Blog Post

Making BuddyPress Themes

One of the goals I set for xScape themes is to eventually add support for BuddyPress. But making BuddyPress theme from scratch is not that easy as you might expected, and no wonder that there are only handful of quality BuddyPress themes available.

Basically, most of the BuddyPress themes you can find on the Internet are child themes of the default BuddyPress theme. These themes add own images and own styling, with maybe changing footer message, and that’s it. You still have the same default theme that you get with BuddyPress with tweaked colors and images. Making these child themes is easy and doesn’t require modifying any of the actual templates/php files. But, creating theme is more than just changing colors, and doing so with WordPress is far from easy, or even user friendly.

But, making new theme that will have unique look is very, very complicated. To make things worse, there are no tutorials, no documentation (well, there is some documentation, but nothing really useful for making full theme) and the only thing you can do is to analyze the default theme and experiment. Main problem with this is the complexity of the BP theme, that goes way beyond normal WP theme. Default BP theme has 62 PHP files (default WP theme has 18 PHP files), and getting clear picture on what happens where, how templates are used or loaded.

To be honest, BP 1.2 theme code and organization is better than previous major versions, but it’s still way to complicated. Also, a full theme made from scratch for BP 1.2.x may not even work with BP 1.3 or BP 1.4. And that’s just unacceptable for a system that should work for years to come and have relatively easy maintenance cycle. So, you invest a lot of time to make full theme, and after few months when new BP is released, that theme is not working. That’s just not something that developers and designers want to hear. Even minor changes in WordPress major versions are usually subject to debates and how that will affect existing plugins and themes, I guess that BuddyPress is still not that big for their developers to take into account that other users expect some continuity in the code base.

No matter how good BuddyPress is and how important for WordPress is, it’s still not mature enough to ensure some sort of development security for developers that want to invest time to make plugins or themes that will work with BP. Until the BP code base becomes stable enough for something like that, we are not going to see many original themes that support BuddyPress.

So, back to xScape. I still plan to try to make a theme that will be compatible with BuddyPress. But, I am not going to make separate themes for WP and separate for BP, that must be a single theme that will work with or without BP installed. I am not sure when such theme will happen, but I started some work on it already.

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About the author

Milan Petrovic
Milan Petrovic

CEO and Lead developer of Dev4Press Web Development company, working with WordPress since 2008, first as a freelancer, later founding own development company. Author of more than 250 plugins and more than 20 themes.

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