Book Review: Smashing WordPress Themes

I’m not a big fan of books but when I stumbled across this book earlier this year, I knew I just had to read it. Smashing WordPress Themes: Making WordPress Beautiful, by Thord Daniel Hedengren (@tdhedengren) covers most of the basics of building, modifying and hacking WordPress themes in 350 pages.

The book’s divided in four parts, starting off with a little WordPress background, a pretty good explanation of what a WordPress theme is, and an intro to the Twenty Ten theme. Thord then writes about hacking themes, obviously covers child themes and some sweet suggestions on picking a theme. The third part of the book covers building a corporate or business theme, an image-focused theme and a magazine-style theme, all from scratch, covering each and every step in detail.

Thord ends the book with a few notes about BuddyPress and the BuddyPress community, and a few words about extending your WordPress themes with plugins, and finally — a list of suggested plugins picked by the author.

Can’t say I learned much from the book, but I did like Thord’s style of writing and explaining things. What I didn’t like is the 3-4 pages long code snippets without even line numbering and poor commenting. It was difficult to get around the code so I had to skip those parts. This reminds me of one of the best code illustration ways I’ve ever seen (online and offline) — Chris Spooner. Check out a tutorial by Chris on How to Build a WordPress Theme from Scratch, you’ll love the code snippets (see image below)!

Chris Spooner's Code Snippets

Okay, back to Thord Daniel and his book. I absolutely loved the three themes crafted throughout the book from scratch and I’m sure those parts will be very useful to beginners in theme development. But the problems with paper books is that they get outdated. Take the default theme in WordPress 3.2, Twenty Eleven (Duster) and you’ll no longer figure out what “loop template file” Thord keeps talking about, since it is now called content.php and not loop.php.

Although WordPress is very good at back-compatibility, it keeps evolving at the speed of light, which is why you should always watch out for deprecated stuff and new stuff, and keep up with the coding standards and naming conventions. This is especially true when it comes to submitting your theme to the WordPress.org theme directory, where the theme review guidelines adopt to to the latest WordPress release.

This means that if today navigation menus are recommended, tomorrow they can easily become required. There’s a cool “last edited” note on that page which will help you stay tuned, and of course the theme reviewers mailing list.

So yes, Thord Daniel’s book is definitely a good one for theme development starters and we’re definitely looking forward for more. You can check out all the books that Thord has authored on his books page, seems like he’s crafting something about Tumblr eh? That’s a very interesting topic, especially after Tumblr has surpassed WordPress.com a couple of weeks ago.

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