framework to the developer and to the project that has similar goals in terms of what should be in a WordPress Theme. I would also hope that this comparison points out how much more thought goes into these themes, then the majority of other themes out there. This comparison doesn’t look at the style of the design or arrangement of sidebars, because the answer to those questions would be “How ever you want“. Instead, I want to look at the initial and little details. These are the themes that every theme should be based off, because they aren’t a quick project, but a collection of every detail, that a theme should include. These themes are also developed continuously, not just patched up so they work on the current version of WordPress.

For people developing themes or interested, I would suggest thinking of themes like computers. No one company makes the whole package. The Processor, Operating System, Programs, and assembly is all made or done by different companies.

Question Thematic Hybrid Carrington
Type 1 Classification Theme Framework Theme Framework Blank Theme
Type 2 Classification Base Theme Base Theme Theme Framework
Author: Ian Stewart Justin Tadlock Alex King (Crowd Favorite)
Site URL:
Is it licensed under the GPL? Yes Yes Yes
Last Version release date:
(As of April 1st, 2009)
March 1st, 2009 March 29th, 2009 March 24th, 2009
Unzipped file size: 518 KB (Is this right or is it me?) 708 KB 529 KB (Is this right or is it me?)
How well is the code documented? Section Titles & Inline comments in the tricky parts. Section Tiles & version code was added. Read Me files for each directory
Number of Custom Hooks: 18 31 23
Number of Custom Filters: 39 40-50 6
Visual aid of widget area locations? Yes Yes N/A
Type of aid for hook and filter locations? Visual Documentation N/A
Number of Publicly available Child Themes? (linked to by main site) 16 4 N/A
Number of (Default) widget areas: 13 9 2
Is a CSS Reset done? Yes (with @import) Yes Yes (… N/A)
What plugins will auto insert if installed and activated?
  • WP-PageNavi
  • Subscribe To Comments
  • All-In-One SEO Pack
  • Comment License
  • Headspace 2
  • Clean Archives
  • Cleaner WordPress Gallery Plugin
  • Configurable Tag Cloud Widget
  • Easy Contact
  • Hot Friends
  • No Widget Category Cloud
  • Smart 404
  • Smart Archives
  • Smarter Archives
  • Subscribe To Comments
  • WP Pagenavi
What CSS grid system is used? Custom (based on Blueprint, Tripoli and 960gs) None N/A
How is the footer content modified?
  • Options page
  • Filterable
  • Options page
  • Filterable
  • Widgetized
  • Options page
Body tag classes:
  • CMS (WordPress)
  • Year visitor is viewing
  • Month visitor is viewing
  • Day visitor is viewing
  • Hour visitor is viewing
  • Year published
  • Month published
  • Day published
  • Hour published
  • Page slug
  • Page ID
  • Page Author
  • Page Template
  • Has a parent template
  • Operating System
  • Browser
  • Browser Version
  • Categories
  • Tags
    • WordPress logged in/out status
    • Page ID
    • Page Author
    • Page Template
    • Type of template
    • Operating System
    • Browser
    • Browser Version
    • Categories
    • Tags
    • Left-To-Right Content
    • Non-empty Widget Area Names
    Supposedly has some
    Has or uses IE hacks? No (with the exception of one minor superscript/subscript fix) No No
    Valid HTML Yes Yes Yes
    Compatible with WordPress versions: 2.7+ 2.6+ 2.3 (Maybe)
    Uses Microformats? Yes Yes Yes
    Language Support (For non-English sites) Yes Yes Yes
    Gravator enables? Yes Yes Yes
    Is there a print CSS file? No Yes No
    Is there a default layout? Yes Yes Yes
    Modular Comment Section ( Can trackbacks and pings be seperated?): Yes No Yes
    Custom Comment code or taken from Kubrick? Custom (based on Sandbox) Custom Custom
    Default Templates:
    • tag.php
    • single.php
    • search.php
    • page.php
    • links.php
    • index.php
    • archive.php
    • 404.php
    • category.php
    • archives.php
    • author.php
    • attachment.php
    • 404.php
    • application.php
    • archive.php
    • archives.php
    • attachment.php
    • audio.php
    • author.php
    • authors.php
    • biography.php
    • blog.php
    • bookmarks.php
    • category.php
    • categories.php
    • comments.php
    • comments-popup.php
    • date.php
    • home.php
    • image.php
    • index.php
    • logged-in.php
    • log-in.php
    • no-widgets.php
    • page.php
    • profile.php
    • register.php
    • search.php
    • single.php
    • sitemap.php
    • tag.php
    • tags.php
    • text.php
    • video.php
    • widgets.php
    • 404.php
    • archive.php
    • archives.php
    • author.php
    • category.php
    • image.php
    • links.php
    • page.php
    • single.php
    • search.php
    • tag.php
    What are the backend options?
    • Position of widget-ready area on index page.
    • Include mirco-formatted vCard with bio on the author pages.
    • Content in footer.
    • Basic Theme Settings
    • Title, meta, indexing settings
    • Comment and Avatars
    • Footer Settings
    • Customizable Colors
    • Header Image
    • Load comments and posts via AJAX
    • Use lightbox
    • “About” text area
    • Analytics area
    Resource to find out all hooks and filters: Guide to customizing Thematic Hooks (members only) Included Readme
    HTML doc type: XHTML 1.0 Transitional XHTML 1.0 Strict XHTML 1.0 Transitional
    Number of years the lead author has done PHP? 2 years 3 years 10 years
    Number of years the lead author has done HTML & CSS? 3 years 6 years 12 years

