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Book Review: WordPress Theme Development – Beginner’s Guide


WordPress Theme Development – Beginner’s Guide
Reviewed by Rich Helms

I was intrigued when I was asked to review this book. I have worked extensively in WordPress since 2008, having written several plugins and modified countless plugins and themes. The term “Beginner’s Guide” threw me off, as I figured with my background, it would be too basic for me. Wrong. The level of writing was just right. The author assumes the reader is an experienced WordPress administrator with some PHP and CSS coding experience.

The book sets out to help the reader build a WP theme from scratch, and at first I thought, why would anyone want to? Most theme work is done by modifying the supplied Twenty Twelve theme or some other framework. As I progressed in reading, the answer emerged. Working from a blank page gives the developer ultimate flexibility. Also, the learning experience gave me a deep understanding of how themes work.

The bottom line is, I liked the book. It is clear that this is written by authors with extensive knowledge and is not their first time teaching this topic. Their experience shows. Chapter 1 introduces WordPress and the various components of that world. In chapter 2 and the balance of the book, a magazine theme is built step by step. The exact look of the example theme is not important. You are encouraged to build your own instead, but the download materials are the example. I read one criticism that the book photos were hard to decipher, as the theme is dark with white lettering. My review is done from using the PDF book version, so the diagrams are in colour and easy to understand.

A key focus of the guide is on handling the three browser sizes: desktop, tablet and smartphone. It is one of the better explanations I have read. The authors provide a clear direction on how to handle various screen sizes.

The authors use an interesting writing style. They present a topic, then ask the reader to enter some code and try it. Then in a “What just happened?” section, the code is explained in detail. This approach took a bit to get used to, but it works well. The building steps are also small enough that it is clear what is accomplished in each.

The book builds from the most basic theme to widgets, custom menus and beyond. I will definitely use this as a reference in my theme work. When I finished the book, I felt I could tackle a theme from scratch or modify a theme with more confidence.

What this book covers:

  • Chapter 1, Getting Started as a WordPress Theme Designer, gives an introduction to the world of WordPress theme building. It covers the basics of how themes work, theme coding strategies using HTML and CSS, and setting up your theme design process.
  • Chapter 2, Preparing a Design for our WordPress Theme, takes you through the process of creating a design for your theme, including wireframing, creating your design concepts, and designing responsively in the browser.
  • Chapter 3, Coding it Up, is when you’ll start to build an actual theme by taking your HTML from Chapter 2 and inserting that into theme template files along with the PHP needed to make your theme work.
  • Chapter 4, Advanced Theme Features, covers additional features you can add to your theme. These include site settings, reading settings, permalinks, featured image support, and widgets.
  • Chapter 5, Debugging and Validation, shows you how to check for any bugs in your code and test that your site meets the W3C requirements for validity. We’ll also look at browser testing and troubleshooting.
  • Chapter 6, Your Theme in Action, is all about shipping your theme to other WordPress users and developers. You’ll learn how to use the WordPress theme repository to make your themes publicly available and the steps you need to take to package up a theme.
  • Chapter 7, Tips & Tricks, will help you take your WordPress theme development skills further. You’ll learn how to add some more advanced features to your theme, including additional template files, conditional tags to display different content according to context, how to give your theme’s users access to the theme customizer, and how to optimize your theme for SEO.

WordPress Theme Development Beginner’s Guide
Third Edition: March 2013
Packt Publishing
Learn how to design and build great WordPress themes
Rachel McCollin
Tessa Blakeley Silver

Rich Helms is a seasoned software developer with over 30 years of experience in computer Research and Development. His credentials range from deep technical work (five patents in hardware and software with a sixth pending) to running R&D. In 2010 co-authored “Amazon SimpleDB Developer Guide” for Packt Publishing.

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Packt Publishing reaches 1000 IT titles and celebrates with an open invitation

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My book Amazon SimpleDB Developer Guide was published in 2010 by Packt Publishing. Packt has been a major player in technology books as well as supporting open source projects. Here is an announcement from Packt.

Birmingham-based IT publisher Packt Publishing is about to publish its 1000th title. Packt books are renowned among developers for being uniquely practical and focused, but you’d be forgiven for not yet being in the know – Packt books cover highly specific tools and technologies which you might not expect to see a high quality book on.

Packt is certain that in its 1000 titles there is at least one book that everyone in IT will find useful right away, and are inviting anyone to choose and download any one of its eBooks for free over its celebration weekend of 28-30th Sep 2012. Packt is also opening its online library for a week for free to give customers an easy to way to research their choice of free eBook.

