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Picking a theme is one of the joys and one of the frustrations of working with WordPress. There are thousands and thousands of themes available and you can usually find something that gets pretty close to what you want if you just look hard enough. Looking for a parent theme for your child theme is no different, but when you're looking for a parent theme, there are some extra considerations to keep in mind. If you're looking at free themes and premium themes side-by-side, you'll see there are some significant differences that are really important, especially if you're relying on a parent theme to build your child theme.
Because they're free you can't expect free themes to be regularly upgraded. That's simply because no one is getting paid to keep the themes up-to-date, so chances are if you pick a free theme that's not developed by a core developer who is really invested in keeping the theme up-to-date, you may see the theme lagging behind for a while and then all of a sudden there is a major update that happens where everything gets changed. Premium themes on the other hand, because you're paying for them, you can expect them to be upgraded on a regular basis. However, if you're buying a premium theme, you need to make sure that the theme foundry is committing to keeping the theme up-to-date, because they don't always do, and they sometimes deprecate themes.
In free themes you'll also find that in some cases there is nonstandard code inside the theme. By that I mean, the theme may not be built out exactly the way it should and there might be small errors within the theme. This is getting better in the WordPress Theme Directory, because they're cracking down on badly written themes, but if you're going out on the web in general and finding random themes, you may find themes that have a lot of errors in them. With premium themes, because you're paying for them, you can expect them to be standards compliant and you can expect them to be error-free.
However, there's a caveat to that. In premium themes you'll often find proprietary code, meaning instead of using core WordPress functionality, the developer may have created new functionality specifically for that theme or for that foundry, so that those functions only work as long as you use their themes, and if you ever move away from their themes, you'll lose some of your content. Free themes are generally sparse on features, meaning you get core functionality from WordPress and not much else.
In premium themes, you generally get a lot of extra stuff. That's why they're premium themes, but like I said, a lot of that stuff will be proprietary. So you have to keep in mind that a lot of those fancy features may not carry over if at some point in the future you decide to move away from that premium theme or that premium theme foundry. Free themes in general cannot be expected to be future proof, meaning you can't expect them to be updated and you can't expect them to start including new features that come out with WordPress, at least not immediately. That is unless you install a theme that comes directly from WordPress itself.
So one of the default themes for instance will always be up-to-date and will always have all the new features built in. On the other hand, premium themes may have extra caveats that you're not aware of. For example, I've seen theme foundries that actually charge you extra if you want to make a child theme based on one of their premium themes. So that's something you have to look up before you buy a theme from a premium theme foundry. Although there are thousands of free and premium WordPress themes out there to choose from, chances are you're actually better off just using one of the default themes that comes with WordPress when you're creating a child theme.
The reason for that is the default themes have all the latest features, they're all built properly, they're future proof, and they're always easy to work with, because they have great documentation. In this course, we'll be working with the Twenty Twelve theme, which was released in the fall of 2012. This theme is simple to use, it has all the core features we need, and it's written in such a way that it's easy to understand and easy to build child themes from.
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