    Hopefully this has answered most of your questions. My needs and wants likely differ from the majority, so I tried my best to be well rounded. Maybe this will get the ball rolling in terms of discussion. I really feel that showing the cards like this does take the work away of figuring it out for yourself and that it will show developers what everyone else is up to.

    Some theme frameworks were left out. I wish I could have included them all. Blame Jeffro if you will, he made the page too narrow and I didn’t want to write small. So now I’ll hand it off to everyone else, what other interesting facts should we look at?


    36 responses to “Comparisons Between Most Popular Theme Frameworks”

    1. Very interesting and helpful readout. Thanks for taking the time to get this together. (found it through twitter!!

      I’ve thoroughly been enjoying playing with each of these and other frameworks. The first two in the table have my vote for usability and the ability to start developing right out of the box. I’ll be following what happens over at dan-cole!

      Thanks again for contributing!

    2. Excellent article.

      I usually hate 2 word comments, but I really have nothing to add, this is an excellent article :)

    3. Great comparison article.
      Good timing as I’m “this close” to plunk down $87 for Thesis. Maybe I’ll look at Thematic again.
      Wish you could’ve included a few more themes in the chart, but we can make our own charts based on your criteria.
      Thanks Dan. I did look at Parallel, but it’s not for me.
      Also discovered the hardest word in the world to spell, PARALLEL. After LOUISIANA and MEDITERRANEAN. :)

    4. Would loved to have seen Thesis in there… think it is a better candidate than Carrington….if forced to choose between three…

    5. @Tim – Thanks for the great feedback and yeah, Dan deserves all the credit this time around.

      @Ozh – Hey Ozh, nice to see you :) Thanks for the feedback. I remember Dan telling me that based on the feedback this post receives, he would certainly look into creating a follow up post with the frameworks which didn’t make it in this edition.

      @Brian Meagher – Hey Brian. Yeah, because of size constraints on the blog, he didn’t add anymore to this post. There is also Ptah Dunbars WPFramework as well that you might want to look into as well.

      @Trace – Perhaps it will be added if Dan decides to do another framework roundup.

    6. @Ian Stewart – I’d say based on the feedback the post has received already, Dan will most likely create a second roundup. But, we’ll see. Thanks for the Stumbles :)

    7. @Everyone – Thanks for the all the nice comments. There are a lot of different types of themes out there and hopefully everyone will find one that meets their needs. I’m interested in doing a second round some time in the near future. I too feel that WP Framework and Thesis should be in the next patch of frameworks. The only down fall to writing up a post for themes like this, is that it’s out of date the minute you publish it.

      @Brian Meagher – Parallel was an interesting choice for me to go with. I’m not sure if I’ve ever explained why I went with that name, if anyone has looked into that. I guess I didn’t think it would be hard to spell, but I use the word everyday.

