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Why WordPress Theme Customization Has Just Changed Forever (And What You Need to Know)

If you’re developing WordPress themes, you need to know about an important decision announced by the Theme Review Team on WordPress.org on April 21, 2015.

In short, all themes submitted to WordPress after the date above must use the built-in Customizer API for all user options. Theme developers are no longer allowed to create their own custom settings screens. In this article we’ll tell you what’s changed and how you can go about getting your theme up to scratch.

If you already have a theme on WordPress.org, you have six months to comply with the new regulations. This gives you until October 21st to bring your theme(s) into line with current requirements.

If you don’t comply by that date, your theme won’t suffer any kind of penalty or suspension, but you will be required to meet the new guideline when it’s next updated.

WordPress Theme Customization Changes

Important Decisions

It’s important to understand why this decision – one that’s been discussed for nearly three years – was made.

The number one reason is to create a unified user experience for everyone using WordPress. No longer should users have to set out on a journey of discovery every time they install a new theme. Instead, with all the settings in the same place, the average user knows exactly where to go to setup the theme to their liking.

The second is to standardize the theme review process, which can sometimes take longer than you might think.

In a post by Justin Tadlock, written just one day after the Theme Review Team published its announcement, he said:

Honestly, reviewing themes with non-Customizer settings screens has slowed down the process. Each time a new theme with its own options panel comes in, the reviewer must learn an entirely new settings system. Then, a TRT admin must learn it. We must understand the code to review it because theme settings are one of the biggest areas for possible security issues.

With that in mind, it makes sense to look for solutions to speed up the review process and make theme developing more streamlined.

What Don’t People Like?

Make no mistake – this is a controversial decision that has seen plenty of discussion. It has split the development community. Many people applaud the move, but just as many are dead against it.

For some people it’s relatively minor problems such as a design issues that could be easily fixed. While others are more concerned about the lack of communication between the Theme Review Team and theme developers, the stability and reliability of the Customizer, as well as the potential to break hundreds – if not thousands – of websites.

While these fears may or may not come true, the developers answering questions in blog posts and on forums in a positive way are fully behind this move. A lot see it as a great leap forward, as do many others who may not be as deeply involved with theme development, but understand how the interface works.

So What Can You Do?

It’s clear that there’s no going back at this time. We’ll have to wait and see if the decision is reverted at some point in the future.

For now, it’s up to you to bring your projects into line with the new requirements. If you want to get involved with the development process, you can do so by joining the WordPress team on Slack. It’s the ideal platform for having your say about the things you like and dislike about the Customizer API.

Staying out of the conversation won’t help you get the things you want. WordPress is all about getting involved and offering constructive criticism, development ideas and improving the user experience. This will make the transition from custom user settings to the more unified Customizer screen much smoother.

If you’re struggling to bring your theme(s) inline with the new guidelines, reach out to the community for help. Earlier in this post I mentioned Justin Tadlock – he is just one of the people who’s volunteering their services for free to anyone who needs help building custom control settings. I’m sure there’s plenty more people out there willing to help too.

If you’d rather tackle the issue head-on, without asking for help, check out this post: The WordPress Theme Customizer: A Comprehensive Developer’s Guide.

Remember, the date for bringing your theme(s) up to scratch is October 21, 2015. What do you think of the changes? Are you ready? Let us know in the comments below!

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One Comment


  1. Noah Britton

    November 21, 2015 at 2:09 am

    Sounds like this is going to be a big headache for individual developers that have themes out there that don’t comply but I see their reasoning.

    Reply

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