ThemeLab's Blog

Stay up to date with our newest WordPress themes, WordPress plugins, WordPress tutorials, and other announcements.

Resurrected Themes – Bringing Old WordPress Themes Back to Life

Last Updated on by

There have been a lot of great WordPress themes released over the years. Not all themes are actively maintained and supported by their developers, and while they might have been very popular back in the day, that doesn’t stop them from slipping into obscurity.

These themes slowly become forgotten about, an afterthought, so what do you do to remedy that? It’s simple, bring them back to life, and here’s how I’m doing that:

  • First, find some outdated (but previously popular) themes. I chose an old (GPL) theme from WPDesigner.
  • Choose a popular, up-to-date theme framework. Preferably completely free and open source. I thought Thematic fit the bill nicely.
  • Convert the outdated theme as a child theme of the previously chosen framework.

What Others Think

Remkus de Vries, who is who I originally got this idea from, said the following:

I think it’s great to revive some of those older themes who have not seen any updates since WordPress 2.7 or who are just completely abandoned. A big miss for me personally are threaded comments and a good semantic markup, but there are a lot more features I can think of that should be added to those updates. The best way to do that is to convert those older themes into Thematic child themes. They would get the best of everything from a code perspective. Also, the community would have a great opportunity to get their hands on a lot more examples on how to develop a child theme.

The first themes in need of a quickening that spring to mind are Small Potato’s. Such a shame…

He continued to say:

Maybe this will finally be a prelude to admitting child themes to the repo.

Ian Stewart, creator of the previously mentioned Thematic theme, had this to say:

Wow, Leland. I think this sound like an awesome boon to not just the community of people using Thematic but to fans of Small Potato’s best WPDesigner themes. What a great idea. I hope too that this project will help more people learn how to get a jump start on WordPress theme development with child themes.

Update: Tung Do (aka Small Potato) formerly of WPDesigner said this below in the comments:

I’m +1 for theme resurrection. Plugins get abandoned and re-supported all the times. It’s about time someone does it for themes.

What I’ve Done So Far

You can check out my port of WPDesigner’s Braintied WordPress theme to Thematic with this demo link.

braintied

If you compare it to the original demo, you probably won’t notice much of a difference at first glance. As a Thematic child theme, however, there are significant markup changes. There are also threaded comments available in the updated child theme.

Expect this child theme to be released very soon, for free. And maybe a theme dissection post, like the Astatic tutorial, soon to follow.

Update: The Braintied child theme has been released.

Conclusion

The themes which I plan on porting to Thematic are explicitly GPL compatible. I feel that it would be best if the themes I port are licensed under the GPL to avoid any potential licensing issues upon re-release.

This is kind of a two-for-one deal. Not only will the WordPress community benefit from outdated themes being brought back to life as child themes of Thematic, but developers can also learn more about them with additional examples and tutorials on making child themes.

I’d really love to hear your thoughts about this in the comments.

About

Leland Fiegel was the original founder of ThemeLab. He is a web developer who loves WordPress and blogging.

  • http://patdryburgh.com Pat

    Really dig this idea. I hope a number of theme designers will pick up some of the old themes to be redone. It would be great, as well, if there were some repository of these themes, as I know many people just getting used to WordPress search themes through Google, and generally come up with these outdated themes in the first few results.

    Good luck with your first crack at this!

    • Leland

      Thanks a lot Pat, glad you like it. I have been keeping up with some child theme releases on http://themelets.com/ (although that is in major need of an update).

      It really would be nice if WordPress.org started listing child themes, like I’ve mentioned before.

      Then I really think it could take off.

  • http://www.diletante.net Calítoe.:.

    I find it to be a brilliant idea! Thanks a lot once again for all your efforts and ideas. :D

    • Leland

      Glad you like it, although I should clarify I didn’t come up with the original idea (@DeFries did).

      I really liked the idea though so decided to post about it to see if I could help popularize it.

  • http://welessthanthree.com Andy Gillette

    We’re into this idea. If you don’t mind the extra weight on your coattails, we’d love to take a shot at some of those old themes. We’ll keep you posted if we make any progress. This is definitely a cause worth fighting for.

    • Leland

      Go for it, Andy. :D

  • http://webwanderings.wordpress.com AA

    Thumbs up. I have already commented somewhere about the need of updating the old themes at wordpress.com.

    • Leland

      Bear with me here as I don’t use WP.com, but do some of the themes not have features like threaded comments?

      I’m not sure they would be cool with this idea as child themes aren’t even allowed on WordPress.org yet.

      The closest you could get is probably one of the CSS editing upgrades, and that’s only part of what a child theme can do.

      • http://webwanderings.wordpress.com AA

        I’m not a developer but I’m not liking what I see being done with the new themes introduced at wordpress.com. First, the newer themes are apparently coming up with the option to add background images and headers. This is not the case with the already installed older themes, so there is an inconsistency here. Secondly, the older themes don’t necessarily have the same look and feel with the threaded comments. I am particularly surprised by the fact that even though Authomatic bought the Intense Debate, they still have not been able to implement it exactly as is. The middle way was acquired to introduce the threaded comments and it was based on individual themes (seemed like a patch job).

        There are significant number of people out there who are not happy with the way theme customization operate at wordpress.com. Obviously the comparison is with blogger and other services where you can WYSIWYG the themes. The CSS upgrade option is suited best for professional developers.

        Anyways, I didn’t wish to open the whining session here on wordpress.com theme structures but since you blogged about the older themes, I just thought I share my views.

  • http://www.malcolmmcatee.com Malcolm McAtee

    I am sorry is this available for download?
    I would like to take a peek under the hood

    • Leland

      Malcom, not yet. Expect the Braintied child theme to be released within a few days.

  • Tung Do

    Hi Leland. I’ve been busy and recently moved to a new place, just got internet set up today. Sorry for such a late response.

    I’m +1 for theme resurrection. Plugins get abandoned and re-supported all the times. It’s about time someone does it for themes.

    • Leland

      Thanks a lot for your feedback, Tung. That is a good point about abandoned plugins getting picked up by other developers, although (up until now) I’ve never seen the same of themes.

  • http://tech-spree.com Darren

    Between you and wpmods I’ve taken an old theme and have it running on my test install to work on now :P

    Do you think making theme a thematic child theme would be better than having them as a standalone theme?

    • Leland

      I used Thematic because I know it’s regularly updated. It doesn’t have to be, I just decided it would be best to use an actively developed, free framework for my resurrected themes.

      • http://tech-spree.com Darren

        Ahright although thematic is a great framework. I think I’ll )for at least my 1st few themes) code them from scratch / improve their current code.

        I enjoy coding so I guess I may as well.