There are already many incredible WordPress themes available that allow us to build versatile websites.
Having said that, as a web developer, you may not like the idea of using a ready-made WordPress theme. You may find that many themes don’t have the design or layout to meet your requirement, or are crowded with features you don’t need.
You may consider building your own custom theme. But it is a huge time commitment to do so.
Luckily, there is a third option: making customizations to an existing theme.
It’s the best of both worlds: you can create a nearly custom theme, without having to spend the time starting from scratch.
If you plan to customize a theme, there are certain issues you should be aware of. Below, I’ve highlighted 5 of the most common mistakes developers make when customizing a theme.
1. Unable to Identify the Structure of the WordPress Theme
Many novice WordPress theme customization professionals often ignore the importance of identifying the structure of the WordPress theme they are customizing.
But this is an important step that must not be overlooked.
If you are customizing a theme, you should familiarize yourself with the core structure of a standard WordPress theme. For instance, you should understand what template files such as header.php, index.php and footer.php all do. Not to mention the style.css and functions.php files.
But because every WordPress theme is different, you’ll want to understand the specific structure of YOUR specific theme BEFORE you begin making any customizations.
To learn more about WordPress theme structure, visit:
2. Blind Copy and Paste (Cargo Cult) Approach to Coding
Copy and Paste (technically referred to as Cargo Cult Programming) coding is done by novice and expert developers alike.
But many new developers don’t understand how the code works and simply copy code from another theme and paste it into their own.
Doing this without fully understanding the code can lead to compatibility, security, and usability issues.
Not to mention, you may run into licensing issues.
If you aren’t writing the code yourself, be sure you familiarize yourself with how it works and its license.
Although WordPress teaches us to work in a collaborative environment, simply finding a script, code, or function and copying it to your theme is something that won’t aid you in growing as a WordPress developer.
3. Disregarding WordPress Coding Standards
When customizing a theme, you’ll want to review all the existing code before making any changes.
If the theme’s code is of poor quality (such as inconsistent usages of styles, abrupt implementation of functions, usage of improper classes, or just not using classes at all), your job customizing it will become rather tedious.
It is here that WordPress Coding Standards become important.
You must acquaint yourself with all standards of WordPress to make sure you adhere and comply. Doing this will allow you and future developers to effectively work on the theme’s maintenance.
4. Failure to Pass the Theme Unit Test
The Theme Unit Test is a technique whereby the theme’s code is tested for bugs using test data.
Essentially, you are importing test data into a WordPress install using your custom theme. You then go through a checklist, making sure all aspects of your theme work correctly in different circumstances.
It is an important step in building or customizing a WordPress theme that ensures high quality.
To learn more about the Theme Unit Test, visit: http://codex.wordpress.org/Theme_Unit_Test
5. Ignoring Data Validation
Security is something that should never be compromised during the theme customization process.
That being said, many WordPress developers fail to validate the data that will be stored on their website’s database and sanitize data that is being output from their database.
Failure to do so leaves the WordPress site open to malicious code.
For more information on Data Validation in WordPress, visit: http://codex.wordpress.org/Data_Validation
Falling prey to small mistakes during WordPress theme customization can lead to serious issues that will hurt your users in the long run.
But being sure to follow the checklist as outlined in this article will take you in the right direction for customizing WordPress themes.
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