Resources for WordPress Theme Development - dummies

Resources for WordPress Theme Development

By Lisa Sabin-Wilson

Many designers and developers make a good living from the creation of WordPress themes for clients or for the mass WordPress population, so it’s no surprise that the topic of WordPress theme development is a popular one.

Several online resources can help you on your quest to learn best practices and guidelines for developing WordPress themes. The following list is not exhaustive and won’t make you an expert, but it can get you moving in the right direction if the development of WordPress themes.

  • WordPress Codex: The WordPress Codex is the official user and developer documentation for the WordPress platform. It contains several useful documents on theme development, including these:

  • Developer Resources – Theme Guide: This guide is assembled by the folks at Automattic, the company behind the popular hosted service and the largest commercial WordPress company. has a lot of great themes available for its members to use on websites. The theme team at puts each theme through vigorous tests to vet each line of code within the theme for the highest quality and best development practice standards.

  • ThemeShaper WordPress Theme Tutorial: The ThemeShaper WordPress Theme Tutorial is a solid resource for WordPress theme development. ThemeShaper is owned and operated by Automattic and is divided into 16 individual lessons. The lessons show you how to build a WordPress theme from scratch using the best available practices.

  • Plugins that assist theme developers in optimizing and developing themes:

    • Debug Bar: This plugin adds a Debug link in the WordPress admin bar. When you click the link, you have access to a page that displays the queries, cache, and other information to help you debug your code.

    • Debug Bar Cron: An addition to the Debug Bar, the Debug Bar Cron plugin adds information about scheduled events in your WordPress code.

    • Rewrite Rules Inspector: An administrative plugin that is a tool for revealing the current rewrite rules available on your current WordPress installation. Rewrite rules cover permalink information.

    • User Switching: The User Switching plugin allows you to quickly and easily change your current view of your WordPress web site to that of any other user, logged in, or logged out. This is helpful to show you what different types of users see when they visit your site.

    • Pig Latin: This plugin, when activated, checks through all of the code in your theme to make sure all text strings are localized — the text within your theme files are available for translation services to translate your theme into different languages. Translation is an important aspect of theme development because WordPress is a global platform and is used in many different languages around the world.

    • WordPress Beta Tester: The Beta Tester plugin allows you to install versions of WordPress that are currently under development, such as beta versions of the platform. This is helpful because it allows you a preview of new and upcoming features, which also allows you to test your theme performance against new features that are not yet released to the public.

    • RTL Tester: A simple plugin that adds a button to the WordPress admin bar that allows administrators of the website to switch the direction of the display of text on the site from right to left (instead of the standard left to right). This allows you to test how your theme works in languages that are read from right to left, such as Arabic, Persian, or Urdu.

    • Regenerate Thumbnails: This helpful plugin gives you the ability to regenerate the size and cropping of thumbnails for images that exist within the Media Library of your WordPress website. This is helpful if you’ve changed to a theme that has different featured image (thumbnail) dimensions. With this plugin, you can regenerate image sizes for individual images or do them all in bulk with one click of a button.

    • Reveal IDs: Almost everything in the WordPress database has a unique ID number, from posts to users to categories. As a developer, you often times need access to a specific ID for a category or post; however, the WordPress Dashboard does not reveal IDs easily, so you have to hunt for them. This plugin brings the ID numbers for the various pieces of data out in the open by revealing them within the different screens in the WordPress Dashboard.

    • Theme Test Drive: When you’re logged in as the Administrator of a WordPress website, with this plugin installed and activated, you can preview any theme on your live website without having to activate the theme on your Dashboard. This is helpful if you’re developing a theme that is not available for public release yet; with this plugin in place, you can activate that theme just for your view and no one else can see it but you, and only when you’re currently logged in to your WordPress site.

    • Theme Check: This plugin is highly recommended for theme developers to use on a regular basis when creating themes for WordPress. When you’re done developing your theme, activate the Theme Check plugin on your WordPress Dashboard and run your theme through a series of best practices checks. The plugin runs all the automated testing tools that the official WordPress Theme Directory review team members run on all themes in their directory. This plugin displays any errors or warnings in your current code, lets you know if you are using outdated functions, and gives you tips on things you might be missing.