Good Guide On Avoiding Theme/Plugin Lock-In

WordPress consultant, Konstantin Kovshenin has published an excellent guide describing what theme/plugin lock-in is and how to avoid it. This is a topic I’ve been thinking about for a long time but have never been able to put into words for a post. The biggest culprit in my opinion when it comes to lock-ins are themes, especially commercial ones. These themes not only come with features that make it unique, those features sometimes store or alter data in a way that makes it very difficult to switch themes or even upgrade WordPress. The first comment on that post by Diane illustrates my point exactly.

This problem is even more pervasive than articulated here. The theme options of many commercial themes create functionality unique to that theme and then if you want to make a change, boy are you screwed. We see this problem with clients all the time.

Looking back at my history of using WordPress, choosing the right theme based on looks, options, and functionality was one of the toughest decisions I would have to make. I think I’ve only switched themes five times or less for both my personal site and Quite frankly, switching themes is a giant pain in the ass. Widgets become messed up, the layout is screwed up and although I like themes with options, I have to read the manual to figure out how to get the layout I like or at least, witnessed on the demo theme. Once I have a theme configured both functionally and aesthetically, I try not to do anything to disturb it. I get sick of the layout sometimes but the thought of switching themes and how much work that entails always settles me down into sticking with the current implementation.

Definitely read the comments at the end of the article as Mike Schinkel carries on an interesting conversation on ways or methods on which this entire situation could be improved.


11 responses to “Good Guide On Avoiding Theme/Plugin Lock-In”

  1. It only took me an afternoon to switch my theme on my live site. Of course, I worked on the new theme implementation for a month in a test environment beforehand. That project took more time than getting it running at the original implementation and I’m not likely to do it again.

  2. Thanks to Konstantin Kovshenin!

    This is a brave service, a bit like Milan’s current project at Dev4Press, benchmarking (“Gasp!”) plugins … exposing an ‘issue’.

    I also try to steer clear of ‘suite’ plugins, that roll several-to-many different functions into one plugin-package. These make it harder to understand how it works; or to trace a particular behavior; or identify responsibility for data.

    I have used some of these. Some are very good; and I like/approve some of the authors.

    But invariably, I am using only some of the suite-components, and as I figure things out, I locate simpler, single-function plugins that do the particular thing that I want done. Then I off-load the Swiss Army Knife.

    It is a LOT easier to be on top of what our plugins are doing, if each one that we are using (are dependent upon), is a more-modest software creation.

    In fact, a good chunk of my collection are plugin-titles that do a task for which there are replacements that are better-made, even better-documented & supported. Still, I try to stick with the ones that are ‘basic’ enough for me to get my head around.

    We can be “locked in” by software that is – to ‘us’ – a Black Box.

  3. @Ted Clayton – You’re welcome, and thanks for reading! I myself tend to choose single-function plugins as they tend to do exactly what they say, nothing more and nothing less. Although they can create bulk in my plugins screen, they don’t take any more management time because once they’re there, I don’t need to configure and update them everyday, as opposed to all in one plugins that can ship updated versions several times per hour.

    Plus, escaping a single-function plugin lockin is *way* easier than escaping a near-to-enterprise suit :) There’s a great deal of excellent all in one plugins though which I love and use all the time, like Jetpack, WordPress SEO, …

    Thanks for your comment!

  4. Been thinking about this alot myself. Glad you brought this up as i think it should be easy to test different themes but its a giant hassle. Canvas theme offers heaps of shortcodes for starters that wouldn’t work if you changed themes.

    I switched from Thesis to Canvas and all my sub headings got messed up and i lost images so i’m looking forward to reading the guide from Konstantin Kovshenin and appreciate the effort he must of put in to put it into a guide.

  5. Hi Konstantin,

    I think this issue ties in well with the shortcode madness problem — read Justin Tadlock’s article here

    I’ve had only problems with a commercial theme called “flexible” which is anything but flexible. I’ve decided to use only Native WordPress code for sites and themes. Someone one stated on a WordPress video that “The best developers are lazy developers” and I can tell you that the WordPress developers are the absolute best at what they do — Code is Poetry.

  6. I found this out the hard way, as most are apt to do. And I think it’s a pity that theme developers don’t seem to be aware, or perhaps don’t give a damn about it. For instance, I like some of the premium themes out there, like Elegant, Woo, and such, but for a while, it was tedious to just switch between their own premium themes. And when creators rely too much on manipulation in code rather than rely on WP basics, that’s a recipe for disaster. To wit, the TimThumb debacle. How many themes are now dysfunctional because of that one. I would always recommend the best graphics, wrapped around the simplest theme.

    Thanks to Konstantin for bringing up something it seems we’ve all been thinking about. Perhaps with the exposure of the Tavern, more will take notice.

  7. A pleasure Konstantin. I was going to include my url, but I assumed Jeffro would use his new toy to delete it :)

  8. I use some of the free themes on WordPress and although you may disagree with me when I say that switching themes is a breeze, I do think that when themes try to become plugins, that’s when we lose the modularity that WordPress was meant to provide. There are certain instances when we can think of certain features to be a part of a theme, such as providing an author profile page, but at times it can be something that clearly ought to be a separate plugin that the theme author bundles to create value or that premium feel. Think of it as bundling a web browser with the operating system and most of you will know what I am hinting at.


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