Virtual Hallway Hangout on “ Universal ” WordPress Themes is scheduled for May 14 – WordPress Tavern


Main contributor Jeff Ong has announced an upcoming virtual hangout around the concept of universal themes. The meeting could cover a lot of ground for theme authors learning how new and upcoming tools will fit into their workflows, businesses and more. For an invitation, participants must leave a comment on the announcement or the NGO message directly.

The hangout is scheduled for May 14 at 2:00 p.m. UTC.

The meeting agenda is loose, and the conversation could venture into various topics related to themes. However, the shortlist of possible talking points covers:

  • Using new theme tools in WordPress 5.8.
  • Management of customization in block and classic themes.
  • Using block template components in PHP templates.
  • Support block and classic navigation menus.
  • Work with theme.json for theme styles.

The first thing to do should be to define what a “universal” theme is. Terminology is new to the WordPress space, and it could change as the future of theming begins to take a more cohesive shape.

Ong left a brief description in the ad. “A theme that aims to work in classic (customizer) or FSE contexts,” he called.

The definition seems to have sprung from a GitHub ticket around “hybrid” themes – yet another new term. The goal was to discuss the paths for any user to use the site or template editor to replace traditional theme templates. For example, if a user wanted to create a block-based category archive template, they could do so without affecting the overall structure of their theme.

WordPress users will get a sample of this idea in version 5.8. The post-edit screen has a new model edit mode. Users will be able to switch to this mode to create a top level template for this single post / page. It will live outside of their theme structure, so it doesn’t matter if the theme supports blocks.

The Gutenberg development team and theme authors will be grappling with such questions in the coming months. Nothing is ever a perfect process. And the transition to block-based theme templates is an overhaul unlike any we’ve seen in the history of WordPress. So we need new ways and terms for them.

“I thought about the notion of universal rather than hybrid themes,” Matías Ventura, head of Project Gutenberg, wrote in the post. “Universal themes would be themes that can be loaded in a classic context or in a block editor context without a problem. As a user, if I’m using a WordPress capable of understanding block themes, this is the interface I get (and one I can customize), otherwise, the regular theme files are used with its customizer integration. Hybrid would then be a tool allowing theme developers to gradually become universal themes if they so wish. “

Hybrid themes appear to be designed to work with chunks of FSE, giving developers time to upgrade to full support. However, universal themes cover everything from the traditional to the new age. They are intended to allow users to choose which FSE bits to use.

All of this new terminology could confuse things a bit, and if that happens, users are the losers. There will potentially be four types of themes:

  • Block only
  • Universal
  • Hybrid (with different levels of support)
  • Classic only

Most of the themes that have landed in the official directory over the past few months lack basic block editor styles. It’s hard to imagine too many universal themes – which will require a much longer investment of time – over the next year or so. It’s more likely that we’ll see a split between new block themes and a mashup of classic / hybrid themes doing the trick. Only the most dedicated or those who can foot the bill will take the universal path.

For now, the developers need to continue to have these types of conversations and work out the details.

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