The WordPress Theme Review Team has announced that it will soon be required for themes to use WordPress’s native Theme Customizer instead of custom options forms or frameworks. I realize this is a controversial decision, and I understand why some theme developers are upset about this, but the WP Stagecoach team thinks this is a fantastic decision that will ultimately help the entire WordPress ecosystem.
We are in the business of copying WordPress sites and copying file and database changes from one site to another. This isn’t easy. The WordPress community has been clamoring for a simple staging solution for years, and the reason it hasn’t happened yet (and one of the reasons it has taken us so long to develop it) is that the WordPress ecosystem is like the Wild West: anything goes. Plugins and themes can create their own database tables and store their data any way they please. There are accepted WordPress Ways of doing things, and as long as developers follow the WordPress Way, creating staging sites tends to go smoothly. Where we run into problems – and where we have had to spend a lot of time writing sanity checks and workarounds – is when developers do things their own way instead of the WordPress Way.
With theme options, we have found that developers often do things their own way. The biggest perpetrators are often theme frameworks and ThemeForest themes – obviously not all frameworks and ThemeForest themes are outlaws, but many of them store their options in separate tables, or in strange formats, and that makes it harder for us to support these themes.
So having a WordPress Way – an established method of doing something that everyone follows, along with documentation and code samples – makes it much easier for us to build a staging plugin, which means fewer people will develop on live sites, which means fewer broken sites in the world, which is always a good thing. This is good for other functionality as well, such as backups and site migrations, not to mention the advantages of a consistent user experience. Requiring the theme customizer will ultimately help WordPress grow.