Support » Themes and Templates » What is the difference between a theme and a style?

  • Hello,

    I view Alex King’s site to see all the wonderful downloads available. I’m lost as to what the difference is between a theme and a style. Much appreciation for help on this matter. Thanks.


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  • Moderator James Huff


    The short answer is that styles are for WP v1.2.x and themes are for WP v1.5.x. There are many themes available for WP v1.5.x:

    The term “theme” should mean “something really different from all the other themes.”

    All of the entered themes in that contest are wonderful, but some of them are just variations of existing themes. A few of them resemble Kubrick but they have different images… or fonts… or colors.

    Look at Robin Hasting’s LetterHead, for example. The theme “Black LetterHead,” is a variation of LetterHead: different color scheme but the same fonts.

    Black LetterHead is beautiful all by itself, but maybe it should be called a “skin” instead of a theme.

    Heh! I just learned what a “skin” is, and now I get to use my new vocab.

    yung_chi_lee: To specifically answer your question, a theme is a collection of files that include s style.css file which holds the information about the theme’s styles. In other words, the design notes that make the page look pretty.

    A style or styles are non-technical references to the code that makes the page look pretty. For example, if you wanted to make something look bold, you would use an HTML tag that would make something look bold:

    <b>This is bold</b>

    To make that same sentence be a “pretty” bold, you would add a style:

    <b style="font-style:italic; color: green">This is bold</b>

    And you would get a bold statement that is both green colored and in italic.

    If you take that style out of the <b> tag and put it in a file, say called style.css, it would look like this:

    .greenitalic {font-style:italic;
    color: green}

    And the bold tag would look like this:

    <b class="greenitalic">This is bold</b>

    A Theme includes files which generate your index page, categories, archives, search, and other web pages that provide HTML which holds the content on the page. From those web pages are links to the style sheet (style.css) which tells the HTML to look pretty.

    This is just a very simple introduction to the difference between a theme and style. You can learn a lot more about how this all works at:

    WordPress CSS Information and Techniques
    WordPress Lessons
    Using Themes

    RosieMBanks: I know the desire to have different words for different things is sure fun, but what you think “looks” the exact same as another theme might not be. Sure, there’s no such thing as an original idea, just variations on old ;-), if you really poked around with the Theme you would find that it may DO different things not just look similar.

    And sometimes the most simplistic of themes are the hardest to design. And sometimes not. But there are no rules which make one Theme not a Theme, except the trust and respect Theme designers have for each other’s work by not copying every single millimeter of the design. But we all start from something to make it something else to save a whole lot of effort.

    I started my own website design from Kubrick, and then changed it to Simple Clean. It didn’t do all I wanted, so I pulled code from Kubrick and put it in Simple Clean, and even told the author about what I was doing because I needed a little help from him. He visited my site and said “This is MY Theme? Doesn’t look like my theme!” By the time I was done with it, there was no resemblance at all, but I still give credit where credit is due. Without his core layout, I would have had to work a lot harder to make my theme idea work. But my theme is and looks nothing like the original.

    Also, some of the themes were submitted by the same designer who just changed a few colors and photos because they liked their design but wanted it users to have a choice on color schemes without having to learn the code to fix it.

    And, I never fault creativity and earnest effort and enthusiasm, if it is doesn’t look like that to us. I still have problems with Picasso 😉

    Thanks for the answers everyone. I knew what the styles were all along as I have been designing with CSS for a little bit now. I think I was mainly confused since both looked the same to me. I mean, I kind of figured that at the very least, downloading a theme would include the CSS file too but there must be more to it. Thanks again for the help.

    For my 2c I wish we could use both the word themes and the word styles. Styles would be CSS only. Themes would involve any change to the template. That way any one theme could be in many styles. We do this for Gemini and Khaled and I used *flavours* for manji.

    To be honest, when I think of themes – I think CSS as it is, the stylesheet and the template/php the structure. I don’t rem how the original for 1.2 was, but if it was a case of 1 file, and 1 css – and if someone was to do the same in 1.5 which they can do, is it still a theme or is it a style?

    I really liked the Manji way of flavours – it keeps the essence of the original and provide the distincition of somthing unique at the same time. “It’s the original theme, but it’s also my variation of theme”.

    Lorelle addressed a question that I’ve had for awhile: When does tweaking a theme become a new theme. I downloaded a three column theme that I liked but that wasn’t exactly what I wanted so I tweaked and tweaked. I don’t think I did anything earth shattering but I think I changed it enough so that I wasn’t comfortable calling it the same theme as the original.

    Theme is just a technical word in the context of WP. Like ‘book’. A book with four words changed from another is a different book. It might be called an edition of the work and share its title, but it’s still different.

    Same with themes.

    How comfortable you are calling it another theme depends on your own aesthetic sense (and your sense of courtesy and the original author’s sense of propriety); whether you can distribute it as yours depends on the license of the theme you modified.

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