When WordPress block themes started making waves in 2021, it marked a significant change in the way we build websites. The promise of a codeless experience and Full Site Editing (FSE) was finally here to change the status quo.
It was also decided during this time to refer to non-block based themes as “classic.” Basically, a classic theme is based on PHP and does not include block markup. This term may apply to products dating back to the original Kubrick theme (Default) to today’s offerings.
But despite all the hype around block themes, their classic counterparts still dominate the market. As of this writing, there are over 10,000 listings in the official WordPress theme repository. By my count, block themes make up about 1% of the total. And they haven’t exactly set the commercial markets, either.
And while there are some interesting use cases for block themes/FSE, it’s safe to say that any change in this direction is slow. Meanwhile, classic themes are still getting love from WordPress core.
It looks like any kind of block theme revolution will have to wait. Classic WordPress themes aren’t going away – and here’s why.
Code gives WordPress Power and Flexibility
Codeless workflow adds a layer of convenience to web development. Not all tasks should require deep knowledge of CSS, HTML or PHP. But this approach can only get you so far.
Code is still the primary solution for building advanced websites. Whether it’s custom functionality or a non-standard layout, code is how we bring these ideas to life.
No pre-made plugin or theme (block or classic) can cover all possible needs. And the ability to make minor changes or create something completely new has long been a strength of WordPress. This is largely why the content management system (CMS) is so widely used.
It is this power and flexibility that sets classic themes apart. Modern websites are rarely one-size-fits-all. Therefore, they often require us to build to meet a specific need. A classic custom theme can do just that. There are no block themes yet.
Classic Themes Continued by Evolution
Block themes have received a lot of attention recently – and rightly so. But that does not mean that classic themes are banished to the dustbin. New features continue to be added – including some that bring the latest functionality.
Among the most exciting additions is the ability to use FSE within a classic theme. That’s right, block-based template parts will be supported in a future version. This will allow developers to open up specific parts of the theme for tweaking within WordPress.
It’s a big step forward. We can continue to build client-proof websites while enabling codeless access when it makes sense. And it provides a path to move away from the Customizer API that will probably go away someday.
And those who want fine-grained control over the block editor can also leverage it
theme.json file. It allows us to define block styles and other related functionality. Content creators can then focus on the writing rather than worrying about how the design will look.
These additions will ensure that classic themes remain a viable option. This will not prevent you from taking advantage of new features in WordPress core.
Not Many Reasons to Change
Not everyone is ready to make big changes to their workflow. And for all the benefits of block themes, they offer a different experience for developers. Building and interacting with them requires adjustment.
Meanwhile, classic themes have been a staple of WordPress development for years. The public is comfortable and familiar with how things work. They are well documented. And if they continue to do the job effectively, what is the motivation for change?
The features unique to block themes don’t necessarily fit every project. Meanwhile, the aforementioned flexibility keeps us returning to classic themes.
In a few years, this could be a different story. By then, block themes may have improved so much that they are considered a must-use technology.
However, that is not the case at the moment. Until there is a significant benefit to changing theme types, many developers are likely to stick with what they know.
Don’t Let the ‘Classic’ Name Fool You
The term “classic” has been thrown around a bit within the WordPress ecosystem. We often associate it with the Classic Editor – which replaced Gutenberg’s block editor years ago. On some level, it makes sense that themes would also accept this monitor.
But names can be interpreted in different ways. For some, “classic” may read like an ancient tool that is no longer useful. That’s a shame because nothing could be further from reality when it comes to classic themes.
If anything, they are the surefire path to building a custom website. And that is likely to continue for years to come.