Packt supports many of the Open Source projects covered by its books through a project royalty donation, which has contributed over $4,00,000 to Open Source projects up to now. As part of the celebration Packt is allocating $30,000 to share between projects and authors as part of the weekend giveaway, allocated based on the number of copies of each title downloaded.
Dave Maclean, founder of Packt Publishing:

“At Packt we set out 8 years ago to bring practical, up to date and easy to use technical books to the specialist tools and technologies that had been largely overlooked by IT publishers. Today, I am really proud that with our authors and partners we have been able to make useful books available on over 1000 topics and make our contribution to the development community.”

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Book Review – Amazon Web Services: Migrating your .NET Enterprise Application

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Packt asked me to review the book “Amazon Web Services: Migrating your .NET Enterprise Application” by Derek Schwartz ( because on my Amazon Cloud Services experience.

Last year I wrote “Amazon SimpleDB Developer Guide” for Packt. My Amazon work has been in PHP and Linux but much of my corporate work is in .Net so I was interested in reading about Amazon’s support. What for me was the most valuable was the first few chapters introducing AWS (Amazon Web Services) and comparing it to other offerings. Derek brings experience with AWS to his writing and spends as much time discussing what works well at Amazon as what does not. In chapter 1 he compares AWS to Microsoft’s Azure as well as other cloud services nicely laying the groundwork. Chapter 1 concludes with a discussion on the legalities of where data is stored. While many technical developers will want to skim this chapter, I found it very informative.

Chapter 2 introduces the components of AWS: S3, EC2, Elastic IP, EBS, Security Groups, AWS console, VPC, CloudWatch, ELB, RDS and SNS. While a daunting list of pieces, Derek does a nice intro on each. I learned about pieces that I didn’t even know existed. Amazon regularly announces new capabilities and an intro like this gives a nice view of the landscape.

Chapter 3 starts into signing up, security and legal considerations. The focus is on S3 storage and EC2 virtual server. The reader is walked one step at a time through how to set up a virtual server. Cost and performance considerations are discussed.

Chapter 4 focuses on S3 storage. S3 is in my opinion one of the the most useful features of AWS. The last part of the chapter is on EBS (elastic Block Storage), the persistent storage for an EC2 server instance. After completing chapter 4 the reader has created a server instance complete with storage.

Chapter 5 introduces networking. AWS’s power is in creating multiple servers as load grows and understanding the networking is central to this. Virtual Private Clouds (VPC) and elastic load balancing (ELB) along with CloudFront are introduced to create a cluster of servers that grows/shrinks with demand. After all why pay for processing power in the middle of the night when few users are online. This approach gives you the performance you want while minimizing cost.

Chapter 6 focuses on databases and the various options including a brief intro to SimpleDB (the topic of my book). Mostly the book focuses on Microsoft SQL Server as .Net is the central theme of the book.

Chapter 7 covers data migration, setting up IIS and installing your applications. Chapter 8 introduces Simple Queue Service (SQS), a messaging system. Chapter 9 covers Autoscaling. This feature of AWS creates EC2 instances as demand grows and removes them as demand falls. As Amazon charges for usage, autoscaling is one of the key features of AWS for larger users. Chapter 10 concludes the book with testing. A nice appendix of definitions and links rounds out the book.

I was impressed with the book. If you are considering deploying a multi-server .Net configuration at Amazon, this book can help guide you in the right direction as well as avoid the common pitfalls. A very nice introduction to migrating a .Net enterprise application to Amazon AWS.

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SimpleDB sample code

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Fixed two small bugs today

1. sourceprint.php was throwing a warning. Fixed
2. setkeys.php was giving an error in the input fields. Fixed with a conditional check

Thanks Robert for finding the issues.

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Small bug in SimpleDB API code

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Fixed a small bug in the SimpleDB API samples. I had put in a debug line. Just removed it. Version 0.7.4 is the latest.

Thanks to Emile for finding the error.

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Book Reviews

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Boris Lublinsky Book Excerpt and Interview

Janakiram MSV review

Chad Lung review

KuanH review Book Review: Amazon SimpleDB Developer Guide

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Simone Brunozzi tweets on SimpleDB book

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Click for details
Link in his tweet

RT @simon: A great book on SimpleDB for developers. Check it out!
eBook: Amazon SimpleDB Developer Guide —>

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SimpleDB Book – Book of the Month

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Packt Publishing featured my SimpleDB book as the book of the month in the July Newsletter.

Link to the newsletter

PDF of the Packt Newsletter

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First Review of my SimpleDB Book

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Chad Lung wrote the first in-depth review of my SimpleDB book I have seen.

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Amazon SimpleDB Sample Chapter

Amazon Web Services

Here is a sample chapter from my SimpleDB book.

Click for chapter 3 SimpleDB versus RDBMS

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