As you learn how Textpattern CMS works, you’ll get a better understanding of how the public-facing front-end of your website can be customised to your own liking. This process of customising might involve simply poking around a little with the default Textpattern theme and making minor presentational tweaks, perhaps downloading and applying a completely different Textpattern theme, porting a theme from another CMS or CSS framework to be Textpattern-friendly or building one from scratch yourself.
All of the above are possible, although the time, knowledge and effort varies for each. Let’s start with the default front-end theme, which in Textpattern version 4.5.4 looks like this:
This is how Textpattern looks with a vanilla theme straight out of the box. The theme was designed by Phil Wareham, a core developer and designer on the Textpattern project. If you’re so inclined you can find out (much) more in the Textpattern default theme repo on Github, but this is entirely optional.
As the default theme is included and enabled by default, you don’t need to do anything in Textpattern to get your website to look like this. Bear in mind that what you see above also includes a default article with some links in; this is not part of the front-end theme proper and is easily modified or removed. You can easily add on some extra bells and whistles to jazz things up a little, especially if you’re into social media and perhaps Flickr. There’s a list of extras for the default theme here.
Your experience on the Internet is a very personal one, and it’s possible you’ll look at that design and just not get on with it; and that’s absolutely OK. Textpattern does not aim to please everyone straight off the blocks, nor should it. It provides a platform for you to have as little or as much say as you like in the look and feel of your websites, whether you’re using Textpattern as a platform for your organisation’s website, a personal blog, an events portal or anything in-between.
Depending on your intended use for Textpattern, you may wish to use a theme developed by a third-party, either from scratch or ported from another source. The official theme site for Textpattern is textgarden,org, although there are many other Textpattern themes dotted around the Internet; refer to your preferred search engine to find out more. In most cases, themes are made available for download as a .zip archive of files which are then copy + pasted into place in the back-end. The process is somewhat repetitive, but is straightforward. There are some themes that are applied in different ways, but the current process is different to the WordPress approach of uploading a theme inside the wp-content folder and hitting a button in the admin panel. I will show you how themes are applied after you’ve learned a little about the Textpattern administration panel.
Be aware of Textpattern version number constraints, though. Because Textpattern is actively developed there are things that change and certain functions may only be present in versions after a certain release. Some themes rely on these functions and will look wonky (or just not work at all) if the version of Textpattern they are installed to isn’t ‘new’ enough. At the time of writing Textpattern version 4.5.4 is current, so any theme requiring version 4.5 or earlier will be A-OK.
I will explain more about porting other themes and using CSS frameworks in your designs some time in 2014. In my next article I will talk about the administration panel and how some of the back-end components plug together to make the front-end appear. After that, I will show you how to apply a different theme to Textpattern. I hope you’ll join me.