    8. Dan, well done. I don’t really like big comparison charts sometimes, but this was nice. It helps me see what the other themes have that Hybrid doesn’t in a clear and readable chart. It gives me a chance to reevaluate whether I’d like to add more or change anything.

      The biggest thing I’d like to get rid of is the huge theme download size. I suspect version 0.6 will be much smaller.

      Since Jeff is actually using the Hybrid theme here on this site, he needs to stop by my support forums so I can show him how to get rid of the sidebar for posts with large tables. ;)

    9. Great post Dan! Thanks for putting your time and effort into writing it. A huge thanks to developers like Ian, Justin and Alex for creating such great code. My only problem now is choosing between Thematic or Hybrid which are my favorites out of those three.

      Could Ian and Justin get together and create the ultimate theme framework?
      Perhaps it could be called Hybratic or Themebrid.

    10. It’s interesting. I mean, it’s interesting to see what other people include into their framework-templates. But I have no idea how could anybody make a decision based on this comparing sheet. I just don’t think these numbers and lists matter… For me, the quality of theme/fw is in compromise of functionality and simplicity and this is hardly measureable, definitely a subjective thing, no sheet data. :-)

    11. […] entschieden. Beide Frameworks haben ihre Vor- und Nachteile, einen guten Überblick liefert dieser Vergleich mehrerer Frameworks von Dan Cole. Letztlich war für mich die bessere Dokumentation seitens des Hybrid-Entwicklers […]

    12. hi,

      nice comparison , but i was wonder for this section “Type of aid for hook and filter locations” , isn’t that hybrid only showing this to paid member only ?

    13. @gelay Jamtsho – Sounds like there is a decent sized club of people who have had the same experience with Thematic.

      @Dian – Thanks. Dan gets the credit and I hope to see a future update from him as well.

      @knight – Yes, it’s in the documentation but the documentation can not be viewed unless you purchase a membership to the club.

    14. Great post. I’m looking for this a long time ago, but no one did this before. I’m trying to use Hybrid, but there’s something I don’t understand. I like the compare of included plugins, CSS and hooks, … So beautiful and clear. Thank you so much.

    15. […] Comparisons Between Most Popular Theme Frameworks Developing a WordPress theme from the ground up is a big task. Sure it might not take long to throw up the basics, but there are a lot of small details that can go into a site. Frameworks are a tool to make developing a theme easier and quicker. Their not something that everyone needs to use, but it’s an option for people. However, getting going in this field can be confusing. The theme development community has some issues to get through and it really messes up some ideas about what is what. […]

    16. How can hybrid use a strict Doctype? Does it prevent the visual editor from adding non-strict compliant code or do you have to make sure you don’t use the non-strict compliant features to prevent the site from failing validation?

    17. […] I tried sandbox, i tried carrington but no framework satisfied me like Thematic did. I think It’s the simplest like structure. It’s full of filter and actions to use. I suggest you this link for the framework theme comparision. […]

    18. […] informations sur les autres framework wordpress existants, je vous conseille de lire cet article : Comparisons between most popular theme frameworks. Il manque juste un framework qui a visiblement inspiré pas mal de développeurs dans ce […]

    19. For the past few weeks I’ve been using Hybrid to develop child themes. I am totally impressed with it. It looks as though it compares favourably to the other frameworks. It certainly reduces design time, and allows me to focus on the content of the site rather than having to worry about many of the basic CSS considerations. WordPress + Hybrid + a bunch of plugins create a very flexible and usable website-come-CMS.

    20. Nice overview.

      Me? I’m still not sure whether I’ll go with Hybrid or Thematic…

      Sitepoint recently released a book called Wicked WordPress or something along those lines. It shows how to use the Thematic framework, which is a big plus for me, since it’s great to have a real book handy when learning something new. Hybrid does not have such a neat book, AFAIK;-)

      But Hybrid is sweet in other aspects, so… I’m still unable to decide. I think I’ll just pick one or the other for my next project, and then the remaining one for the next project after that. I think I need actual practice and real life experience with both Hybrid and Thematic in order to find my favourite.


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