Why BuddyPress and bbPress Themes Don’t Exist

At BuddyCamp Miami 2014, I learned about BuddyPress and what it’s capable of. During the first session, I learned you don’t have to worry about BuddyPress themes anymore since 1.7 introduced theme compatibility. This means that BuddyPress sites no longer require a BuddyPress-specific theme.

Later in the day, there was a session devoted to BuddyPress Theme Do’s and Don’ts by Tammie Lister. Considering BuddyPress no longer needs specific themes, I was confused and frustrated by the session.

BuddyPress Themes Are WordPress Themes

WordPress BuddyPressSince BuddyPress is a plugin, it needs WordPress in order to function. It has elements that are supported by default in most WordPress themes. Since BuddyPress is not its own entity, neither are BuddyPress themes. BuddyPress themes are just WordPress themes with built in support for the style elements.

So if I install a BuddyPress theme into WordPress, I’m actually installing a WordPress theme. Perhaps it’s semantics but they are important to me for understanding how things work. The same could be said for bbPress which is also a plugin that has style elements that are supported by WordPress themes.

BuddyPress and bbPress Themes Don’t Exist

After speaking with a few attendees that were at both sessions, they understood my confusion and frustration. I’ve concluded that bbPress and BuddyPress themes don’t exist. They are WordPress themes, some with better support for bbPress and BuddyPress elements than others.

Also note that BuddyPress.org no longer has a theme directory. Instead, you’re instructed to look for BuddyPress compatible themes on the WordPress theme directory. This is why it’s important for theme authors to specifically state whether their WordPress themes support BuddyPress and bbPress.

If you think I’m wrong in my assessment, I invite you to explain why in the comments below.


17 responses to “Why BuddyPress and bbPress Themes Don’t Exist”

  1. I personally was very happy when BuddyPress came out with theme compatibility in 1.7. That opened the door for all the themes that use WordPress standard template structure to be used with BuddyPress which means you have a lot more flexibility and more sites that look unique instead of looking like or being a child theme of the old bp-default theme or the other few Buddypress themes that was out prior to the release of BP 1.7. I do advise though against using bloated premium themes because a lot of them do not follow standard WordPress practices and template structures which can cause novice users a headache because on the buddypress.org forums we do not have access to these premium themes thus it makes it guess work for us to provide quality support.

      • I’m guessing the “bad strategy” refers to dropping BuddyPress-specific themes (now it’s a feature compatibility), and the “poor wiki” refers to the BuddyPress codex (which I agree isn’t that great).

        Documentation in general for BuddyPress and bbPress is pretty weak, but not too surprising… they feel kinda like neglected side projects compared to the behemoth of WordPress.

        • Maybe its just my personal opinion but I don’t see how having theme compatibility with most WP themes is a bad strategy. There was maybe 20 themes at best that was BP specific. Now folks have access to thousands of themes on the WP repo. Theme compatibility is great and brought in a lot of WP users that wouldn’t have normally tried out BuddyPress because they didn’t want to get locked into the handfull of themes that was BP specific. As far as the codex goes anyone can contribute. It has gotten a lot better over the years and I encourage anyone that has knowledge about something that is not covered to contribute. I really feel like the codex has made huge strides in just this past year. There is no way the codex will cover every individuals needs though and that is where the forums comes in handy.

  2. Since the content-injection work in BP 1.7 (primarily by @jjj I think), any complete, properly written WordPress theme will display BuddyPress content using vanilla theme elements provided as part of the BuddyPress plugin.

    However, if you want to customize those elements, or have them look more like your theme, your WordPress theme will either need to include css for the BuddyPress-provided markup, or include BuddyPress-specific template files and css.

    BuddyPress isn’t all or nothing, though. If, mostly, the vanilla BP-included theme works fine with your WP theme, maybe you only need to provide one or two template pieces to scratch some itch that bugs you. Read more about the template hierarchy: http://codex.buddypress.org/themes/theme-compatibility-1-7/template-hierarchy/

    So any well-written theme will be BuddyPress compatible. But some go the extra mile and specifically include BuddyPress template pieces or css for more customization.

