Proposal: Default Theme Task Force for 2024

In May, a proposal was published with a suggestion to retire some of the older, lesser used default themes. With the release of Twenty Twenty-Four, there are now 14 default themes maintained by the project, making it difficult to effectively maintain all of them. Additionally, retroactively adding support for new blockBlock Block is the abstract term used to describe units of markup that, composed together, form the content or layout of a webpage using the WordPress editor. The idea combines concepts of what in the past may have achieved with shortcodes, custom HTML, and embed discovery into a single consistent API and user experience. editor features is important to ensure that users can unlock the power of the block editor while using these themes. This is becoming increasingly harder to do in a timely manner with the high standard of quality our users deserve.

After some good discussion in the comment section, Matt (@matt) joined in and clarified that the original intention for each default theme was to maintain them forever. He issued a challenge to rethink how the team approaches the maintenance of these default themes to make them easier to maintain, and more future-compatible.

In response to that request, I submitted “Improving the maintenance of older default themes” as a topic for the Community Summit in August. This topic was accepted, and a fantastic session took place with many of the top theme-focused contributors from the community in attendance.

I highly recommend reading the raw notes in their entirety before responding to this proposal and participating in this discussion, but for the sake of including the context of the important takeaways from that discussion, here are next steps and potential action items that were identified:

  • Consider having a Theme Wrangler for every release.
  • Explore moving default themes to GitHubGitHub GitHub is a website that offers online implementation of git repositories that can easily be shared, copied and modified by other developers. Public repositories are free to host, private repositories require a paid subscription. GitHub introduced the concept of the ‘pull request’ where code changes done in branches by contributors can be reviewed and discussed before being merged be the repository owner. (with sync to SVNSVN Subversion, the popular version control system (VCS) by the Apache project, used by WordPress to manage changes to its codebase.), moving only the most critical issues from tracTrac An open source project by Edgewall Software that serves as a bug tracker and project management tool for WordPress. to move over.
  • Explore creating style variations and patterns based on past default themes, as a way to “blockify” the older themes.
  • Explore setting up visual regressionregression A software bug that breaks or degrades something that previously worked. Regressions are often treated as critical bugs or blockers. Recent regressions may be given higher priorities. A "3.6 regression" would be a bug in 3.6 that worked as intended in 3.5. testing for default themes
  • How do we improve the feedback loopLoop The Loop is PHP code used by WordPress to display posts. Using The Loop, WordPress processes each post to be displayed on the current page, and formats it according to how it matches specified criteria within The Loop tags. Any HTML or PHP code in the Loop will be processed on each post. from people building themes in GB?
  • Improve default theme docs.

All of these are reasonable next steps and worth exploring further as potential changes. However, after considering this topic some more and discussing with @chanthaboune, it’s become clear that the first step to any solution to this problem is cleaning up after ourselves. At the heart of the problem is not a tooling or philosophy problem, it’s a bottleneck of available contributor time with an interest in supporting these themes.

At the time of publishing, there are 436 open tickets in the Bundled Theme component, 53 of which have not received any response. This list of outstanding tickets needs to be properly groomed and addressed before any tooling changes can be considered. 

Creating a Theme Task Force

This post proposes the creation of a contributor working group with the goal of tackling the Bundled Theme component ticketticket Created for both bug reports and feature development on the bug tracker. backlog, focusing on one or two themes at a time and using their best judgment to:

  • Triagetriage The act of evaluating and sorting bug reports, in order to decide priority, severity, and other factors. the list of open tickets for the Bundled Theme component.
  • Address bugs in a future-proof way.
  • Individually evaluate enhancements and feature requests, closing any that are no longer relevant or not supportive of project priorities.

One criticism of how default themes are maintained has been that updates are always released at the same time as WordPress major and minor releases. After researching and investigating why this is the case, no specific reasons were discovered that indicated this is a requirement.

Recently, there have been a few occasions where updates to default themes were released independent of WordPress ones, and these have gone quite well. It is recommended that this practice continues as a part of this proposal in an effort to more efficiently progress through this large backlog of tickets. Theme updates can be released as often as necessary. Theme updates accompanying WordPress major and minor releases are not barred, but rather welcome when deemed necessary as supplemental to any other updates published by this group.

While each theme receives increased individual attention, the state of support for the block editor and all of its features will be audited and evaluated.

Once this ticket list is under control, further discussion can be had around potential tooling changes (GitHub vs SVN), frameworks or methodologies that can be implemented to make maintenance easier, etc.

Summary & Volunteers

In total, default themes account for over 10% of all WordPress installs. While some are less used, the active sites for each of them represent site owners and end users that deserve our attention and consideration. In order to better support them in a future compatible way unlocking the block editor, this house keeping initiative is a necessity.

If this initiative speaks to you and piques your interest, please reach out directly on Slack instance or Matrix homeserver to @desrosj or @chanthaboune, or volunteer in the comments below.

Props @chanthaboune for pre-publish review.