New Proposal Looks to Retire Older WordPress Default Themes

WordPress is approaching its 20th anniversary, and for the majority of those years, contributors have cranked out a new default theme. Even though the structure and supported features of default themes have drastically changed over the years, contributors are still actively maintaining all 13 of the “Twenty” themes.

A new proposal on recommends winding down active maintenance on older themes and implementing a new system of requirements for retiring them.

“The level of effort to support 13 themes is not insignificant, especially in the times of the rapidly evolving block editor,” Bluehost-sponsored core contributor Jonathan Desrosiers said. “The burden of maintaining these themes has historically fallen on the Core team to ensure they continue to receive any needed updates.” These tasks include things like ensuring compatibility with newer PHP versions, fixing bugs, updates and deprecations of dependencies, security updates, and much more.

“Because there are so many, it’s not uncommon for it to take several months before older default themes properly support newer features added in WordPress Core,” Desrosiers said. “Additionally, themes created prior to the existence of certain APIs are often unable to fully take advantage of these new features (global styles, block patterns, etc.).”

Desrosiers contends that reducing the support burden on contributors will allow them to focus on ensuring the most modern block-based themes deliver the best experience.

“It also helps clear the path for work on new block theme-focused experiments and initiatives (such as the Community Themes Initiative) attempting to refine the role that themes will have in the block editor era,” he said.

Themes released through the account via the Community Themes Initiative, like the recent Stacks slide deck theme, will be officially supported, adding to the load. These themes, however, have the benefit of working with the Site Editor and all the latest features WordPress offers. When dealing with limited volunteer resources, supporting older default themes doesn’t have as much upside as spending these efforts the more modern themes.

WordPress bundles the three most recent default themes in the latest download. This proposal seeks to retire older themes after a minimum of five years of support and when usage falls to less than 1% of all WordPress sites as determined by data. Using this criteria the default themes Twenty Ten through Twenty Sixteen would be retired and only receive security updates. Desrosiers suggests a yearly assessment of usage data to determine which themes would be retired.

The three most recent WordPress default themes would be actively maintained and contributors would continue maintaining the following themes with bug fixes, compatibility updates, and security fixes:

  • Twenty Seventeen
  • Twenty Nineteen
  • Twenty Twenty

The proposal has multiple benefits, in addition to reducing the number of actively supported themes from 13 to 6, but also has the drawback of affecting an estimated 730,000 users who will no longer receive maintenance on their themes.

General reception to the proposal has been positive, as those using very old themes are usually looking for as few changes to their website as possible. With security updates still available to retired themes, these users would not be forced to update to a newer theme.

The proposal was developed based on feedback and recommendations from a group of contributors. It is now awaiting feedback from the larger community. Unless the proposal needs to be significantly modified, contributors will soon move on to the practical tasks associated with retiring themes.


10 responses to “New Proposal Looks to Retire Older WordPress Default Themes”

  1. I think Matt’s site is using the 2013 theme, but I could be wrong. Other than that, I can’t think of anyone who uses these default themes so retiring these ‘ole geezers is probably a good thing!

  2. 730,000 users is a significant number of sites, even if it is a small percentage of the total. Security updates are critical, other updates less so. I can see cutting back somewhat, but this is not something I would expect to be doing routinely every year—maybe every 5 years? You professionals work at the speed of software; we amateurs struggle to keep up with the pace of new releases as it is. Honestly, if it were not for the WordPress-based businesses, would we really need a new theme every year? Wouldn’t every other year work as well for most clients?
    I agree that sites using very old themes—I am thinking of my own—well, my former group, GetFISARight’s—blog from 2008,, which is still alive though it rarely gets updates—maybe once a year I will see a privacy issue worth documenting there, a potential for sunsetting part of the PATRIOT Act that we fought back in the day, etc., and will post someone’s call to action—but it does have historic value, it was one of the first grassroots political blogs. (We were part of a successful effort to get 100,000 signatures on the White House Q&A site that Pres. Obama initiated, and did get a letter in response [though not the policy changes we wanted, of course!]) Will I be able to update to a current theme? Would it be worth my time, or is it better to retain the site as a semiactive archive?
    More questions than answers here, I guess—mostly a reminder that it is not always all about keeping up with the latest, and that not every site is about attracting people to become customers and buy things—sometimes it is about a cause, or self-expression, or any number of other reasons for creating an Internet presence.

  3. This is a good proposal.
    While some will be inconvenienced, the result will benefit the huge majority.
    Resources allocated to maintaining the older themes can be allocated to more productive efforts.
    I have used most of the default themes starting with twenty-ten, looking to them as an effort to provide a sound, best in class basis for building a site.
    I suggest adding information to the “read me” file, perhaps under a heading of “Support Policy” or something similar which describes how this will work going forward.

  4. I always imagined the following was going to happen:

    Recent developments allow us to port/migrate widgets, old navigation menus and PHP templates to their block counterparts…..

    So… Why not just “update” these old themes, upgrade them to become block themes… With ab automatic migration mechanism where it is needed…

    As a result, all the themes would be updated in the sense of keeping up with technologies. All themes would retain their functionalities and design while being block themes.

    By the way, this is the only mission/strategy that really is going to prove that block themes are worth for developers and users, when All designs and use-cases can be recreated.
    I still doubt if we can do sidebar-navigations as seen in old WordPress themes.

    • So… Why not just “update” these old themes, upgrade them to become block themes… With ab automatic migration mechanism where it is needed…

      I like this idea. It’s a fun exercise to build old themes directly in the site editor. I did it with Twenty Fifteen for fun, but I thought about doing it for all of the old default themes back to the original one.

      Sidebar navigation is possible, but there definitely needs to be more design tools for navigation blocks, especially submenu options.

    • This is very risky because it’s impossible to anticipate all of the ways the theme has been used in the wild. This is especially true for sites with a child theme that uses one of these themes as the parent. These scenarios cannot be tested because in almost all cases, each one is unique and private/closed source.

      • Jonathan is correct.

        If anyone wants to convert an old default theme to a block theme, you can propose that as part of the community themes project. But it needs to be a new separate theme, not a theme update.

  5. Thanks for writing about this! Hopefully it will increase the number of community members providing feedback.

    I did just want to point out one important clarification.

    Themes released through the account via the Community Themes Initiative, like the recent Stacks slide deck theme, will NOT be officially supported, adding to the load.

    While there is some overlap between the Community Themes Initiative and contributors to WordPress Core and other teams, this initiative is currently under the umbrella of the Themes team. It is maintained by the community on the respective GitHub repository, and they are not officially supported as a part of WordPress itself.

    It’s possible that this may change in the future, but this initiative was started with the intent to improve the quality of block themes in the theme directory by increasing the number and variety of quality block themes available, serving as a reference for best practices and coding standards others can learn and build from, etc..

    Because these themes are not intended for use as a default theme, there is a bit more flexibility to try new things and live on the bleeding edge instead of focusing on broad compatibility and serving as a foundation for a larger number of sites to build upon.

  6. I think these proposed conditions for retirement and moving forward are good. We all know tech changes all the time, so it’s only natural that older solutions would become obsolete at some point. On the positive side, some developer power will be released for other work.


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