When creating sites it’s easier than ever for a web developer to use templates instead of coding everything from scratch. There a plenty of benefits but in general the process saves a lot of time.
Usually, web developers don’t use templates when creating a website. They will either code it themselves or use a framework like Bootstrap or React to speed up development time. If a developer works with a template it is usually to cut costs or decrease the timescale of a project.
Leaning on a template to deliver a client’s website is not always a bad thing. However, for less experienced developers it can set you back in terms of learning.
We covered web designers using templates in a previous article. Now let’s take at what developers use templates and the reasons behind why they have become so popular in the industry.
Do front-end developers use templates?
Front-end developers use templates when they need to get a project wrapped up quickly or a customer doesn’t have the money to pay for a custom solution. The restricted nature of templates means a lot of the time very little coding has to be done.
A template sits on top of your WordPress website and defines the layout and styling of your website. ThemeForest, one of the largest template providers, has thousands of different styles and layouts to choose from. Sites like these have become increasingly popular as more and more people opt to build their sites.
However, a lot of templates are aimed at people who don’t have any technical knowledge, not web developers. It has led to an increase in competition and is part of the reason people think web development is oversaturated.
For web developers who do freelance work using templates is fairly common. It’s a must for those that charge at the lower end of the spectrum and work on quantity. It is hard to offer a site for under $1000 without using a template to do most of the heavy lifting. Coding an entire project from scratch would take too long and mean they remain unprofitable. Often web developers will create a theme or template of their own that they can repurpose for each client. It’s an involved process and requires more knowledge but gives them greater freedom for each client.
If you work for a company it is unlikely you will ever use store-bought templates as a developer. You just don’t have enough control over how the code is structured and the capability of the website. Agencies will typically develop an internal theme they can customize for each client’s specific needs. That way they don’t have to start from the ground and build up for every project. Ensuring navigation, layouts, and styling, are already configured gives you a huge head start.
Should developers use templates?
Developers should use templates if it fits their specific problem. Software engineering is all about solving problems with the best tools available. If a template or theme is the best option for a developer then it makes sense to use it.
However, plenty of people will customize a few themes and templates they bought online and declare that web development is easy. There is also a point of professional pride among developers to not use store-bought prepackaged themes. Particularly as it is seen by many to be killing web development.
When you are learning to code I’d caution against using a template because it restricts the amount of coding you have to do. In the early days, you want to get your feet when and try to build as many projects as you can. A better bet would be to offer up your services at a free or cheap rate and use that experience to build a site from scratch. These theme marketplaces are full of poorly written templates that will be hard to dissect as a newbie. It may also introduce you to some bad coding habits and you could end up fighting against the theme more than utilizing it.
As an experienced developer, you have more strings on your bow and can understand what is going on under the hood of a pre-bought template or theme. It means you can extend or modify it in any way that you see fit. However, with a bit of experience, you should be at the stage where you are putting together a theme of your own. It means you have total control over the build process and bugs become easier to spot.
In either case, if you are running low on time and have a client with a small budget then a template does the job fine. Just be honest with the client about the product you are providing.
There are times when a developer should use a template. Starting from scratch each time and copying code from previous projects is laborious and a waste of time. You would be better off using a developer-friendly theme.
These are themes that are built with developers in mind and easy to extend via child themes. They can be quite bare-bones but take care of enough of the heavy lifting to give you time to focus on what is important in the project.
These come recommended from all corners of the internet and are perfect for beginners and experienced web developers alike. They allow newbies to get experience digging around in code that is well-written and easy to extend. For seasoned developers, they cut down on repetition and allow you to provide maximal value to your customers.
Easily extendable and developer-friendly themes include:
- Generate Press – built by a developer-conscious software engineer with speed in mind. It uses hooks throughout to extend the theme.
- Genesis – A robust and well-known framework to extend or create your own theme.
- Astra – One of the most used WordPress themes today, a fantastic option for those wanting simplicity.
- Underscores – ultra bare-bones option that is completely free and perfect for those wanting to put together their first theme.
Whatever option you choose above, just remember that whether you should use a template depends on the needs of your customer. Generally speaking, you are always better at building your template and working off that, than using a pre-built theme from a template marketplace.
Do web developers write code from scratch?