  3. Seeing as the talk was mine lets see what I maybe can do to clear up some of the confusion. I’d have loved to chat with you there but seems we didn’t get a chance to discuss the talk after. That’s a shame, lets see what we can do to talk it through now.

    To pan out of the point a bit, you can see it as using a type with the word theme. For example, it could have been a WooCommerce Theme Do and Don’ts or Theme Do and Don’ts. That’s the loosest definition though. If you take it a bit further thinking about types, that is exactly what a BuddyPress theme is.

    BuddyPress themes do exist and they should exist. Before my current role I actually made a living making BuddyPress themes. This was after theme compatibility came in. Many still do.

    As I went through in my talk, of course the amazing theme compatibility just works – because it’s awesome. The thing with it is, it’s trying to hit the widest range of themes. It is trying to fit in all, sometimes you need it customised a bit depending on your theme. This is where CSS comes in.

    However, that’s just the tip of a whole lot of a BuddyPress iceberg when it comes to themeing. You can add into your theme just CSS, templates.. it’s up to you. You choose how much of the BuddyPress’ness you roll into your theme. Just like bbPress. Maybe it ‘just works’ and maybe you want to go beyond – that’s what this talk focused on.

    With BuddyPress you also have the addition of themes for communities needing a bit more than a typical WordPress theme. WordPress themes are great but they don’t fit exactly for types. Often they are a more generalised theme – which is fine until you hit a niche. BuddyPress often sits in a niche. They need specifics, there are use cases.. there are personas.. the tip of that iceberg keeps growing :) This is also part of what I went through in the talk.

    As a side point I’d love to see bbPress theme do and don’ts, theme do and don’ts and niche theme talks. More the merrier! I’d also love more type tags on the .org repo bbPress, whatever.

    As shown by this lengthy comment it’s something that excites me. To recap my end points to my talk, I’d love to see more niche market places, more places that focus on just a type of theme. I’d love this to be BuddyPress themes, bbPress themes and beyond. I’d love a world where someone could have an amazing theme shop that just sold Sport club BuddyPress themes. There is a need, yes it’s smaller but it’s one that’s an untapped market.

  4. Tammie’s comment sums it up. Another way of thinking about it is post formats or author bios, or widget areas. Themes don’t need to support those, and won’t break your site if they are missing, but we have expectations (ie “dos and don’ts”).

  5. There can be BuddyPress-type themes the same way there can be tumblog- or portfolio- or commerce-type themes. WooCommerce will work out of the box in nearly any theme, but folks still make, sell and buy themes that have WooCommerce-specific functionality. There could as easily be a talk entitled, “WooCommerce Themes Don’t Exist”.

  6. I’m fairly new to working with WP but one of the things that caused me to switch from Drupal and C5 recently was WooCommerce. We could have a similar conversation about “WooCommerce Themes” as in, is there such a thing or is there just WP themes that support WooCommerce. It is really just symantics unless a plugin has some requirements where it literally won’t work at all in some themes, which I would view as a major problem. Generally I feel the idea is themes create/enforce styling and layout for common features starting with WP. They then *try* to predict the additional features (from plugins) that will be included in the site.

    This is the challenge with splitting functionality/theming in any CMS. As much as it’s a positive and needed thing to do (separation), sometimes I’d wish for a plugin that really delivered it’s own skin with it. Actually WP plugins tend to include more theming than Drupal module for example.

    Back to my point about WooCommerce. Any theme could present WooCommerce pages, but only a theme that themes the checkout pages and controls the layout of important features like buy now buttons could really be called a WooCommerce theme.

    How many themes out there are BuddyPress themes, and WooCommerce themes, and so on? If you add enough requirements, you’ll wittle the options down to 0 pretty quickly.


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