Software, Development, and WordPress

How To Get Started with WordPress Theme Development

One of the questions that I’m often asked from developers is how to get started with WordPress theme development. Sure, there are great resources like the Theme Development guide, but if you’re looking to dive headfirst into working with an existing theme, your options are limited.

At least, that used to be the case.

Yes, you can tinker around with Twentyten, Twentyeleven, or another theme, but sometimes the best place to learn is to watch someone develop a theme from the ground up. Thanks to GitHub, being able to do this is easier than ever.

Brian Krogsgard is currently in the process of building a theme and he’s made his work available on GitHub.

How To Get Started with WordPress Theme Development

You can read more about Brian’s decision to place Happy Theme on GitHub in his related post, but if you’re a budding theme developer, there are a number of reasons that following a theme like this may be beneficial for you:

  • Even if you only passively watch, you’ll be able to watch the development of the theme. This includes various code commits, decisions, and changes made by Brian and the community.
  • The open source nature of the project will allow other developers to contribute code to make the theme even better. Hopefully, you’ll learn better practices by watching other developers open tickets, resolve issues, and improve the codebase.
  • Assuming that you’re comfortable enough, you’ll be able to open tickets and/or close tickets ultimately contributing back to the theme and learning about theme development.
  • Watching all of this occur in an open source platform will show you how open source software works – from publicly available code, to tracking issues, opting to accept or reject pull requests, all at the expense of maintaining a vision for a project.

Personally, I’d love to be able to help Brian build out this theme. Time’s always a factor, though.

Regardless, if you’re interested in getting into theme development and are looking for a better place to start than reading a handful of documents, watching an actual theme undergo development is a fantastic way to learn by doing.


  1. Andrew Mason


  2. Andrew Lee

    Awesome, I’ll be following the progress. Great idea.

  3. Jared Erickson (@alliswell)

    so.. if i get github will it make me a WordPress theme?

  4. Brian

    Hey Tom, I wanted to stop by and say THANKS for the mega-shout-out :) I’m excited about the project. It’s been fun and humbling. Building a really good theme for the public is tough!

    To those following along, thanks to you too! I’m about to start a slate of posts to go through much of the decision making so far. Right now the theme is pretty much naked, and soon I’ll start doing the fancy things – design, extra templates, etc. But right now I’m still making sure it’s a rock solid foundation.


    • Tom McFarlin

      It’s tough but it’ll be so worth it. I’m hoping to be able to contribute to it a bit when I can find some time, but in the mean time I thought I’d try to get the word out for as many people as possible :).

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