Generally speaking, web developers will write code from scratch or reuse their code. Modern frameworks like React actively encourage the componentization and reuse of code. Copying code from Stack Overflow or other sources can lead to bugs and proprietary issues down the line.
For new projects, you are always going to have to write some custom code. Many of the components or features don’t exist in the way you need them to yet so you’ll have to create them.
Using libraries and frameworks allows you to reuse other people’s code constructively. They are created to make developers’ lives easier and mean less boilerplate code is needed. Many libraries have built-in functions which means you don’t have to start from zero.
Copying code can seem like an easier option at first. However, it quickly becomes difficult to debug and can lead to more issues down the line. Code snippets found online aren’t created to solve your specific problem so they can have unintended consequences later on.
In terms of templates and themes, developers will often create child themes. These provide you with the functionality and layout of the parent theme but allow you to extend and customize it for your own needs. In his instances, developers wouldn’t write all their code from scratch. They reuse large parts of an existing theme they build on top of.
It’s why developer-friendly themes and frameworks are great. They have the best interests of developers baked into the way their code is structured. It gives you a leg up when trying to create your own projects.
Even if you were to utilize a store-bought theme, the chances it ticks all your boxes are highly unlikely. No theme is perfect so you will always have to write some JS, CSS, or PHP to customize it.
Is using templates as a developer cheating?
Using a template as a developer is not cheating. It’s all about using the right tools for the job and if a template suits the needs of your project then go ahead and use it. There is no way to cheat as a professional developer, you either know how to code or you don’t.
What is crucially important is that you are honest with your client. Don’t sell your skills as though you’re developing custom themes and solutions If you are using store-bought templates. However, this is just a personal opinion and plenty of marketers will tell you to repackage products and sell them for as much as you can get.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a developer that hasn’t cut corners or taken shortcuts at some point. Using a template is a solution that allows you to projects quickly. Using pre-made themes that you didn’t create yourself is fine now and then. But if you are constantly buying themes from a marketplace and just installing them, then configuring them, it isn’t real development. You are just configuring settings rather than acting like a real web developer.
However, if you have designed or extended a template yourself and are using it for efficiency, that’s real development work. You are lowering the amount of effort it takes you to get started with each client by coding a suitable solution.
So it’s not clear cut. Sometimes using templates can be cheating especially if you are dishonest about it. But generally, if you make them yourself it’s a great way to improve your workflows.
Best template marketplaces for developers
The best template marketplaces offer a wide range of themes that are flexible and easy to use. You don’t want to waste time having to learn the inner works of a theme to get it set up. The whole point of using existing code is to speed things up.
We’ve already recommended the best developer-friendly themes which are great to build on top of. Now let’s take a look at the best template marketplaces that will have a theme to suit your client’s needs. All of the options below offer templates for a range of CMS’s including WordPress, Joomla, and Shopify.
- Template Monster – an industry-leading marketplace with a whole host of SEO-friendly templates. They tend to offer premium themes that cost more than $100 so are not the best option for those on a budget.
- ThemeForest – have close to 50,000 templates so you are bound to find something that fits. Their prices are cheap and the platform is a fan favorite among designers.
- Studio Press – the company behind the Genesis theme framework has a wide range of fantastic premium themes.
- Elegant Themes Divi – Divi offers a webpage builder which means you can create your own customized site. It’s simple, easy to use, and produces responsive sites out of the box.
- WordPress.org – the home of WordPress has a large selection of free themes for you to choose from. It’s the perfect choice for those on a budget.
Whatever theme you choose make sure to read reviews beforehand. Get an idea of what others are saying about the template and how good their support is. Choosing a template with a strong developer or designer community attached to it means you have more people to help out with any issues.
Overall, developers use templates because it helps reduce the length of projects and means they don’t have to repeat the same boilerplate code across different projects. They are a fantastic way to reduce the cost of a project and provide products in a timely fashion.
Used correctly templates are a fantastic tool that will save you a lot of time. Aim to eventually write your own theme from scratch so that you have total control over how it works and what you can offer clients.
Nathan Britten, the founder and editor of Developer Pitstop, is a self-taught software engineer with nearly five years of experience in front-end technologies. Nathan created the site to provide simple, straightforward knowledge to those interested in technology, helping them navigate the industry and better understand their day-to-day roles.